The first reference we have of an organ in the Cathedral comes in the poem by Gruffudd Gryg, who witnessed the arrival of a new instrument sometime between 1350 and 1370, and records how all the parishioners contributed towards it.
Under Bishop Rowlands (1598 – 1616) arrangements were made for the payment of a stipend to an organist. However, during the episcopate of the next bishop – Lewis Bayly – we hear of one Thomas Boulton playing the organ and complaining that his salary was not paid!
During the commonwealth (1649 – 60) the organ was either removed or destroyed in accordance with the Parliamentary Order ‘for the speedy demolition of all organs, images and all matters of superstitious monuments in all cathedrals…throughout the kingdom of England and the dominion of Wales.’
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 a new organ was installed being paid for from a legacy of £100 left by Bishop William Roberts and erected by his successor, Robert Morgan. On the organ case was a Latin verse in which the two bishops, who had provided the money and erected the organ, were compared to David and Solomon respectively.
In 1779 the organ was replaced by a new instrument. It cost 360 guineas and was made by Samuel Green, the leading organ builder of his day. This was in constant use until it was replaced by the present organ which was built by one of the greatest master organ builders of the nineteenth century – William Hill – and installed in 1873.
The organ is the largest pipe organ in Wales and potentially one of the finest in the British Isles. It provides North Wales with an irreplaceable community asset. It is a splendid four-manual instrument and the majority of its 4,210 pipes were supplied in 1873 by one of the most famous organ building firms of the day, William Hill, with subsequent additions by the same company in 1897.
It last received major attention in 1954 when it was re-built by John Compton, and since then has been used on a daily basis. Numerous students have benefited from study at this instrument and noted organists from all over the world have visited Bangor Cathedral especially to play the organ and give public concerts.