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Wesley Uniting Church, Perth

Wesley Church Organ Centenary

The site for the church on the corner of Hay and William Streets, Perth, was purchased from Mr. James Inkpen (the first recorded Methodist to arrive in the colony, having arrived in December, 1829) at a cost of ₤400. The new church was the third Methodist place of worship to be built in the forty years in which the denomination had been established in the colony. The original church was subsequently used as a caretakers cottage, the second was used for Sunday School, then an armoury and then a store. George Shenton (another prominent Methodist, the first Mayor of Perth and a Member of the Western Australian Legislative Council) had earlier suggested that the name of the church be Wesley Church, and promised £1,000 to establish the building fund, with Joseph Hardey contributing a further ₤500.

Wesley Church was designed by Richard Roach Jewell, an architect, circuit steward, clerk of colonial works and church member. Jewell was responsible for the design of a number of other prominent Perth buildings, including the Cloisters (1858), the Pensioner Barracks (1863), and extensions and alterations to Government House (1864) and Perth Town Hall (1870). Jewell designed Wesley Church in the fashionable Gothic revival style, a style which he successfully adapted in his other buildings. Jewell's plan for Wesley Church comprised the nave, chancel and bell tower with a tall and elegant spire, and was accepted with one alteration - the relocation of the bell tower from the north-east side to the south-east side.

The foundation stone was laid on October 25, 1867, by Governor John Stephen Hampton. The church was opened Sunday April 10, 1870, with services by Reverend William Lowe (who married Joseph Hardey's daughter Mary Jane), Reverend W. Traylen and Reverend T.C. Laurence. The total cost of the building was approximately ₤3,000, a considerable sum for a church membership of 138 (with a quarterly income of a little over ₤66). The original bricks are made from local clay and the floor is jarrah. The church bell, originally hanging in the southern tower, came from the sailing ship Tranby which brought the original members of the congregation to the colony.

Wesley Church is built of load bearing brick in the Victorian academic gothic style and features a landmark spire, steeply pitched roofs, parapeted gables, label (hood) moulds and wall buttressing. The church has a strong verticality of form emphasised by tall lancet windows with plate tracery to the east façade. Angle buttresses divide the nave wall into five bays and the major windows have stucco label moulds above them. The bricks of the building, fired at uncertain temperatures in wood burning kilns, show a range of mellow tones and, laid in Flemish bond, create a chequerboard effect on the walls, which provides a decorative element to the walls of the building. The spire is 35 metres high with a weathercock at its point and is surrounded by four smaller spires at its base which are capped by metal finials. The north-east tower replicates these smaller spires above the gable. The roof structure is made of hand sawn timber and the roof covering was originally shingles but, at some point the Church was re-roofed in clay tiles.

Additions and alterations were made in 1895 to the design of Sir J.J. Talbot Hobbs. It is the oldest Perth City church in its original form still being used as a place of worship, although the nave at St Mary’s Cathedral (now demolished in readiness for new construction) would have predated it by four years.

The Perth Wesley Church stands as a tribute to the pioneers of the Wesley Mission in Western Australia.

First Organ

The first pipe organ to be installed in Western Australia was the 1875 Bishop & Son, London and Ipswich, instrument for Wesley Church, Perth. This two manual organ served the church for over 30 years in its original location. In 1908 the organ was moved next door to Queens Hall, William Street, Perth (later Metro Theatre), to make way for a new organ.

In 1926 the Bishop & Son organ was relocated by W L Roberts Ltd, Adelaide, to Wesley Methodist Church, Claremont (job no 96). A new Wurlitzer Company, North Tonawanda, U.S.A., Model F organ was installed in Metro Theatre, the refurbished Queens Hall, in 1928 (eventually removed in 1972 when the building was demolished and relocated to the Karrinyup Community Recreation Centre where it is currently well used). It is at this point a reliable specification of the Bishop & Son instrument can be obtained. When the organ was installed at Claremont it had two manuals and 15 speaking stops, had three couplers and utilised tracker action. The stop list was: Gt: Sw: Ped: 16.16.

In 1955 the organ was rebuilt by J.E. Dodd & Sons Gunstar Organ Works, Adelaide. In this rebuild the action was changed to electro-pneumatic by the installation of two hefty rows of pneumatic motors activating the main pallets, a new console was fitted, the Swell organ received a Cornopean and the Dulciana was extended to Pedal 16'.

Hale School Assembly Hall, Hale Road, Wembley Downs, was the organ’s next and current home. It was installed there in 1984 by F.J. Larner & Co. with virtually no tonal alterations. A third manual was prepared for but the organ essentially remained a two manual instrument, although now of 22 speaking stops and 7 couplers. Internally the organ was converted from electro-magnetic to slider chests. The two pedal ranks were extended up to 8'. The Great Mixture was changed from III ranks to create a IV rank mixture. Timberwork and new console cabinet work was carried out by F.J. Larner & Co. The stop list is: Gt: Sw: Ped:

Present Organ

The organ, placed in an elevated loft in the left chancel, was built in 1908 by J.E. Dodd of Adelaide as a two manual instrument of 24 speaking stops, utilising tubular pneumatic action. The Choir Organ was added by W.L. Roberts Ltd., Adelaide, in 1926 (job no. 81) at a cost of £840.0.0. The instrument was partially electrified in 1933 by Joe Dean of Claremont using magnets from Cousins, Perth.

In 1954 there was a refurbishment and enlargement of the organ by J.E. Dodd & Sons Gunstar Organ Works, Adelaide. A new electro-pneumatic action was provided at this time, along with an extended Tuba rank at 16, 8 and 4 ft., a Twelfth 2-2/3 (as a memorial to the organist E.S. Craft’s son, Colin, who had been killed in action during World War II), a second Open Diapason on the Great and a 16 ft extension to the Great Dulciana on the Pedal. The Clarionet, originally on the Great was transferred to a new unenclosed chest on the Choir Organ. The new diapason was a softer and slightly more stringy stop. Far from adding power to the accompaniment of hymns, it gave a softer alternative for choir work. Some regulation was effected on the Great Trumpet 8 which, in the original state, could stop the traffic in William and Hay Streets! It had not been pleasant and the bass octave had a real rattle out of keeping with the rest of the organ. The swell reeds which were uneven in character and volume, particularly the Oboe, were greatly improved as a result of the rebuild.

A new blower was required as part of the enlargement of the organ, particularly to provide high pressure wind for the new Tuba unit. The blower was manufactured in Adelaide by a reputable engineering firm who chose to ignore the design given by
J.E. Dodd & Sons Gunstar Organ Works in accordance with another blower made by them for the Adelaide Town Hall. Instead of placing the connecting rods outside the casing, they put them all together inside. This resulted in a very noisy, howling machine that took several years to adjust. The noise inside the church was bad enough, but even worse for the local shopkeepers and passing traffic, because the unit was mounted outside the church on the Hay Street side.

In 1964 the case was lowered and new electric underactions provided. A new Jarrah veneered console with oak inlay, ivory stop heads and ivory keys was fitted in 1968, situated centrally in a pit among the front pews in the nave. This console was of three 61 note manuals and 30 note pedal and had 61 drawstops from 35 ranks.

In the period 1994-1996 the organ was rebuilt and enlarged by F.J. Larner & Co., Perth. Visually the organ retains its distinctive three-tower Dodd case of dark Western Red Cedar, with its carved corbels, bands and transom rails. A rank of dummy pipes faces the nave in a sound opening high on the wall. The new solid Jarrah console with oak inlay was made in 1994, replacing a previous Jarrah veneered case located in the floor, centrally at the front of the nave. The ivory keys, stop heads and labels were transferred to this new console. The new console was fabricated by F.J. Larner & Co. A gift of 42 redundant metal Principal pipes allowed the Pedal Principal 8' to become independent from the Great Phonon Diapason and provide a 4' level to the pedal. The building frame, chests, electrical wiring and installation of the new pedal rank was carried out by Graham Devenish in 1995

The original Diapason rank was labelled Phonon Diapason but was never, in fact, a true phonon because it did not have leathered upper lips and was not on higher pressure when first installed. In 1995 it was decided to increase the wind pressure of the Phonon Diapason, and on 7" wind it became a blast of sound that had almost no musical worth whatever.

As part of the renovation of the organ, it was agreed that the display pipes should be cleaned and repainted. The original idea was to spray paint the pipes silver (as they already had been brush painted in that colour), in line with the stock standard Dodd pattern of the time of construction - silver pipes with gilded mouths relieved with a band of red. A local example of the St Matthews, Guildford, (1911) organ and many others of his organs of this time were painted in such a manner around Australia. Graham Devenish (church organist and later Pipe Organs WA Pty. Ltd.) was given the task to enliven the pipe display in 1996.

No one at Wesley Church at the time had any notion that there was any decoration under the brushed silver paint but, when the surface paint was stripped off, it was found that there was only one layer of paint over lavish diapering decoration. The cylindrical bodies were olive green and the foot cones were brown and below the diapering layer was bare metal, so obviously the patterns and colours now uncovered were original, unless there had been an unrecorded removal of an even older decoration and replacement with the one now discovered. They are nothing like "the stock standard Dodd pattern of the day". In fact, evidence from this organ and the Ross Memorial Church, West Perth, a 1917 which has an even more lavish design than Wesley Church and used gold leaf on the mouths indicate that there was more variation from the standard Dodd patterning. Other examples of more colourful schemes exist in eastern Australia, particularly the Kent Town organ in Adelaide.

Consideration was given to restoring the original olive and brown base colours, but this had the potential to make the whole edifice a great deal more sombre. The use of silver was seen as a fair compromise between ignoring the diapering altogether and restoring the entire colour scheme with original diapering. The pattern was based on the original designs and colours and the bodies of the pipes were sprayed a metallic sable-silver before the overlay of diapering exactly to the original pattern.

A rank of Diapason pipework of smaller scale by Dodd became available through F.J. Larner & Co., and this was installed in 2000 to replace the Phonon Diapason. This was named Melodic Diapason, following Dodd's practice in his larger organs (e.g. Paterson Street Methodist Church, Launceston, St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore) and gave the Great Principal Chorus a unison foundation of classical scale to match the new chorus work of 1995. The Melodic Diapason was supplied from the St. George's Cathedral J.W. Walker & Sons, Ruislip, Middlesex, pipe organ that had been dismantled in 1994. This was actually second hand pipework from an older organ in England and had served as the Swell Fifteenth in St George's. John Larner found a Tenor octave of pipes to match and a Bass octave originally from St Brigid's Catholic Church, Coogee, NSW, to make a complete Melodic Diapason (61 pipes) which suited the task at Wesley Church.

In 2007 Pipe Organs WA Pty Ltd effected a major cleaning of the organ, refurbishing the Swell Hohlflute and improving the Swell Mixture III and Pedal Principal 8. Refinements were made to the Melodic Diapason on the Great and overhaul of the top three note chest for the Great.

The tuning flaps on most of the Hohlflute pipes were almost fully closed, which changed the tone from a true open wood flute to something of a stopped tone with a lot of the upper partials severely attenuated and many pipes very muted. The pipes were rescaled by 2 semitones. From research into the matter it was found that the open wood pipes were so closed and covered in tone because the pitch was lowered without consideration for these pipes and the deleterious effect on the tone. When the organ was built the British Concert pitch of A=452 was used in Australia for tuning of most instruments. Practically all brass and woodwind were tuned to that pitch. In 1939 the so called New Philharmonic pitch became the standard world wide and some problems arose. Firstly with pipe organs, either they had to be left at A=452 which did not please many female singers, or retuned to A=440 which meant that inevitably some ranks had pipes that were too short. The solution was either to leave the organ on high pitch or move pipes up one pipe to enable retuning to the new pitch. From the results of this refurbishment it would seem that the Wesley Church organ was retuned without moving pipework, leaving the residual problem of some pipes being too short. Now the organ has been “voiced again” to what it was intended to be when the organ was first built.

The Great Clarabel was refurbished by Pipe Organs WA Pty Ltd in 2008 with the view to creating a more consistent tone of equal dynamic strength. No changes were made to the mouth parts, but the overhaul was effected through thorough cleaning and adjustments of toe aperture with repairs to mouth parts as necessary.

Currently the organ has a 40 stage memory, 6 divisional pistons, 10 general pistons, a reversible coupler and pistons, crescendo pedal, adjustable bench, clock, swell / choir pedal, position indicator. The organ has 6 reversible coupler pistons (duplicated on toe studs) and Tutti toe stud. The stop list of the organ is as follows:

Contra Dulciana 16'
Open Diapason 8'
Melodic Diapason 8'
Lieblich Gedact 8'
Dulciana 8'
Clarabel 8'
Principal 4'
Flute 4'
Twelfth 2 2/3
Fifteenth 2
Tierce 1 3/5
Fourniture IV
Trumpet 8'
Lieblich Gedact 16'
Geigen Diapason 8'
Hohlflote 8'
Viole d'Orchestre 8'
Celeste II 8'
Flute 4'
Octave 4'
Mixture III
Oboe 8'
Horn 8'
Vox Humana 8'
Swell Super
Swell Sub
Unison Off
Rohr Flute 8'
Viol d'Ochestra 8'
Unda Maris 8'
Suabe Flute 4'
Harmonic Piccolo 2'
Sesquialtera II
Orchestral Oboe 8'
Clarionet 8'
Tuba 8'
Choir Super
Choir Sub
Unison Off

Harmonic Bass 32'
Open Diapason 16'
Sub bass 16'
Bourdon 16'
Dulciana 16'
Principal 8'
Flute 8'
Dulciana 8'
Principal 4'
Twelfth 5 1/3
Trumpet 8'
Trombone 16'

To commemorate the anniversary of the opening of the Dodd organ a Gala Centenary Recital by Joseph Nolan, Organist at St. George’s Cathedral, Perth, was held on Thursday December 4th, 2008.

It is not possible to write an article like this without the help of a lot of people. I would like to express special thanks for detail and critique from Bob Elms, John Maidment, John Beaverstock, Patrick Elms and Graham Devenish. The photo of Wesley Church came from Dan Arndt and the photo of Wesley Church organ by Graham Devenish. The stop list is supplied from the Pipe Organs WA Pty Ltd web site.

Bruce Duncan
December 2008

Document Control

This entry D B Duncan 17 February 2009.
Additional information regarding the 1954 blower and the 1968 console supplied by My Lyall von Einem, Hope Valley, South Australia, 17 February 2009. Mr von Einem worked with J E Dodd & Sons Gunstar Organ Works in the period 1950-1973, including work on the Wesley organ.