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A big hand for James Turle

James Turle

James Turle (OW 1820) became a chorister at Wells at the age of eight. At that time the nave of the cathedral appears to have been the recognised playground of the choristers who were wont to indulge a juvenile passion for throwing stones. Master Turle distinguished himself as a good shot by sending a missile through St Andrew’s nose in a stained glass window. ‘That was done by the organist of Westminster Abbey,’ a sacristan long after remarked when pointing out the damage.

At the age of eleven James was sent to London and studied under J.J. Goss and G.E. Williams, organist of the Abbey. He held in succession the office of organist of Christ Church, Southwark, and St. James’s Bermondsey. In 1831, on the death of Greatorex – whose deputy he had been for twelve years previously – James was appointed organist of Westminster Abbey, an office he held with distinction for fifty-one years.

Turle was a great organist and composed a good deal of church music which was well known. Like his life-long friend, John Goss, he excelled in playing from the old figured-bass scores. He had an enormous hand. On one occasion, at the Prussian Embassy, he met the Chevalier Neukomm, who boasted that he could extend his hand on the keyboard over an octave and three notes. Turle, quietly approached the pianoforte, and, taking an octave and a half into his enormous hands, exclaimed, ‘One more for luck.’ No wonder that a roar of laughter greeted the triumph of the English organist over the German composer.

With thanks to The Central Somerset Gazette of 9th August 1907
Photo: Westminster Abbey