||ORGANS IN NORFOLK CHURCHES
by David Drinkell
are linked to from the gazetteer)
||Although Norfolk has such
a fine collection of magnificent churches, there
are few with very large organs. The exceptions
are Norwich Cathedral, which is the second
largest cathedral organ in the country (after
Liverpool) and Cromer. There are, however, a
great number of historic small organs. Many of
these are chamber organs which came either from
the local big house or from
elsewhere. Similarly, when richer churches
replaced organs, the old instruments found their
way to country parishes. Important examples are
the Snetzlers at Hillingdon and Sculthorpe and
the G.P. England at Cawston. Organs which are not
in their original homes occur in an enormous
number of Norfolk churches (over 150), with a
recent increase in transplants due to
redundancies either in or out of the county.
From the nineteenth century, Norfolk has a very
fine collection of organs by G.M. Holdich, who
was one of the last to work in the old fashioned
English style. Redenhall is the finest surviving
Holdich organ in the country.
James Corps maintained a factory in Norwich from
at least 1850 until 1864, but had other addresses
in Reading and London. Mark Noble, senior and
junior, built organs in Norwich in the 1850s and
60s. Their instruments are fine examples of the
early Victorian style (somewhat like those of
Holdich) and often have handsome cases.
The prices charged by the more
fashionable Victorian builders (Hill, Walker, Willis,
Lewis) were out of the range of many parishes, and most
of the organs by these builders came into the county from
elsewhere. There are a great number of organs by lesser,
but worthy builders, such as Bevington, who produced a
range of small organs which sold all over the world.
Similarly, Henry Jones of London built sturdy
instruments. Thomas Jones (no relation) was at the
cheaper end of the market but his organs are pleasant
enough. Thomas Cassons Positive Organ Company
turned out a range of very small organs, sometimes with
nice cases, around the turn of the twentieth century.
There are about thirty Cassons in Norfolk. Provincial
builders such as Forster & Andrews of Hull. Binns of
Leeds was a major provincial builder, sparsely
represented in Norfolk (but his organ in Haverhill Old
Independent, Suffolk is magnificent). His magnum opus in
Great Yarmouth Parish Church was destroyed in World War
II. Similarly, the few organs in the county by Conacher
of Huddersfield were obtained second-hand. Gray &
Davison, in their early days, built many important
instruments, but failed to keep a grip on the market and
for many years until their demise in the early 1970s did
mostly minor work. There are a number of their organs in
The Andrew Carnegie Foundation, which matched donations
pound for pound, enabled many parishes to acquire organs.
A number of builders in the twentieth century produced
standardised Model Organs. Such included the Compton
Miniatura, the Walker Model and
the Cousans (Lincoln) Premier. There are one
or two in the county, but by this time most Norfolk
churches were too strapped for cash to afford brand new
The dominant builder in Norfolk was Norman & Beard.
Founded in Diss by E.W. Norman in 1870, Norwich, the firm
later moved to Norwich and grew to be one of the largest
in the country (the factory even had its own railway
siding). The building is still standing (corner of St.
Stephens and Chapelfield Road). Norman & Beard
amalgamated with Hill of London in 1916, moved into
Hills factory in London and continued trading until
a few years ago. They held such sway that other big firms
scarcely got a look-in in Norfolk (Willis, Harrison &
Harrison, Rushworth & Dreaper, Compton
Walkers had a Royal connection and therefore picked
up a few jobs, notably round Sandringham). One or two
Norman & Beard men set up for themselves when the
firm moved to London, notably W.N. Middleton, H.F. Betts
and Nicholls & Fitt.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Norfolk
organ-building is the small firms, often one man outfits,
which built a few instruments, sometimes as a sideline to
other activities. These included James Scott of West
Tofts (surely encouraged by the Revd. Augustus Sutton),
Benjamin Collins of Lamas and John Bullen of Diss.
William Christmas Mack of Great Yarmouth supplied a
number of small organs in East Anglia, but may have acted
merely as an agent. Similarly, Godball of Ipswich kept a
music shop in the Cornmarket and supplied organs which he
obtained to order. Glasspool was organist of Wymondham
Abbey, ran a music shop with his brother and did a little
organ work, sometimes styling himself The Abbey
George Paddy Benson was storekeeper at Norman
& Beard, but made up organs from parts of old ones,
sometimes for Norman & Beard but occasionally under
his own name. He also brewed and sold a peculiarly
alcoholic ginger beer.
The Revd. George Buck, son of Dr. Zachariah Buck
(Organist of Norwich Cathedral) built a few organs out of
bits and pieces begged from Norman & Beards
Boggis of Diss (now owned by Rodney Briscoe) does good
work. In recent years, some distinguished new instruments
with good cases have been produced (e.g. Starston).
E&W Storr of Neatishead did a lot of
restoration/rebuilding for many years and were bought out
by Richard Bower, who has earned a good reputation for
his work, especially new instruments.
Holmes & Swift are another recent local firm who do
David Miller of Orwell, Cambridgeshire has described
himself as the Steptoe & Son of organ
building but has done a good deal of work
maintaining and rescuing old instruments.
In one or two cases, incompetent (but sometimes
well-meaning) persons have carried out disastrous work.
An example was the former organ at Binham Priory (before
the present instrument arrived from East Harling).
Another was the wonderful organ, ex-West Tofts, at South
Pickenham, which suffered a good deal of damage,
including spoliation of the case painting. Thankfully,
this has been put right.
Williamson & Hyatt of Trunch did some good work in
the nineteen fifties, later joining up with Cedric Arnold
of Thaxted. Their organ at Walsingham (1964) is an
outstanding piece of work and came as a surprise for a
small provincial builder at the time.
East Anglian firms outside Norfolk naturally provided
several instruments. Bishop & Son is the oldest
organ-builder in the country, with separate
establishments in London and Ipswich. Rayson of Ipswich
provided a number of organs through more than one
generation. Gildersleeves of Bury St. Edmunds was
responsible for a few small but pleasant instruments.
Cambridge firms such as Miller did surprisingly little
work in Norfolk, mostly in nonconformist chapels, one of
which (Nordelph Wesleyan) went as an exhibit to the AJF
Museum in the old Regal Cinema in Downham Market.
Millers rival, Bedwell, did a few jobs in the
Canon Gordon Paget, onetime Minor Canon of Norwich,
Rector of several city churches and later of Hedenham,
was for many years an important figure on the county
organ scene. He acquired organs for a great many Norfolk
churches (thus explaining the presence of a number of
instruments by builders not found elsewhere in the
county). As a historian, he was prolific, if not always
accurate. Ralph Bootman, who is still to the fore, was a
teacher who turned his hand to organ work as a hobby. He
restored several instruments, has written a good deal,
and has played every Anglican organ in the county.
David Drinkell BA, FRCO(CHM), ADCM, ARCM
Organist & Choir Director
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist,
GAZETTEER OF ORGANS IN NORFOLK by David Drinkell