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News > Old Boy News > Chapel Kneelers

Chapel Kneelers

10 Jun 2022
Old Boy News
Matthew Tesch (1979) with Chapel kneelers made by his mother Ilse Tesch.
Matthew Tesch (1979) with Chapel kneelers made by his mother Ilse Tesch.

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Class of 1979

School Archivist, Mr Peter Collin has compiled the following article about the 211 colourful cushions in the Canon Jones Memorial Chapel. Originally intended as kneelers to soften the effect of kneeling on the tiled floor, they have become silent stories telling and representing the life of Churchie for almost 50 years.

Built on the highest point of the site, the Chapel forms the spiritual centre of the school. When it was consecrated, on 4 May 1924, it could be seen from every part of the grounds and beyond. While the Chapel was light and breezy, the timber pews and tiled floor were long considered to be uncomfortable.

Shortly after Headmaster Bill Hayward’s commencement at the school in 1974 his wife, Alison, decided to address the situation with the pews. Having been involved with the making of kneelers at Geelong Grammar School before coming to Churchie, Alison got the kneeler project at Churchie underway in the second half of 1976. Working with the Mothers’ Committee and parents, some 206 people were engaged as designers, stitchers, framers and finishers. Tuesday evenings became ‘kneeler meeting nights’ conducted by Alison Hayward in the Headmaster’s House at 40 Oaklands Parade, East Brisbane. Amongst many others, Ilse Tesch, husband Colin and eldest son, Matthew became very active participants in the exercise. Colin Tesch made and repaired many of the stretcher frames in his home workshop, Ilse designed and stitched 19 kneelers and son Matthew simplified, sketched and graphed many of the designs contributed by enthusiastic parents; each had to be approved for inclusion in the project. By the end of 1976, almost 200 kneelers had been made. Most have the name of the stitcher and the name of the design on the back. The exercise continued for the next four years.

By the time Christopher Ellis became the school’s fifth headmaster in 1987, the kneelers had become soiled and some were in need of repair. His wife, Adrienne Ellis, gathered together a group of past and present mothers to attend to this matter, meeting as previously, in the Headmaster’s House. Hanging the kneelers on hooks to reduce soiling was tried but stacking of the kneelers at the end of the pews was found to be best until a storage shelf for the kneelers was attached under each pew during the early years of Senior Chaplain Fr David Johnstone’s (1983-2005) time at the school.

Following a visit to St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, Headmaster Christopher Ellis designed and stitched a stone motif kneeler for use in the Sanctuary of the Chapel.

The kneelers have remained in use in the Churchie Chapel continuously, even though the services and layout of the pews have changed from time to time. In 2012, the School’s centenary year, a project to repair some kneelers and stitch new ones was conducted. Co-ordinated by parent Di Blizzard, 27 additional kneelers were made in the style of the original tapestries and four large, tapestry cushions were made for the seats occupied by the Archbishop, Chaplain, Celebrant and the Headmaster.

In 2022 there are 207 kneelers and four large seat cushions in the Canon Jones Memorial Chapel. Some of the cushions depict hymns, parables, the Bible and Christian beliefs as well as the Houses, sporting, musical and cultural activities. In one of its most iconic buildings, the kneelers and cushions form a broader, living tapestry of the life and culture of the School.

Peter Collin
School Archivist

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