Looking up at front window of cathedral.

St Andrew's Cathedral, exterior. Photo courtesy Susan Hando for St Andrew's Cathedral

St Andrew’s Cathedral – secret spaces 2018

Focus Tour - Saturday 2 November





Edmund Blacket, NSW Colonial Architect

Additional architects

1885 Cyril Blacket (Chapter House addition)

1888 John Loughborough Pearson, supervision of alabaster reredos

Governor Macquarie laid the first foundation stone of a cathedral on the St Andrew’s Cathedral site in 1819. But the design, by his Civil Architect Francis Greenway, would be abandoned almost immediately, as Macquarie came under increasing pressure for overspending.

In 1837, a more modest plan by architect James Hume was championed by newly consecrated Anglican Bishop Broughton, but it was halted by drought and depression.

London architect Edmund Blacket arrived in Sydney in 1842. Well versed in the Gothic and classical styles, he soon found favour for his plan of a rather more English-style cathedral, to a layout based on York Minster. In the interim, he erected a temporary timber church, which would serve until 1867.

In 1868, St Andrew’s was consecrated and officially opened. Blacket gave his cathedral an imposing presence with repetition of forms, twin towers and strong vertical lines. It was built from Sydney sandstone, with a Welsh slate roof, and was highly praised for its decorative carvings, delicate filigree and stone pinnacles, among other embellishments.

The interiors were also impressive, with a painted hammerbeam roof, carved stone ribbons around its supporting pillars, a 21-piece stained-glass window collection and an intricate tessellated tile floor. As the heart of St Andrew’s would be its choir, Blacket fashioned the choir stalls from English oak, and installed in the south transept a pipe organ made in England by Hill and Son.

A second organ, by John Whitely, would be placed opposite in the north transept in 1932, and the two were amalgamated in the 1950s, to be played from a single console; it was then believed to be the largest church organ in Australia.

In 1998, a further rationalisation of the organs was completed and the Whitely organ removed. The current organ, as reconstituted by Letourneau, now comprises the rebuilt Hill and Son organ, together with the best of the Whitely pipework.

While the city grew around St Andrew’s, building modifications would be a constant feature, including a Chapter House by Cyril Blacket (Edmund Blacket’s son), built in 1885; an alabaster reredos (altarpiece) by sculptor Thomas Earp in 1888; and a side chapel addition in 1936. The grounds were also altered, with graveyards relocated and lawns levelled to make way for city transport and Sydney Square.

A single bell had hung alone in St Andrew’s northwest tower from 1891, and a further ten were added to the southwest tower in 1965. Having begun to crack, the original bell was recast in 1985 to form a new treble bell; it was joined three years later by a 12th bell, added as a Bicentennial project.

In a major restoration project during 1999–2000, Blacket’s original interior was restored, reversing ad-hoc prior alterations. Most notable was the reinstatement of the main altar to the traditional east nave. The altar was moved to the Cathedral’s west end in 1941, due to the newly installed electric trams on George Street, which made the main entry less accessible and the holy communion hymns nearly impossible to hear.

As Australia’s oldest cathedral, St Andrew’s is classified by the National Trust and listed on the Register of the National Estate. St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir is the oldest musical institution in the Southern Hemisphere, having been first formed to sing at the foundation ceremony of the Greenway design on St Andrew’s Day in 1819. The St Andrew’s Cathedral School was established in 1885 to teach its choristers, and their musical tradition continues today.

Tour experience

One of the finest Gothic Revival churches in NSW, St Andrew’s has a peal of 13 bells within its two belltowers, and a richly decorated Hill & Sons pipe organ, to accompany the famous St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir.

The Secret Spaces tour features a visit to the vast pipe organ and the carved English oak choir stalls lead by Ross Cobb, the Director of Music at St Andrew’s Cathedral. You may even be invited to play the organ and hear the piercing hand-painted pipes up close!

Note: Access to the Cathedral archival display is included with your Sydney Open ticket; this can be viewed before or after the tour.


Ross Cobb

Ross Cobb, the Director of Music at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney is also the National President of the Royal School of Church Music Australia – making him one of the most qualified church musician’s in this country.

Key information

Session duration

60 mins


This tour has a capacity of 12 people per session.

Visitor requirements

  • Arrive 15 minutes before your tour start time, as latecomers cannot join the tour
  • Wear comfortable, enclosed non-slip shoes
  • Only bring essential items, as storage is limited
  • Be aged 18 years or older, with a good fitness level
  • Your items may be inspected during the induction
  • Participants of this tour will be required to sign a waiver on the day; you will be able to review the waiver when making the Focus Tour booking

This tour is unsuitable for people who:

  • have difficulty climbing stairs (40 narrow stairs about 60cm wide at the narrowest point)
  • are uncomfortable in confined spaces and with heights
  • and/or have a pre-existing medical condition that would be affected by one or both of these factors


There will be no refunds if you miss your tour.

St Andrew’s Cathedral and Sydney Living Museums bear no responsibility for items lost or stolen.

to know

  • Photography allowed