There has been a strong musical tradition at Southwell Minster for over nine centuries. Daily services have been sung almost without a break and, for at least 400 years, there has been an organ or organs to accompany the liturgy.

Although there are references in the records to organs, it is difficult to make a precise listing of the actual instruments because of the lack of technical detail.

1663 organ

This was built by 'Mr Derbie' (occasionally he is named as 'Darbie'). He appears to have been a London organ maker. A Mr Preston junior was regularly employed in tuning the organ over the following years and a Richard Nall and John Nall were paid for mending the organ.

1702 organ

This was a Smith organ, but whether it was by Bernard (“Father” Smith) or by another Smith, perhaps Gerard Smith, nephew of Father Smith, is not known.

There are two organs in continuous use in the church. The screen organ (referred to alternatively as the choir organ) is played from a console located on top of the stone screen or pulpitum. This console is an integral part of the organ case containing the pipework. The nave organ pipes are in the southern triforium and the instrument is played from a mobile console.

The screen organ

The screen organ case
from the west
Detail of the screen organ
case from the east

Discussions regarding the screen organ took place from 1989 and 1994 between the present Rector Chori Paul Hale and organ experts. John Norman (adviser to the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England), organ builders N. P. Mander Ltd, Stephen Bicknell and Ian Bell were particularly helpful in clarifying what could or could not be done, once the decision had been taken to preserve (on historical and financial grounds) the existing organ case. This had been designed by W D Caroe and built by Dart and Francis of Crediton. It had been dedicated on 2 June 1934.

A new case had been proposed and drawn by the minster’s architect, Martin Stancliffe, as an alternative to which it had been hoped to add a ‘Chair’ case to the existing case in emulation of Southwell’s eighteenth-century case, but constructional difficulties prevented this. At this point Nicholson of Malvern were invited to tender as their recent work at Portsmouth Cathedral and at Birmingham Cathedral suggested that they would have the ability to design and voice a tracker-action organ to fit within the relatively small case, with the action going through ninety degrees as the console had to remain on the north side.

During 1994, plans with Nicholson had been refined and almost finalised, when in December the Rector Chori was told of a fine 1868/1906/1922 Nicholson organ in St Peter’s Church, Malvern Wells, which had just been closed. It had just the tone he was after, and so he decided to recommend its purchase and then use its pipework as the basis of an otherwise new instrument. The Diocese of Worcester kindly arranged for Southwell to purchase the organ. Meanwhile a generous legacy from the late Charles Cope meant that work could proceed. In March final permission was granted by the cathedral council for a total project cost of £320,000.

The screen organ scheme was approved by the C.F.C. on 23 March 1995. The contract was signed in April and work immediately began in Nicholson’s works at Quest Hills Road, Malvern. At the same time the case was cleaned and repaired, the old organ having been stripped out by voluntary labour, the pipework taken by Wood of Huddersfield for scrap or possible re-use. Some of the 1959 and 1971 ranks duly found their way into other organs. By mid-November Nicholsons were ready to erect the organ in the minster. That work proceeded steadily into the New Year when three months’ voicing and regulating by Dennis Thurlow and Guy Russell began.

The instrument was handed over at 4 p.m. on Maundy Thursday, just in time for the then assistant organist Philip Rushforth to work up Vierne’s Messe Solennelle for the organ’s first appearance, on Easter Day 1996. Later that year an opening series of concerts featured Roy Massey, John Scott, David Sanger, Paul Hale and Philip Rushforth.

Incorporated in the English but eclectic specification are Copeman Hart digital electronic basses for the two 32ft stops and the 16ft Open Bass (wood). There was no room for these within the organ as ranks of pipes, and such had been the success of Copeman Hart’s temporary organ, that it was felt worthwhile employing their expertise to produce a satisfactory solution.

In the event it proved impossible to find room for a large bass horn, so reflex cabinets were mounted above the stairway on the south side of the screen, near the pedal soundboard. The extreme bass is helped by a 16ft column loudspeaker within the Nave Organ, to which instrument digital 32fts were added at the same time. Also incorporated was circuitry allowing much of the Nave Organ to be played from the Screen console, to help with large congregations and processions. This redesigned instrument now has four manuals and pedals, 51 speaking stops, 67 ranks of pipes and 3,725 pipes.

All this proved its great worth from that very first Easter Day and has been appreciated in daily services ever since, in broadcasts and in the many recitals given on it. Unfailingly reliable and a joy to play, the Nicholson organ has proved to be a triumph of engineering design, excellence of construction and beauty of tone.

Great Organ

  • 16 Bourdon
  • 8 Large Open Diapason
  • 8 Small Open Diapason
  • 8 Stopped Diapason
  • 4 Principal
  • 4 Wald Flute
  • 2 Fifteenth
  • IV Full Mixture (
  • III Sharp Mixture (26.29.33)
  • 8 Trumpet
  • Tremulant
  • Swell Sub Octave to Great
  • Swell to Great
  • Choir to Great
  • Solo Sub Octave to Great
  • Solo to Great

Swell Organ

  • 8 Open Diapason
  • 8 Lieblich Gedeckt
  • 8 Salicional
  • 8 Vox Angelica (C3)
  • 4 Principal
  • 4 Nason Flute
  • 2 Fifteenth
  • II Sesquialtera (12.17)
  • III Mixture (15.19.22)
  • IV Plein Jeu (
  • 16 Contra Posaune
  • 8 Cornopean
  • 8 Oboe
  • 4 Clarion
  • Tremulant

Choir Organ (enclosed)

  • 8 Gedeckt
  • 8 Viol d’Amour
  • 8 Voix Céleste (C3)
  • 4 Gemshorn
  • 4 Spitzflute
  • 2 2/3 Nazard
  • 2 Fifteenth
  • 2 Blockflute
  • 1 3/5 Tierce
  • 1 1/3 Larigot
  • III Mixture (19.22.26)
  • 8 Clarinet
  • 8 Vox Humana
  • Tremulant
  • Swell to Choir
  • Swell Octave to Choir
  • Solo Sub Octave to Choir
  • Solo to Choir

Pedal Organ

  • 32 Subbass (digital)
  • 16 Open Bass (digital)
  • 16 Open Diapason
  • 16 Bourdon
  • 8 Principal (ext. Open Diap.)
  • 8 Bass Flute
  • 4 Fifteenth
  • IV Mixture (
  • 32 Contra Posaune (digital)
  • 16 Ophicleide
  • 16 Bassoon
  • Great to Pedal
  • Swell to Pedal
  • Choir to Pedal
  • Solo to Pedal
  • Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled
  • Generals on Swell Toe Pistons

Solo Organ (unenclosed)

  • 4 Concert Flute
  • V Mounted Cornet (C13) (
  • 8 Bombarde


  • Nave Organ ON
    Screen Organ OFF


A full complement of departmental pistons, generals and reversibles, with multiple programmes, a sequencer and a read/write smart-card. 

Mechanical key action; electric couplers and stop action. Reconditioned B.O.B X10B blower.

Key compass: manuals 61 notes, pedals 30 notes.

The nave organ

An organ was built for Southwell Minster in 1662/3 by ‘Mr Derbie’; this was replaced in 1701 by a new one-manual instrument in a fine case on the screen, probably built by Father Smith, repaired after a nave roof fire in 1711, and again in 1727. A second manual (in a ‘chair’ case) was made by Dallam of York in 1730 and finished after his death by Thomas Swarbrick. In 1765-66 John Snetzler effected a complete rebuild and added a four-stop Swell, after which the organ gained a fine reputation for the quality of its tone. Work by G P England (1804), Buckingham (adding pedals in 1821), and Groves of London (c. 1854—a new and larger Swell) did not help to make the organ readily serviceable, and in 1892 Bishop & Son replaced it with a completely new 4-manual organ in four divided cases on the screen.

A 1934 rebuild by Hill Norman & Beard placed the Great and most of the Pedal in the nave triforium, electrified the action and enlarged the tonal scheme considerably; there were two consoles, one mobile (with stop-keys) in the nave. The pipework was revoiced on very smooth lines and included diaphonic basses and considerable manual and pedal extension. Caröe & Passmore designed a new screen case (partly modelled on the Father Smith case). There were no fewer than 81 speaking stops on three manuals and pedals. In late 1959 a Positiv organ was added under the screen on the south side, its pipework being visible from nave and choir.

Another rebuild took place in 1971, when the Great was squeezed into the screen case along with the smaller pedal ranks, most extended ranks were removed, and much upperwork to manuals and pedals was added. The organ was revoiced on Baroque lines, with lowering of upper lips and reduction of nicking. However, with much 1892 action work and soundboards along with 1934 wiring, by 1989 the organ had become unreliable; its sound was undistinguished, making little impact in the nave and sounding completely unbalanced in the choir.

It soon became clear to Paul Hale, when appointed as Organist & Rector Chori in 1989, that a single organ on the screen could not satisfactorily cope with the musical and liturgical demands of both nave and choir, for two reasons:

  • sound does not carry past the crossing under the central tower.
  • organs can in any case only speak in one direction.

Plans were drawn up to provide a second-hand electric-action organ, suitably rebuilt and modified, to support hearty singing at Diocesan services in the nave, as well as being able to accompany the cathedral choir when it sang in that part of the building. At the same time, consideration began to be given to providing a brand-new mechanical action organ on the screen, for the daily choral services in the choir.

Nave organ

In January 1990 Wood of Huddersfield suggested the installation of a large 1904 Binns organ formerly in the Upper Independent Chapel, Heckmondwike. This would be rebuilt as a three manual, with very complete Swell and Great divisions and a small Solo Organ comprising a Clarinet (a gift from Philip Wood) and a Tuba and its 4ft extension from the minster’s HN&B 1934 material. The organ was restored and electrified, adapted for the spacious south triforium site (four bays) and a booster blower added to provide 16ins wind for the Tuba. A new mobile console was built in oak, employing the refurbished keys from the minster’s 1934 nave console and the re-engraved ivory stob-knobs from the Binns organ. The casing carries a small silver plate to the memory of a former lay clerk and relief organist:

Let everything that hath breath

1938 – 1998

praise the Lord

The David McIntosh Organ Scholarship has been provided for the resident organ scholar since 1999.

An SSL transmission was installed along with a combination mechanism by Taylor. One link with the 1892 organ was the re-use of the Bishop 16ft Open Wood, which was still lying horizontal in the nave triforium.

The organ was opened by Roger Fisher on 25 May 1992, since when many Bank Holiday recitals on it have drawn large and enthusiastic audiences and all major diocesan services have (at last) been provided with an inspiring and effective organ accompaniment.

Great Organ

  • 16 Double Open Diapason
  • 8 Open Diapason No. 1
  • 8 Open Diapason No. 2
  • 8 Gamba new
  • 8 Hohl Flute
  • 8 Rohr Flute
  • 4 Principal
  • 4 Gemshorn new
  • 4 Harmonic Flute
  • 22/3 Twelfth
  • 2 Fifteenth
  • IV Full Mixture ( new
  • III Sharp Mixture (26.29.33) new
  • 8 Posaune new
  • 4 Clarion new
  • Tremulant

Swell Organ

  • 16 Bourdon
  • 8 Open Diapason
  • 8 Gedackt
  • 8 Salicional
  • 8 Voix Céleste (t.c.)
  • 4 Geigen Pincipal
  • 4 Flauto Traverso
  • 2 Fifteenth
  • 2 Piccolo
  • II Sesquialtera (12.17) new
  • III Mixture (15.19.22)
  • 16 Double Trumpet
    8 Trumpet
  • 8 Oboe
  • 4 Clarion new

Solo Organ (unenclosed)

  • 8 Clarinet (Gt. Tremulant affects this)
  • 8 Tuba (16 ins. w.p.) old Screen Organ
  • 4 Clarion (16 ins. w.p.) (ext Tuba)

Pedal Organ

  • 32 Double Open Wood (digital)
  • 16 Open Diapason Wood
  • 16 Open Diapason Metal (from Great)
  • 16 Bourdon
  • 8 Principal
  • 8 Bass Flute (ext. Bourdon)
  • 4 Fifteenth (ext. Principal)
  • 4 Stopped Flute (ext. Bass Flute)
  • 32 Contra Trombone (digital)
  • 16 Trombone
  • 8 Clarion (ext Trombone)
  • Great to Pedal
  • Swell to Pedal
  • Choir to Pedal
  • Solo to Pedal
  • Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled
  • Generals on Swell Toe Pistons


16 programmes to Departmental combinations 96 programmes to General combinations Sequencer with advance and retard thumb & toe pistons (separate memory, not working on the generals)


  • 8 thumb pistons to Swell
  • 8 thumb pistons to Great
    3 thumb pistons to Solo
    8 General thumb pistons
    8 toe pistons to Pedal
    8 toe pistons to Swell 
    7 reversible thumb pistons
    3 reversible toe pistons

List of Minster organists



Magister Choristarum

July 19 1499


Magister Choristarum

June 20 1519


Magister Choristarum



Magister Choristarum

December 28 1568


Magister Choristarum

July 7 1582


Magister Choritarum

July 18 1584


Magister Choristarum

December 20 1586


Magister Choristarum

January 28 1590


Magister Choristarum




April 6 1596


Organist and Master of the Choristers









Organist and from July 15 1561 Rector Chori

August 15 1689


Organist and Rector Chori

June 11 1696


Organist and Rector Chori

May 1718



May 1718


Rector Chori

April 20 1721


Organist and from April 1733 Rector Chori

January 24 1754


Organist and Rector Chori

October 23 1755


Organist and Rector Chori

April 12 1764


Organist and Rector Chori

July 23 1818


Organist and Rector Chori

April 23 1835


Organist and Rector Chori

January 21 1841


Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Parish Organist and Rector Chori



Parish Organist and Rector Chori



Parish Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori



Organist and Rector Chori

2017 PAUL PROVOST Organist and Rector Chori