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

Percy Henn and Woodardism

In Tapper, Henn had an architect eager to create a very superior school chapel in an emphatically English style. Henn had been influenced by Canon Nathaniel Woodard, founder of the Anglo-Catholic Woodard Schools in England, who believed a school’s site and surroundings had a subtle but powerful influence on pupils.23 Tapper identified with this philosophy because he believed aesthetics influenced the mind, and beauty equated to virtue. As a Woodard teacher in England in the 1890s, Henn knew the spectacular chapel at the first Woodard school, Lancing College in Surrey, designed by R H Carpenter (1841-1893) in 1868. It was being built in stages over the next four decades, the formative years of Tapper’s long career.24 Henn considered the Lancing chapel was one of the finest churches built since the Reformation.25 Fittingly, it incorporates he tomb of Nathaniel Woodard, in medieval style complete with a recumbent effigy.

The Woodard school movement represented a last bid for the Church of England to dominate education, and was a historically reactionary campaign which failed in that goal as the state took over the field and mandated longer years of schooling. Nathaniel Woodard was an undistinguished scholar at university, but he had a genius for fundraising. Enlisting the support of aristocrats and politicians, and staging large-scale public events, he raised hundreds of thousands of pounds (equivalent to tens of millions in today’s values) to build a chain of schools which aimed to offer the children of the rising middle class a Christian education derived from but morally superior to the elite ‘public’ schools which were then being damned as hotbeds of snobbery, bullying and homosexual vice.

Nathaniel Woodard and his supporters also planned to establish university colleges, and although that campaign soon lapsed, several of their Anglican schools are still thriving in the 21st century. In the Woodard vision, the chapel was far more important than classrooms or dormitories, and even when funds were limited it was a matter of principle and symbolism that the chapel was the educational flagship: visibly the grandest and most expensive building on a school campus.

During his years in England, Henn worked in Woodard schools and become a true believer; but feared correctly that the diocese of Western Australia would be unsympathetic to his enthusiasm to import the Woodard ideals. In Perth, Woodardism was viewed as ‘high church’ – that is, tainted with Catholicism, and Henn’s attachment to this dogma was viewed with suspicion.26 From his previous experience in Western Australia as rector of Northam 1900-05, Henn was aware of the lack of wealth and Church tradition in the colony. He began fund-raising in England for the chapel as soon as he was designated to be Headmaster of Guildford. Henn was of the opinion that it was the mother Church’s duty to help the men of the colonies. However, he was genuinely upset and disappointed that throughout his time at Guildford, many of his visions for the school were not realised, due mainly to a lack of wider support.27 He was constantly at loggerheads with the Diocesan Trustees, and had a strained relationship with C O L Riley, Bishop (later Archbishop) of Perth, who was a mathematics graduate and ‘muscular Christian’ devoid of aesthetic sentiments.28

The Perth diocese approached education in a pragmatic fashion, investing in its schools, but expecting a return, and never eager to engage in major fundraising.29 The Church thought Henn was ‘carried away’ by the Chapel donation.30 The whole episode caused ongoing controversy with many arguing that the money would be better spent on other buildings at the school. Some even suggested Oliverson’s largesse should be diverted to religious causes in the Perth city and suburbs, rather than to a building out at semi-rural Guildford.31 It was a mismatch of Henn the idealist with the realistic, pragmatic Church of England in Western Australia.

However, Henn the idealist worked well with Tapper the perfectionist. They quickly developed a good understanding and Henn kept Tapper well informed of relations with the Trustees, the diocese, and Bishop Riley in particular. Tapper was sympathetic to Henn’s position, gaining further insights into local issues and tensions when his son Michael came to WA to supervise construction of the Guildford chapel on his father’s behalf.

Tapper’s relationship with the donor, Cecil Oliverson, was one of mutual admiration. Tapper was inspired by Oliverson’s generous and philanthropic gesture, and also by the modest nature of the man himself.32 Although the school honours Oliverson for his donation, and aspects of his background and interests have been documented previously33, he has remained somewhat of a mystery man. Further research has failed to reveal the source of his wealth, but he was well travelled and very interested in the colonies.34 Oliverson and Tapper established an immediate rapport: Tapper had restored an old house in Surrey that Oliverson knew well, and of which he ‘hear(d) on all sides, that this was extremely well done.’35

Cecil Oliverson maintained a keen interest in the Guildford project and visited Tapper regularly, in between trips abroad, to view and discuss the plans for the chapel.36 It appears that Tapper, realising the potential of Oliverson’s involvement, was able over time to inspire a more than six-fold increase in his financial support. Not only did Oliverson provide the funds to build the entire Chapel -- he extended this to also provide for many of the internal fittings, including the stunning reredos, wooden stalls and organ (since replaced).

No documentation has been discovered to indicate exactly why or how Henn chose Tapper as architect for the chapel, but there are several possibilities. It is feasible that during his period with Bodley and Garner, Tapper, or his reputation, may have become known to Henn. Bodley and Garner designed and built a church for the Duke of Newcastle on his Clumber estate during 1886-89. Tapper was probably involved in this commission. The Duke later bequeathed some Clumber land to Canon Woodard for his Worksop School which opened in 1895 with Percy Henn as the first Headmaster. The boys of the school were allowed access to the Duke’s estate and no doubt Henn would have been aware of the relatively new and impressive church, which Pevsner described as one of Bodley and Garner’s ‘masterpieces’.37

Another possibility which could explain the link between Henn and Tapper was through church missionary work. Tapper was Honorary Consulting Architect to the Incorporated Church Building Society38, a group that raised funds and built mission churches, and he designed a simple church for the Maldives. In between his stints in Western Australia, Henn was Organising Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a missionary group active throughout the British Empire, and was in this position when offered the job at Guildford Grammar, so Henn and Tapper may have met when both were engaged in these activities.

23 Aikman and Honniball, The Chapel of SS. Mary and George, p. 4.
24 Architect: R H Carpenter, 1868.
25 P U Henn , P U Henn: An autobiographical retrospect on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood December 21, 1891-1941 (Perth: M Kopke and G G Henn, 1977).
26 J Cardell-Oliver, 'Canon P U Henn and Woodardism in Western Australia: Antipodean Modification of an Anglican Ideal' (Masters Thesis, University of Western Australia, 1985), p. 169. Woodard’s ideas developed in response to English conditions, therefore they did not transfer well to a former colony that had evangelical rather than ‘high church’ tendencies.
27 W E Henn, A Life So Rich (Perth: author, 1982); P U Henn: An autobiographical retrospect, p. 28.
28 P J Boyce, 'The First Archbishop: Charles Owen Leaver Riley', in Alexander, (ed.) Four Bishops and their See, (Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1957), pp. 83-84.
29 J N Rolfe, 'The Development of Church of England Schools in Western Australia, 1858 -1958', Journal and Proceedings, Royal Western Australian Historical Society, vol. 5, no. 4 (1958), p. 58.
30 Ibid.
31 Letter, J W Hackett to Henn, (26 June 1912). Hackett was an influential figure in Western Australian society at the time.
32 Letter, Tapper to Henn, 6 February 1914.
33 Aikman and Honniball, The Chapel of SS. Mary and George, pp. 10-11. Oliverson was a confirmed bachelor, schooled at Eton and Cambridge, and had homes in London and Scotland and an estate in Norfolk.
34 Letter, Oliverson to A Shackleton, (25 August 1909). Oliverson writes to his cousin of his intention to become a member of the British Empire Club, believing in the importance of the colonies. Of his donation, he stated: ‘…this particular way of helping them is the best.’
35 Letter, Oliverson to Henn, (13 January 1910). Oliverson advised Henn that he had visited Tapper and ‘liked him very much’.
36 Letter, Oliverson to Henn, (24 December 1912). In December 1912 Oliverson wrote to Henn of his latest visit to Tapper, describing their trip to the South Kensington Museum ‘...looking at different things connected with the Chapel.’
37 N Pevsner , The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, 1951), p. 53.
38 Directory of British Architects 1834-1900, p. 897.

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