Address given at a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the bicentenary of the birth of George Gilbert Scott
13 July 2011 at 18:00 pm
George Gilbert Scott, who was born in the Buckinghamshire village of Gawcott two hundred years ago this very day, was buried here, on 6th April 1878. He now lies under a splendid brass designed by his former pupil, the architect George Edmund Street. “Vir Probus Architectus Peritissimus” it announces around the perimeter – A man of probity, a most skilled architect. This is Sir Gilbert Scott’s memorial, though he is also depicted and commemorated in the architects’ frieze on the National Memorial to Albert, Prince Consort, in South Kensington. But it might be said of Scott – as it was famously inscribed on the tomb of another celebrated architect in London’s other great national church – if you seek his monument, look around. There is his work in this Abbey; close by, in Whitehall, there is the Foreign Office; further west there is the Albert Memorial and to the north the great railway hotel at St Pancras. Beyond London there are the buildings in the two ancient English universities, the new home of the University of Glasgow, the Albert Institute in Dundee, as well as several other public buildings and a number of country houses; and then there are the commanding steeples of Scott’s many, many churches, for he was responsible for churches, parsonages and schools throughout these islands – and beyond, for there are cathedrals by Scott in Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa and a church – alas, now a ruin – in Hamburg, in addition to university buildings in Bombay. The full list of works is astonishing.
Church architecture was Scott’s first and enduring passion. He rose to fame and fortune on the flood tide of the Gothic Revival – what he called the “Gothic Renaissance” - that noble attempt to make the Mediaeval modern, which was encouraged by the revival and expansion of the Church of England in the mid 19th century. And the building of new churches went hand in hand with the restoration of old and neglected ones. Scott worked at almost all of the ancient cathedrals of England and Wales, treating them – as we can now see – with respect, sympathy, great skill and profound knowledge. This is certainly true of the way he, as Surveyor, looked after this church, Westminster Abbey, a building he loved more than any other. It is fitting that this most remarkable man should now lie here.