The present organ dates back to an instrument built by Henry Willis in 1857 (containing pipework of Samuel Green from 1786). This was enlarged by Harrison and Harrison in 1910 and was substantially rebuilt by them in 1973/4. It now consists of 67 stops – five divisions spread across four manuals.
The original organ case was provided by the Friends of Wells Cathedral during the 1973/74 rebuild to a design by Mr Alan Rome, FRIBA. The organ screen was carved by Mr Roger Large. At the top of the two large towers on the Quire front will be seen four carved medallion profiles outlined in red, which are portraits of the great English church composers S. S. Wesley, C. V. Stanford, Byrd and Purcell. Two of the orginal wooden angels at the top of the case here reinstated and the entire case is resplendent in coats of gold leaf.
The organ now stands as an eclectic instrument, properly equipped not only for the accompaniment of the choral services in the Quire, which is its chief function, but also for the interpretation of all periods and styles of organ music.
The latest addition to the organs of Wells Cathedral is the chamber organ, which is normally kept in the Quire but can be moved around for services and concerts in other parts of the Cathedral. This small chest organ was purchased jointly by the Dean and Chapter and Wells Cathedral School.
It was built by the Scottish organ-builders Lammermuir and comprise the stops Gedackt 8′ Oak, Nason Flute 4′ Oak and Maple and Fifteenth 2′ 25% Tin. Since its arrival in November 1996, this delightful small organ is regularly used for authentic accompaniment of Tudor and baroque music, and is ideal for continuo work.
The first reference to an organ at Wells Cathedral is from 1310. It was to be placed on a specially constructed gallery, supported by two stone corbels projecting from the nave arcade just below the triforium. The small instrument was constructed of leather, lead, wood and tin.
From c.1400 onwards, references tell of ‘the organ in the quire’ and ‘the organ in the chapel of the blessed Mary’ indicating that there were two later organs in the Quire and Lady Chapel.
A substantial overhaul of the Cathedral’s organs took place from 1414–18 and throughout the following two centuries various alterations, additions and several re-builds were carried out.
In or about 1600 a new organ was planned but whether or not this organ was built or built and proved unsatisfactory we do not know. In 1633–34 John Hayward of Bath was paid 28s 6d for repairing the organ and the cathedral was described as being ‘beautify’d with ancient monuments and rich organs.’