Is Richard Norfolk’s longest serving church organist?

Richard Cockaday Picture: Rosamund O’Donnell

Richard Cockaday Picture: Rosamund O’Donnell - Credit: Rosamund O’Donnell

The musician believed to be Norfolk’s longest serving organist for a single church celebrates 50 years of service

Holy Trinity Church in Norwich

Holy Trinity Church in Norwich - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Richard Cockaday is celebrating 50 years as the organist at Holy Trinity Church, Norwich (and another five before that as assistant organist.)

He is believed to be Norfolk’s longest-serving organist at the same parish church and was also organist at St Faith’s Crematorium in Horsham St Faith for 20 years, bringing comfort to the bereaved at thousands of funerals.

Richard took the job as Holy Trinity organist on September 1 1970 and had hoped to celebrate the remarkable anniversary with a recital to raise money for Christian Aid but this has had to be postponed until after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

For now, he is once again able to go into the church, on Trinity Street, Norwich, to play, but most church services for the congregation of several hundred, are being held online. “I miss it very much,” he said.

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Richard learned to play the organ as a 10-year-old in Holt and began attending Holy Trinity as a child with his mother and grandmother when his family moved to nearby Gloucester Street. He joined the choir and was a bell-ringer and Sunday School teacher before becoming organist, working as a printer alongside his church music duties, until taking over as organist at St Faith’s. Richard, the longest-serving organist in Holy Trinity’s history, is married to Jenny and they have a daughter, Ruth. His music has filled the church at countless Sunday services under six rectors and 16 curates, and he has seen and been part of big changes in worship styles. He particularly loves the music of Handel best of all, with his favourite hymn Rejoice, the Lord is King, with words by Charles Wesley and music by George Handel.

Holy Trinity rector the Rev Richard James said: “Music is such a gift to express our praise of God and to lift each other’s hearts, and we miss singing in church so much during this pandemic. Richard knows the value to the church of singing as well as anyone, and since coming to Holy Trinity three years ago my wife Carole and I have been so struck by his desire to serve the Lord Jesus and His people through music, his care in choosing hymns that proclaim the goodness of God, and his quiet dedication to Christ”.

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Some of the highlights of Richard’s half century include playing for a service in 1982 which was broadcast on national television, and a national radio broadcast in 1993. In the 1970s the church had a large four-part choir and led the Evensong service at Norwich Cathedral on several occasions, with the rector preaching and Richard playing the Cathedral organ.

But the gifted musician loves the Holy Trinity organ best of all. It was built as a war memorial to the 164 men of the parish who gave their lives in the First World War. Two years ago, for the centenary of the end of the war, Richard helped research a book about their lives. Every time organ music fills the church it is a memorial to the men who left the surrounding streets of tight-packed terraced houses to fight for their country and never returned. From November 1918 local people gave money for particular keys and pipes. The completed organ, now listed as Grade II* by the British Institute of Organ studies for its historic interest and importance, is one of only five remaining made by Frederick Rothwell and Sons of Harrow.

Richard, now 74, usually gives an annual recital to raise money for Christian Aid and said: “It was going to be a bumper one this year, but that will have to wait until next year.”

Richard’s favourite hymns: Rejoice, the Lord is King. Thine be the Glory. Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.

And a least favourite? “My pet hate at the crematorium was The Old Rugged Cross because I played it so often.”

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