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The 1888 Norman Bros. & Beard at Langham Episcopi, Norfolk


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To continue the recent theme of late Victorian instruments, this last Easter Sunday, I was prevailed upon to play for Matins at the interesting church of St Andrew and St Mary, Langham Episcopi and a little over ten miles from where I live.

 

It proved a surprisingly versatile instrument for such a modest specification [ http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N06149 ] and is also the smallest instrument by far on which I’ve presided at a service. It is certainly unprepossessing, when first seen.

 

Mainly eschewing the pedals (in the hope of avoiding the provision of yet more income for my osteopath), I grew into the remembered pleasure of accompanying a congregation - of around fifty. Yes, c50 ! In rural north Norfolk.

 

The Great diapasons are suitably robust; the Clarabella very nice, if smooth. The Swell Gamba is especially stringy, but the 4’ Flute is the starring stop. It sounds older than the rest, lovely and woody, as if it had been ‘lifted’ from an earlier instrument: late 18th or early 19th century. Unfortunately, access to the innards is not easy.

 

I would appreciate comments on the presumed Agnus Dei, which is situated above the Chancel arch, facing west. It appears to have a naval anchor/cross, in addition to ‘rays’ similar to those I’ve seen before adorning memorials.

 

I’ve posted some photos on Photobucket; this being, I hope, the link [ http://s296.photobucket.com/user/firstrees/media/049psePAINT_zpsqmtjw5dx.jpg.html ] and scroll back. These may well be interspersed with some of the Blakeney organ.

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Norman and Beard built a lot of small two manuals like this throughout East Anglia over the years, having the capacity in their Norwich factory to turn them out quickly and a number of skilled workers who could voice and finish them on site. In this latter respect, they differed from Harrison & Harrison up north, where the final finishing by "Mr. Arthur" was almost a mystic rite, with silent acolytes acting on his orders. Where churches were particularly strapped for cash, the Norwich works store-keeper, Henry "Paddy" Benson (Archbishop Runcie was his grandson) assembled a number of competent instruments from parts of others. N&B's mass production - or very nearly - means that the instruments may appear to be much of a muchness, but in fact each one has its own particular character and they are nearly all nice little jobs.

 

Langham is a fine church, much bigger than one would expect for the size of the village. It was heavily restored in the nineteenth century and is a plain, clean and bright interior with a couple of stunning Burne-Jones windows. The organ is in the north aisle towards the west end, speaking into the nave, and is therefore very well placed to do its job.

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Down here on the Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset borders we have many similar instruments of similar vintage though more often from Vowles, Sweetland etc. - our local firms. Having had the fortune to have played 'village' for the last twenty five years or so I can testify to the adaptability and artistry of the majority of these seemingly ordinary instruments. With a bit of experimentation it is surprising what one can achieve.

 

A

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I think living 'up there', almost at the North Pole, must have affected your magnetic compass, David.

 

The instrument was definitely in the South aisle on Easter Sunday.

 

It is possible it has 'migrated', since NPOR claims it to be on a "moveable platform". I would not like to test this out.

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Langham is a fine church, much bigger than one would expect for the size of the village. It was heavily restored in the nineteenth century and is a plain, clean and bright interior with a couple of stunning Burne-Jones windows. The organ is in the north aisle towards the west end, speaking into the nave, and is therefore very well placed to do its job.

 

A friend of mine was Vicar of Langham, Binham and the surrounding parishes - and remember going into Langham church once. I would have said that the organ was in the South aisle - and, somewhere, I have a photograph of it.

 

A beautiful part of the country - and one of the parts of England I really miss!

 

(Morston church, which was also part of the living of Langham, has two rather wonderful looking harmoniums - one of which was in working order and used for services!)

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I think living 'up there', almost at the North Pole, must have affected your magnetic compass, David.

 

The instrument was definitely in the South aisle on Easter Sunday.

 

It is possible it has 'migrated', since NPOR claims it to be on a "moveable platform". I would not like to test this out.

 

Yup, south aisle it is! The church only has one aisle, and that's on the side facing away from the road, so the exterior view from the churchyard is the more impressive one.

 

George Thalben Ball had a story about cruising across the chancel at the helm of a well-oiled harmonium.

 

Re proximity to the North Pole, this is actually the furthest south I've ever lived. It's just that you get the Gulf Stream going north and we get the Labrador Current coming south, and a lot of snow. In fact, the winter just past (I hope) was the mildest since I came here thirteen years ago. I didn't have to dig the car out once (although a couple of times I parked facing downhill so I could get out by hitting the gas and ploughing through it - two Christmasses ago, I went down the hill sideways because it was the only way to get to the Cathedral). There's no snow left now, but we could get another lot yet. Now Orkney is on the same level as the top end of Labrador, but that's a long way further north.

 

Salvation cometh neither from the east nor from the west: nor yet from the south (Psalm 75)

 

Binham, referred to by SL, is a wonderful remnant of a huge priory church. It had a very short-lived cowboy rebuild of a harmless little job by ex-N&B Middleton, but now has a rather splendid W.C. Mack (Great Yarmouth), possibly built for him by Fincham and installed here by David Miller, Ex-East Harling. Organs in Norfolk like to get about....

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