Ward's Book of Days.

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MARCH 27th  

On this day in history in 1878, died George Gilbert Scott

Scott was an architect in the gothic style, who pioneered the building of new churches and cathedrals in the Nineteenth Century.

George Gilbert Scott was born on 13th July 1811, at Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, the son of Thomas Scott, a rural vicar and amateur architect. After a normal middle class education, in which he specialised in art and mathematics, Scott was sent to London in 1827 to study architecture under the great designer, James Edmeston, who was later heard to comment that the young Scott ‘wasted his time sketching medieval buildings’.  

In 1835, Scott was in practice as an architect. His first work was the design of workhouses, notorious establishments for the confinement of the poor, but in his spare time studied the writings of A.W.N. Pugin, an architect who pleaded for the return of a medieval style of architecture. Pugin argued that the Gothic style reflected Christianity, and that the Classical style, predominant in Britain since the time of Sir Christopher Wren in the Seventeenth Century, was essentially pagan. Scott, while not accepting Pugin’s somewhat fanciful notions that Classicism was bringing about the fall of Western civilisation, was attracted to the intrinsic beauty of the Gothic form.  He made a grand tour of Europe, visiting medieval cathedrals, where he gained first-hand knowledge, on which he would base his grand designs.  

Scott’s first work in the Gothic mode was his design his design for the Martyrs' Memorial at Oxford [St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3BJ], a stone monument, commemorating Thomas Cranmer and other Protestant martyrs, of the Reign of Mary I. Scott went on to design  the Nikolai Church in Hamburg, in 14th-century German Gothic style. This commission launched his career, and gained him an international reputation.  

Scott built or restored about 850 structures including 500 churches and 39 cathedrals or minsters. He led what was to be known as the ‘Gothic Revival’, an architectural movement, which built or rebuilt numerous buildings throughout the land. The Nineteenth Century was a time of huge population movements, as workers flocked to the new industrial cities of the Industrial Revolution. Scott capitalised on the requirement for new church and secular buildings, tirelessly creating new designs.  

Scott’s most famous work is the Albert Memorial, situated in Kensington Gardens, an elaborate, though purposeless structure, commemorating the life and work of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.  He is also noted for the red-brick Midland Grand Hotel, now named the St. Pancras Hotel, attached to St. Pancras Station, which Scott hoped would lead to a revolution in Gothic secular building design. Scott’s work was noted for its pointed arches, trefoils, quatrefoils and naturalistic foliage, elements of the French Gothic style of the Fourteenth Century.  His restoration of long-neglected medieval cathedrals and churches became a controversial issue, with critics bemoaning the lost beauties of ancient buildings and the ‘vandalism’ of Victorian restorers. However, many of the critics will admit that Scott and his associates saved many fine buildings that would otherwise have perished.  

Scott was knighted in 1872 and became president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1873. He died in 1878 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, an honour given to no other architect before or since.

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