Organ History

In 1753, Charles Burney persuaded the good Burgesses of Lynn to spend £700 on a new organ built by an unknown London organ builder. Up until then, John Snetzler had built a few small organs and at most three church organs, all for immigrant congregations: Moravians in London and Fulneck in Yorkshire, and the “German High Chapel in the Savoy”.

Nevertheless, Snetzler was chosen to make a new organ for the King’s Lynn parish church. The instrument was commissioned and completed in London in 1753 and installed in St. Margaret’s in 1754. The fine case was decorated by John Snetzler’s younger brother Leonard, who had settled in Oxford by 1752. He designed and decorated cases for his brother, but also did a great deal of work ornamenting grand houses. 

The opening recital was given by Burney on 17th March 1754. The London Evening Post recorded that it “gave the utmost satisfaction, being for sweetness of tone and variety of stops, universally esteemed one of the finest instruments in England.” It made Snetzler’s reputation and became the major landmark of 18th century English organ building. Soon Snetzler was in demand all over the country, but only his organ for Beverley Minster (1769) was larger than Lynn’s – it had one less stop, but 79 more pipes (1,899 rather than 1,820).

Among the stops, three are particularly noteworthy. Most famous, but probably least important, were the two “Dulcianas” noted for their gentle and “sweet” tone. They suited the English taste and became ubiquitous in English organs for the next 200 years. More interesting is the “German Flute” intended to represent the gentler baroque traverse flute rather than the louder “English Flute” or Recorder. This class of stop was not uncommon in Snetzler’s homeland, but unique in England. 130 years later William Thynne claimed the invention and included it in the 1885 Inventions Exhibition under the name “Zauberflote” (Magic Flute). Equally significant was the “Bordon” which was an Open Diapason, identical in form to the unison Open Diapason, but sounding an octave lower. This was common in Europe, but this is the only example in 18th century England.

There were various minor alterations and repairs during the years, but Snetzler’s organ remained largely intact in its commanding position on the west gallery until 1870. It was in a poor state and the desire to open up the great west window necessitated a move. It was first relocated to the south transept and then to the north transept where, apparently at the instigation of George Gilbert Scott, the case was altered to fit it through the arch into the chancel aisle.

Not long after, a new grand organ was commissioned from Wordsworth and Co of Leeds. This was a fortunate choice because, unlike many more famous organ builders, Wordsworth showed a great deal of respect to Snetzler’s pipework. 13 stops (16 ranks) were retained unaltered, as well as the surviving case. The Great had the Snetzler chorus of 8 ranks on low wind pressure (with a parallel Wordsworth chorus on higher pressure). The other 8 ranks were on the Choir.

Lack of money meant that Wordsworth’s plans were never fully realised – the pipes remained missing from 14 stops. In 1962 a rebuild was undertaken. A new console and action were installed, but there was insufficient money for the planned tonal alterations. It was fortunate that pipes were not altered, but unfortunate that the pipes of Snetzler’s Sesquialtera (4 ranks), along with some Wordsworth pipes, were removed and lost.

The pipes of the 12 Snetzler stops that remain to us have survived in remarkably good condition. They sound their original note, but they have been shortened to raise the pitch and fitted with tuning slides.

A major restoration and replacement of much of the action was carried out in 2001 and a few stops were added. In 2013, Snetzler’s case was restored and the facade pipes re-gilded using gold leaf. Since then a phased programme of work has been undertaken to make this a complete and outstanding instrument. Careful copies of pipes have been made to reinstate some of Snetzler’s characteristic sounds that had been lost, among them the Sesquialtera IV and Cornet V. There are no surviving Snetzler Trumpets, so the new Trumpet follows the pattern of later 18th century examples.

The final stage of the tonal work was completed in 2015 with the addition of Pedal stops and the large reed stops to complete Wordsworth’s plans, including the Tuba and the 32′ Trombone.

A full description of the organ is available from the Minster.