Rats in the organ

Rats in the organ at Canterbury Cathedral in 1674 

Hand-blown organ (YouTube)

In 1674, the Treasurer’s Book at Canterbury Cathedral records an ongoing problem in dealing with rats who were nesting in the organ bellows.

In the days before electric motors, the wind for a church organ had to be produced by human muscle in the form of a mechanical bellows made of wood and leather, a perfect home (and food) for a family of rats.

June. 3. To John Pease for mending the bellowes of the Orgen eaten by rats, as by bill — [£]2-1-8.
To Midleton that bloweth the Orgen for killing 4 ratts — [£]0-2-0.

[August] 8. To Middleton for a ratt catched in the orgen bellows — [£]0-0-6.
[August] 22. To Middleton for a rat in the Organs — [£]0-0-6

Thomas Middleton is recorded in the list of Cathedral employees (in Latin) as Flator (organ blower). The rat problem was clearly serious as he received sixpence for each rat caught. These payments are recorded in the section of the accounts for Expensae necessariae incertae (‘unavoidable but unpredictable expenses’). The campaign continued into the following years when the Treasurer records several further payments to Thomas Middleton for catching rats in the organ loft. In 1676 he was paid three shillings for six rats:

Feb 5 To Middleton for a rat taken in the Organ loft — [£]0 0 6
Apr. 13 To Middleton for a rat taken in the Organ loft — [£]0 0 6
May 31 To Middleton for a rat caught in ye Organ loft — [£]0 0 6
June 2 To him againe for another rat — [£]0 0 6
July 26 To Middleton for a rat caught in ye Organ loft — [£]0 0 6
Nov 7 For a rat caught in the Organ loft — [£]0 0 6

Thomas Middleton received ten shillings a quarter as the organ blower, the same amount as Jonathan Best the Custos Horologii (Keeper of the Clock) who was also paid as one of the Cathedral’s two  door keepers. By way of comparison, the organist Richard Cholmley received £10-0-0 a year and the Dean over £70 a quarter. In addition to his role as organ blower, Middleton also received £1-13-4 a quarter as one of the twelve bedesmen. He was still receiving sixpence per rat in 1678.

References: Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CCA DCc-TB/10, TB/11, TB/12 and TB/14: Treasurer’s Book 1673/1674, 1674/1675, 1675/1676 and 1677/1768.

David Shaw

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