Scott was certainly generous towards his friend Benjamin Ferry. Wells Cathedral restoration committee, in an effort to use Scott’s name to increase their funds, wanted him to become associated with Ferry’s work there, but Scott declined, ‘expressing himself in the most eulogistic terms’ of Ferry’s abilities and ‘stating that the work could not be in better hands’. Although the diocese is known as Bath and Wells the bishop’s seat is at Wells, while Bath Abbey, one of the finest Perpendicular buildings in England, is merely a grand parish church. In the early years of the nineteenth century considerable dissatisfaction was expressed about the external and internal appearance of the Abbey.
Between 1824 and 1835 so-called ‘incongruous deformities’ were removed from around the building, including a fine classical house which was attached to the north side of the east end and, in 1833, the City Architect, George Phillips Manners (c. 1789-1866) embarked on a restoration of the Abbey. Manners had been appointed by the Corporation in 1823 and retained the post of City Architect until his retirement in 1862. He was, according to Colvin, ‘a prolific architect who appears to have designed nothing of great distinction’. At the Abbey his most conspicuous change was the addition of flying buttresses to the nave but as he was not intending to vault the nave, these had no structural purpose and were purely decorative and hollow.
In 1859, in the midst of his fight to keep the Government Offices, Scott was consulted by the new Rector of Bath, Charles Kemble (1819-1874), who wanted him to restore his church. Again the commencement of the work was conveniently delayed, this time for five years, when it became one of Scott’s major restorations lasting over seven years and probably earning him more than £1,000 in fees.
At the time of Kemble’s appointment in 1859, the seventy-year-old Manners was still nominally in charge of the Abbey but his ideas about church design had been completely out-moded by the ecclesiastical reforms of the 1840’s and it is not surprising that Scott was called in to transform the church into a more appropriate setting for Victorian worship. Bath Abbey had few of the structural problems which had beset so many of Scott’s great cathedral restorations and much of his work was in correcting Manners’s solecisms. He also recommended that the great screen, which had been placed under the tower in 1835, should be removed and the organ placed in the north transept enabling the whole interior to be opened up. Galleries in the nave would go, a new pulpit would be provided and the old wooden ceiling to the nave would be repaired. The work commenced in 1864 and in the next year Kemble produced more funds so that Scott could extend the work and transform the building into the state that he considered its medieval builders had intended.
His Clerk of Works at Bath was his ‘very painstaking friend and assistant’ J. T. Irvine, who had entered Scott’s office in 1858 and came from supervising Scott’s careful restoration of Ludlow Church, which was carried out between 1859 and 1860.
At Bath Abbey it could have been Irvine’s scholarly approach which helped Scott to reject Manners’s work so completely. When it was decided not to repair the old wooden ceiling to the nave and replace it with a genuine stone fan-vault modelled on that of the choir, Scott and Irvine must have been delighted to have the justification to remove Manners’s sham flying buttresses and replace them with solid ones, which could work properly by resisting the thrust of the new heavy vaulting. Scott understood, in way that presumably Manners did not, that lightness and integrity of structure was the essential element of Perpendicular architecture. He replaced Manners’s big pointed pinnacles at the east and west ends and at the corners of the tower with lower open-work designs. Those at the west end, where there was a subsidence problem, are light shallow structures resembling the crown over the stair turret at Hillesden Church. This was one of Scott’s favourite features and he repeated in 1873 over a corner turret on the Chetwynd building at King’s College, Cambridge. He also replaced Manners’s open-work parapet over the aisles on the west front with a design based on a drawing of the original, recut the stonework and underpinned the foundations of the west front.
Internally, apart from providing genuine fan-vaulting throughout the building, Scott re-laid the nave floor, which accommodated heating by Haden, and again used his favourite craftsmen to create the appropriate atmosphere in the church. Clayton and Bell provided the fine east window and Skidmore made a magnificent set of gasoliers, including a great central burner of 120 lights under the crossing and two standards in the sanctuary. These have disappeared but his light fittings hanging under the arches of the nave and choir arcades were converted to electricity and are still in place. Farmer and Brindley produced a finely carved set of stalls and a pulpit, and Scott himself designed a plain reredos of blank arcading to fit under the east window.
The work had proceeded slowly because of the lack of funds, but the church was eventually reopened in 1871. Even then certain items, such as the font, were not added until 1874. In the end the total cost of Scott’s restoration came to over £21,000.