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Recital to celebrate organ's 40th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 19:27 06 May 2011

Somerleyton church organist John Robbens has been playing the organ for over 40 years.

Somerleyton church organist John Robbens has been playing the organ for over 40 years.

Archant

A CHURCH in Somerleyton is celebrating a 40 year land mark with an organ recital on Saturday night.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the arrival of St Mary’s five tonne organ, organist John Farmer, from Great Yarmouth, will be performing a recital.

As Mr Farmer starts his recital he will be keenly watched by another organist who has been playing church organs since 1940.

In 1940, John Robbens played his first church organ in public in Lowestoft.

And the sprightly octagenarian is still going strong as he prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the organ’s arrival at St Mary’s

For the last 40 years he has been playing St Mary’s five tonne organ.

The Hill Norman & Beard three manual organ was installed on a specially-built balcony in the west end of the church in 1971.

St Mary’s congregation could say the organ has been the bargain buy of the last 40 years as it was bought for £100 and has never caused Mr Robbens any problems. Today it would cost about £100,000 to build from scratch.

Over the last five decades Mr Robbens has become an integral part of services, weddings and funerals at the church.

Mr Robbens, from Old College Close, Beccles, played his first church organ in public in 1940 at Lowestoft’s Central Methodist Church and, apart from serving as a Royal Engineer in the second world war, he has not stopped his keyboard magic.

His love of hymns is still as strong and as well as St Mary’s Church he plays the organ at churches in Lound and Blundeston.

And his dedication to his music has seen him hobbling up the St Mary’s staircase to reach the instrument with a broken ankle.

His favourite hymns are The King of Love My Shepherd Is and O Thou Who Camest From Above.

Mr Robbens, who worked as civil engineer for the River Board, said: “Buying the organ for £100 was an absolute bargain and 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, 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 Chapelfield Congregational Church in Norwich, and incorporated parts of an organ from Colston Hall in Bristol.

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

After the church was closed Norwich City Corporation offered the organ for sale for £100 in 1971. At the same time St Mary’s was looking to replace its Miller electric organ.

It cost £1,350 to install the organ in the church, parts of which date back to the 14th century.

Saturday’s organ recital by John Farmer starts in St Mary’s from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £7.50 and are available from Somerleyton post office or by calling 01502 470840 or 01502 731600. Refreshments will be available.

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