George Gilbert Scott

One of the principal protagonists in the following debate was Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), the most successful Victorian architect with a massive practice of church restorations. Scott dedicated himself entirely to his work, and had an 'indomitable energy and unflagging zeal, as well as the enlightened spirit in which he pursued his lofty calling', as recalled by his son later. His practice extended to more than 800 buildings, including the Foreign Office, St Pancras Hotel and the Albert Memorial in London. In 1858 he had 27 assistants in his office. A large portion of his work dealt with historic buildings. His interest in Gothic came from Pugin's publications, and in 1842 he joined the Cambridge Camden Society. He has often been compared with Viollet-le-Duc, and, in fact, he worked in all parts of England and Wales on more than twenty cathedrals, many abbeys, and dozens and dozens of parish churches, making a great impact on the development of restoration policies. He travelled in France and Germany measuring and studying Continental Gothic; in 1851 he toured Italy, meeting Ruskin in Venice and renewing the contact of eight years earlier. In 1835, Scott set up his first office with William Bonython Moffat (c. 181287). In 1847, he was appointed architect for the restoration of Ely Cathedral where Essex and Blore had worked before him; in 1849, he succeeded Blore as Surveyor to the Fabric of Westminster Abbey; in the 1850s he was consulted for Hereford, Lichfield, Peterborough, Durham, Chester, and Salisbury; other cathedrals followed later.

At Durham Cathedral, in 1859, Scott proposed to build a spire over the central tower, similar to St Nicholas at Newcastle, but this was not accepted on the grounds of structural stability; instead, the tower was restored to the form before the works of Atkinson, reinstating earlier removed figures in their original niches and adding new in the empty niches. In the 1870s Scott rearranged the choir and partly closed the 'long vista', which no longer pleased the church authorities, designing a three-arched open screen in the Lombardian Gothic style. In addition, he designed a pulpit decorated in a kind of 'Cosmatic' mosaic work, and a lectern in the form of a pelican. The choir was restored as far as possible to the appearance it had prior to Salvin's period. In church restorations, Scott followed the prevailing Camdenian principles which often caused the destruction of historic features in the buildings.

Old Architectural Designs
Figure 6.20 Sir G.G. Scott's idea for the restoration of the central tower of Durham Cathedral. (The Dean and Chapter of Durham)

His restorations were criticized already in the early 1840s. One of the critics was Rev. John Louis Petit (1801-68), who published his Remarks on Church Architecture in 1841 with a chapter on 'Modern Repairs and Adaptations'. He complained about the work of 'ignorant and presumptuous restorers', and opened the chapter with a poem:

Delay the ruthless work awhile - O spare, Thou stern, unpitying demon of Repair, This precious relic of an early age! It were a pious work, I hear you say, To drop the falling ruin, and to stay The work of desolation. It may be That ye say right; but, O! work tenderly; Beware lest one worn feature ye efface -Seek not to add one touch of modern grace; Handle with reverence each crumbling stone, Respect the very lichens o'er it grown . . .

In his answer to Petit in 1841,52 Scott presented concepts close to those that had developed in France since the Revolution. He regarded an ancient edifice as an original work of great artists from whom we could learn all about Christian architecture; once restored -however carefully - such a monument would partly lose its authenticity. In a similar spirit, he emphasized the value of historic alterations

Figure 6.22 The west front of Durham Cathedral at present
Figure 6.23 Sir G.G. Scott designed the central tower of Chichester Cathedral rebuilt after the collapse of the old tower in 1861

and repairs, which could be precious specimens containing remains of the original structure, and meriting an equally careful preservation. In 1847, at the annual meeting of the Ecclesiological Society, the restoration debate was brought into what Scott later described as a 'very unhappy discussion'. The Society favoured the 'Eclectic' method of restoration, but Scott feared that although some of the remarks in the meeting had been intended 'in a semi-jocose sense', this sort of discussion could have very serious results. So, in 1848, he prepared a paper for the first annual meeting of the Architectural and Archaeological Society in Buckinghamshire.

In 1850, the paper was published by him with additional notes as A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of our Ancient Churches, and it became a summary of his restoration principles. The publication was inspired by the on-going debate, and especially by the Seven Lamps of John Ruskin, which had been published the previous year. While fully recognizing the importance of ancient structures, Scott assumed a pragmatic position, and distinguished principally between two cases:

1. ancient structures or ruins that had lost their original function, and could now be mainly seen as testimonies of a past civilization; and 2. ancient churches which - apart from having to be used - were also God's House, and consequently had to be presented in the best possible form, as Pugin and the Camdenians insisted.

Scott maintained that if churches could be viewed only as documentary evidence of ancient architecture, like antique ruins, they should obviously be preserved in the present state - however mutilated. Nevertheless, considering the need to use the building for suitable purposes, he thought it more than justified to make a choice, and to remove later, 'vile' insertions in favour of the perpetuity of earlier, more precious parts. Scott's aim was to try to do 'some good', and he therefore made an appeal on behalf of a more tender and conservative way of treating ancient churches. He was aware of the educational value of genuine historic buildings of all periods, and therefore of the need to conserve 'faithfully' all significant features, but he was also conscious of the requirements posed on the building by modern use, the difficulty to limit restoration and to guarantee its proper execution on the site.

Scott conceived the history of church architecture as a chain, where each example formed a link in the development, and that together constituted 'one vast treasury of Christian art'. Every ancient church, however simple or rustic, must be viewed as 'a portion of the material of Christian art, as one stone set apart for the foundation of its revival'. Like the French before him, Scott saw this heritage as 'a jewel not handed down for our use only, but given us in trust, that we may transmit it to generations having more knowledge and more skill to use it aright'. He suggested that there was a difference between mediaeval and modern architects; earlier builders had been earnestly pressing forward to reach an almost 'superhuman zeal' to create something better than ever had existed before. Changes were thus adopted not to add something, but to 'exclude' and improve on predecessors. The position of present-day architects was totally different, because now it was not a case of originating a style, but of reawakening one. The present duty was therefore to safeguard and learn, not to destroy and replace.

He disagreed with the advocates of the so-called 'destructive' method of restoration, who argued that the House of God required the very best that knowledge and funds would permit, and that historical or antiquarian connections, therefore, were of little importance. Instead, for exactly the same reason, he maintained that 'conservatism' should be 'the very keynote of Restoration', although it was not so easy to find the 'right tone of feeling' nor to have any definite rules. The great danger in restoration was doing too much, and the great difficulty was to know where to stop. He recognized that a restored church appeared to lose its truthfulness and to become as little authentic as if it had been rebuilt to a new design. Even entire rebuilding, however, could be made conservatively, preserving the precise forms, and often much of the actual material and details of the original. It is often better effected by degrees, and without a fixed determination to carry it throughout. The general rule was to preserve all the various styles and irregularities that indicated the growth and the history of the building (as Victor Hugo had claimed earlier), and which also added to the interest and picturesque character of more modest churches. However, Scott pointed out, there were often exceptions to this rule and, on the basis of a critical evaluation, one had to establish whether the older or the newer parts should be given preference in the restoration. In any case, he insisted that some vestige of the oldest portions should always be preserved as a proof of the origin of the building.

An authentic feature, though late and poor, is more worthy than an earlier though finer part conjecturally restored - a plain fact, than an ornamental conjecture. Above all, I would urge that individual caprice should be wholly excluded from restorations. Let not the restorer give undue preference to the remains of any one age, to the prejudice of another, merely because the one is, and the other is not, his own favourite style. (Scott, 1850:31)

Destruction of later parts could be exceptionally justified, if these were of little interest, and rebuilding of earlier parts if based on 'absolute certainty'. He urged, in addition, a constant cooperation with the clergy as well as a strict control of the execution of the work in order to guarantee that the results really were to correspond to what had been planned by the architect. Though 'conservatism' represented 'an approximate definition' of what one should aim at in restoration, the solutions had to be arrived at case by case. After all, he considered every restorer 'eclectic' whether he chose to be 'conservative' or 'destructive' in his work.

What 'faithful restoration' or 'conservative restoration' meant to Scott, was based on respect for the original design, not for the original material nor for the form achieved through history. In practice he often broke his own principles, which he regretted later. In any case, good documentation and archaeological evidence justified many restorations, i.e., rebuilding of what had been lost or damaged - and additional evidence could be looked for in the region. Here his approach more or less coincided with the principles that were developing in France at the same time. Viollet-le-Duc was well known in England, and in 1854, already an honorary member of the RIBA, he was offered the gold medal of the Institute as a recognition for his work. Scott admired Professor Willis' skill in finding archaeological evidence for reconstructions, comparing this sort of work to that of a palaeontologist, and he believed that a historical building could be rebuilt on the basis of logical analogy like a skeleton. However, he was still very critical of the restoration practice in France.

Scott's approach to restoration had many similarities to that of Viollet-le-Duc; both were amongst the most influential restoration architects of their time, but their writings often seemed to be in conflict with their restoration practice. Both Viollet-le-Duc and Scott certainly made an important contribution to the cause of conservation of historic structures. Nevertheless, however 'faithful' Scott may have tried to be in his restorations, and to whatever degree he claimed to have respected the historical authenticity of the historic buildings, the results were openly criticized by his contemporaries. He himself was objective enough to feel the necessity to confess the 'crimes' that he had accomplished in his restoration career. Although Scott was always proclaiming 'conservatism, conservatism and again conservatism', as Professor

Sidney Colvin stated, there did not seem to be much difference between his principles and those against which he argued. Colvin was not the only critic, and especially in the 1860s and 1870s there was a growing 'anti-restoration movement'.

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