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Organ gives hamlet a headache

PUBLISHED: 20:01 29 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:56 03 March 2010

WHEN the vicar of a tiny Suffolk hamlet commissioned one of the finest organs of the age for his modest parish church he probably didn't think his prized possession would also turn out to be a major headache for residents generations on.

WHEN the vicar of a tiny Suffolk hamlet commissioned one of the finest organs of the age for his modest parish church he probably didn't think his prized possession would also turn out to be a major headache for residents generations on.

The impressive Thomas Lewis organ in St John's church, Great Wenham is in need of renovation. Built in the late 1860s especially for the church, surveyors have estimated that the total cost of rebuilding the unique musical masterpiece will come to £25,000. A sizeable figure considering the parish has a total population of just over 100 – between ten and 20 of whom regularly make it to church services.

Members of the committee set up to fundraise said they were not deterred by the task ahead of them and have already organised a raft of coffee mornings and bun-fights to set the ball rolling.

Work is due to start on dismantling the instrument, currently squeezed into a cramped organ loft in the church, in January next year – although fundraisers say they have allowed themselves up to three years to finish paying for the work.

"It's unusual to see such a large organ in such a little parish church," admitted Jonathan Hunt, chairman of the appeal committee.

"We believe that the vicar at the time commissioned and paid for it. It's a particularly fine organ although the configuration inside is a bit difficult because the organ loft is not very big."

The man chosen to survey Great Wenham's hidden jewel was Ian Bell, curator of the grand organ at St Paul's Cathedral and regarded as the leading organ adviser in the country.

Describing it as "a remarkable little instrument and a valuable possession" he urged parishioners to go ahead with the necessary repairs saying that it was an excellent example of the work of Thomas Lewis, one of the most highly respected organ builders of the time.

John Scott, a leading organist in Britain and director of music at St Paul's Cathedral, has accepted a role as patron of the fundraising committee and will give an inaugural recital once work is complete in nearly six months time.

Mr Hunt of Little Wenham said that he had high hopes this concert would do much for fundraising, adding that "it's a lot of money – but I think we will do it."

Churchwarden Margaret Howard said of the fundraising: "It's going quite well so far but people will need to be quiet generous."

The organ – which has remained largely unchanged for 140 years – will be sent to specialists Bishop and Son on Bolton Lane in Ipswich for repair.

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