Steam-powered crowds help Wurlitzer wizard celebrate 40th season

Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe celebrated his 40th season at Thursford Collection

Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe celebrated his 40th season at Thursford Collection with a steam gala day which attracted more than 1,500 people - Credit: Chris Hill

The golden age of steam was recreated at the Thursford Collection to help the Norfolk museum celebrate the 40th season of its resident Wurlitzer organ wizard.

More than 1,500 people arrived at the attraction, near Fakenham, for a steam gala day to mark the 40-year milestone for world-renowned concert organist Robert Wolfe.

Mr Wolfe has performed an estimated 15,000 of his virtuoso shows to more than three million people since beginning his summer residency in 1981.

And the museum celebrated his dazzling career with a gala event, harking back to the venue's steam-powered heyday.

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

A bumper turn-out of families and heritage enthusiasts saw more than 100 visiting exhibits including gleaming steam engines, vintage automobiles, tractors and mechanical organs.

And there were three live performances from the resident performer on the famous Wurlitzer organ, which was originally installed in a cinema in Leeds in 1932.

Mr Wolfe said he felt a "bit nervous" before performing to a huge audience which included many fellow professional organists, and friends and family who had travelled to join his anniversary celebrations.

But he said he was thrilled to be playing to such a large crowd, drawn by the bygone appeal of steam.

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"This is exactly what I wanted," he said. "There is such a buzz. It is like going back in time, we have not had these crowds here in the summer for 40 or 50 years. 

"For me it brings back memories of when I first came here 40-plus years ago when there used to be live steam engines here and families lapping up the atmosphere of the funfares.

"The young people here today have not seen these engines before so it is fascinating to see."

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

The other star attractions at the gala day included a 1932 showman's road locomotive named "The Lion", which was sold for more than £900,000 at an auction last year.

The steam loco was originally built by agricultural engineers Fowler to power fast fairground rides at the Anderton and Rowland travelling fairs.

A 1932 showman's road locomotive named "The Lion" was one of the star attractions at the steam gala day at Thursford

A 1932 showman's road locomotive named "The Lion" was one of the star attractions at the steam gala day at Thursford - Credit: Chris Hill

There was also a vintage former Norwich City turntable ladder fire engine, along with vintage cars and tractors - all exhibited to an ever-present soundtrack of songs from restored fairground pipe organs.

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris HIll

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe with some of the exhibits at the steam gala day at Thursford

Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe with some of the exhibits at the steam gala day at Thursford - Credit: Chris Hill

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe

The steam gala day at Thursford celebrated the 40th season of resident Wurlitzer organist Robert Wolfe - Credit: Chris Hill

Robert Wolfe playing the Wurlitzer organ during the steam gala day at Thursford

Robert Wolfe playing the Wurlitzer organ during the steam gala day at Thursford - Credit: Chris Hill


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