The King Edward VI School Organ

“The Gateway” Project

John Ottley (later to become OBA Hon. Secretary) playing the organ in the 1960s with Chris Hamel-Cooke, Clifford King and John Pettit looking on.

Did you know that quietly rotting away until recently in the old building at the Vinefields there was a fine two-manual pipe organ? This was installed in the new Assembly Hall by Arnold’s of Thaxted in the autumn term of 1962. The organ was designed in consultation with the then music teacher Mr Bridges and paid for by a £2,000 gift from The King Edward VI Foundation Trustees. The opening recital was given by Harrison Oxley, organist and choirmaster at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, on 16th October in the evening. The programme included some Chorale Preludes by J S Bach, works by John Gardner and Jan Sweelinck, a Handel concerto and Mozart’s “Fantasia for a Clockwork Organ“, and concluded with the well-known Toccata from the Fifth Symphony by Widor. The instrument was used every day for Assemblies when a hymn would be sung as well as a setting of “The Lord’s Prayer” by former music teacher Percy Hallam (also a former choirmaster at the Cathedral).

When the school moved to Grove Road in 1972, the organ was left behind in the ‘old’ school hall which was then occupied by St James Middle School. That school closed in 2016, and the buildings were left empty. The site belonged to the Church of England, and was sold in 2022 to a development company.  The site is expected to be used for new housing, and the organ was threatened with being demolished with the building. We could not let this happen.

A sorry picture – some of the pipes, the two manuals and the pedal board, as they are today. Years of neglect and damp conditions have taken a terrible toll.

Charles Hamel-Cooke was able to negotiate the necessary permission and find an organ builder/repairer who was prepared to work with us to save the organ from destruction, and it has now been dismantled and removed into storage until firm plans can be made for its repair, refurbishment and re-installation at a new site. It has unfortunately suffered devastating deterioration during the years when it was left unused in an unmaintained building. Considerable expenditure will be required to bring it back into playable condition and re-instal it, but we firmly believe that it is worth doing, for a number of reasons.

Five years ago, a few tabs were missing but the organ was generally still looking in fairly good shape.

As with any musical instrument, it is only possible to reach a high standard if a suitable instrument is readily available for practice. The education ‘hub’ in Bury St Edmunds, with a campus of The Suffolk University, two Sixth Form Colleges and King Edward VI School in close proximity, and working in close co-operation, will allow any student from the 23,000 based there year on year, to have access to the instrument and have a better chance to succeed as a classical musician.

There is currently a national shortage of church organists, and the heritage of great composers’ works being heard and inspiring future generations is therefore compromised. This instrument should last for at least one hundred years, and the number of people in the future who might benefit from hearing the musicians who learn to play here is incalculable.

This project will not only benefit the students who learn to play and advance their skills on this instrument, but should impact on all the students at the college, who will hear it played – not only in concerts and recitals, but as they pass by The Gateway Building where the organ is to be housed. As a permanent fixture in the building, it should remain in place for as long as the building is in use.

The organ’s intended new home – ‘The Gateway Building’ at West Suffolk College.

One hundred years in the future, education may have changed beyond our recognition, but this instrument will still be perfectly viable and continue to give good service.

The value to the community lies in the possibilities of future training and of the chance to attend recitals and concerts performed by accomplished students, and future professional musicians. Not only students, their parents and families, but any member of the public will be able to visit the college, listen to music performed by students and professionals alike, and enjoy a new music venue in the town. As the organ will be housed on College premises, it will be safe, protected from abrupt temperature change, and any other damaging effects. The Old Burians’ Association will continue to have close contact with the colleges and schools, ensuring that the organ is properly maintained. It is a perfect partnership. There is no other organisation with such a close relationship with, or interest in this instrument. It is an important part of the historical assets of the school and it holds great significance.

And in case you were in any doubt that the pipe organ still has a place in the contemporary music scene, you might enjoy this YouTube clip featuring Anna Lapwood (yes, we know that we can’t compete with the Royal Albert Hall, but …).

The Head Teacher of King Edward VI School, as well as the Principals at all three adjacent colleges fully support this plan, and will make full use of this opportunity.

There is now a report on the Suffolk News website and the East Anglian Daily Times has also carried the story (on 23rd June).

How YOU can help

We have an ambitious plan to instal the organ over the coming months, and to hold an inaugural concert as soon as possible. To achieve this, we need your help!

The total cost of renovating the organ and installing it at the College, is around £42,000 (including VAT). We realise that this is a large sum, but once installed, the organ should be good for a hundred years or more. We are applying to any and every source of revenue, from The National Lottery to individual Foundations and Trust Funds – and to Old Burians’ Association members. Donations from interested non-members and other organisations will also of course be very gratefully received. Once we have achieved all of this, there will be a record of individuals and organisations who have donated (donors may remain anonymous if they choose) and a placard recording our grateful thanks, perhaps attached to the organ case.

Please help us if you can, by making a donation. You can do this either
(i) by making a BACS transfer to: Old Burians Association, Account number 33556212, Sort code 20-16-12,
(ii) by sending a cheque, payable to Old Burians Association, to Committee Member David Blackmore at this address:
89 Cromwell Lane, Coventry, Warwickshire, CV4 8AQ.

Our grateful thanks to our Donors – the amount raised so far is: £10,640