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).

Specification of the Organ

GREAT CHOIR (enclosed)
Double Geigen 16 Contra Dulciana 16
Large Open Diapason 8 Open Diapason 8
Small Open Diapason 8 Claribel Flute 8
Geigen 8 Viole d’Orchestre 8
Stopped Diapason 8 Harmonic Flute 4
Hohl Flute 8 Salicet 4
Octave 4 Harmonic Piccolo 2
Wald Flute 4 Orchestral Bassoon 16
Octave Quint 2 2/3 Clarinet 8
Super Octave 2 Tremulant
Harmonies 17, 19, b21, 22 Tuba (unenclosed) 8
Tromba 8 Sub-Octave
Octave Tromba 4 Octave
Reeds off Unison off
Swell to Great Swell to Choir
Choir to Great Reeds on Choir
SWELL (enclosed) PEDAL
Lieblich Bourdon 16 Double Open Wood 32
Open Diapason 8 Open Wood 16
Lieblich Gedeckt 8 Geigen (Great) 16
Voix Celestes 8 Sub Bass 16
Echo Gamba 8 Dulciana (Choir) 16
Lieblich Flute 4 Geigen (Great) 8
Gemshorn 4 Octave Wood 8
Fifteenth 2 Flute 8
Mixture 12, 19, 22 Double Ophicleide 32
Oboe 8 Ophicleide 16
Tremulant Great to Pedal
Double Trumpet 19 Swell to Pedal
Trumpet 8 Choir to Pedal
Clarion 4 Great & Ped comb’s coupled
  Pedal to Swell pistons
Sub-Octave Generals to Swell toes
Octave Reeds on Pedal
Unison off
Combination thumb pistons: Wind pressures (inches)
Great 8   +Swell to Great + Choir to Great Pedal:    fluework 4 to 4 ½, reeds 15
                +Great to Pedal Choir:    fluework & orch. Reeds 5;
Swell 8   + Swell to Pedal + Ophicleide                Tuba 15
                + Double Ophicleide Great:    fluework 4: reeds 10
Choir 6   + Clarinet + Tuba + Swell to Choir Swell:    fluework and Oboe 4,
                + Choir to Pedal                other reeds 7
Action:  10
8 General Pistons, Sequencer advance on Great
and Swell keyslips, retard on choir keyslip
Combination toe pistons: Compass:  Manuals 5 octaves CC to C
Pedal 16 + Great to Pedal +Swell to Pedal                     Pedals 32 notes CCC to G
                + Swell to Great + Ophicleide Radiating and concave pedal board
                + Double Ophicleide 2 balanced swell pedals
                + Double Open Wood (all reversers)
                + Sequencer advance and retard
Piston Capture System: with 30 levels of memory   Transposer: + / – 5 semi-tones
Sequencer: with 99 stages per level of memory

Pipework: Some Diapason pipes are from the previous organ, but the majority, including all reeds, were made new by Harrisons in 1921.

New pipework in 2001:

Geigen 8’ (Great), 12 pipes for top octave

Orchestral Bassoon 16’ (Choir), 12 pipes for use with Octave Double

Ophicleide 32 ‘ (Pedal), 12 new ½ length pipes for bottom octave.