Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor reveals how musical turn by Canon Wintle, Rector of Lawshall near Bury St Edmunds, helped many
When Algernon Ogle Wintle – later to become Canon Wintle, Rector of Lawshall – was born on 29 September 1881, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, he was one of 11 children.
His father, William Samuel Wintle, was 43 and at one time secretary of the Foundling Hospital; his mother, Hannah Hasluck, was 34.
The canon himself had at least one son and three daughters with his wife, Catherine Maud Savell.
As a growing lad in 1888 Algernon used to follow the street organs about and as he got older he got to learn the many tunes they played – that was the start of an unusual life-long hobby.
In 1907 he became a curate in Manchester where he met Simon Robina, who had a small organ factory, and asked him how to set a tune for a barrel organ.
Robina declined saying: “We only show our own children the secret of the clockface (working mechanisms).” Not to be outdone Canon Wintle bought an old barrel organ and from it worked out the solution.
His various travels took him to Snetterton, Norfolk, in 1911, and then in 1923 he became rector of Lawshall, where he set up a small organ factory which during the agricultural depression of the 1930s gave work to many Lawshall men.
“They would stick the pins in and I would pick the tunes on the barrel” he said.
Gradually, carts and covers had to be found for the organs.
Some of the tunes they played from the 1890s were well-known, such as The Man Who Broke the Bank of Monte Carlo and Lily of Laguna.
Wintle was quite altruistic and when a local police chief told him a certain habitual criminal was getting out of prison with no hope of employment it was the canon who provided him with all the needs for a new start in life, including a pony and organ.
Algernon became well-known and even broadcasted on the British Home Service (Radio 4 from 1967), eulogising his passion even to the extent of asking for any barrel organs that he could restore.
The barrel pianos and organs represented a useful business for Canon Wintle who bought the used organs, renovated them and resold them under his name. During his talk on the wireless he spoke of a restored organ that he would later present to Moyse’s Hall and some of the 10 tunes it played including Beer, Beer, Glorious Beer, Tar Ra Ra Boom De Ay, Sing a Song of Sixpence and Where Did You Get That ’at?
He became a regular feature on Bury’s markets with his barrel organ, collecting for charity, his hobby amassing some £3,000 for noble causes, a tidy sum back then, never once taking a penny for expenses.
In 1934, at the age of 53, he was listed as a Canon in the Church of England in Bury St Edmunds. Once he officiated at the wedding of an organ grinder with the somewhat unusual name of Hoppie Charlie, who lived in Long Brackland. When asked: “Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife,” Hoppie replied: “That’s what I came here for.” The bride snapped at him: “Say I will, you fool,” whereupon the bridegroom said:“ I will you fool.”
You could say their wedded life did not start off on the best footing!
During his term of office in Lawshall, ladies of the village used to trundle any barrel organs up to his house, with the pins pulled out ready for him to put in the latest tunes. He gave talks on BBC radio and in 1954 he even met the Queen and Queen Mother at Sandringham House.
The bespectacled canon is often recalled as being a rotund, grumpy man with a workshop full of barrel organs, but his heart was definitely in the right place. He died on 14 December, 1959, in Bury, at the age of 78.
His truism was: “We collect all the little sums which might otherwise be lost to charity.”
- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.