The Pre-Raphaelite Pipe Dream
"The Pre-Raphaelite Pipe Dream: the Influence of the Ecclesiological Movement on Pipe Organ Design in Canterbury" was written for the New Zealand Association of Organists' journal Organ News. Sir Frank Dicksee's Harmony (1877) was used as an illustration for this article with permission from the Tate Gallery.
Other illustrations referred to are as follows:
George Edmund Street's design for Baron's "Douglas" Scudamore.
Case profile of Canterbury Scudamore in Church of the Good Shepherd, Phillipstown.
The Pre-Raphaelite Pipe Dream: The Influence of the Ecclesiological Movement on Pipe Organ Design in Canterbury
After graduating B.A.(Hons) in music research from Canterbury, I decided in 1990 to apply to study for the M.Phil. degree from Cambridge. The topic I offered was the influence of the Ecclesiological Movement on pipe organ design, a subject which had arisen from my research on early organs in Canterbury, since published by the School of Music as Organa Cantuariensia. The work at Cambridge was to have included looking at the records and remains of the Cambridge Camden and Ecclesiological Societies, as well as church records from the surrounding area. Nicholas Thistlethwaite, whom the University offered as my tutor, was somewhat surprised at the proposal, as he had just completed a chapter on the subject for his forthcoming book on the making of the Victorian organ, and had thought his own work the first in the field. He sent me a draft to read before publication, commenting that he would be glad to see the subject taken further. My application was accepted, a place being found at St. Catharine’s College, and I was duly issued with a bicycle number and an invitation to dinner with the fellows and tutors. I eventually had to decline due to unavailability of funding, so took up instead the offer of a post-graduate scholarship at Canterbury University, researching New Zealand organ builders, and graduating Ph.D. in 1999.
In 1990 I also researched the subject of Ecclesiology and Church Music 1842-50 for an Art History research essay with Jonathan Mané-Wheoki; we were the only New Zealand members of the Ecclesiological Society at that time. This project entailed a substantial search through issues of the journals of the Cambridge Camden and Ecclesiological Societies in the University Library at Canterbury and the National Library in Wellington, transcribing every reference to music, organs included. Jonathan wanted me to focus on the connections between the Ecclesiological and Motett Societies, a subject of some importance, but the sheer volume of documentation needed to establish any worthwhile work forced me to abandon the topic, leaving a vast residue of notes and references. The National Library, for example, had been loathe to let me photocopy any of their issues of the Ecclesiologist but I finally managed to persuade them to do so for the longer articles, the remainder of references being read on to fifteen hours of cassette tape.
As the years went by I continued to collect material on the subject of the pipe organ and its connections with the Gothic Revival and the Ecclesiological and Pre-Raphaelite movements. This interest most recently bore fruit when, on a trip to England, I managed to track down an early painting by the Pre-Raphaelite associate Sir Frank Dicksee (1853-1928), entitled Harmony (1877), to the basement of the Tate Gallery. A framed photographic copy now hangs on our wall, complete with languorous youth gazing fondly at beautiful maiden in mediaeval chapel playing Victorian pipe organ.
The current exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery The Pre-Raphaelite Dream: Paintings and Drawings from the Tate Collection further rekindled interest, so when NZAO Councillor Stephen Hamilton telephoned and asked me to write the Stuart Panting article for Organ News this topic was the first I suggested. What follows therefore is not a summary of completed research, but a somewhat sketchy overview of a subject which has fascinated me for some time, written in the hope that it may demonstrate the importance of continued work in this area. It also draws on the Historical Introduction to Organa Cantuariensia, and material from the Ph.D. thesis.
The Ecclesiological, or Cambridge, Movement was firmly at the heart of the Gothic Revival, and was concerned with the preservation, restoration and reconstruction of mediaeval church architecture and furnishings. It was, on the one hand, a reaction against the dead classicism which then prevailed in the theology and aesthetics of the established church, and, on the other, a reaction against the influx of German transcendental philosophy and aesthetics then flooding into the nonconformist sectors of British society.
Having said that, however, I must add that it was not merely a conservative, reactionary movement against modernism and change. In its worst moments that would be incontrovertible, but it also generated a wealth of research, writing, and beautiful, original buildings. By seizing onto the romantic concept that gothic architecture was inherently Christian (as propounded by Pugin) the ecclesiologists deduced that when people were placed in gothic buildings they would become Christian, and the more orthodox the gothic architecture, the more orthodox would be the response. Every detail therefore of the building had to be controlled, and in order to do so the Society began to collect a massive data base of gothic design detail to provide architects with the correct way of doing things. But not just any gothic architecture would do. They narrowed the margins of acceptability to a few decades in the thirteenth century. Then began the blacklisting and marginalising of any architects who dared contravene their arbitrary dictates. Their pronouncements on all aspects of church design and furnishing were of crucial importance in the development of the Gothic Revival, and after two decades of influence in such matters their status was such that it is no surprise to us that the Ecclesiological Society should ask William Burges to supervise on its behalf the Mediaeval Court of the 1862 London International Exhibition.
The Cambridge Camden Society (established 1839) first issued its journal the Ecclesiologist in 1841, soon changing its name to the Ecclesiological Society. It was the younger brother of the Tractarian, or Oxford, Movement (initiated 1833 with the Tracts for the Times) and in turn the older sibling to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (formed 1848) and their circle, the Mediaeval Society (constituted 1857), and William Morris’s company of art and craft enthusiasts (established 1861). It is difficult to unstrand the web of connections and influences within this network, but patience and curiosity pay off, as all made a contribution to pipe organ design in one way or another. Pugin (1812-52) and Ruskin (1819-1900) were practically idols to them all, and the literary influences of Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Carlyle and other writers and poets were warmly acknowledged.
The one branch of the arts which proved a vade mecum for them all was architecture, and a glance at the family trees of who studied architecture with whom is the first means of establishing influence. I mean to begin with George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), and not only because of his connection with the central icon of the Gothic Revival in Canterbury. He was the most successful of the Victorian architects and was so overworked with commissions and travelling that the old story of him arriving at a railway station and telegraphing his office in London “Where am I?” is perfectly plausible. This also explains why his plans for Christchurch Cathedral were almost identical to those of one of his churches in Yorkshire.
Scott’s greatest pupils were George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) his brother-in-law (Episcopal Cathedral, Washington D.C.) and William White (1825-1900), but it was George Edmund Street (1824-81) who was to lead the field. In Street’s own office were trained in the 1850s Philip Speakman Webb (1831-1915), William Morris (1834-96) and Norman Shaw, all leaders in the arts and crafts movement. Bodley trained Ninian Comper. Richard Cromwell Carpenter (1812-1855) trained Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98) 1844-48, and Robert Speechly also trained in his office. John Pollard Seddon (1827-1906) studied with T.L.Donaldson (1795-1885), and in turn trained Charles Voysey and Charles Bevan (fl.1865-83). William Burges (1827-81) trained with Edward Blore (1787-1879) architect to William IV and Queen Victoria and friend of Sir Walter Scott, (and restorer of Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Lambeth Palace) from 1844, and from 1849 with Sir Matthew Wyatt, Secretary and Commissioner for the Great Exhibition. He designed Cork Cathedral (1862).
Comparing memberships of the different groups is quite interesting. Many architects became members of the Ecclesiological Society and the various University and Diocesan Architectural Societies, including Carpenter, Mountfort’s teacher. William Butterfield (1814-1900), architect of All Saints, Margaret Street (1849-59), whose brother emigrated to Canterbury, joined in 1844, and William Burges the next year.
That Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort was a part of this nexus is indisputable. As a pupil of Carpenter he was fully aware of the Ecclesiological Society and its work, and he read a paper Remarks descriptive of ecclesiological edifices in Northamptonshire to the London Architectural Society in 1846. He set himself up in practice in 1848, two years before leaving for New Zealand.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by D.G.Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Millais, later joined by Woolner, W.M.Rossetti and others. The PRB itself only lasted a decade, but its influence spread. Edward Burne-Jones and Morris had already fallen under its spell while at Oxford and when they went to London in1857 they found out Rossetti and placed themselves under his tutelage.
Likewise, the founding committee of the Mediaeval Society in 1857 was a who’s who of the Gothic Revival: Bodley, Ford Madox Brown, Burges, Clayton, Holman Hunt, Morris, the Rossettis, Seddon, Street, and White.
With the formation of William Morris’s company in 1861 we see further reinforcement of the Gothic Revival: Brown, D.G.Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, and three others. Other names associated with them were Burges and Seddon. They occupied themselves with the revival of dying arts and crafts such as stained glass and tapestry, and produced decorated furniture and wallpaper designs.
In fact it was just such domestic wares that Morris was concerned with coordinating into an aesthetic whole, and with his 1859 Red House he had already been able to realise a number of his goals. Philip Webb was the architect, and he also produced a number of pieces of furniture for it. Over the next few years Morris and his friends continued to experiment with the revival of domestic arts and crafts, Ford Madox Brown designing furniture, and Bodley designing glass and wallpaper. One of the first major opportunities for Morris & Co. to present their wares before a curious public was the 1862 London International Exhibition.
Gothic Revival Furniture
Although many of the Gothic Revivalists designed a great variety of domestic and ecclesiastical objects, they were trained primarily as architects, the most successful of them with the great names. It is not surprising, then, that their furniture designs reflect architectural forms, and it is worth just spending a moment looking at these.
One of the first things which strikes one is the number of painted surfaces. Descriptions of Webb’s furniture for Morris’s Red House reveal his widespread use of gothic features and colour and gold in such items as settles, bookcases, and sideboards. A sideboard designed by Philip Webb and built by Morris’s company in 1861 (presently in a French museum) has side panels, cupboard doors, and shelf back panels painted with repeated patterns of peacocks sitting in trees amidst leafy twirls. The drawers are faced with peacock eyes in two different shades of gold leaf relief, and pillars are painted with peacock eyes with gold bands. The structure, however, is what I wish to draw attention to: the use of pillars, arcades, and a hint of coving and crenellation at the top. Another 1861 Morris & Co. piece was a remarkable cabinet named “King René’s Honeymoon” designed and commissioned by Seddon. The six scenes illustrating the story and symbolising various arts and crafts were painted by Brown, Rossetti and Burne-Jones. The scene descriptive of Music has the Queen playing a mediaeval portative organ and the King operating the bellows and kissing her. Features included gothic architectural detail, inlaid woods and decorative metal hinges. Another cabinet on the theme of St. George was painted by Morris himself. Burges designed furniture for his own home in the 1860s, and his “Narcissus” washstand has painted panels illustrating the story, stencilled motifs, exposed decorative hinges, hinged brass candle sconces to the side, gold leafed carvings, and pronounced arcading, coving and crenellation. A sideboard of his (1867) is not so interesting, but has similar profiling. Bevan, a furniture designer and manufacturer, designed a gothic grand piano case in 1871, constructed by Gillows for Broadwood, and similar in style to the best of Seddon’s and Burges’s robust work.
The Ecclesiologists and the Organ
Not only were the architects at the mercy of the Ecclesiological Society’s whims, but the organ builders also. The arbitrary demands of a manifesto which was neither architectural, musical, nor open to the needs of practical organ building left organ builders grasping with the possibilities and impossibilities they were presented with.
The pipe organ was the last item of church furniture to receive the serious attention of the ecclesiologists, and at first only its position was debated. It had already been decided that west galleries were not to be kept as they were not mediaeval, [Read Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) for a graphic account of the effect of the ecclesiologists on a parish church, and his darker Jude (1895) for their effect on an individual.] and that rood screens were not proper places for pipe organs at all. What counted most was an uninterrupted vista of Middle Pointed architecture throughout the length of the church, and organs were seen as intrusions to be dealt with summarily. But this only complicated the problem of where to put them, especially as nineteenth century organs were much larger than the ones in mediaeval illustrations, and after debating whether they should be allowed at all, in 1845 the Ecclesiological Society invented the organ chamber. [Historical Introduction to Organa Cantuariensia p2.] This was a convenient compromise for them, with the added benefit that organ chambers could be attached to the recently restored chancels where the new robed and surpliced choirs were being positioned in carved choir stalls with poppyhead finials. Of course the rules never came to an end, and organ chambers had to follow set guidelines, including one that said they had to be gabled and not leanto.
It was not a musical solution, and as a result organs were eventually to become even larger so that their sound could be projected out. Because of this, and the demand for gothic cases, organ builders had a lot of adapting to do in order to survive. That the organ builders were simply anxious not to forego any possible contracts is shown by the fact that although they were quite capable of designing gothic looking cases, the relation between the cases and the instruments quickly became irrelevant. The demand for pyramidal pipe layout was impractical from the organ builder’s point of view. Not only did it mean that the larger, heavier pipes were placed in the relatively unsupported middle of the soundboard, but the tuning was rendered difficult by the tuner’s having to move from one side of the instrument to the other rather than tuning all the pipes from a single position. The problem caused by the ecclesiologists was further compounded by the placement of organs in small gothic arched chambers in which it became necessary for the swell boxes to be constructed with sloping upper sides, once again forcing the larger pipes to a central position. Where the organ builder compromised and had a gothic case front with conventional interior he was then faced with complicated conveyancing of wind on even the smallest of instruments.
Things were slow to develop on the design side of things, and for some time gothic organ cases continued to be built simply as classical boxes with gothic features tacked on. Butterfield had designed a possible ecclesiologically-correct organ case for the Society’s 1847 Instrumenta Ecclesiastica, yet an organ design of his realised that same year is simply a classical box with gothic detail tacked on, the front pipes even being wooden dummies. The 1850 Bevington for the Temporary church (later St. Michael’s) in Christchurch and the Bevington that was to arrive at Southbridge in 1875 were no different.
What began the sea-change in organ design was Scott’s visits to the continent in the 1840s, resulting in his elaborate case for Ely Cathedral in 1851, perched high on the chancel wall. But it was not until the late 1850s that the mature period of small organ design began, and what precipitated this was the publication of Scudamore Organs in 1858 by Rev. John Baron of Upton Scudamore. [Developed further in the Historical Introduction p4.] His is a thoughtful synthesis of much of the writing and experimentation of the ecclesiologists in the previous decade or so, and provided organists, clergy, architects and organ builders alike with a complete set of guidelines based on impeccable ecclesiological principles. The opening lines of the Preface say it all:
That “Truth is an essential principle of Christian Architecture” is a proposition which only needs to be enunciated in order to be approved. Nevertheless, in the earlier stages of the present happy revival of Gothic architecture in England, this essential principle was so frequently overlooked and violated that its recovery and extended application is one of the large debts of gratitude we owe to the late Mr. Pugin, and it still behoves every one who loves Christian truthfulness and architecture to do his part in maintaining, extending, and applying this principle. Of all pieces of church furniture the organ seems to be that which is, as yet, least penetrated by the truthfulness which has been attempted, with more or less success, in every other part of the sacred edifice... surely the clergy, churchwardens, and people ought to see to it, that none but a truthful instrument, and the best of its kind, as far as it goes, be received as part of the furniture of God’s house.
While he admitted that much work had been achieved with larger instruments, it was the small organ for the small parish church which was in greatest need of sorting out, and Baron saw himself as the person to do the job. With designs by George Street (illustrated in his book) he came up with the ecclesiologically-compatible pipe organ. It was to be thin enough not to interfere with the Middle Pointed vista, the pipes were high above the keyboard reminiscent of Scott’s swallow’s-nest Ely case, and the cases were simple and obviously much influenced by the images of mediaeval organs then popular in Pre-Raphaelite art. They were to be only one or a few ranks with no pedal. The pipe layout is interesting, the larger pipes at the back forming the usual pyramid, but the smaller pipes of the same rank in front folding forwards with the smallest at the centre. In the “Douglas” model one notices the hinged brass candle sconces, and the keyboard lid folding down flush with the surrounding casework. [See illustration above]. The four models illustrated have plain wooden surfaces and modest amounts of coving and crenellation. Baron’s ideas, and the first organs built according to them, were well received, and Henry Willis immediately went into production. By the second edition of Scudamore Organs in 1862 he had built two hundred such instruments.
Other organ builders supplied Scudamore organs, including both Forster & Andrews and Bevington from 1861 (who also had examples on display at the 1862 Exhibition, Bevington winning a prize medal), T.H.Nicholson and T.H.Harrison from 1862, and Lewis from 1863.
1862 London International Exhibition
By now, we will have gained the impression that the Gothic Revival “young boys’ network” all worked with and for each other, and the event more than any other that saw the culmination of the development of this network and, for our purposes, its influence on organ design, was the London International Exhibition of 1862. The Great Exhibition of 1851 certainly had brought before the public the best developments in organ building of the previous decade, but the 1862 Exhibition demonstrated the maturity of the Gothic Revival and its influence on the domestic and ecclesiastical arts. As mentioned above, the arrangements were supervised by Burges on behalf of the Ecclesiological Society itself. Surviving photographs of the Mediaeval Court show a large variety of gothic pieces in close proximity to each other, which is rather ironic as one of the principles of Morris & Co. was to reduce Victorian clutter. Not only were the two Morris & Co. cabinets mentioned above on display but also examples of their stained glass, embroidery and other arts and crafts. Many commissions were received during and after the Exhibition, notably by way of Bodley for the churches he was building at the time, but also a series of six stained glass panels based on the “King René” illustrations for a private individual.
This is, however, not why we have visited the exhibition, but instead to see an example of a handful of small pipe organs that were produced in a style which can only be described as High Victorian Gothic. The instrument in question was in fact built by Gray & Davison, but designed by Seddon, and is a brilliant synthesis of all the strands in furniture and organ design we have observed thus far. The decoration alone is astonishing and includes copious amounts of decorative metal hinges (even on the swellbox tuning doors) and clasps, fretwork, inlaid woods, painted panels illustrating religious stories, crocketted swellbox gables with poppyhead finials, and a fairly full range of gothic detail. Structurally it bears many comparisons with recent pieces of furniture with pillared arcading, panelled coving and crenellation; indeed, if one ignores the pipework above the crenellation one could be forgiven for thinking it was a Burges wash stand or a Webb sideboard with a funny handle sticking out the side at the back. The swellbox is not that dissimilar to the roof of the Morris & Co. “St. George” cabinet, and as an organ it contains features of Street’s Scudamore designs, including the keyboard cover sitting flush with identical work each side, and the pipe layout of a tall pyramid of pipes folding forwards toward the centre with the smaller pipes in front. The pipes themselves are decorated with peacock feather eyes (of course) and a variety of diapering, banding, stencilling, and gilding. It is an instrument which must have enthralled the ecclesiologists (even if they were a little baffled by the over-elaborate pipe decorations), the mediaevalists, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Morris & Co alike. Little wonder that Seddon as an architectural designer is considered underrated.
One object which draws together a number of Gothic Revival strands at a broader level into one work of art is Frank Dicksee’s Harmony (1877). Dicksee began exhibiting at the Royal Academy at the age of twenty-three, and was elected President in 1924. Unlike a number of Pre-Raphaelite works, this painting is not cluttered in its composition and neither does it appear to be telling a great moralistic story, but as an expression of young love it can be thought of as a development of such pieces as the “Music” panel from the “King René” cabinet, if somewhat more chaste. The use of small organs copied from mediaeval images was common in Pre-Raphaelite art, but I think this may be the only painting from their circle featuring a recent Gothic Revival instrument. The stained glass window silhouetting the organist’s head could be by Morris & Co.; certainly the yellow-tinted diamond panes are typical of their work. The subject of the window itself is the Madonna and Child, yet the detail is indistinct, and together with the copper-potted plant on the floor does not project a “churchy” feel. The subject of the painting is a young organist and her handsome admirer, staring solemnly and devotedly into her eyes as she draws forth what one can only guess are harmonies divine. But before we are too hasty to dismiss the possibility of the work being a St. Cecilia, let us notice that she herself is staring solemnly and devotedly not at the handsome youth (could it be Dicksee himself?) but at a cross pierced into the casework, and that her costume and hair are the same tints as the Madonna directly above her. Their clothes are mediaeval, either that or they had just ransacked the nursery dress-up box. But the organ itself draws our attention as well and we note immediately the similarities in form and detail with the 1862 Exhibition Gray & Davison, in fact one has to look at least twice to ascertain that they are not one and the same instrument. We see the panelled coving, the carved pillar capitals, the decorated arcading, the chunky crenellation, the casework on the side of the keyboard, and the half-dozen or so painted panels depicting religious scenes. The only light comes from the window so the rest of the detail is obscure. Indeed, so soft and gentle is this picture that one wonders whether or not it is Dicksee fondly memorialising the high point of Victorian mediaevalism a mere fifteen years before. For from the time of the 1862 Exhibition architects, designers, artists and craftsmen were increasingly to find their own personal style and interpretation of Gothic.
Scudamore organs in Canterbury
As mentioned above, the first pipe organ to arrive in Canterbury was a classical box with gothic detail, but the second was in fact an 1862 Willis Scudamore imported for St. Luke’s [Organa Cantuariensia p25 and plate 35.] After having been through a fire the surviving soundboard and pedal board were separated, and are presently incorporated into two of the domestic conglomerations for which Christchurch is notorious. The Lyttelton church were not ignorant of ecclesiological developments either, and in 1863 requested that a Willis Scudamore to cost £120 be imported for them as well. What they actually got was an 1864 Gray & Davison as unlike their 1862 Exhibition instrument as one could find. The front pyramid of pipes were in fact wooden dummies, and the Gothic case simply a crenellated pipe stay and two finials. [Organa Cantuariensia plate 4.] The 1866 Holdich for St. John’s was slightly better with moulded tops to the case sides, but it is the 1869 Bryceson Brothers organ for Akaroa [Organa Cantuariensia plate 9.] which attracts our attention. The case sides have moulded tops, arched panels, and pillared fronts, the finials are richly carved, and the pipe stays are crenellated and quatrefoiled. The lower case gives it away: the profile is absolutely identical to Street’s design for Baron’s “Douglas” organ, and Brycesons may have advertised it as such. If the keyboard lid had survived we perhaps would also see decorated hinges; certainly one of the hinged brass candle sconces is still intact. The 1870 Bevington for the Merivale church [Organa Cantuariensia plate 13] is certainly another Scudamore, but with pronounced leanings towards Seddon’s style. The case sides have double pillared arcades at the front giving a view of the returned pipe front, moulded tops, and simple turned finials. The front has the now obligatory crenellated and quatrefoiled pipestay and a trefoiled impost, the keyboard lid has decorated brass hinges, and there is some painted work. All that could be desired are the matching keyboard sides and the coving. After this batch of small gothic organs there was a period when larger instruments were imported, some replacing smaller ones, but 1875 saw the construction of the first pipe organ built in Canterbury, at Kaiapoi, by Edgar Henry Jenkins.
Jenkins (1836-1924) had trained with William Hill in London in the early 1850s and worked for Cavaillé-Coll in the early 1860s. He returned to Hill’s workshop before leaving for New Zealand in 1868. Hill had been the builder of choice for a number of Gothic Revival architects, so it is quite likely that Jenkins was aware of ecclesiologically-inspired developments in organ design, particularly the new Scudamore instruments being produced during his second period in London. His Kaiapoi organ was built for a high church vicar, Rev. Carlyon, and is placed in a gabled north organ chamber in the Mountfort church. [Organa Cantuariensia plate 20, and elsewhere on this website]. The case design is a simple pipe rack with minimal ornamentation. His second instrument, now in Lyttelton Methodist, [Organa Cantuariensia plate 28.] was built in the French style with reversed detached console, the case, however, being another simple pipe rack with two flat towers. Other organs for Anglican churches in 1881 (Merivale) and 1882 (Avonside) continued the same theme. That Jenkins did actually build a Scudamore organ will be looked at before long.
In 1882 Milner & Thompson of Christchurch exhibited a small instrument built by Henry Jones of London. They imported a number of Jones’s organs, mostly sold with their own name attached, and this first one is still in its original home in the Addington church. [Organa Cantuariensia plate 33] They were rather cheap but with a simple gothic case and three manual stops and a pedal bass they may be considered to have continued the Scudamore tradition in modified form.
Milner & Thompson then commissioned local builders such as the Sandford brothers and Parson to construct copies of the imported Jones organs in the few years after 1885, and at least six have survived. Their cases are even simpler again, but quite effective.
Mountfort in Canterbury
Mountfort’s New Zealand career was not at first of great note. His 1853 Lyttelton church was declared unsafe due to the use of inappropriate materials and later demolished, and his 1855 Kaiapoi church was after the style of Bishop Selwyn’s own locally-adapted gothic.
He was appointed provincial architect in 1857, and the great Scott himself was to recommend Mountfort as supervising architect for his Christchurch Cathedral, but due to local prejudice he was not appointed until 1873. With the 1863 Halswell church began a string of wood and stone churches which expressed the masculinity and power of the best original British work of the time, along with a brilliant and imaginative use of ornament, adapted to local resources and conditions. The Provincial Council Chambers (1857-63) is his finest achievement, the main hall being superlative.
The Cathedral position afforded him the opportunity to realise many of the art forms he was familiar with in England, and for this we must be grateful. For Scott’s designs, although certainly ecclesiologically correct, are somewhat austere and, well, dull, and often give the sense of being a bit production-line or off-the-rack. What Mountfort achieved was the lifting of his plans to a higher level with a degree of decoration reminiscent of the rich forms and colours of the early 1860s in England, and although not everything he suggested was realised, the depth of thought and detail achieved have made the cathedral a place of great interest and beauty. His extant plans for the mosaic decoration of the nave walls are breathtaking, and redolent of All Saints’, Margaret Street.
Another way in which Mountfort continued his ecclesiological heritage was in building organ chambers. The 1873 plans for Trinity Congregational show a platform which could only be designed to house a reed organ of some variety, but he made provision for a pipe organ by including the possibility that the upper vestry at the east end be used with an “open arcading.” Their little organ was in fact to be placed on the floor and later the west gallery. His 1874 plans for a chancel, transept and north organ chamber for the Avonside church were realised, being completed in 1876. The chamber [Organa Cantuariensia plates 38 and 39.] opens to the chancel and transept, the chancel screen being pillared on a low stone wall, and the transept screen has wooden panels with a higher, more open screen above. Both screens are surmounted by differently shaped and decorated pipe fronts. Also in 1874 Mountfort designed a similar organ chamber for the south side of the chancel at St. John’s church, [Organa Cantuariensia plates 7 and 8.] completed by February 1875, although the low stone chancel wall was in fact omitted. The transept screen is identical to that at Avonside, but neither side was topped by pipes. His 1880 chamber for St. Mary’s church at Addington [Organa Cantuariensia plate 32.] was added to the south of the chancel, although nothing of its decoration remains as it is now part of the south aisle.
His contribution to organ ecclesiology was not limited to the chambers. Like his contemporaries in England he also designed organ cases, one for an imported instrument and another for a local organ. From 1880 is his case design for Hill’s Christchurch Cathedral organ, [Organa Cantuariensia frontispiece and plate 31.] built in oak with two fronts. Hill himself pronounced it to be “of correct Gothic design”. The console front has three towers with four flats, the transept front being a unique wide flat of the Pedal 16' Trombone resonators and two flue flats identical to the console front flats. Both the Trombone and tower pipes are more ornate. The casework has decorated brackets, crenellated pipe stays, and richly carved poppyhead finials. The lower casework is simple panelling. The organ, along with other Hill instruments, was installed by Jenkins.
I would like to finish this essay by drawing attention to a small instrument in the Phillipstown church, the Good Shepherd. Mountfort built this church in brick in 1884, and it contains a pipe organ whose provenance has yet to be ascertained beyond a shadow of a doubt. [Illustrated above]. It may have been built for the new church, or it may have arrived five years later. The casework is kauri and it bears certain resemblances to other Canterbury Scudamore organs. But this one is a little different. The casework is solid and the decoration pleasing. The case sides are panelled, decorated at the top, and have arcaded pillars at the front revealing the returned pipe front. The profile of the lower part is an exact copy of Street’s “Douglas” design, but with the two halves transposed. The keyboard cover is flush with side work, and although there are no decorative metal hinges, one can see the bases of the hinged brass candle sconces, now removed. The whole instrument has a calm, unfussy dignity which speaks of good design and solid workmanship, and may be thought of as the best of all the Canterbury Scudamores. Whoever designed this instrument knew exactly what he was doing. I would like to suggest that the case was designed by Mountfort and the organ built by Jenkins, and it is a worthy memorial to both men, and a fitting reminder of the influence of the ecclesiological movement on pipe organ design in Canterbury.