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Historic organ pipes auctioned to raise funds for £2m refurbishment project

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Bidders are being given the chance to own a piece of York Minster’s musical heritage following the launch of an online auction of historic pipes from the cathedral’s Grand Organ.

The auction of 30 decorative case pipes has been organised to raise funds for the once-a-century, £2m project to refurbish the cathedral’s organ, which began last October and is due to be complete in autumn 2020.

The 30 pipes are part of a set of 102 which have decorated the Grand Organ’s case since 1832 and have been silent for more than 100 years, following the last major refurbishment of the instrument in 1903.

As part of the current project, the majority of the case pipes are being restored and around 70 will be brought back into musical use, but 30 were beyond economic repair and will be replaced, with the redundant historic pipes now being offered for auction.

The remaining originals are being cleaned and repainted in a chapel at the cathedral by graining and marbling specialists Robert Woodland & Son, who will also decorate the new pipes to match the originals, before the set is returned with the rest of the instrument next spring.

Neil Sanderson, Director of the York Minster Fund, said: “The auction is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to own a piece of York Minster’s musical heritage, while supporting the future of organ music at the cathedral throughout the 21st century and beyond.

“Although where possible we have tried to retain and refurbish the instrument’s original features, unfortunately around 30% of the case pipes were beyond economic repair. Three of these pipes will be kept in our historic Collection as a record of the instrument, but the remaining 30 are being offered for auction to raise funds towards the once-a-century refurbishment project.”

The case pipes being auctioned are among the oldest surviving pipes in York Minster’s Grand Organ and date from the early 1830s when a new organ was built following an arson attack in the Quire in 1829 which destroyed the previous instrument.

Originally painted green, the case pipes were updated in 1859 to the distinctive gold, green, cream and red decoration seen today.

The Minster’s Grand Organ is one of the largest cathedral organs in the country, weighing approximately 20,000kg. In total it has 5,403 pipes which range in length from the size of a pencil to 10m long.

As part of the current refurbishment project, organ specialists Harrison and Harrison removed the instrument from the cathedral in October 2018 and transported it to their workshop in Durham for repair and rebuilding.

The project includes replacing the organ’s mechanism and extensive work to clean and overhaul the instrument. A new music library is also being created underneath the organ, inside the screen which separates the cathedral’s Quire from its Nave.

The refurbished organ is due to be returned to the Minster in spring 2020, with voicing and tuning work carried out over the summer months ready for the instrument to be back in use in autumn 2020.

The auction of historic pipes will run until 12noon on Friday 27 September. For further details about the auction and refurbishment project, visit organ.yorkminster.org.

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