Royal College of Organists

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The Royal College of Organists or RCO, is a charity and membership organisation based in the United Kingdom, with members worldwide. Its role is to promote and advance organ playing and choral music, and it offers musical education and training for organists and choral directors.

The building in Kensington, London, which housed the Royal College of Organists from 1903–91

The College provides examinations in organ-playing, choral directing and organ-teaching; it runs an extensive education and outreach programme across the UK; and it maintains an internationally important library containing more than 60,000 titles concerning the organ, organ and choral music and organ playing.


The RCO was founded as the College of Organists in 1864 by Richard Limpus, the organist of St Michael, Cornhill in the City of London, and received its Royal Charter in 1893. In 1903 it was offered a 99-year lease at peppercorn rent on a building designed by the architect H. H. Cole in Kensington Gore, west London. When it became clear in the mid 1980s that an economic rent would be charged on expiry of that lease, the lease was sold and the College moved into new accommodation in 1991. In 2003 plans were announced for more permanent purpose-built premises around the Grade I listed former Curzon Street railway station in Birmingham, a notable piece of monumental railway architecture. New facilities designed by Associated Architects included a new library and 270 seat concert hall. However, in 2005 the RCO announced that this move would not be taking place and subsequently that it would no longer be looking for a permanent home of this kind, focussing instead on activities such as education, events, examinations and member services.

In 2014 the College celebrated its 150th anniversary with a year-long programme of events including recitals, conferences, music festivals, courses, publications and a special celebratory choral evensong at Southwark Cathedral.

First members[edit]

To the first members of the College of Organists belonged:[1]

  • Dr. G.B. Arnold, New College Oxford
  • W.H. Adams, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields
  • T.G. Baines, organist at St. Margaret's, Westminster
  • J. Blockley, St. Mark's, Regents Park
  • A.S. Cooper
  • W.B. Gilbert, Mus. B. Oxon, All Saints' Maidstone
  • A.W. Hammond, Hon. Treasurer and proprietor and editor of the Musical Standard
  • Edward Herbert, Mus. B., Oxon, Sherborne Abbey
  • James Higgs
  • Edward John Hopkins
  • Charles Kelly, All Souls', Langham Place
  • F. Kingsbury
  • Richard Limpus, hon. secretary
  • William Henry Longhurst
  • E. M. Lott, St. Peter's, Notting hill
  • Dr. Marshall, Kidderminster Parish Church
  • Edwin George Monk, not to be confused with William Henry Monk
  • Ebenezer Prout
  • Dr. W. Spark, Leeds Town Hall
  • Charles Steggall
  • Charles Edward Stephens
  • Joseph Surman, Exeter Hall
  • W.J. Westbrook, S. Bartholomew's, Sydenham

Edmund Hart Turpin, was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organist without examination in 1869, and became a Member shortly afterwards. From 1875 he succeeded Richard Limpus as Hon. Secr. of the Royal College of Organists.[2]

Outreach and Education[edit]

Since 2005 the college has significantly expanded its range of outreach and education activities. New events were introduced, new partnerships forged to deliver activities such as scheduled classes and a popular summer course, and in 2009 RCO Academy was launched with the aim of further increasing the range of lifelong learning opportunities for everyone from the youngest beginner through to more experienced organists looking to refine their skills.


The RCO offers five qualifications or diplomas. The Diploma of Colleague (CRCO) (formerly the Certificate, CertRCO) is a qualification for the intermediate organist and provides a foundation for developing organists and choral directors. The Associateship Diploma (ARCO) demonstrates high achievement in organ playing and supporting theoretical work. The Fellowship diploma (FRCO) offers a progression for those who already hold the ARCO and represents a premier standard in organ playing, which a cathedral organist would be expected to hold. The Choral Directing Diploma (Dip CHD) demonstrates achievement in choral conducting and related disciplines. The Licentiateship in Teaching (LTRCO) provides professional accreditation for organ teachers who already hold either the ARCO or FRCO.


The College's library, with in excess of 60,000 specialist holdings of organ and choral music and books, is housed at Birmingham City University's archive records centre.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles William Pearce, A Biographical Sketch of Edmund Hart Turpin, 1911, p. 25
  2. ^ Charles William Pearce, A Biographical Sketch of Edmund Hart Turpin, 1911

External links[edit]

  • Royal College of Organists Official Website
  • Royal College of Organists' 150th Anniversary Celebrations
  • Charity Commission. Royal College of Organists, registered charity no. 312847.