Sir Giles Gilbert Scott
name Scott is one of the most famous names in the country in the field
of ecclesiastical architecture. Giles Gilbert Scott was born on 9th
November 1880 at 26 Church Row, Hampstead, London, the third son of
George Gilbert Scott junior (1839-97) and the grandson of Sir George
Gilbert Scott (1811-78), both architects.
As a boy Gilbert and his brother Adrian were taken by their mother Ellen
Scott on many cycle trips, which he called "church crawls" visiting
some of the masterpieces of church architecture on the Kent-Sussex
border. Both the young Scott's were articled for three years to Temple
Lushington Moore, who had himself been articled to their father.
the encouragement of Moore, Scott entered the second competition for
a new Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool in 1902 with a "Design for a
Twentieth Century Cathedral". To his surprise, this was one of five
designs chosen to go forward to a second round. In 1903 Scott's design
was selected by the assessors, Norman Shaw and G. F. Bodley, but it
was a choice which dismayed the Liverpool Cathedral Committee on account
of Scott's age and lack of experience and religion: he was still only
twenty-two and a Roman Catholic.
In the event, the compromise was reached that Bodley should join Scott as
joint architect for the project. This joint collaboration was not
a happy one, and indeed Scott was on the point of resignation when
Bodley died in 1907 at which time the Lady Chapel was unfinished. Scott promptly redesigned everything above the
arcades, making the vault more Continental in style with curvilinear
ribs and the triptych reredos more elaborate.
Detail from the artisan's stained glass
window in Liverpool Cathedral, showing Scott and Bodley depicted on
the left hand side.
part of the cathedral was opened in 1910. In that same year the Cathedral
Committee approved Scott's proposal to completely redesign the rest
of the building, making his new conception much more monumental, sublime
and, in its overall symmetry, almost Classical in feeling. Instead
of twin towers inspired by Durham Cathedral, Scott now proposed a
single, central tower rising above pairs of transepts which had the
further advantage of providing the central space required but not
supplied in the original competition design. The building of Liverpool
Cathedral, an undertaking on a prodigious scale, dominated Scott's
life, and it was in Liverpool that Scott met Louise Wallbank Hughes
(1888-1949), whom he married in 1914.
Scott's astonishing early success he initially had little work other
than the cathedral; his first complete church was the
at Bournemouth built between 1905-06 (pictured right).
followed including a Roman Catholic church at Sheringham, Norfolk
(1909-14) which revealed Scott's development towards the simplification
of Gothic forms, a contemporary church at Ramsay on the Isle of Man
(1909-12) with a rugged tower facing the sea which displayed his acute
sensitivity to site; The Church of Our Lady Of The Assumption at Northfleet, Kent (1913-16)
and St. Paul's Church Stoneycroft, Liverpool (1913-16).
the two world wars Scott established himself as one of the most accomplished
and sophisticated ecclesiastic designers in Britain in the several
churches he designed for both Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes,
including St. Andrew's, Luton (1931-32), a long and streamlined building
behind a powerful squat west tower;
St. Francis's Church at Terriers,
High Wycombe (1928-30), a church of sophisticated simplicity faced
in knapped flint; and the Roman Catholic church at Ashford, Midddlesex
(1927-28), with its inward-sloping, self-buttressing walls (this was
a particular favourite of the architect).
followed more churches including The Anglican church of St. Alban,
Golders Green, London (1923-33); and the Roman Catholic cathedral
of Oban (1931-51), which has a massive, rugged tower of pink granite
facing the sea while the timber roof raised above tall, simple piers
gives the interior a grandeur out of proportion to its actual size.
Scott also designed the church at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire, as
well as boarding houses for the school, and completed the nave of
the church at Downside Abbey, Somerset. At St. Alphege's, Bath (1927-30),
and at the chapel for Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (1931-32), he used
a simplified Romanesque style instead of Gothic.
his finest chapel for an educational institution is that at Charterhouse,
Godalming (1922-27), where a long powerful mass like a fortress is
articulated by a row of thin flush transepts which allow light to
enter laterally as if from a hidden source.
was far from being exclusively a church architect. After the First
World War (in which he served as a major in the Royal Marines, supervising
the construction of defences in the English Channel), his success
at Liverpool led to a series of large secular commissions. The Memorial
Court for Clare College, Cambridge (1922-32), was built on the west
side of the river Cam in a refined neo-Georgian or "neo-Grec" manner
in silver-grey brick. His own London house, Chester House in Clarendon
Place (1924-25), and Whitelands College at Putney (1929-31) were designed
in a similar style. The new Cambridge University Library (1930-34)
was built at Clare; followed by the New Bodleian Library at Oxford
University (1935-46); and the Longwall Quad at Magdalen College, Oxford
in 1924, Scott was in demand as a consultant on new commercial building
projects in London. He was responsible for the Charring Cross Road
fašade of the Phoenix Theatre, and also for Cropthorne Court at Maida
Vale (1928-29). In 1925 his design for a standard telephone kiosk
for the General Post Office went into production, followed by an adapted
design a decade later which was reduced in size and refined for mass
production. This, the Jubilee Kiosk, was introduced in 1935 and soon
became ubiquitous and a familiar aspect of the British landscape.
went on to design Battersea Power Station, which was completed in
1933, and it became one of the most admired as well as conspicuous
modern buildings in London. Scott also designed London's new Waterloo
Bridge which, after controversy over the demolition of John Rennie's
Greek Doric Bridge, was formally opened in 1945.
became President of the Royal Institute of British Architects and
at his inaugural address Scott announced that "I hold no brief either
for the extreme diehard Traditionalist or the extreme Modernist and
it seems to me idle to compare styles and say that one is better than
another." Scott believed in "a middle line", his approach to design
was intuitive rather than intellectual. He was not hostile to modernism,
recognising its "negative quality of utter simplicity" as a healthy
reaction against "unintelligent Traditionalism." But although he liked
fast cars (he drove a Buick at the time), Scott believed that the
machine aesthetic had been taken to extremes at the expense of the
human element in architecture. "I should feel happier about the future
of architecture had the best ideas of Modernism been granted upon
the best traditions of the past, in other works, if Modernism had
come by evolution rather than by revolution." [Journal of the RIBA,
11th November 1933, pp. 5-14].
scheme for rebuilding the House of Commons followed the decision by
the wartime Parliament to rebuild the chamber exactly the same size
and shape as the old. Assisted by his younger brother Adrian and working
with Dr Oscar Faber as consulting engineer, he succeeded in creating
a new chamber in harmony with but distinct from the surrounding architecture
by Barry and Pugin, while incorporating new technology and creating
much more ancillary accommodation within the confined space. Scott
described this as the most complex building he had ever been involved
with and compared the interior to that of a battleship. Scott also
rebuilt the war-damaged hall of London's Guildhall for the City Corporation
(1950-54). In addition, he designed an office building to the north
in his modernistic brick manner.
impact on the City of London was to rebuild Bankside Power Station
on the south bank of the Thames opposite St. Paul's Cathedral. Scott
demonstrated that power stations could be fine buildings in what was
his supreme "cathedral of power". At Bankside, the brickwork is superb,
achieving a monumentality that reflects Scott's generation's interest
in the sublime monuments of the ancient world. Completed in 1960,
the building had a short life as an oil-fired power station but has
now become the Tate
Gallery of Modern Art although, in the conversion carried out
in the 1990s by the Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, the symmetrical
stepped profile of the principal elevation has been removed.
continued to design churches in the post-war years which, although
superficially conservative, reveal a continuing interest in internal
structural expression. His new Carmelite church in Kensington (1954-59)
replaced another casualty of the Second World War, and the new Roman
Catholic Church in Preston (1954-59) is reminiscent of his pre-war
church at Luton in its repetitive length. Scott's last church was
the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King at Plymouth. He was working
on the preliminary details of the executed scheme in University College
Hospital when he died there of lung cancer on 9th February 1960.
a requiem mass at St. James's, Spanish Place, London, Scott was buried
by the Benedictine monks of Ampleforth outside the west end of his
great Cathedral at Liverpool next to his wife at a point which should
have been enclosed by a porte cochère, had his final design of 1942
been carried out.
Gilbert Scott, A.S.G. Butler recalled, "this excellent architect was
a man of medium height and, at first sight, not unduly impressive,
in view of his high distinction. He was very modest and approachable,
with a charming sense of humour." [Dictionary of National Biography,
ceremony for fixing of the final stone of the final pinnacle on the
Tower of Liverpool Cathedral, Sir Giles was described by a photographer
at the occasion thus:
well-built man of regular features and healthy complexion, he gives
a certain impression of boyishness in spite of his white hair and
sixty years. There is nothing of the ascetic in his appearance.
He is a genius who doesn't pose as one; he doesn't permit himself
any of the eccentricities popularly associated with genius. Always
ready to laugh at a quip or joke, Sir Giles is obviously much at
home with the men who work on the Cathedral. Today there was clearly
no atmosphere of a great man deigning to speak to lesser mortals.
He and the workmen appear to regard the work as a comradely adventure
undertaken together. He is, in short, not their taskmaster but a
friend and fellow-worker."
from architecture, Scott's passion was for golf. In many ways, Scott
had a very conventional outlook and assistants were sometimes disconcerted
by his golfing and business friends "He was a jovial, generous man
who looked more like a cheerful naval officer than an architect,"
[Obituary in the Birmingham Post, 10th February 1960] recorded Sir
John Betjeman but for Sir Hubert Worthington, "his was a singularly
beautiful character, free of the jealousies that so often spoil the
successful artist. He bore life's triumphs and life's trials with
an unruffled serenity" [R.I.B.A. Journal, April 1960, p. 194].
became a Fellow of the R.I.B.A. in 1912 and received the Institute's
Royal Gold Medal in 1925. He was elected an Associate of the Royal
Academy in 1918 and a full Academician in 1922 - the youngest since
Turner. He was knighted in 1924 after the consecration of the first
portion of Liverpool Cathedral and was appointed to the Order of Merit
in 1944. Scott was also made a Knight of the Order of St. Olaf of
Norway for his advice on the completion of Trondheim Cathedral.
Some of Scott's churches and cathedrals in chronological order
Church of the Annunciation, Bournemouth
Our Lady Star of the Sea, Ramsey
Our Lady and St Alphege, Bath
St Michael, Ashford
St Francis of Assisi, High Wycombe
St Leonard's, St Leonards-on-sea
St Anthony's, Preston
Thanks to Dr. Gavin Stamp, FSA Hon. FRIAS, Hon FRIBA of the Mackintosh
School of Architecture for allowing us to use extracts from his
entry on Scott for the New Dictionary of National Biography.
extracts taken from 'The Building of Liverpool Cathedral' by Peter
The present church