Refurbished organ is a salute to resilient villagers

PUBLISHED: 17:11 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:11 17 May 2019

Job done. Left to right, Philip Carriage (assistant to Richard Bower), Richard Bower and churchwarden Gilbert Larter.

Job done. Left to right, Philip Carriage (assistant to Richard Bower), Richard Bower and churchwarden Gilbert Larter.


A pipe dream has become a reality at one much-loved and historic coastal Norfolk church. Derek James reports

The organ stripped to its frameworkThe organ stripped to its framework

The music will be playing to lift the hearts and the spirits at a special festival this summer to celebrate the restoration of the wonderful organ at St Mary's Church in Happisburgh.

A number of recitals will be held and the first one is this coming Wednesday, May 22, at 7.30pm when David Dunnett, of Norwich Cathedral who is one of the top organists in Europe, will be playing.

The refurbishment of the organ is a great achievement for the proud people of Happisburgh, a community where life had not been easy for the residents.

The one great force adjacent to the church is the North Sea, and it has remorselessly battered the coastland by Happisburgh for years beyond living memory.

Some of the pipes re-installedSome of the pipes re-installed

The village has lived with the constant threat of the surging storm tides. During cliff fall erosion in recent years houses have tragically been lost.

But Happisburgh folk are a resilient body of people. Tough Norfolk folk

They, just like the mighty 110ft tower of their church, are resolute in their determination to carrying on caring for this wonderful building - which has been entrusted to them by countless generations - whatever the odds may be.

The organ has played its part for many years during the annual service to commemorate the sinking of HMS Invincible off Happisbugh in March of 1801. It had been due to join Admiral Horatio Nelson off Copenhagen. Some 400 lives were lost.

The church interiorThe church interior

Another occasion when the church records note the part the organ played during a sombre service during November, 1939, when the organist, Miss Davis, whose father was the lighthouse keeper, played as the coffins of two Germen airmen and a naval officer were carried from the church to their resting place in the churchyard.

Their bodies had been washed up on the beach. Where they were buried with full military honours and then in 1963 they were exhumed and re-located to the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase.

The organ which has now been given a new lease of life consists of two manuals (keyboards) plus pedals and contains more than 1100 pipes. It was removed from a church in Hampshire by organ builders Norman & Beards and taken to St Mary's in 1900.

Richard Bower, of Bower & Company, Organ Builders of Weston Longville, completely dismantled the organ in December last year and set about the major refurbishment over four months.

A new Trumpet rank on the main manual was made possible thanks to a recent generous gift from the estate of the late Miss Winifrede Deane, whose father was vicar in 1929.

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The main refurbishment was substantially paid for from a legacy left by former organist Mr Jesse Hewitt-Gibson, who died in 1993, and is buried outside, close to where the organ sits in the church.

The people at the church say it has been the gratifying and heart-warming to have received some generous donations from organisations and individuals who share a common love of St Marty's and want to safeguard the fabric of this amazing church.

The wonderful acoustic in St Mary's has seen it become the venue for some memorable concerts over past decades but it is believed this is the first time a summer festival has been held.

To celebrate the restoration work, and to help with fund-raising to meet the considerable outstanding balance of the overall cost, the rector of St Mary's, Rev Catherine Dobson, appointed a small working committee to arrange a series of organ recitals featuring the skills of eight talented local soloists.

They all start at 7.30pm and finish at 8.30pm with refreshments. Entry is free but donations will be gratefully received:

The first one is next Wednesday (May 22) with David Dunnett and from then on they will be held on a Monday, once a fortnight, at 7.30.

The soloists at the concerts during the summer are:

June 3: Mathew Martin of St Michael's Aylsham.

June 17: Jonathan Stamp, formerly organ scholar at Norwich Cathedral.

July 1: Richard Bower, organist at St Nicholas, Dereham.

July 15: David Ballard, formerly Director of Music at St Nicholas, North Walsham.

July 29: Timothy Patient, organist at St Mary's, Hellesdon, and All Hallows, Ditchingham.

August 12: Elwyn Bowler, organist at St Mary's Happisburgh.

August 26 August (Bank Holiday) David Berwick, associate organist, St Mary's, Happisburgh.

If you can't attend but would like to make a donation then you can contact church treasurer, Joan Larter, on 01692 650728 or email
With thanks to David Berwick.

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