A new book to commemorate a Norfolk musician has been published following the anniversary of his death.

Richard James White, founder of Claxton Opera, moved to the village between Norwich and Loddon during the early 1970s and lived there until his death last year, aged 83.

Born in East Runton on the Norfolk coast, his early life saw him attend boarding school before completing university at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and National Service with the Royal Norfolk Regiment.

But it became his creativity, musical talent and “remarkable character” which would go on to underpin his life.

After his director of studies at university, the novelist Kingsley Amis, had apparently failed to motivate the then trainee impresario, Mr White threw himself into opera and drama. It was during this time that he met his future wife Bobby, while working at Cambridge University Press.

The couple spent the 1960s living in Bury St Edmunds but in 1971, Mr White persuaded a Norfolk farmer to sell him the ruinous Old Meeting House and its adjoining chapel cottage, Keeper’s Cottage, at Claxton.

Over the next few years, Mr White fully restored the property – including installing running water – while directing a long run of operas both with Norfolk Opera Players and on his own held in venues such as Norwich Theatre Royal and the city’s St Andrew’s Hall.

He also created an epic staged-production of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio ‘Elijah’ at Norwich Cathedral to critical acclaim. His wife and their four children, Christian, Jacob, Lucy and Rebecca took part in this production as they did in various other creations performed around the county and further afield.

Although originally destined to be a professional singer, Mr White's desire for a family and a settled life led him into teaching. He took up a position at Thorpe St Andrew School where he inspired countless children through his creativity and enthusiasm for music and opera. He believed deeply in the power of music to nurture joy and opportunity, no matter the age or background.

As a resident of Claxton, he threw himself into village life and could be seen around the village in his distinctive van loaded with all manner of gleaned items that were stored in one of the numerous sheds in his garden until they found their place within his latest creation at home or on a stage.

The family suffered momentous change during the 1990s. Mrs White was diagnosed with a brain tumour and later suffered a series of strokes that left her severely disabled for the rest of her life, with Mr White as her career. He subsequently took early retirement to care for her until her death 20 years later.

While The Old Meeting House was largely destroyed by a fire. Later, in 1993, he rebuilt the home to include a miniature opera house, complete with orchestra pit, gallery and seating for over 100.

During a break from Norfolk Opera Players’ productions, Mr White set Purcell’s opera ‘Dido and Aenea’ against the backdrop of the ruined castle in Claxton, inadvertently creating Claxton Opera. His swansong became Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ performed in 2014 inside the grounds of Ashby Hall.

His family said: "This was another epic production through which he demonstrated himself to be an original and gifted stage director, his greatest skill being to martial and inspire a multitude of performers and musicians of all ages."

In 2015, following his wife’s death, he married Hazel. The two families had been close for many years and it was a joyous union, cut short by Mr White’s death on August 8, 2021. As well as his wife and children, he left behind 14 grandchildren.

  • To obtain a copy of the book 'Richard White – A Remarkable Man: An alphabetical miscellany of memories', please email John and Katherine Gray at johngrayotc@gmail.com
  • To pay tribute to a loved one email norfolktributes@archant.co.uk
  • To read more obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.