History of the Organ
The earliest record we have of an organ in use in Holy Cross is in an inventory of 1548 which shows four organs being in the building at the dissolution of the collegiate church, two in the choir – which were valued at £6 4s 8d – and two in the Lady Chapel (probably portative organs – something like piano accordions) – valued at £1. The best of these, probably the two choir organs, were retained but were obviously old and decrepit. Through the 1550’s, 1560’s and 1570’s the Governor’s accounts tell us that “lether”, “wyre” and glue had to be bought for their running repair, an entry in 1571 tells us “also payed for 2 cards for the billows of the organs and for glue to mend certain faultes in the said billows and organs this yere 3d” In 1576 an organ maker came from Exeter to execute more extensive repair work. Deane died in 1583, and, in 1595, presumably because no one else was able to play the instruments, they were sold – the entry for the transaction in the receipts section of the Governors’ accounts reading “received for a pair of olde organs solde to Hamblyn of Exeter 10s”.
As far as we can trace, there was no organ in the Church between 1595 and 1822; we have very detailed information about the latter, which was previously in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and was brought by sea to Exeter. The organ was installed in a gallery over the west door, and the organist was surrounded in the gallery by choirboys: the Governor’ records contain a letter of complaint of 1853 concerning their “bad conduct”!
Messrs Church and Organ
The architect John Hayward carried out a restoration of the Church between 1848 and 1887, involving the removal of all the galleries. As a result, the organ was repositioned in the chancel in 1866, and again, in its present position, in the north transept, in 1887. By 1915, this organ was worn out, and the talented young organist, Harold Organ F.R.C.O., planned for a new organ, nothing but the best, to be built by Messrs. Harrison and Harrison, suppliers to English cathedrals. He was tragically killed in action in 1917. However his plans were carried through by his successor, Cyril Church (a rather appropriate combination of names!), and the new organ was opened in 1921.
The 3-manual Harrison and Harrison organ, considered by many to be among the finest in Devon, has survived in its original state, mostly due to lack of funds, when instruments in more affluent churches have been altered, according to the fashion of the day, to effective destruction. It had been known since the 1980’s that a complete restoration of this fine instrument was necessary. This dream was realised in 2001 (with the addition of a fine organ case in English oak).