Roger Pogson

(OHTA News, volume 43, no 3 (September 2018))

It is with great regret that we record the death, on 29 April 2018, of our highly-esteemed honorary life member, Roger Herbert Pogson. Roger (or “Peter” as he had been affectionately known all his life) was born in Pennant Hills, NSW, on 25 July 1932. He came from a long line of Pogsons who had associations with that district going back almost 200 years. The Pogsons were true pioneers and loyal Methodists: a distant relative of Peter’s, William A. Pogson, was long-time organist at the Newtown Methodist Church, while his brother, the late John Pogson, was a Methodist organist in the Hornsby district. Indeed it was Peter Pogson’s membership of the Methodist Young People’s Crusaders Choir in the early 1950s that enhanced his love of the Sydney Town Hall organ, frequently used by that choir at conventions and rallies, and whose sound is preserved in a number of recordings.

Peter’s father, Herbert Byron Pogson, was a builder and cabinet maker and Peter’s immaculate attention to detail in his own cabinet making and woodworking doubtless reflects the early influence of his father. After leaving school, Peter attended Hornsby Technical College with initial study in the field of bricklaying. He was, however, attracted to organbuilding and in 1948 was apprenticed to S.T. Noad.

During an interview I conducted with Peter at his former home in North Ryde (January 1981) he recalled many frustrations during his period with the Noad firm: these included rivalries and personal clashes between employees on the workshop floor, uninspiring ‘straight’ tonal designs that looked backwards for inspiration, and inconsistencies in the design and engineering of small electro-pneumatic instruments that were churned out by the firm in the 1950s. These instruments frequently sounded bland, had little in the way of blend or balance between ranks, suffered from wind shake and poor note repetition and their basses were frequently starved of wind. While some of these instruments were more successful than others (such as the South Hurstville Methodist instrument of 1954 and that at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Junee, dating from 1955), most – especially the small instruments of seven to ten stops – left Peter unfulfilled. He did, however, enjoy maintaining many of the old organs that were on Noad’s tuning round and while he recalled that Noad had a great respect for the old builders, he mentioned that Noad would still rebuild them at the behest of the owners, at a time when new technology was considered superior to the old. He also remembered employees in the firm deriving pleasure from seeing the old Wadsworth slider chests, dating from 1886, at Goulburn Methodist Church, smash into pieces as they were thrown onto the ground from height at the back of the church, prior to the organ’s rebuilding with cone-valve chests in 1956. He was likewise appalled at having to carry piles of disconnected trackers out of the Puget organ at Kincoppal-Rose Bay prior to the electrification of 1960.

Peter was a great reader of organ literature and was quick to pick up news of developments in organbuilding overseas. He was also encouraged by prominent members of the Organ Society of Sydney and the promotion of the Orgelbewegung (Organ Reform Movement) by organists like Howard Pollard, Vincent Sheppard and Colin Sapsford. As a result, he felt confident to branch out on his own and in 1964 built his first instrument – a four rank unit organ – for St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Normanhurst, in Sydney’s north-west. This led to the building of six other unit organs, constructed in the years to 1970. The first three – in a more reserved tonal style than the later instruments and built with Fincham pipework and electro-pneumatic action – were arguably more successful than the later four, which used imported pipework and included far more upperwork, either by extension or by the inclusion of independent mutations. In the latter part of the 1960s Peter also was sub-contracted to construct sections of several unit organs built by S.T. Noad & Son. A good example can be found at Dubbo Uniting (Methodist) Church, where the console interior reveals the hand of Pogson and his excellent workmanship.

In 1967 Peter had the opportunity to build an organ for the Futter Hall, King’s School, North Parramatta. Strongly influenced by the European Orgelbewegung, this marvellous example of the style was built at the instigation of our esteemed member, Keith Asboe, long in association with King’s as Director of Music. The King’s organ was widely admired by organists from around the country (and indeed from overseas) and was featured in many public recitals and at organ festivals for many years, although rarely in recent times. The success of the organ doubtless led to the contract for the two-manual instrument at Christ Church, Brunswick – the first significant modern mechanical action organ in Melbourne – and the three-manual organ in the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Pogson built a total of 20 new mechanical action organs in a period spanning almost 30 years. He was successful in gaining contracts for 10 of these outside New South Wales – three each for Victoria, South Australia and Queensland and one for Japan, a single manual instruments for Ichikawa (close to Tokyo), a contract completed in 1984 and secured through the efforts of his Japanese employee, Peter Sawa.

While his first instruments were built in Pennant Hills, for some years Peter had a workshop in Guildford in western Sydney, moving in 1982 to a large disused factory alongside the railway line in Peisley Street, Orange. At one point he had 10 employees working both in Orange and in Sydney, the most notable being the Portuguese organbuilder, Manuel da Costa, who joined the firm in 1980 and maintained most of Peter’s instruments in Sydney after the move to Orange. Sadly for Peter, the move did not lead to a flood of new organs – only eight were built there. Like other Australian organbuilders, a decline in the demand for new organs from churches and changing tastes among leading organists led to this situation, with builders like Knud Smenge and Orgues Létourneau moving into favour at Peter’s expense. Peter did, however, adjust his style of organbuilding to meet changing requirements and he frequently included swell boxes, double-rise bellows and string stops in his later instruments. One of his finest instruments and his last – for Westbourne Park Uniting Church in South Australia, completed in 1996 – is a model of excellence in design, execution and tonal disposition and is superb example of a finely crafted instrument well suited to church use.

The Pogson firm also supplemented its work by maintaining, restoring or rebuilding existing instruments. Several minor repairs and alterations were also made, notably in the early years, such as at St Peter’s Watsons Bay and St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Parramatta, while his entry into full-scale restoration work commenced at Sydney Town Hall in 1972. Peter joined OHTA soon after its inception, participating in several conferences, speaking either individually or as a panel member on a number of occasions. He last spoke to OHTA during the 2003 conference, when he reflected on his associations with S.T. Noad & Son. While he attended an organ recital at Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle during our 2015 conference, health concerns sadly dictated his early departure from that event. He was made an honorary life member of the Trust in 1992 in recognition of his contribution to organbuilding in general and specifically for his exemplary work in restoring the Sydney Town Hall organ. He took on board developments in organ restoration philosophy, endeavouring to work as conservatively as possible, while ensuring that any modifications he made were in the style of the original builder and of the highest quality. It would be fair to say that he was probably more interested in outcomes rather than philosophy and was sometimes known to condemn quite workable instruments, but ones that did not meet his keen eye for quality construction. Some superb restorations (which he always referred to modestly as “repair jobs”) were carried out at Kangaroo Valley, Armidale, Mosman, Croydon, Bathurst and Carcoar, while his major achievement was, without doubt, the restoration of the afore-mentioned Sydney Town Hall organ.

Following the closure of the Noad firm in 1972, the Sydney City Council needed another contractor to maintain the Grand Organ. Peter often recalled how an employee at the Sydney City Council used the telephone book to look for prospective organbuilders. The employee first called Arthur Jones, who did not respond and then Peter, who jumped at the opportunity. Fate therefore shone on Sydney, as one of the world’s greatest organs fell into worthy hands! Barely playable when he was awarded the contract to restore it, he set about in a most methodical manner to execute the restoration in a manner that honoured the work of Hill & Son and at a time when restoration principles were neither in vogue, nor widely put into practice in the English-speaking world. Eminently reversible changes made by previous contractors (Richardson and Noad) were largely undone and high-quality materials and workmanship were used to restore the soundboards, double-rise bellows and the tubular-pneumatic, Barker lever and mechanical actions. The pipework was not altered, except where time and damage dictated re-regulation. Pogson made some subtle action changes, notably to the Choir division, but these only served to enhance the operation of the instrument. The work was completed in 1982 and has since received well-deserved and universal acclaim, both locally and internationally.

Peter never made much money from organbuilding: he frequently experienced periods of financial stringency and had to make some hard decisions about his workshops and family homes. He was, above all, impeccably honest in his dealings with clients and was not known to increase his prices, in spite of rises in the cost of materials and labour. While he read widely, he never was in a position to travel to Europe, although he was able to visit the United States with his second wife, Narelle Nelson (to whom he was married on 1 July 1978), while Narelle continued her studies there in medical technology, notably ultra-sound. In the United States he managed to visit a number of organbuilders, such as C.B. Fisk, to whom he introduced kangaroo leather. He also travelled to Japan to install his instrument at Ichikawa. Peter also built seven harpsichords, three violins and a viola largely as a hobby, while also building two houses for his family.

Following the completion of his last major work (the Carcoar restoration of 2001), Peter continued to maintain a number of organs in and around Orange and Bathurst, his last activity being some tonal alterations to his instrument of 1989 at St James’ Presbyterian Church, Orange, undertaken around 2008. His health continued to deteriorate (he had endured asthma and other ailments for many years) and he and Narelle decided to move to Newcastle to be close to their daughter, Rachel, who suffered from the debilitations of Crohn’s Disease. Peter’s last years were marred by poor health and we are grateful for the loving care he was given by Narelle during this difficult time. He is survived by Narelle and their two children, Rachel and Elizabeth. Three other children were born during his marriage to his first wife, Barbara, who predeceased him some years ago. Peter did want a funeral and for many years had not been interested in organised religion. A memorial concert organised by his daughters (both accomplished string players), Rachel and Elizabeth, was therefore held at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, on 17 July. The organ was played by Keith Asboe, Peter Guy, James Goldrick and Peter Kneeshaw, with Keith also speaking at the memorial. We give thanks for the life of Peter Pogson, who made a significant and enduring contribution to the organ in Australia for just on 70 years.

In preparing this article I express gratitude for information supplied by Narelle Nelson on 6 July 2018. Other sources include notes made during an interview with Peter Pogson at his North Ryde home in January 1981 and Kelvin Hastie, ‘An Organbuilding Career in Summary: Roger Pogson, our Honorary Life Member’, OHTA News, 17/1, January 1993, pp 10-12. The list below comes largely from that latter source, supplemented by material provided by Geoffrey Cox, 29 May 2018.



YEAR     LOCATION                                                MANUALS/RANKS/ACTION

1964    St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Normanhurst, NSW           2/4/electro-pneumatic
1965    Wentworth Memorial Anglican Church, Vaucluse, NSW        2/5/electro-pneumatic *
1966    Uniting (Methodist) Church, Miranda, NSW                 2/5/electro-pneumatic
1968    St Martin’s Anglican Church, Blakehurst, NSW             2/6/electro-magnetic
1968    St John’s Anglican Church, Dee Why, NSW                  2/6/electro-magnetic +
1969    St Thomas’ Anglican Church, Moorebank, NSW               2/6/electro-magnetic #
1970    St Luke’s Anglican Church, Miranda, NSW                  2/4 + mixture/electromagnetic ~

* Building disused since 2006.  Sold 2016 to Funeral Operator, Brookava.  Currently listed for re-sale.

+ Ranks de-extended and used to supplement a 3-manual hybrid instrument installed by Ian Sell of Virtual Pipe Organs, 2014

#  Removed to the residence of Douglas Clowes, Box Hill, Victoria, by Australian Pipe Organs, 1998

~ Enlarged with an independent Open Diapason rank and an electronic 16’ pedal stop by Ian D. Brown & Associates, 2001


YEAR    LOCATION                                                 MANUALS/STOPS

1967    Futter Hall, King’s School, Parramatta, NSW              2/22
1970    St Luke’s Anglican Church, Liverpool, NSW                2/18 *
1971    St John-the-Baptist Catholic Church, Harbord, NSW        1/6
1971    Chapel, King’s School, Parramatta, NSW                   1/7
1972    Christ Church Anglican Church, Brunswick, Vic            2/15
1973    Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium, NSW             3/37 +
1974    St Joseph’s Convent Chapel, Lochinvar, NSW               2/7
1975    St Martin’s Lutheran Church, Mannum, SA                  2/10
1976    Mayne Hall, University of Queensland, Qld                3/45 #
1979    Melba Hall, University of Melbourne, Vic                 2/28
1980    Anglican Church Grammar School, East Brisbane, Qld       2/20
1982    Ampt and Johansen Residence, Woodford, NSW               2/6
1983    Uniting Church, Wayville, SA                             2/11 ~
1984    St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Sutherland, NSW            2/18
1984    St Mary’s Church, Ichekawa, Japan                        1/7
1986    Marist College Chapel, Ashgrove, Qld                     2/12
1988    Performance Studio, Newcastle Conservatorium, NSW        2/8
1989    St James’ Presbyterian Church, Orange, NSW               2/9 ^
1992    Geelong College Chapel, Newtown, Vic                     2/11
1996    Westbourne Park Uniting Church, SA                       2/16

* Substantially new, but included pipes and parts from the 1888 W.E. Richardson & Sons organ 
  from St Paul’s Anglican Church, Redfern, NSW

+ Rebuilt by South Island Organ Co., for refurbished hall, 2001

# Reinstalled after hall refurbished as a gallery (The James & Amelia Mayne Centre) by W.J. Simon Pierce, 2004

~  Prepared-for stops installed by Tom Way, 2001

^ Built originally for the residence of Clive and Margaret Gunning, Katoomba, NSW, 
  but loaned to the Orange Church in 1992 and later donated after the death of the Gunnings 
  in a car accident at Lugton, Scotland, 1994.  Pogson subsequently added a pedal Subbass and 
  replaced the divided Great Fagot-Regal 16’ with a divided Principal 8


YEAR    LOCATION                                                  ORIGINAL BUILDER/DATE

1966    Hornsby Uniting (Methodist) Church, NSW                   Unknown, 1929 *
1972-82 Sydney Town Hall, NSW                                     Hill & Son, 1886-89
1978    Church of the Good Shepherd, Kangaroo Valley, NSW         J.W. Walker 1879
1983    Wesley Uniting (Methodist) Church, Armidale, NSW          Henry Willis & Sons 1879  +
1984    Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Mosman, NSW                 Forster & Andrews 1882
1985    Ss Mary & Joseph Catholic Cathedral, Armidale, NSW        George Fincham 1900 #
1986    Presbyterian Ladies’ College Hall, Croydon, NSW           William Davidson 1901
1990    Uniting (Methodist) Church, Bathurst, NSW                 William Davidson 1874
2001    St Paul’s Anglican Church, Carcoar, NSW                   Charles Richardson 1900

* Rebuilt with electro-pneumatic action

+ Second stage completed 1985

# Rebuilt with mechanical action

Kelvin Hastie