St John's Anglican Church
cnr Birchgrove Road and Spring Street, Birchgrove
Griffin & Leggo 1913 (2/12 mechanical and pneumatic)
Photo: Robert Parkinson
From SOJ April/May 1992
This is another indigenous instrument, built by the firm of Griffin & Leggo whose partnership, though of only short duration, was responsible for the construction of some ten organs between the years 1912 and 1918.
The organ here dates from 1913 when the order was first placed however, installation did not take place until 1915, it's being dedicated on 1 July of that year.
Changes made to the instrument since its installation include the provision of the Principal 4' - put on a spare slide on the Great in 1924 and paid for by the church choir, and the alteration, by Hill, Norman & Beard under the instructions of the Parish, which caused the original Harmonic Flute 4' on the Great to be changed, sometime in the 1950s, to a Flute at 2' pitch.
The specification is:
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
4 combination pedals
Mechanical action to manuals and stop action
Pneumatic action to pedals
From the Sydney Organ Journal (Winter 2013), Darrell Pitchford writes:
Birchgrove Organ Restoration
No doubt there was cause to celebrate in 1913 at the factory of Griffin & Leggo when this organ building firm won the contract for a new organ to be installed at St John's Anglican Church, Birchgrove. It would be the seventh organ built by the firm since 1911. Obviously Griffin & Leggo were earning quite a reputation for well built instruments. As it turned out, this contract was invaluable and very timely when the First World War broke out in 1914. Continuity of work gave the firm and its employees much needed incomes.
St John's, Birchgrove was replacing its existing Dresser of Birmingham organ that had given adequate service for twenty-eight years. Due to the enlargement of the church and the increase of its congregation, it was decided to order an organ that would better enhance their liturgical music.
The Griffin & Leggo organ was erected where the Dresser organ had been located although, due to the reorganisation of the chancel and choir, the organist was not in the best position to direct the choir. Even so, the organ remained in that position until 1932. Then, due to damage to the floor beneath the organ from borers and rising damp and the fact that it was dirty due to the infiltration of coal dust, it was decided to dismantle the organ, clean the instrument and move it into the chancel, a distance of about three metres.
The move created a major problem in that the organ was to be raised fifty centimetres. The console and actions were rebuilt on the chancel floor level. However, behind the pedal board the floor dropped down to the floor level of the nave. The rear building frames were therefore extended, the bellows were positioned on the lower floor level and the wind trunks extended to both Swell and Great soundboards.
In the new position the Swell box was too tall to fit beneath the roof. It was therefore cut at the same angle as the pitch of the roof and the bass pipes for both the Geigen 8' and Viol d'Orchestre 8' were heavily mitred and strapped to the Swell box roof.
For the next eighty years the organ received regular maintenance. In the early 1970s Ian Brown re-leathered the bellows and in the 1990s Pitchford & Garside, due to financial constraints, electrified the Pedal Bourdon 16'.
In 2012 our firm won the contract to restore the organ. Mr Peter Kneeshaw was appointed Organ Heritage Specialist. Dr Kelvin Hastie prepared a detailed report regarding the historical significance of the 1915 Griffin & Leggo organ. A generous bequest from Mr Richard (Dick) Wilson, a grant from the NSW Office of the Environment & Heritage and donations from St John's parishioners and other benefactors raised the funds required to complete the restoration. Dismantling of the organ began on 2 January 2012 and the organ components were stored in a spare room in the parish hall.
The first task was to repair the floor which had been affected by rising damp. The Rector, Fr James Butt, reminded us that the church is built in Spring Street: its very name suggests problems with water.
The double rise bellows were at one time hand blown though no evidence could be found of a handle. Perhaps the feeders were removed in the 1932 move. The bellows were re-leathered. A new guillotine wind control replaced the much modified and damaged blind control.
The soundboards were completely dismantled and flooded with hot glue, the pallets re-leathered and new pallet springs supplied. The table tops of the soundboards had no splits or cracks, testimony to the quality of Griffin & Leggo's workmanship.
The roller boards and composition pedal mechanisms suffered from the water problem in that all the steel pins were heavily rusted. In some instances the rollers hardly moved at all. All the pins were replaced with stainless steel pins and the mechanisms restored.
The trackers were original and surprisingly, after nearly a hundred years, few were damaged. The original tracker wires were bronze and these were retained.
The pedal couplers were badly broken and so, too, were the trackers. The couplers were therefore repaired and new trackers supplied.
Cone tuned pipe work in a one hundred-year old organ is always a problem. However, we were determined to repair and retain the original pipe work and succeeded to the extent that only one pipe had to be replaced. The Pedal Dolce 8' pipes comprise the side facade pipes and are very difficult to maintain. We therefore converted the chest to electric action in keeping with the Pedal Bourdon and, after many years of silence, the Pedal Dolce 8' spoke once more.
The bases of the Swell division had been broken for many years because the cotton tape that held them in position had broken. These pipes were repaired and heavy duty cotton webbing used to secure the pipes to the Swell box roof. The Swell box was sealed in the traditional manner with brown paper.
After nearly a century the console looked very tired. The ivory keys were in bad condition, the draw stop rods badly worn. The ivory stop knobs had cracked and in several instances were screwed in the middle to secure them to the rods. The keys were therefore re-covered using grained ivorine, new draw stop rods made and new draw stop knobs machined by P&S Organ Supplies in the UK to exact copies of the originals.
The draw stop rods were bushed in the fascias using thick felt. This did not look right so a friend of mine, Mr Warwick Beattie (a master wood turner), made new timber bushes. Interestingly, St John's, Birchgrove was the Beattie's family church for many years, his father having even donated a crucifix to the church.
The front pipes were re-sprayed by Mr Rob Williams. When asked what the silver colour was called, he answered "Barina silver, but tell them it's Mercedes Benz".
The rear and one side of the organ had been covered with curtains but new panels were constructed to protect the actions and define the area of the organ.
It is important to thank many people for their dedication to the restoration. First, Fr James Butt and his committee for their foresight and determination to restore the organ and also for their incredible support during the project. Fr Butt spent many hours administering the project. Second, Peter Kneeshaw whose dedication to the smooth running of the restoration and his reports to the Heritage Council were inspirational. Third, Dean Yates, my right hand man, for his work and companionship. Fourth, Andrew Pell, organist of St John's, who was always encouraging and appreciative of everyone's work. Finally, Mr Robert Heatley from Australian Pipe Organs for his expert assistance with the voicing, regulation and tuning of the completed restoration.
From the Sydney Organ Journal (Winter 2013):
Statement of Significance:
The Pipe Organ at St John's Anglican Church, Birchgrove, NSW
Kelvin Hastie OAM
Reproduced below is an edited version of the "Statement of Significance" prepared in November 2010 by Dr Kelvin Hastie OAM, Secretary of the Organ Historical Trust of Australia. The former Heritage Branch of the NSW Department of Planning required this statement to evaluate the instrument and determine its worthiness for a grant in its Works Program of 2011-13. The Heritage Branch awarded $45,000 to St John's in 2011.
The Organ Historical Trust of Australia believes the pipe organ at St John's Anglican Church, Birchgrove, to be of national, state and local significance on account of its rarity, tonal design, representativeness and state of originality. The organ was ordered in 1913 from the Sydney partnership of Griffin & Leggo, with Graeme Rushworth (1988) recording that it was opened on 1 July 1915.
The Birchgrove instrument is extremely rare. During World War I very few pipe organs were constructed in Australia. A shortage of manpower, materials and available funds brought about this situation. The rarity of the instrument is compounded by the fact that the tonal design of many instruments of this era has been misunderstood by those organists influenced by the Organ Reform Movement of the post-1950 era: in conjunction with organ builders they were responsible for the total rebuilding and tonal modification of many early-20th century instruments, whose timbre, based on a wide palette of foundational tones, was not appreciated. High-pitched stops replaced colourful 8' string and flute stops, additional pipe work was installed, original actions were removed and consoles were either disfigured or replaced. Such approaches are still in vogue among some organists and builders today: increasingly rare instruments by George Fincham & Son, J.E. Dodd, Whitehouse Bros., Fred Taylor and Holroyd & Edwards have continued to receive unsympathetic alterations and additions, not just in New South Wales, but in other Australian states as well.
Of only ten new organs built by Griffin & Leggo, six survive largely as originally built: these are the instruments at St John's Moss Vale (1912 – but made from second-hand parts), St John's Beecroft (1913), Ashfield Baptist Church (1913), Manly Congregational Church (1914), St John's Birchgrove (1915) and Christ Church Gunnedah (1915). The organs at All Saints' Singleton (1913), St Augustine's Inverell (1914) have been rebuilt and altered, while the organ at Christ Church Dungog (1918) was electrified in 1965. The current status of the instrument at the Catholic Apostolic Church in Redfern (1914) has not been confirmed.
The Birchgrove instrument represents a different tonal ideal from that followed in the majority of Australian organs of the period, which were of "conservative-Romantic" design (itself a continuation of nineteenth-century designs, but with wider-scaled pipework, higher wind pressures and fewer high-pitched stops). This different tonal ideal involved the provision of unison stops of widely-contrasting tone colours and dynamic ranges: the term "klangfarbe" (German for tone colour) was frequently applied to describe their sounds. The main builders who followed this style were J.E. Dodd of Adelaide and Fred Taylor of Melbourne, with Sydney builders Griffin & Leggo and T.C. Edwards following at the request of clients. There is only one example of Taylor's work left surviving in original condition, and only a small proportion of Dodd's output.
The organs at St John's Anglican Church Beecroft (1913) and the Birchgrove instrument (1915) are the only two that reflect significant "klangfarbe" design: at Birchgrove these include the rare Tibia Minor 8', Great Gemshorn 8', Viol d'Orchestre 8' and Pedal Dolce Flute 8'. It is almost certainly the case that the Birchgrove instrument was influenced by the Beecroft organ, an "Earnshaw" design. John and Joseph Earnshaw were exponents of "klangfarbe" tonal ideals and were responsible for such noted (and now lost) Fred Taylor organs at St Clement's Mosman and St Matthew's Manly, and the T.C. Edwards organ at Malvern Hill Methodist Church (also lost). The work of the Earnshaws is fully discussed in Rushworth (2006), 85-87.
The Birchgrove organ can therefore be regarded of national significance as a rare survivor of an organ built during World War I, and as a rare example of an organ embodying "klangfarbe" tonal ideals. It is also of state significance as an excellent representative example of a largely intact Sydney-built organ from the early-twentieth century.
The instrument retains its original console and associated fittings, casework, façade pipes, bellows, wind system, soundboards, windchests and virtually all pipe work. Cone tuning for the open metal flue work has been preserved. . . . In 1930 a Principal 4' stop was added to the Great over a vacant slider: this addition is close to the original construction date of the organ and is in a completely sympathetic tonal style: it can therefore be seen as an appropriate enhancement. The Harmonic Flute 4' was transposed up one octave to create a 2' stop in the 1950s (and now reversed). . . . The tubular-pneumatic action for the Pedal Bourdon 16' was electrified in the 1990s.
In spite of the minor alterations listed above, the organ can still be played and heard much the same as when opened in 1915 and is thus significant on account of its degree of originality. The Birchgrove organ is worthy of being preserved and restored in its entirety as an excellent and rare example of indigenous organ building from the early-twentieth century.
References and Footnotes
Kelvin Hastie and Chris Sillince, "Organ Ramble in Balmain", Sydney Organ Journal 23/2 (April/May 1992): 15-16.
John R. Maidment, Gazetteer of NSW Pipe Organs. Melbourne: Society of Organists (Vic.) Inc., 1981. (see also www.ohta.org.au)
Graeme D. Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger 1988), 160-64.
Graeme D. Rushworth, A Supplement to Historic Organs of New South Wales (Melbourne: Organ Historical Trust of Australia, 2006), 85-87.
Photo: Robert Parkinson