St John's Anglican Church
Alt Street (opp. Church Street), Ashfield

Hill & Son 1883 (2/18 electric)
1950 Rebuilt with electric action R.A. & D.A. Wiltshire
1975 Rebuilt with tracker action Anthony Welby
2008 Rebuilt with electric action John Parker





Photo: Trevor Bunning (Oct. 2007)





From SOJ Autumn 1998, Winter 1998, Spring 2006:

In 1870 William Davidson installed a one manual and pedal organ in the west gallery. St John's was enlarged in 1875 by the addition of transepts and a sanctuary. The organ was moved to the south transept in 1879 and was replaced with a larger instrument by Hill & Son in 1883. The Davidson organ went to St Bartholomew's, Pyrmont and in 1962, to St Luke's Church, Northmead. The Hill organ was constructed for the north transept of the church with two display fronts and the console built across the corner of the case.

The organ was rebuilt with electric action by R.A. and D.A Wiltshire in 1950. In 1975 it was again rebuilt by Anthony Welby who installed a new mechanical action. At some time the console was moved and is still detached, facing across the choir with the organ case behind the player's back. Currently the organ is in a poor state of repair and the swell shutters were removed some years ago.

From OHTA News October 2006, organbuilder John W Parker writes:

"Present day alterations to the chancel require the moving of the console to a postion not possible with mechancial action. It was decided that as the Hill pipework is virtually original and untouched, the tonal originality should be preserved, but operated through a new and reliable electric action. We will be providing a new moveable console, renewing the wind system to adequate proportions, relocating the blower unit, and installing a solid state relay to operate the soundboards and pedal ranks. Pipework will be cleaned and regulated to adhere as close as possible the original Hill tonal qualities. The Swell box - disassembled in past years, will be restored and reinstalled. Much of the pipework has been fitted with tuning slides which will be retained. Close attention will be given to some smaller ranks (Mixture and Fifteenth) that have suffered considerable damage as a result of cone tuning over the years, and deserve preservation after repair, with the benefit of slide tuning."


The specification is:

Great
Open Diapason
Stopped Diapason
Dulciana
Principal
Wald Flute
Fifteenth

Swell
Open Diapason
Lieblich Gedact
Celeste
Gamba
Principal
Flagelot
Mixture 17.19.22
Oboe
Spare slide

Pedal
Open Bass
Bourdon
Cello

Couplers
Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal

8
8
8
4
4
2


8
8
8
8
4
2
III
8



16
16
8















+
*
+

^





# A

A






Compass 56/30
Mechanical action
Balanced swell pedal (not working)

+ added before 1950
* labelled "Pierced Gamba" before 1950
^ originally labelled "Flautina"
# added 1950



From SOJ Spring 2006:


THE DESTRUCTION OF DIVERSITY:
LOST SOUNDS - PART II

by DR KELVIN HASTIE

Changing fashion: attitudes to tracker organs. The noted American organ building firm, Nelson Barden & Associates, of Newton, Massachusetts, ran for many years an advertisement which read "fashion wears out more organs than playing ever will". How true this statement is! Most members of the organ community are aware that a wellmade tracker instrument will last for more than a century before a comprehensive restoration is required, and even when such work is carried out, most original non-perishable components can be re-used. This approach obviously provides the best value to churches and a rock-solid case for arguing the case for pipe organs in general.

Most members of the organ community are also aware that the English firm of Hill & Son built some of the finest-sounding and most durable organs exported to Australia in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Yet in 1950 it was considered both necessary and desirable to electrify the firm's job no. 1852, the 1883 instrument in St John's Anglican Church, Ashfield. While an unusual angled action layout, dictated by the organ's position in a transept corner, may well have been the source of mechanical problems, these did not prevent the organist of the day from writing in a London periodical that "the Hill organ served wonderfully for some sixty-five years" (Keith Noake, "Organs of St John's, Ashfield, Sydney", Musical Opinion, August 1951: 601-3). Attitudes thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the day nonetheless dictated the removal of the Hill action, although the craftsmanship and tonal excellence of the original material (with cone tuning retained) was thankfully appreciated. The London article explains things further: ". . . at about 1945 I had become exasperated by the dreadful noise of the action, specially in the pedal department. The trackers, &c., rattled and the pallets having hardened to a rock-like texture, banged and clattered until a pedal solo, no matter how careful one was, sounded like pedals with a battery of castanets. The manual action was also heavy and the reservoir in need of attention. Its tone, though, was still as beautiful as ever and a sight of the pipes was enough to make one thank the good Lord for craftsmanship of such a high order. The amazing reed was still very good in the middle but, of course, very asthmatic in the lowest octave. Now a parish which has had a very lovely-toned organ for sixty-five years and has no conception of the cost of such things has to be wooed gently when asked for over £1,000. Accordingly, with the permission of the Rector, an "Organ Improvement Fund" was commenced and gradually augmented by various means until it had grown to reasonable proportions. During this time I had made enquiries with various firms and had, incidentally, abandoned most of the somewhat grandiose schemes I had dreamed up. It became obvious that all that could be achieved would be complete electrification, console detachment, addition of couplers and controls and insertion of the much-needed pedal diapason."

The work was carried out by R. A. and D. A. Wiltshire, of Sydney, who were described in the article as being a "young and very enterprising and practical-minded firm." As far as can be determined, the firm only ever completed about four projects, all carried out around 1950, with none surviving today. During the work the console was placed away from the organ, being fitted with luminescent stop tabs, together with pistons for full swell, full great and full organ, as well as two preset pistons per division. There were two toe pistons for the pedal and a great-pedal reverser. Nine couplers were provided, including a pedal octave and an unusual pedal 10-2/3' coupler, supposedly to allow acoustic 32' effects in the bottom octave. The original Hill bellows was removed and a "pressure equaliser" with a compartment for each division replaced it, although how this operated is not described. The wind pressure for the manuals was kept at the usual Hill 3", but the pedal Cello (renamed Principal) was made to speak on 6".

Of great interest is the attitude to the diapered façade pipes. Keith Noake's article claims "there had been what had been described as a linoleum pattern on them over the years and, of course, something had to be done, as the design, like many Victorian schemes, wandered all over the pipes without much rhyme or reason; fleurs-de-lys in profusion, dots, bands, triangles in all the colours of the rainbow rioted in confusion. The Rector and a small committee and I consulted with the builders and eventually had the pipes sprayed in dull gold with glossy mouths. . ."

In spite of the organist's enthusiasm over the success of the organ as it stood in 1950, the action did not prove a success and in 1973 Sydney builder Anthony Welby was engaged to rebuild the instrument again, this time with mechanical action to the manuals, but retaining electric action for the stops and pedals. The 1950 console cabinet was discarded and a new detached console was supplied, facing across the choir with the organ case behind the player's back. In 1998 the Organ Music Society visited the church as part of an organ ramble, the notes for which (see SOJ Winter 1998) stated that "currently the organ is in a poor state of repair and the swell shutters were removed some years ago".

The action installed in 1973 did not prove a success and its retention was advised against by those with whom the church recently consulted. So yet another rebuild is to occur, this time by John W. Parker, of Sydney. Funds regrettably do not allow for the reconstruction of a Hill design (as has proved immensely successful at nearby St Luke's Concord), which would re-instate a Hill-style console, action and wind supply. Rather, all that can be afforded is a simple electrification using pulldown lever magnets, controlled by a recycled electric action console. All surviving Hill components will, however, be scrupulously preserved.

The lesson from all of this is simple: had the church opted to clean and overhaul the organ in 1950, the Hill action would have survived, doubtless only later requiring a single full-scale restoration, as has so successfully been carried out elsewhere in Sydney and country New South Wales.


 

A JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Rebuilding of the 1883 Hill & Son Organ
St John’s Anglican Church,Ashfield, Sydney

by John W. Parker

Published in OHTA News October 2009
pp20-4


John W. Parker – Pipe Organ Builders last year completed the conservative rebuild of the 1883 William Hill & Son organ installed in St John’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, Sydney.

The Hill & Son estimate books (now at the British Organ Archive, Birmingham) record the original specification – this was the firm’s job number 1852 and was ordered on 6 March 1883:

2 manuals CC to G & Ped to F

GREAT
Open Diapason
Stopped Diapason
Dulciana
Principal
Wald Flute
Fifteenth

SWELL
Open Diapason
Gamba
Principal
Flautina
Mixture 3 ranks
Oboe

PEDAL
Bourdon
Cello

8
8
8
4
4
2


8
8
4
2
III
8


16
8
 

3 couplers, 4 composition pedals
Deal case, Decd front
Spotted to 4ft

£150 at order, balance after approval in London £400.

This is the third time major work has been carried out on this instrument since its arrival in Sydney, and could even possibly be the fourth. Much evidence seems to prove that the organ was probably a second-hand purchase from Hill (with additions), and its relatively cheap price of 400 pounds, is certainly less than that of other Hill instruments of similar size, imported around the same period.

There is much evidence that the ground and building frame have been significantly altered at some time. We would imagine that this work was done prior to the organ coming to Australia, as everything has been reduced in floor space area. Certainly the outer casework has been moved back into the organ on all sides, to fit on the raised platform the organ sits upon.

There is no evidence that the organ floor has been altered, or changed since the organ’s installation, as when the floor frame work was removed, it showed clean timbers underneath. Other changes to the building frame appear to have been carried out by Hill – accepting obvious amateur alterations, carried out in other work.

CHANGES SINCE 1883

1950 Rebuilt with electric action R.A. & D.A. Wiltshire

1975 Rebuilt with tracker action Anthony Welby

2008 Rebuilt with electric action John W. Parker

In the Wiltshire rebuild, the organ was converted to electric action of some description. Certainly the pedal chests were provided with an electric primary action, and a very strange form of envelope opening pallet valve. Some of these chests remained through until 2006 when the organ was dismantled.

Wiltshires also extended the 8ft Hill Pedal Violoncello to 16ft pitch, and provided a remote console on the opposite side of the chancel. Apparently, at this time, the Hill double-rise bellows was dispensed with, and some strange form of regulator/bellows was installed. Some people have suggested that there may have been wind pressures as high as six inches introduced at this time, but there is no evidence that any pipe work was altered to suit.

At the same time, the front pipes were put on electro-pneumatic chests, and certainly the slider soundboards had some form of action made to operate them. Sadly, the work of 1975 removed any tell-tale information, as this involved the cutting out of the underside of the slider soundboards.

Keeping the story brief, the 1950 refurbishment lasted only 25 years before it was necessary to solve more problems, as the organ had become unplayable. For some unknown reason, it was decided to convert the organ action to mechanical (note: I did not say return the action to mechanical!). I have heard that there might have been a consultant involved here, but I will let that rest.

A new console was constructed and positioned back on the organ side of the chancel. Its mechanical action ran under the floor, and backwards into the organ (the player facing forward into the church). In order to complete this work, it was necessary to remove some of the floor joists, and a couple of the floor foundation piers. Regrettably, the action suspension registers, were attached to the unsupported floor. Thus, weather changes and floor movement created continued problems for the organ: ciphers and action problems being a major issue.

2006

John Parker was called in for a routine quote to move the console, as there was soon to be major reconstruction within the church to redesign the chancel. On first appraisal, it was obvious that one couldn’t simply move a mechanical console around the corner. What began as a quote to move the console, turned into the electrification of the organ. We were asked to provide a quotation to keep the organ going, but it was obvious that there was more work entailed than the church envisaged (as usual?).

Realising funds were limited, and that this could be another organ that was cast into a corner and forgotten, we set about assessing it. The pipework was virtually untouched, other than the Swell being fitted with tuning slides; the addition of a third rank to the Mixture in 1975, and the revoicing of the Oboe, as a Hautbois – or small Trumpet.

The Great pipework was a bit sad. Years of cone tuning had ruined the pipe toes – the smaller pipes of the Principal and Fifteenth actually forced down the toe-holes. It was decided that these pipes be repaired, and that the fitting of tuning slides would preserve their usefulness – not to mention speech!

Also, the wind pressures were set too low. We knew there was an organ waiting to get out!

BLOWER

One major fact in our decision to undertake the work was that in 1975 Tony Welby had purchased a brand new blower from British Organ Blowing Company. This unit was working perfectly – even though the organ wasn’t. Not having to think about the cost of a new blowing plant, certainly helped ease the financial pain making up the quote. The blower has been re-located to the vestry, with new under-floor trunking to the organ.

BELLOWS

It was decided totally to replace the bellows/regulators. The three 1975 units were tiny, probably owing to Tony Welby seeing the advantage of locating the silent blower within the organ case. This in itself reduced the space for adequate reservoirs, and the result was three floating pan regulators 36 inches square.

Three new reservoirs have been made and installed – all controlled with roller-blind wind regulators. They are of floating-pan design, and 5.5 feet x 3.5 feet dimensions. Swell, Great and Pedal are now all suitably winded, with the front pipe chests supplied from the Pedal reservoir.

CHESTS

All Pedal, front pipe, and off-note chests have been replaced. As a first for our firm, we have used direct electric actions for all pipes to 16ft pitch. The bottom octaves of the 16ft Bourdon and 16ft Cello bass, are sprung, rectangular pallets, pulled open by large solenoid magnets. We have adopted the Wurlitzer principle in this instance – a long thin rectangular pallet hole, opening into a round foot hole cavity…and it works exceptionally well. The pedal action is very prompt. All Pedal pipes from 8ft C up are actuated with direct action pallet (solenoid) magnet valves.

SLIDER SOUNDBOARDS

Having been already been “electrocuted” badly in 1950, we thought we should do it properly some 45 years later. Both the Swell and Great slider soundboard pallets are now worked by direct action Laukhuff solenoid magnets; likewise the slider control.

The slider soundboards have been fully restored with the original slide action and bearers for the top-boards. The 1975 rebuild saw the bearers replaced with adjustable machine screws - a bad and unsuccessful move. The phenolic sliders have been retained, but now run between solid timber bearers that adequately support the weight of the topboards and pipes above. Finance did not allow the replacement of the SLIC slide units, but these have been restored and fully serviced.

PIPEWORK

All metal ranks have been washed, cleaned and put on the voicing machine for regulation. Repairs have been carried out where required to the metal flue pipes (foot, mouth and top damage). All fluework from 4ft C up has been fitted with tuning slides, to preserve the pipe work.

Wood ranks have been cleaned, polished/painted, and open ranks have been fitted with new metal tuning scrolls. Stopped pipes have had all tuning stoppers re-leathered. The larger wood basses (Bourdon/Violone Bass/Cello/ and 8ft manual basses), have been restored to correct splits, warping, and alteration in the past. The 16ft Violone Bass was fitted with new feet – with butterfly valves to assist tonal regulation. The original feet were loose fitting brass tubes, that required the pipes to be suspended on a bar - the brass feet offering no support whatsoever.

CONSOLE

A second hand, roll-top console has been provided. It was built by Sydney furniture manufacturers, Ricketts & Thorpe for the James Eagles organ, at Luger Brae Presbyterian Church in Waverley.

The key and pedal boards have been replaced, and the console totally restored and polished. As a cost saving measure, the electric stop actions and tablets were retained from the 1970s console. Four preset thumb pistons are provided to each manual, with the Great pistons providing a suitable Pedal bass. At the church’s request, the console is mounted on a moveable platform.

SWELL BOX

The Swell box has been restored and remade to original form. Some time in the past, both shutters, and side access panels were removed to create more volume. Fortunately most shutters were discovered in storage around the church, but those missing have been remade. New concertina-style side access doors have been constructed to allow tuning and access to the internal parts of the Swell.

SOME DEDUCTIONS

The organ was certainly secondhand when it was purchased from Hill & Son. There is much evidence to show that it could in fact be parts of two instruments, put together to make one.

It is interesting to note that the original Swell soundboard only accommodated metal flue pipes, and no Flute or Celeste. These two stops were added on a very well built cleat attached to the rear of the swell soundboard, fitted to take wind from the soundboard grid – not just holes bored into the rear of the soundboard. The construction of the cleat is in seasoned pine and mahogany, and of a quality not seen in Australia in the mid to late 1800s. The Celeste and Gedackt are of excellent construction, and are not of Australian origin.

Stripping of the Swell soundboard showed there was originally a well spaced, and laid out reed on the front of the chest. At some time, the scale was reduced, and the front line of pipe holes ‘plugged’, and an additional rank added within the space. Although theoretically, we have a spare slider, it was not practical to use it, owing to its close proximity to the opening Swell shutters.

The current specification is as follows:

GREAT
Open Diapason
Stopped Diapason
Dulciana
Octave
Wald Flute
Fifteenth
Swell to Great

SWELL
Open Diapason
Lieblich Gedackt
Gamba (pierced)
Voix Celeste
Principal
Piccolo
Mixture
Oboe
Sub Octave
Octave
Tremulant

PEDAL
Open Bass
Bourdon
Violoncello
Bass Flute
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal

8
8
8
4
4
2



8
8
8
8
4
2
III
8





16
16
8
8














*

*


#






A §

B
A
B π





* added by Hill & Son prior to delivery
# third rank added 1970s
§ added by Wiltshire
π added by John W. Parker


4 fixed pistons to Swell
4 fixed pistons to Great (also controls pedal stops)
Swell to Great reversible thumb piston
Great to Pedal reversible thumb piston
Great to Pedal reversible toe piston

Compass: 61/32


Thanks

We would like to thank Bill Hussein of Hills Detailed Joinery for the construction of the three bellows units, and their assistance in the erection and assembly of the Swell box. Also, Clive Arkley, who in forced retirement, was still committed to providing the solid state relay.

Likewise, Tim Ward for his assistance with the new power supply, and under-floor work. The Revd Andrew Katay, Mark Fisher, Robert Gliddon, John Andrews, Steve MacDonald, and a number of other unnamed people who always seemed to be on hand to assist when necessary – they helped make this job happen!



Please click on the links below for extensive articles on the rebuilding of the organ in St John's, Ashfield.

Forgotten Organ Rejuvenated by Chris Sillince from the Sydney Organ Journal (Autumn 2011)

Ashfield Organ Mystery Deepens by Rod Blackmore from the Sydney Organ Journal (Winter 2011)

 



























Spiral staircase to belltower using former staircase from the
Whiteley Organ, ex St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney.

10 photos above - Mark Quarmby (June 2010)









Photos: John Parker (Oct 2009)