This site is dedicated to Sir Walter Tapper, and the fabulous architecture that he left us.


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David Dolan and Leigh O'Brien

The Guildford Chapel

On the other side of the world, the Guildford chapel was never actually seen by its architect. Tapper directed its building from afar, and via Michael on the spot, keeping control over almost every step from its design to the furnishings and fittings. He was very diplomatic in his negotiations with Henn, Oliverson and other individual donors, often incorporating their specific requests, but moulding these to comply with his overall vision for the chapel.39 He contracted his own preferred artisans: Jack Bewsey for the reredos and stained glass windows, and Bainbridge Reynolds for the lectern.

After an initial attempt to employ a local Western Australian building firm, Tapper awarded the tender to the English builders he himself used, Jarvis and Sons, when it appeared the Australian contract details did not meet with his or Oliverson’s approval.40 Possibly, this was just an excuse for Tapper to insist on his own builders. The decision, at this time, to also send his own son Michael to Guildford as Clerk of Works demonstrates the importance Tapper attached to the carrying out of his own design. This move finally relegated the local consulting architects Hobbs Smith and Forbes to a subordinate position, but Tapper’s own words were that they could ‘like it or lump it’.41

For Tapper, the integrity and cohesiveness of the new chapel was of the utmost importance. On a number of occasions Tapper stipulated that nothing, no matter how small, should be added to the chapel without his approval – this also applied to any work in the future.42 This illustrates Tapper’s dedication to an overall design aesthetic, including everything from the building itself right down to the candlesticks! Upon completion in 1914, Tapper described the Guildford chapel as a work of ‘real joy’ to him.43

Throughout the war, Tapper continued to work on designs for a layout of the entire school. Son Michael contributed his first-hand knowledge and experience of the site to this work once he returned from the war and joined his father’s practice. Unfortunately, however, much to the Tapper’s and Henn’s bitter disappointment, the council decided in 1922 that none of the work would be carried out. The Council agreed to pay £1000 for the design work completed to date, but refused to pay any extra amount to Tapper’s surveyor. Henn had to relay to Tapper the Council’s arguments that the work should never have been carried out by a surveyor in England and that the terms of employment were completely different to those in Western Australia where such fees were not paid if a project did not go ahead.44 Tapper was forced to pay the surveyor out of his own earnings. This was no doubt of much embarrassment to Henn, caught in the middle, particularly as there had by now developed a firm friendship between the two men who had in common not only their passion and commitment to the school’s architecture but also the fact that Henn and his wife had been such kind hosts to Tapper’s own son during his time at Guildford.

The war memorial to honour Guildford old scholars killed in the First World War was the only other element of Tapper’s extensive plans to be implemented. Tapper suggested the position for a memorial in November 1916. The Guildford memorial is a smaller version of the one he designed for Lancaster Gate in London, which was consecrated at Easter 1921. The Lancaster Gate memorial was dismantled after being damaged in the great storm of 1987, then reconstructed and rededicated on Remembrance Day 2002. Tapper’s Guildford war memorial was unveiled on 23 April 1922, with Prime Minister Hughes attending the ceremony.45

Interestingly, the Guildford chapel barely rates a mention in any of the English texts which comment on Tapper’s life and work, which is understandable given its distance from the architectural epicentre of the UK. However, in Australia the Guildford chapel has been recognized as something quite special. Brian Andrews, in his survey of Gothic Revival architecture in Australia, stated:

Guildford Grammar School Chapel is, in its design and furnishing, the one complete and superlative example of the last phase of English ecclesiastical Gothic Revival work, and arguably the best piece of Edwardian Gothic, in Australia.46

In the wider context of Tapper’s oeuvre, the Guildford chapel is obviously one of his finest designs. It was built without compromise and has been well maintained, in contrast to some of his English buildings which were half-built, allowed to deteriorate, or have been demolished, or had their settings altered. It is fair to say that the Guildford chapel is now one of only three or four buildings which still clearly express Tapper’s vision and style, and is arguably his best surviving church anywhere in the world, which gives it international heritage significance.

39 Letter, Tapper to Henn (6 September, 1912. He even arranged for the donated altar cross from Mrs Shackleton, cousin of Mr Oliverson, to be re-constituted, as he did not approve of its design. Tapper had Henn return the altar cross to England for Bainbridge Reynolds to work on.
40 Letter, Tapper to Henn (18 December 1911).
41 Letter, Tapper to Henn (15 January 1912).
42 See letters, Tapper to Henn (27 June 1913; 6 February 1914; and 27 July 1914).
43 Letters, Tapper to Henn (6 February 1914; and 27 June 1914).
44 Copy of a letter from Henn to Tapper, (4 July 1922).
45 'Old Boys' Memorial', The Swan, vol. 45 (1922), pp. 17-20.
46 B Andrews, Australian Gothic: The Gothic Revival in Australian Architecture from the 1840's to the 1950's (Carlton South: Melbourne University Press, 2001), p. 95.

Sir Walter Tapper ~ Sir Walter J. Tapper ~ Gothic Revivalist Architect ~ St Erkenwald, Southend-on-Sea ~ Church of the Annunciation, Bryanston Street ~ Church of the Ascension, Malvern Link ~ Guildford Grammar School Chapel