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St Oswald's Schools project


This year, our annual Veteran Cycle Club Camp took us to Reepham in Norfolk. Fortunately I had the foresight to consult Rodney (Rodney Tomkins ed.) regarding organs in the area; Rodney strongly recommended that I try to play the instrument in Little Walsingham of which more later.

We were blessed with lovely weather for the whole week, and enjoyed some excellent cycling. Our first ride took us to Aylsham, and after only a very short distance we came across the most impressive late Victorian church of St Michael the Archangel at Booton. It was quite a pleasure to find that most of the churches in Norfolk are open to the public all day and so a group of cyclists wandered into this splendid building. Magnificent wooden angels peered down from the sturdy wooden-framed roof structure; perhaps all the available money had been spent on the angels since the organ seemed rather lost in the building that really deserved something more impressive.

Nevertheless it was an attractive 2-manual organ with decorated pipes. To my surprise the instrument had not been converted to electric blower but still required hand pumping. I tend to carry some music in my pannier, so I tried out a Bach Prelude. The sound was not so attractive, however it was the first organ I had played which was hand-pumped. The wind chest must have leaked badly, since, much to the amusement of the group, it required vigorous pumping to maintain sufficient air pressure to play. I suspect it does not have much use since it would require a super fit assistant if extended performances were to be given!

For those railway enthusiasts amongst us, I should mention that our ride then took us on to the Bure Valley Narrow Gauge Railway, where, with our path running alongside the track, some of the madder members decided it would be fun to try racing the train!

Amongst the highlights of our holiday was the organ at St Mary's, Little Walsingham, which we visited on the second day. Although a modern instrument - built in 1964 - it really is worth hearing because of the wonderful sound it produces. It is a 2-manual instrument , notable as being an early example of a modern tracker action. The specification is as follows:

Gt: 8, 8, 4, 4, 2 2/3, 2, 1 3/5, IV rks, Sw: 8, 8, 4, 2, 1 1/3, 1, 16, 8,   Ped: 16, 16, 8, 8, 4, 2, II rks, 16, 8, 4.

Krebs, Walther and Bach all sounded splendid, the more so owing to the wonderful acoustics in the church. My only complaint was that I struggled to find a soft fluty stop for some passages, however I suspect that was my failing rather than the organ's. I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend the best part of 2 hours playing the organ, and would recommend this organ to anyone visiting the area.

After two organs in as many days, the children were suffering from a slight "organ-overload", however these opportunities don't happen every day, and whilst cycling through Little Snoring we found yet another specimen that I needed to try out. This time it was a 1-manual organ with only 3 stops dating from 1800, built by a local firm in Fakenham. A manual piece by Pachelbel sounded quite effective on this instrument.

For any bicycle enthusiasts amongst us, I should say that two of us were on pre-war Hercules machines, whilst my husband, Derek, rode a 1903 "Scorcher" when not on the modern Triplet which accommodates both children when necessary. our old bikes are fun to ride and well-suited to slightly undulating Norfolk lanes.

I didn't expect to be playing anything on the third day, and the children dearly hoped we wouldn't find another organ, but I took some music just in case. This time we cycled on the disused railway from our camp at Whitwell Hall, which took us all the way to Norwich. We parked our bikes by St Andrews and Blackfriars Hall, where we visited a collectors' fair. The building used to be a monastery, but nowadays two of the halls are converted into concert halls. One had a grand piano on the stage, and (oh joy!) in the other, a large organ. I did not for a moment expect that I would be let loose on this instrument, so we merely passed through the hall and had a good look around the collectors' fair. Passing a reception desk on leaving, I casually asked whether it would be possible to play the organ, expecting the inevitable "No", however I couldn't believe my ears when the man said "I'll just get the key!"

And so the family were dragged back into the hall for me to have a go on this huge instrument. It was a Wm Hill, Norman & Beard large 3-manual organ, with what appeared to me a vast ocean of stops. It has 54 speaking stops, which include a tuba duplicated on the great and the choir organ. Particularly impressive was the 32' pipe and the sheer power of the instrument. After playing a few pieces I noticed it had a "record and playback" function. This appealed to Derek's mischievous nature; I recorded a few pieces and sat our seven year old daughter at the console, a quick flick of the play button and we disappeared to the back of the hall. As people wandered in and out of the fair they were amazed by the child prodigy at the keyboard of the mighty instrument!

So, an organ a day so far, and a ride to Fakenham planned for day 4. The music was in the pannier, but I really didn't envisage getting it out again. Our ride took us past Great Ryburgh church - a Saxon church with a round tower, but the children were let off the hook when we couldn't get up to the organ. No such luck when we arrived in Fakenham, however. It was market day, and we parked our bikes outside the Parish Church, where there was a coffee morning and book fair in progress. The vicar was around, and as he was chatting to us about our triplet, I asked him whether it would be possible to play the organ. Again I heard those magical words "I'll just get the key!", but with the proviso that I played quietly.

So, off I went again, this time on a medium-sized 3-manual organ built by Hele & Company, Plymouth. It had 30 speaking stops including pedal reeds, and had recently been restored. As part of the rebuild, a new trombone stop had been added, and it was whilst I was trying this out that I was politely asked to play a little more quietly. Oh well, it was good whilst it lasted. A lovely instrument to play, with quite a breadth of different sounds possible, even without the louder reeds.

Day 5 (of 7) onwards was organ-free. We cycled to the beach a couple of times, and spared the children of any more of my music. It was a lovely holiday, with something for everyone, and even more for me.

Gillian Chatto


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