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Memories of a lost Norwich church

PUBLISHED: 14:29 23 February 2011

The chapel-in-the-field Congregational Church, which was demolished in 1972

The chapel-in-the-field Congregational Church, which was demolished in 1972

Archant

Derek James tells the story of how a city church fell victim to civic vandalism.

The story of an organ recital in Somerleyton has brought back memories of a brutal act of civic vandalism in Norwich almost 40 years ago – when a church was destroyed and its fine organ sold at a knockdown price.

It was during February of 1972 when the demolition sledgehammers were bringing down the Chapel-in-the-Field Congregational Church overlooking Chapelfield Gardens with its twin towers and great wheel window.

The only reminder of this grand Norwich landmark is the organ, said to be the best in the city outside the cathedral, which was sold to St Mary’s at Somerleyton by the city council for just £100.

Today it would cost well over £100,000.

The organ, built by local company Hill Norman & Beard, will be the star attraction at a recital in May and organist John Robbens, now aged 88, said: “Buying the organ for £100 was an absolute bargain.”

The story sparked memories of the chapel, especially for Joyce Walker, now of Doughty’s Hospital, who said the demolition broke her heart.

The organ had been built in 1912 for the chapel and the organist and choirmaster was George Percival Griffiths. Joyce’s uncle Harry Carrick was choir secretary for 44 years and her father, Bert Carrick was deputy organist for more than 40 years.

“In the 1930s he had to have a leg amputated just below the knee because of gangreen caused by a First World War wound, but he continued playing as soon as he was fitted with an artificial leg,” said Joyce. She loved the chapel and recalled how, back in the early part of 1972, she was living at Addenbooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, where her blind husband was dying. “Two days after he died I decided to visit the church which had been part of my life since childhood and where my husband and I were married, and what did I find? Just a pile of rubble. My beautiful place of worship destroyed,” said Joyce. “It broke my heart.”

“The saddest fact about the story is that the piece of land still stands empty after 40 years, But I am thankful that my fathers’ great love, the organ, still continues to be used and is still loved and giving pleasure to people,” she added.

The organ recital is at St Mary’s Church, Somerleyton, on May 7. Ticket details will be announced later.

What happened to the Chapelfield pagoda? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

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