As Palmeston had indicated, on Thursday 4 August 1859, the Government sought the vote of £30,000 for the foundations of the Foreign Office, and £100,000 to acquire the land authorised for compulsory purchase. During the debate Scott said:
Mr. Tite talked nonsense and some fair speeches were made especially by Lord John Manners & Lord Elcho on my side & the matter was left an open question to be decided the next session, when I was to exhibit designs in both styles.
Elcho declared that Sir George Gilbert Scott’s design would be ‘a great ornament to the metropolis’. Coningham restated his dislike of Scott’s scheme and congratulated Palmerston ‘on his spirited resistance to any further invasion of the Goths and Vandals’. Stirling and Buxton also spoke in defence of Scott, with Buxton enthusiastically declaring that Scott’s design ‘would be one of the most beautiful buildings in the country’. After a long speech from Palmerston, in which, as Scott says, he repeated his second-hand arguments, Manners, so the Saturday reported, ‘was more than a match’ for Palmerston. He said he would ‘be extremely sorry to obey his edicts on matters of taste’ and, if they were to follow him blindly, they ‘might as well give up talking about science and art and the beautification of the metropolis’. Sir Joseph Paxton made his only contribution to the controversy with a short speech stating that ‘Mr. Scott was at the head of his art in Europe’, and had designed ‘a beautiful building’. It was three o’clock on the Friday morning when the great debate was finally wound-up with the money being voted. Scott, who noted that he used to attend parliamentary debates, was no doubt in the gallery and heard that he had been given six months to produce a new design.
Hostile as usual, The Times attacked Scott and Gothic architecture. This led to an eruption of letters. Scott’s allies sprung to his defence, with predictably the liveliest reaction coming from the Saturday. Although out of Parliament, Hope could be even more forthright, shielded by anonymity, in the pages of his journal. Palmerston, he declares, was not qualified to comment on architecture and his idea that Scott could apply any elevation to a given plan, only served to show his ignorance. Scott was clearly highly agitated, and seems to have spent some time in the lobbies of House of Commons frantically canvassing support. There was only one week of the parliamentary session left after the debate and he was trying to catch the M.P.s, before they disappeared. As far as parliamentary business was concerned, the sessions were amazingly short, and Scott would have to wait until January 1860 for a decision. However, he said:
About the middle of August I heard that a Deputation of architects was going up to Lord Palmerston to pat him on the back & encourage him in his determination to overthrow the work of his predecessors. I was foolish enough on hearing it to call on Donaldson to protest against it. He professed innocence of all privity to the scheme but told me that if asked he should not decline to join it.
Scott seemed to think that there was nothing wrong in M.P.’s lobbying Palmerston on his behalf, but was upset at the idea of his fellow architects supporting Palmerston’s classical stance. He obviously thought that he knew Donaldson well enough that he could discuss his problems with him and was shocked to discover the extent of Donaldson’s role in the campaign against him.
At the end of the parliamentary session, on 12 August 1859, Scott noted that, ‘My necessary exertions being for the present over, Mrs. Scott persuaded me to go with our elder sons & spend a day or two at the Oatlands Park Hotel near Chertsey for relaxation after my anxious toils & sorrows’. This is a typical grand hotel of the type that the Scott’s seemed to like. Here he could be with Caroline and John Oldrid, who was about to enter his final year at Bradfield, and with George Gilbert, who although in the office, probably saw little of his father there. No doubt the younger boys remained in Hampstead under the care of the nanny.
The day after their arrival at Oatlands, Scott saw the article in the Saturday attacking Palmerston’s speech in the debate.
On returning from fishing with my Sons – I found a message from Mr. Burn, who to my surprise I found to be laid up with a severe illness in the same Hotel, saying that he had just seen my name in the visitors book and wished I would call on him.
During Burn’s long professional career, according to Donaldson who knew him well, he was involved in over 700 buildings in England and Scotland. He had a much publicised aversion to entering competitions, which may have been one of the reasons that he was selected as a judge in the competition. When Scott went to see Burn on the following Monday, he said that Donaldson had been to see him the previous day and he had said to Donaldson, ‘“I don’t know who it is that backs Palmerston up but I’m convinced, by what he says that there’s some idle fellow in our profession who keeps prompting from behind the scenes.”’ Donaldson had had enough of it and departed!’ It is indicative of Scott’s state of mind over the whole affair that he quotes verbatim a conversation at which he was not even present, some five years after it happened, and yet he acknowledges that he fails to remember the sequence of important events. Scott at last realised that Donaldson was always going to be hostile to him.
On Wednesday 17 August 1859, twenty architects along with what the Saturday called ‘some surveyors and house-builders’, went to see Palmerston. According to Scott, the Master of the Ceremonies was Donaldson, whereas in fact it was Tite. Sidney Smirke was the first speaker, The Builder reporting that he said that he had:
a great regard for Mr. Scott, and highly appreciated his talents as a Gothic architect; but he felt that the true interests of his profession demanded that every exertion should be made to resist the attempts of a certain set of mediaeval dilettanti, to force on us their thirteenth-century style, which, however picturesque, and however well suited to ecclesiastical purposes, was clearly unfit for the architecture of public offices.
He asked for the Gothic style for the Foreign office to be resisted as:
it would necessarily follow that the whole of the contemplated pile of public buildings occupying great part of Westminster, would be in the same streaky gable-ended style; and if such should unfortunately be the case, he would predict that hereafter the architecture of England would become the laughing-stock of Europe.
Donaldson wanted to uphold the competition and blamed the dilettanti for trying to reverse its decisions and thought that Manners was at fault for accepting their ideas. He could see no reason for adopting Gothic, as the new Foreign Office ‘if in contiguity with anything’, it was the Banqueting House. Conningham again attacked Gothic as a retrograde step like pre-Raphaelitism. Palmerston replied that he was glad to have the assurance of ‘trained men of science and judgement’, and the proceedings closed with Garling, and Banks and Barry, being introduced to Palmerston as leading prizemen.
Scott was bitter over the whole affair, and wrote:
I have not, after nearly five years interval ceased to feel that the conduct of these Architects was in highest degree discreditable – I am happy however to say that I have never permitted any such feeling to shew itself in any intercourse with them or to cause any personal breach.
The Saturday condemned the delegation as ‘unprofessional, unartistic, and, we nearly said, ungentlemanly’. It became the centre of some heated correspondence in the journals, which raged for several weeks. Sir Henry Cole had a simple solution; Scott should remodel his design on the lines of Inigo Jones’s scheme for Whitehall Palace. Street, as a disappointed competitor, generously stood by Scott and said that nothing would be gained from changing architects and that Scott should be allowed to proceed with the Gothic design. Ruskin publically stayed aloof, but the day after the delegation he wrote in a private letter, ‘What a goose poor Scott (who will get his liver fit for pate de Strasburg with vexation) must be, not to say at once he’ll build anything’.
This was surely the lowest point in Scott’s career. The great prize had been held out to him. Now it seemed that it would be snatched away to satisfy the whim of someone who certainly knew nothing about architecture, backed-up by men whom he thought were his friends. As a one-time classicist himself, who had studied and then rejected classical architecture, he could not understand why these men were not able to see that Gothic was superior. He had been properly commissioned to carry out the work and the deputation only had the effect of strengthening his resolve to see it through, rather than to let it fall into any of their hands. He wrote:
I tried to get up a counter address but the Gothic Architects did not come forward in sufficient force to make it worth while. This cold-heartedness was the greatest damper I had met with.
However, he did get the promise of support from his former assistant William White, Joseph Clarke and Ewan Christian, who worked with him at the Architectural Museum, and his friends Ferrey, Pearson and Burges. An astonishing omission is Street. Perhaps the real reason that Scott dropped the counter deputation was not so much the ‘cold-heartedness’ of his colleagues but that events were moving too swiftly for him to organise anything that would be effective.
On the Monday following the deputation, 22 August 1859, Palmerston, with his arguments now reinforced by the classicists, summoned Scott.
… seating himself down before me in the most cosy fatherly way said, ‘I want to talk to you quietly Mr. Scott about this business. I have been thinking a great deal about it & I really think there was much force in what your friends said’ – I was delighted at his supposed conversion! – ‘I really do think that there is a degree of inconsistency in compelling a Gothic architect to erect a classic building; and so I have thinking of appointing you a coajutor, who would in fact make the design’! I was thrown to the earth again – & began at once to bring arguments against it but the blow was too sudden to allow me to do justice to my case viva voce So on my return I immediately wrote a strongly & firmly worded letter – stating my having been regularly appointed … My position as an architect, my having won two European Competitions, my being an A R A gold medallist of the Institute, a lecturer on architecture at the Academy, &c. & I ended with firmly declining any such arrangement.
Scott later discovered, presumably through Hunt, that it was Garling that Palmerston had in mind when he suggested a collaborator. But Scott must have appeared so upset at Palmerston’s suggestion that old Premier immediately withdrew his proposal. After the interview, Scott again sent a letter to Palmerston. This is shorter and much better organised than the previous one that he dashed off a month earlier. Apart from the promise to prepare a new design using his knowledge of classical architecture, the old Prime Minister must have found most of it rather irritating and irrelevant, particularly where he again tells him about his status in the profession. Scott had been defeated. He may have been able to get difficult boards of guardians and awkward church committees to come round to his way of thinking, but the old statesman was an entirely new class of opponent for him. Never before had he faced anyone whose displeasure had quelled nations. Poor Scott was completely out of his depth and his bleatings must have been, at best, no more than a minor irritant to the great man. There is not the slightest doubt that Palmerston would get his way and it is yet another example of Scott’s amazing naivety that he thought he could persuade Palmerston to change his mind.
He says that he returned ‘with Mrs. Scott & my family to Scarborough to recruit [sic]’. He continued:
I was thoroughly out of health through the badgering anxiety and bitter disappointment I have gone through and for the first time since commencing practice 24 years before I gave myself a quasi holiday of two months, with sea air & a course of quinine. During this time however besides the work sent down to me from time to time from Town. I was busying myself in preparing for the next campaign – I saw that with Lord Palmerston Gothic would have no chance & I had agreed to prepare an Italian design. … To resign would be to give up a sort of property which Providence had placed in the hands of my family & would be simply rewarding C. Barry for his attempt to wrest a work from the hands of a brother architect after he had not only been regularly appointed, but had commenced & even made siteworks drawings & received tenders.
The retreat to Scarborough, at the end of August 1859, was to escape from this and give himself a chance to quietly think out how he could evolve a new design for the Foreign Office, which would satisfy Palmerston and yet square with his own carefully worked-out ideas on secular architecture. The fact that he intended to give the design his sole and undivided attention for two months shows how important he considered it to be.