Do take a pew and help us celebrate our bargain buy

It was during the dark second world war year of 1940 that John Robbens played a church organ for the first time in public, at Lowestoft.

Now, at 88, he is preparing to celebrate a landmark anniversary among the keys and the stops of a fine instrument he knows and loves and which turned out to be something of a bargain for its congregation.

For the past 40 years he has been combining his nimble fingerwork and his footwork on the pedals to play the organ at St Mary's Church, Somerleyton.

The Hill Norman & Beard three- manual organ was installed on a specially-built balcony in 1971 at the west end of the church, having begun its working life in Norwich.

Worshippers at Somerleyton could say the instrument has been the bargain buy of the past four decades as it was bought for �100 and has never caused Mr Robbens any problems.

Today, the organ, which weighs some five tonnes, would cost about �100,000 to build from scratch.

In May, a recital will be held at St Mary's to mark the 40th anniversary of its arrival in the Suffolk village.

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Over those years and beyond, Mr Robbens has been an integral part of Sunday services, weddings and funerals at the church.

That debut performance of his in 1940 was at Lowestoft Central Methodist Church, and, apart from while serving with the Royal Engineers in the second world war, he has not stopped playing.

His love of hymns remains as strong as ever – favourites are The King Of Love My Shepherd Is and O Thou Who Camest From Above – and he plays at neighbouring churches at Lound and Blundeston, too. At Somerleyton, his dedication to his beloved organ saw him hobbling up the staircase to reach the keyboard while nursing a broken ankle.

Mr Robbens, of Old College Close, Beccles, worked as a river board civil engineer in his younger days. He said: 'Buying the organ for �100 was an absolute bargain, and it is perfect for this country church. I get so much enjoyment from playing and being able to take part in worship. 'It also helps to keep my fingers going and help with my rheumatism.'

The rector of St Mary's, the Rev Leslie Hobbs, said: 'John is a very competent player. He is well loved here and always remains positive.

'For the last 20 years he has kept saying he is going to retire, but he has just carried on. Playing the organ is such a big part of his life.'

The organ was built in 1912 for the now-demolished Chapel-in-the-Field Congregational Church in Norwich and incorporated parts of an organ from the Colston Hall, Bristol.

It had been described by the Norwich and District Organists' Association as 'the finest instrument of its kind in Norwich, outside the cathedral'.

After the Victorian Congregational church, in Chapel Field East, was closed, the then Norwich corporation offered the organ for sale for �100 in 1971. At the same time, the congre-gation at St Mary's was looking to replace its Miller electric organ.

It cost �1,350 to install the organ in Somerleyton church.

The anniversary recital is on Saturday, May 7 and will be performed by John Farmer. It starts at 7.30pm; ticket details will be announced later.

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