Unitarian Church

Liverpool Street, Sydney

B. 1888 W.E. Richardson & Sons, Manchester
2m, 18 speaking stops, 3 couplers, tub. pn
Destroyed by fire 6 November 1936




Unitarian Church, Sydney [Google image]

 


Peter Meyer supplied the following information on 31 March, 2013:

The W.E. Richardson organ at the Unitarian Church in Liverpool Street was destroyed by fire along with the church building on Friday afternoon, 6 November, 1936. A full report with pictures is given in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7.11.1936, p.18. The report specifically mentions the destruction of the organ in the fire.

The Herald also gives details of the organ when it was new. It cost five hundred pounds and was opened by Jospeh Massey on 4 December, 1888. Its specification (as given in the SMH) was:

Great
Open Diapason
Stopped Diapason
Dulciana
Principal
Flute
Fifteenth
Clarionette

Swell
Double Diapason
Spitzflute
Lieblich Gedackt
Gamba
Gemshorn
Harmonic Piccolo
Mixture
Horn
Oboe
Tremulant

Pedal
Open Diapason
Bourdon

Couplers
Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal

8
8
8
4
4
2
8


16
8
8
8
4
2

8
8



16
16





 

Tubular-pneumatic action

Two composition pedals to Great
Two composition pedals to Swell
Deal case

Source: SMH 5.12.1888, p.7.

A report in the Herald on 1 June 1929, page 10, mentions a re-opening recital after "renovation". (No details).

The Herald mentions several of those who were appointed organists at the church. With the years of the reports (which do not necessarily indicate the full length of their tenure) they are:

H.A. Jaques 1893, 1894; Ernest Truman 1902; George Faunce Allman 1903; Miss Agnes Chambers (Mrs M.J.Fletcher) 1907, Mr A.H.Haig 1907; Miss Allice Kelly 1908; Miss Gertrude Palmer 1909-1916 at least; Miss Yvonne Wedlock 1921; Sydney V. Clutson 1923-1929 at least; Charles Maddocks 1935, 1936.

Organists reported playing the organ who may or may not have enjoyed tenure are:

Mr D. Campbell 1889; Mr D. Fox 1900; Ernest Woodgate 1901; Mrs Heathcote (the pastor's wife) 1922, 1927; Roy Booth 1931.

The organ was used regularly for concerts though not as frequently as Pitt Street Congregational by Lilian Frost.

Gertrude Palmer LRAM was a cousin of Leipzig Thomaskantor Karl Straube whom she met at least once.

This instrument was a substantial one and attracted some fine musicians on their way to even better positions. Its loss is as lamentable as the loss of the two Redfern organs by Richardson.







From the Sydney Organ Journal (Winter 2013), Peter Meyer writes:

 

'Mystery' Organ's Tragic fate Revealed

Peter Meyer

Details of the fine W.E. Richardson organ at the Unitarian Church in Liverpool Street, Sydney, have recently been found. Rushworth noted this organ in Historic Organs of New South Wales without its specification though he supplied its dates of construction and destruction in his 2006 Supplement. On the OMSS website its fate and present whereabouts were, until very recently, given as "unknown".

A letter to the Empire on 29.3.1851, p.8 indicated that Unitarians hoped "ere long" to be able to open their own church building in Sydney. This they achieved in 1853 by taking over a small chapel, formerly Methodist then Free Presbyterian, in Macquarie Street. Unitarian theology denied the doctrine of the Trinity and its members sought to follow the example of "Jesus Christ the man". The Reverend George H. Stanley, listed among Sydney's clergy in 1856, may have been the first pastor. By the mid 1860s the chapel had become too small for the congregation and the possibility of building a new church was considered. The sale of the Macquarie Street site and another in Clarence Street, Church Hill was approved in 1870 and the foundation stone of a new church in Liverpool Street was laid by Mrs a'Beckett in honour of her deceased husband, a leading Unitarian, on 20 March, 1872 in the presence of 150 members and others. The architect was Thomas Rowe who also designed Newington College, Sydney Hospital and the Great Synagogue. Rowe's biographer, J.M. Freeland, claims that "His work was always marked by a heavy hand, a ponderous, unimaginative mind and a leaden, even dull, expression".

The new church building, with a Sunday school hall beneath, cost more than Sydney's few Unitarians could afford and may in fact never have been completed. In 1884 there were seventy-one members and eighty-four in 1885. Membership fell to sixty-nine in 1892 but recovered to eighty in 1893. German-speaking Lutherans moved into the Macquarie Street chapel in 1873 when the Unitarians evidently moved into their own incomplete building which, from photographs, seems to have been roughly the same shape and size as Christ Church St Laurence. In 1885 the Revd E.R. Grant from Northampton, England succeeded the Revd A.B.Camm as pastor. In a burst of optimism the church's annual business meeting in 1887 set about raising a Centennial Fund of fifteen hundred pounds to complete the church and purchase a pipe organ. Eight hundred pounds were promised but only two to three hundred pounds actually paid. Nevertheless, after a concert in aid of the organ fund in May 1887 a new organ costing five hundred pounds was ordered from W.E. Richardson of Manchester and a further two hundred pounds were spent on modifications to the church building to accommodate it. The building had a gallery across the rear wall for the choir and it is possible that the organ was installed in it.

The new organ was opened with a recital by Jessie Pearce, Joseph Massey and a Mr Evans on 4 December, 1888. Its specification (as given in the SMH, 5.12.1888, p.7) was:

Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Dulciana, Principal, Flute, Fifteenth, Clarionette.

Swell: Double Diapason, Spitzflute, Lieblich Gedackt, Gamba, Gemshorn, Harmonic Piccolo, Mixture, Horn, Oboe, Tremulant

Pedal: Open Diapason, Bourdon.

Couplers: Swell to Great, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal

Two composition pedals to Great. Two composition pedals to Swell. Tubular pneumatic action. Deal case.

A report in the Herald on 1 June 1929, page 10, mentions a re-opening recital after "renovation" but gives no details.

The Herald also mentions several of those who were appointed organists at the church. With the years of the reports (which do not necessarily indicate the full length of their tenure) they are:

Miss Jessie Pearce 1885; Miss Grant, the pastor's daughter, 1887; H.A. Jaques 1893, 1894; Ernest Truman 1902; George Faunce Allman 1903; Miss Agnes Chambers (Mrs M.J. Fletcher) 1907; Mr A.H. Haig 1907; Miss Allice Kelly 1908; Miss Gertrude Palmer 1909-1916 at least; Miss Yvonne Wedlock 1921; Sydney V. Clutson 1923-1929 at least; Charles Maddocks 1935, 1936.

Organists reported playing the organ who may or may not have enjoyed tenure are:

Mr D. Campbell 1889; Mr D. Fox 1900; Ernest Woodgate 1901; Mrs Heathcote (the pastor's wife) 1922, 1927; Roy Booth  1931.

With eighteen speaking stops the Unitarian Church organ was a substantial one which attracted some fine organists like Truman and Allman on their way up to better positions. Gertrude Palmer LRAM was a fine pianist and the cousin of Leipzig Tomaskantor, Karl Straube. Her brother Godfrey was organist at St Matthew's, Manly. It was used regularly for concerts though not as frequently as Pitt Street Congregational Church by Lilian Frost. Joseph Massey returned to give another recital in 1890. A service from the church was broadcast on Station 2FC on Sunday 30 June 1929.

By the 1930s the church members wanted to sell their building and move elsewhere but they could not obtain a satisfactory price for it. Finally, about 4pm on Friday 6 November 1936 during the worst heatwave in memory, a fire believed to have been ignited by a cigarette dropped from one of the buildings beside the church was thought to have set alight one of the many birds' nests beneath the eaves. A strong south westerly wind "fanned the flames until they were burning along the massive beams under the slate roof. Blazing embers showered down on the cedar pews and, as it was impossible for the firemen to enter the church, a long extension ladder was run up almost to the top of the spire and firemen poured streams of water over the roof. Red hot slates and blazing beams crashed down igniting the altar and the organ" (SMH 7.11.1936, p. 18).

The loss of the Unitarian Church Richardson organ is as lamentable as the loss of the two other, larger, W.E. Richardson organs in St Paul's and St Saviour's, Redfern. Some of the St Paul's organ survives in the Pogson organ at St Luke's, Liverpool. Rushworth shows that of the seven organs sent to NSW two small organs by W.E. Richardson at the Methodist Ladies College, Burwood and the Uniting Church, Paddington are all that remain in near original condition of the heritage of a fine provincial English organ builder.