The Vowles Organ Restoration

St Benet’s “VOWLES” Pipe Organ

Organ Gallery

This instrument is unique, being the only organ built by Vowles of Bristol for a Suffolk church. It was first installed at St Edmund’s, Bungay in the late 19th century before being moved to St Benet’s when the church hall was opened as a temporary chapel in 1891.

The organ was moved into St. Benet’s when the nave was completed in 1901, and then in 1908 it was moved again to the transept gallery for the consecration of the church. It thus gave musical support to the choir located either side of the sanctuary as well as for congregational singing at Benediction. 

The electronic organ in the nave was installed 15 years ago after the choir had moved into the ‘congregational’ area of the church, encouraging wider participation in the music at Sunday Mass.

The two instruments are now both used on occasional Sundays and on other important feasts of the Church Year. Being an electronic instrument, the nave organ can be programmed to play at the same pitch as the Vowles pipe organ (‘The Battle of the Organs’).

 £3,000 for a Restoration?

For a pipe organ appeal, the amount is remarkably small – reflecting the quality of the original Vowles workmanship.  

The organ is still used regularly and it is actually in quite good condition.  It now needs thorough cleaning, and some moving parts have become worn over the years.  In particular, the current state of the pedal action prevents many of the bass notes from sounding properly, which results in the organ sounding rather ‘top-heavy’ owing to the absence of these notes.

Back viewThe picture on the left shows the back of the organ.Top view 

On the right, looking up towards the ceiling, the appearance of the pipes (which are made of wood) takes on a greenish hue because of the effect of the stained glass windows.

Pipes are made either of various metals (including alloys) or wood; different materials give different qualities of sound.  The largest of these pipes are over 8 feet long, and these are the pipes which produce the deep sounds that vibrate through the church. 

However, there is a stopper in the top of each pipe, so the acoustical effect is similar to that of a pipe of double the length.  [A pipe 16 feet long will produce the note C that is three octaves below middle C on the piano]. The pipe is tuned by adjusting the position of the stopper.

These are the pipes that are mostly out of action at the moment; the mechanism that operates them is defunct and needs replacing.

Richard Bower, of Bower Organs, Norfolk, has given an estimate of £2,475 + VAT (i e £2,970) for the replacement of the pedal action and the work is planned for late summer / early autumn 2015.


Efforts began in June 2014 with more than £300 raised during a Midsummer Curry Night and this was followed by a number of generous donations from around the parish.

Once it was known that the pipe organ would be used for occasional public events, and to raise funds for different charities, we received a grant of £500 from the Beccles Townlands Charity in August 2014.

The bicycle ride in aid of the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust was the occasion for an exceptional bit of fundraising in September 2014. Our “recorder”, who counted the number of cyclists visiting St Benet’s, arranged to be sponsored for her day’s work. Her sponsorship contributed no less than £300, which was then donated to the Vowles Organ Appeal.

I Saw Three Ships by Jeanette RayAfter several other initiatives, at the time of writing this note (August 2015) the Pipe Organ Fund stood at £2,306.80 – so we were still in need of almost £700!

The Organ Appeal was the thirdJungle Book by Angela Vokalek & Marjorie Ridley ‘local charity’ for which the parish raised funds at the St Benet’s Flower Festival, (held on 29, 30 and 31 August 2015) – and that took us to within £100 of the total.  Shortly after the Festival, an anonymous donor gave £100 to close the remaining gap, “in appreciation of the organ music played during the Flower Festival”. 

Truly wonderful news and we are very grateful to ALL who have donated so generously over the last few years. 

 The Future

While the Vowles pipe organ has an important role within the service of the church, the present appeal is also based on the quality of the instrument itself. It deserves to be heard in its own right and appreciated for the authenticity and clarity of its tone. Indeed, even in its present state, it was played over all three days of the Flower Festival to provide musical intervals for the additional enjoyment of our visitors.

Restored to its original condition, it will become a valuable asset to the parish, and indeed for the town, and it will be able to “play its part” and contribute to further fundraising activities for many years to come.

After the restoration work has been carried out, the organ fund could continue to exist as a modest ‘float’, to cater for routine cleaning and on-going maintenance work – which we hope will be minor. This would be needed for the Vowles pipe organ in the gallery, perhaps reserved for special services or events, and also for the electronic organ in the nave of the church, which is used every Sunday.

The Organ GalleryWhole window Small (480x640)

Window Detail Small (248x261)The picture (left) above shows detail from a window behind the organ (lime-and-raspberry?!). 

The same pattern is used in both transepts, and it creates a particular quality of light in the Lady Chapel.

The whole window is shown on the right.


Web Site Editor’s note

We are most grateful to Richard J. Jones for the information on which these notes are based.  Richard also provided us with the accompanying photographs.

 For any further details, please email:

%d bloggers like this: