Stanmore Seventh Day Adventist Church
Cannon St, Stanmore

Builder unknown, Res. Pipe Organ Reconstructions Pty Ltd 2006
1m., 7, pedal pulldowns, tr. Man: Ped: 16. perm. on

Photo: John Jackson

From SOJ Spring 2006:



The opportunity to restore or reconstruct an historic organ with unknown provenance is always a recipe for discovering much more than you ever anticipated. Such was the case with the Stanmore Seventh-day Adventist Church pipe organ. Despite its apparent simplicity, the instrument proved to be full of surprises which it very slowly yielded up, right until the time of its reinstallation. Perhaps the biggest surprise concerned its age. Originally believed to be from the mid-nineteenth century, the restoration of this beautiful little instrument has revealed that the oldest parts it contains date from at least the beginnings of the eighteenth century!

What was known for certain about the organ dated from 1891-1892 in Australia. Graeme Rushworth's research in the supplement to his book, Historic Organs of New South Wales, revealed that the organ was bought for St Stephen's Anglican Church, Mittagong, for £68.5s and was installed by William Davidson, the Sydney organ builder. In 1918, Charles Richardson, who had his workshop in Stanmore, carried out repairs to the organ and, during restoration, an invoice addressed to the Rector at Mittagong, along with the railway postage stamps to pay for the transport, were discovered on the underside of the windchest. In 1925, Richardson quoted to add a Gamba, an electric blower, and carry out further repairs, but the Church decided instead to advertise the organ for sale and it was traded-in to Naylor & Co. of Sydney in part payment for a reed organ.

Arthur Shannon, Head Elder at Stanmore in 1928, was responsible for the purchase of the pipe organ from Naylor, and it was first played for their Spring service on September 22 of that year. From a photograph taken of the organ in St Stephen's around 1900 we know that, at the time of its installation in Stanmore, the casework on the right hand side was rebuilt to incorporate a new façade of dummy pipes. In order to complete this, some of the original façade's gothic case detailing was relocated from the front of the organ and other details were removed. The lower case panelling was retained. It is not yet known who installed the organ, or altered the casework at Stanmore.

Since 1928 the instrument has played an integral role in the church's worship services. About fifty years later, Mrs Petherbridge, one of the church's organists, had the organ listed with the Organ Historical Trust of Australia, and we are indebted to her insight in doing this. John Stiller surveyed the instrument in 1978 and 1981, and noted, even then, that some of the metal pipework was tilting. From the early 1980s the pipe organ was only used intermittently and it deteriorated over the ensuing years to be virtually unplayable.

By the time of the Stanmore Church's 105th anniversary in 2003, a significant number of the larger metal pipes had fallen over and crushed those beneath them. After observing this damage John Jackson, who played for the service, removed many of the fallen pipes to prevent any further damage. He suggested that, if the organ was to remain playable, an organ builder experienced in restoration should be engaged to repair the instrument. After consultation, Mark Fisher from Pipe Organ Reconstructions was invited to examine the organ, evaluate the problems and advise what would be required to fix them. Because of extensive wear and damage in the pedal action (most of the pedals could not be played), the noisy key action, the parlous state of most of the metal pipes, along with the damaged and very flimsy state of the case, he recommended that it would be in the church's best interests to restore/reconstruct the whole instrument.

It was fortunate that the congregation, the Greater Sydney Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and other interested individuals supported such a restoration. Left for much longer, the organ would have reached a state of decay where reconstruction would have become unviable. It was also fortunate that the NSW Heritage Council recognised the State and National significance of this instrument because of its age, which was then thought to have been from the mid-nineteenth century, putting it amongst the oldest organs in the country. They awarded a grant of $26,250 towards its restoration.

Mark Fisher's first comments about the instrument were that there were many pieces missing from the case, and the organ was much older than 1850. During his examination, the windchest provided the first exciting discovery, one that would catapult John Jackson and himself into months of research, still not conclusive. The number 363, contained in a small border, was found stamped on the front of the windchest. This was regarded as a job number, one that could lead to the maker of the instrument. Later, a whole series of stamped numbers, all in the same metal font, were found on the pipes, casework and console and these assisted in determining the organ's different stages of modification. This discovery caused much excitement but was also the source of much frustration.

Mark Fisher was of the opinion that some of the pipework looked like it had Walker similarities. Bob Pennells, of J.W. Walker in the UK, was contacted and was extremely helpful in providing copies of all the firm's relevant archival material which revealed job number 363 was made in 1848 for St Chad's, Stockton, Shropshire, England. It was later enlarged in 1858 and removed in 1891, when it was replaced with a larger Walker organ. If the Stanmore instrument contained parts of 363, it would be the oldest known example of Walker's work in Australia. Further investigation revealed that No363 had gone to Benwick in Cambridgeshire, but later research by Mark Fisher suggested that the windchest and the pipes, at least, may have come out of the instrument in 1858 at the time of enlargement. In fact, while not noted in the archives, Mark suspected the whole of No 363, including the case, may have been abandoned at this time. The subsequent discovery in the Stopped Diapason CC pipe of packing made from a torn piece of The Sydney Morning Herald from 1864 suggested that the windchest and pipework had found their way to Australia by around that date. This fragment of newspaper also provided previously unknown information about the Anglican Parish in Hunter's Hill.

Further evidence from the windchest and case suggested that part, if not the whole organ, was much older than 1848. This possibility was confirmed by Mark Fisher during a further scrutiny of the Walker documents, when he noticed in the Ledger Book copy, the faint entry in pencil of "old organ", indicating that an older instrument had been utilised in 1848 as a basis for the job number 363. The windchest contained divided bass and treble sliders for some stops. These had been wired together and there was no visible sign of any previous mechanism for operating the bass draw. Another intriguing feature was the presence of a spare 3 rank divided slider at the front of the chest for a cornet/sesquialtera. This had escaped ever being graphited, making it from an earlier era, but it had been utilised again, at one time, for a single rank of pipes, the spare holes being plugged. The rack-board, although cut back at the front to the pipes of the second rank, bore evidence of single transplanted pipes from this front rank which had been planted amongst other pipes in the bass.

The diminutive windchest of mahogany contains clear evidence of at least five different configurations before the present one (known from 1891). The upper boards contain myriads of off-note and transmission channels, many common to up to four stops and some no longer used. These had all been painstakingly and accurately chiselled out and filled over with individual mahogany pieces. The stunning quality of this workmanship easily rated the windchest amongst the finest quality organ work that Mark Fisher had ever seen. The grid contains 61 notes, only 54 of which are used in this instrument. The pallets and pallet slots are all graded in length from bass to treble and are contained on a later separate pine pallet board glued to the underside of the grid. There are no longer any pallets for the top seven unused notes of the grid and no evidence exists of any former pallets, springs or pull-down brass for these notes. It is now certain that the Stanmore organ had many lives prior to 1848.

The 6mm thick one-piece rack-board, also of mahogany, contained the former pipe holes for the top seven notes of each rank. Over time it had become severely damaged and split and this, together with insufficient support and stays, was the cause of its giving way and allowing the pipes to lean, and then eventually fall over.

The one-piece mahogany upper board has, at some stage in its life, been cut lengthways into four pieces, to overcome probable warping. This, though, seems to have created many more problems in trying to seal the transmission channels that ran across these saw cuts.

The case framing and panels show clear evidence of at least four different configurations/ locations before the present one, and one of the still extant pump handle slots shows very extensive wear. Some of the case panels are constructed differently, with the newer ones towards the front being made to almost match, on the outside, the older panelling situated at the rear. The oldest panels show a markedly higher quality of woodwork. Apart from these case panels, the remnants of leather bushing on the rear of the drawstop jamb indicate construction at a time before felt was generally used.

The front wooden dummy façade pipes are mostly half round in section, whilst the newer pipes from 1928 are mostly of round section. Nearly all of the front façade pipes contain numbers on the backs of their feet, to establish their order across the front, in the same manner as other sections of the organ, but these numbers, together with their several positions of screw fixing, plus clear remains of a once-present transom rail, show that these front pipes are in a completely different configuration to an earlier state. It is also clear that the majority of the "Gothic" decorations were not on the original front section of case. These were added at some stage before being partly disfigured, even by the time the organ was at Mittagong, and were then reduced and/or broken again by the 1928 installation. The reconstruction of all these elements was considered important for this latest restoration.

The keyboard utilises moulded-front keys that probably originated in a square piano or similar and the original centre- pin positions are still evident. To each key has been added two extensions, the first containing the current centre-pin holes and the pedal coupler sticker holes, the second holding the sticker holes for the key action. The mahogany backfalls and beam assembly, which is fastened to the underside of the wind-chest, was made for the current configuration of 54 notes.

The two ranks of wooden manual pipe-work are undoubtedly of great age and certainly date from before 1848. Both, however, are not original to the windchest, as their larger scaling prohibits their properly fitting within the confines of the space and pitch provided. The bottom nine wooden pipes of the current Stopped Diapason show evidence of much earlier mitreing in some very unusual positions and these pipes are mounted on an elaborate toe-board bracketed to the rear of the grid. This toe-board contains one-way valves which allow the pipes to be played from either the keys or the pedals. The original bass pipes, however, were grooved out through the lefthand end of their windchest toe board and positioned off the chest.

Some of the metal pipe-work was re-scaled when the windchest was reconfigured for 54 notes and these pipes now carry twin inscriptions. It is probable that the smaller scaling was original to the windchest, as great problems arose when trying to fit these slightly larger pipes into the space and pitch dictated. In order to try and accommodate the metal pipes, they were bent out of vertical to clear one another; and this most definitely sent all the pipes on a pathway to destruction, eventually falling over from lack of proper support. The considerably larger scaled wooden pipes, introduced at the time of the numbering, were able to be spread apart by being fitted with very over-long wooden feet. These were glued at almost unbelievable angles to the pipes, and both rack holes and feet were filed away, resulting in a most unsatisfactory arrangement. In the restoration, a new 6mm thick mahogany rackboard was made and proper supports, stays and pillars now ensure the stability of both the rack and the pipes it holds. In the re-fitting of the Stopped Diapason, middle C has been moved 100mm to the back edge of the wind-chest to permit the other pipes to stand vertically.

The octave of Pedal Bourdon 16ft pipes, in conjunction with the lowest six pipes of the Stopped Diapason, provide the 18 notes on the pedal board. The stop remains permanently on. The five notes, GG-BB, are from an early rank of GG compass pipes with English blocks and caps, whilst the lowest seven notes have been made to closely match, but have German blocks and caps.

Without graffiti we may have found out little else about the organ. The discovery by Mark Fisher of the date 1714 and the initials ED (E. Day, from other graffiti) carved into one of the back panels brought renewed excitement when other research seemed to have led to a dead end. This date almost certainly means that the instrument possesses the oldest known organ casework in Australia. Other dates have also since been found on the organ. One by K. Prott appears to be from 1752. John Jackson has photographed details of the graffiti on the rear of the casework and, using genealogy searches, has established an extensive list of possible geographical origins of these names. There is strong evidence that the instrument seems to have spent some time in a place near to, or where a school was run and there are at least thirty-three names and other initials to consider. Interestingly, initial and surname combinations seem to match up more with women's names than men's. There are also crests, a wheelbarrow, a compass and the drawing of a figure - possibly a self-portrait of E. Day. The clothing on the figure certainly appears to depict an early time period.

While photographing the graffiti John Jackson discovered the name I. MacDougal, Leenmill, and the placename, Linby. Consulting a detailed map of England revealed that the River Leen runs through Linby, near Nottingham. At last an area for one of the organ's earlier locations had possibly been suggested. While a specific location has not yet been identified around Nottingham, it has been noted that at Hucknall a school was established in the church in the mid-seventeenth century. An Edward Day lived in the general district (in Watnall), and was married in 1716. The latest search has concentrated on London parishes and an area in Scotland. Whether the organ was ever in these two latter areas may never be known, but it appears that people from these centres may have either visited or had a direct connection with the organ somewhere.

Dates in the early 18th century also fitted with what appeared to be the age of the windchest, judging from its design, the presence of textile material (what is believed to be hand-woven flax from before the Industrial Revolution) and the number of changes it had undergone. Although there is still insufficient evidence to link the casework directly to the windchest, the numbers appearing on both indicate that they have been a unit for an extremely long time. Alterations to the windchest confirm that it had several lives prior to the numbering. The organ builders have left few clues as to who constructed the various parts in this instrument. The double rise bellows (large, for this size organ) has been cut down from an even larger one, with ribs cut short at one end. It retains an unusual configuration, one used by the Sydney organ builder W. J. Johnson (who was also an agent for Walker). Johnson could possibly be the one responsible for the SMH and other interesting religious and temperance printed matter used in packing the stoppers. Research on the origin of the instrument is ongoing, and there are hopes of establishing, further, the provenance of the organ.

They have all died, the people who built the original organ, or the parts from which this one is constructed. And they are all anonymous. It would be nice to know who they were, yet ultimately it does not matter. They built this instrument to give glory to God and it has done so, on both sides of the world, for about 300 years. In 1714, Bach and Handel were 29 years old. How many thousands of hands have played its keys since that time? How many people have heard it? Instruments like this are a trust, and one this early Adventist church in Stanmore is privileged to have. The consultant for this project, Kelvin Hastie, noted, 'As every part and pipe of the organ has been repaired, restored or reconstructed, no further work is required to be carried out on the organ. Being more solid in its assembly and with excellent materials and workmanship used throughout, it should prove viable for at least another 100 years and, in all likelihood, well beyond that.'

Adventists look for the Second Coming. Should it not occur in this generation, this organ will continue to give glory to God far into the future. To this end it was rededicated on May 20, 2006.

The specification of the organ is:

Open Diapason
Stopped Diapason




from f18
C1 to e 17 permanently on forming the bass of the Open Diapason and Dulciana
from f 18
from mid C
CC - f

CCC - F permanently on

Manual compass: CC - f 54
Pedal compass: CCC - F18

Wind Pressure 2-1/2 inches / 63mm
Ventus Electric Blower

Photo: John Jackson