Diocese of Liverpool logo
 
Introduction
History
Directory
Services
Architecture
Restoration
Organ
This week
Gallery
Find us
Saint Paul
          

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

The 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.
 
With 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.
 
Scott window Detail from the artisan's stained glass window in Liverpool Cathedral, showing Scott and Bodley depicted on the left hand side.
 
The first 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.
 

 

 
Annunciation ChurchDespite Scott's astonishing early success he initially had little work other than the cathedral; his first complete church was the Annunciation at Bournemouth built between 1905-06 (pictured right).
Others 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).
 
Between 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).
 
There 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.
 
Perhaps 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.
 
Scott 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 (1928-29).
 
Knighted 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.
telephone box
 
Scott 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.
 
Scott 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].
 
Scott's 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.
 
Bankside Power Station His greatest 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.
 
Scott 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.
 
After 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.
 
Of Giles 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, 1971].
 
At the 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:

"A tall, 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."

Apart 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].
 
Scott 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
 
Liverpool cathedral
Church of the Annunciation, Bournemouth
Our Lady Star of the Sea, Ramsey
Ampleforth abbey
Our Lady and St Alphege, Bath
St Michael, Ashford
St Francis of Assisi, High Wycombe
Oban cathedral
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. Also extracts taken from 'The Building of Liverpool Cathedral' by Peter Kennerley.

The present church