Ferrey was a native of Christchurch in Hampshire where his father was a prosperous draper and became its Mayor in 1840. Young Ferrey was apparently ‘well-liked by everyone’, but the lack of historical interest in him as an architect probably stems from the almost uniform dreariness of his numerous works, compared with the flair and imagination that some of his contemporaries were able to exhibit on occasion. Ferrey was the biographer of the Pugins, with his Recollections of A. W. N. Pugin and his father Augustus Pugin, which was published in 1861. He was articled to the elder Pugin and knew the younger Pugin extremely well, and with this close association with both Pugins, he was at the forefront of the Gothic Revival. Although at its onset he was much better placed than Sir George Gilbert Scott, he was never able to properly capitalise on his initial advantage.
Sir George Gilbert Scott and Ferrey probably first met at one of the meetings of the Architectural Society in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where Ferrey was a committee member when Scott joined before 1835. As with many of his long-standing friendships, Scott is rather coy in his Recollections about the extent to which he had been helped by Ferrey. They were almost exact contemporaries and had rather similar careers, particularly in their stylistic development from classical to medieval, and although their work was usually acceptable to the Ecclesiologists, neither of them were members of their highly favoured inner group of architects. It is surprising that Scott says that he made St Stephen’s Chapel an excuse to obtain an introduction to Pugin, as by 1835, he must have known that Ferrey could have given him an introduction to Pugin.
In 1851, Sir George Gilbert Scott recalled that ‘I joined My friend Ferrey in a short tour in Italy’. Their tour of the continent in 1851 seems to have further cemented their friendship, as almost immediately upon their return, both men worked together to establish the Architectural Museum. In 1853, after the parish church of Doncaster had been burnt down, Scott recalled, that as Ferrey had previously refitted it:
I had thought that we should be appointed Joint Architects as he proposed & I was willing to accept, but, owing to some local differences the arrangement was negatived & I was appointed singly. I did all I could to bring them to what had been suggested by Ferrey but in vain.
In spite of this, Ferrey still seems to have wanted to continue their friendship and two years later Ferrey was a member of a committee which appointed Scott to restore Lichfield Cathedral. In 1862 he was probably influential in them being appointed joint architects for the highly successful complete rebuilding of the great Perpendicular tower of St. Mary’s Church at Taunton. They also restored Warmington Church in Northamptonshire between 1875 and 1876 for Lord Carysport, with Ferrey restoring the chancel and Scott the nave and fine western spire. Here Ferrey’s mediocrity is in striking contrast to Scott’s flair. However the most revealing comment on their relationship came in 1861, in Ferrey’s biography of Pugin where he stated that:
If Pugin laid down general rules, Mr. Scott has shown the manner in which they should be applied, pointing out in the most discriminating manner the caution to be observed in following his maxims and suggesting thoughts for new combinations of a most interesting kind in connection with the introduction of Italian details into our own Gothic styles.
So he conferred upon him the greatest accolade that Scott could possibly have wished for, that of being considered as his hero’s successor. It is difficult to detect any similar admiration for Ferrey emanating from Scott, but Scott, like everybody else, found him easy to get on with. He was an ideal companion for a sketching tour of Italy, particularly as he too wanted to sketch. He became Scott’s companion for his European forays which Scott later recalled in his Recollections. For example, after their rendezvous in Berlin in October 1851, an incident occurred at their hotel which Scott found amusing. He recollected:
the affected delight of the Hotel Keeper at seeing me, my vanity accepted it (inwardly) as a tribute to the architect to St. Nicholas’ at Hamburg, but unluckily for my selflove he proceeded to tell me that I was the greatest of English poets! and I found out that he took me or pretended to do so for Sir Walter Scott!
They then travelled due south, presumably by train, to Dresden and then along the route which Scott had followed four years before, up the Elbe valley and into the so-called Saxon Switzerland. There, much to Scott’s satisfaction, as it was presumably his idea that they should go that way, Ferrey was surprised and delighted with the beautiful scenery, in contrast with the dull countryside that they had been experiencing so far on their journey. They passed through Prague and on to Vienna, a distance of some two hundred miles, which, as it appears to have been accomplished in one day, must have been by train. In Vienna, Scott and Ferrey ‘got a day for St. Stephens with which I was most agreeably surprised’. This is hardly unexpected, as the great hall-church has a 440 feet tall spire which bears a close resemblance to Scott’s proposed spire for St. Nicholas, as well as incorporating other design features which he used on his English churches, such as gabled side-aisles instead of clerestories and the base of the tower forming the entrance porch. Also, much of the cathedral was built about 1300, his favourite period. They then travelled out of Vienna along the road that links it to the sea at Trieste, some 250 miles away, by an open-topped, four-wheeled carriage, called a droshky, a low-slung vehicle where both driver and passengers sit astride a bench. They went by boat from Trieste to Venice.
At Venice, all was enchantment! No three days of my life afford me such rich Art & Archaeological recollections. We both worked hard and did much. I here met Ruskin whom I knew before and we spent a most delightful evening with him.
At Venice I also made three other valuable acquaintances Mr. Gambier Parry, of Hynham Court – David Roberts & E. W. Cooke. We urged Roberts to take Vienna on his way home which gave rise to two noble pictures of the interior of St. Stephens.
David Roberts (1796-1864), was perhaps the most distinguished British architectural painter of the time and specialised in Middle-Eastern and European scenes. Edward William Cooke was also a painter and knew Ferrey from Pugin’s office where they were fellow pupils. This was the first time that Scott met Gambier Parry, who was returning from an extended tour of Europe with his second wife, having been married early in August. Scott was soon to discover that their visit was too late in the year for good weather. During ‘my first night under an Italian roof, I was nearly flooded out of my bedroom’, by torrents of rain. He and Ferrey then went off to sketch and study the buildings of the city together.
My impressions of St. Marks were stronger than I can describe. I considered it and still continue to do so the most impressive interior I have ever seen. The Venetian Gothic, excepting the Ducal Palace, disappointed me at first, but by degrees it grew upon me greatly … the Byzantine palaces also attracted my attention a good deal especially the Fondaco dei Turchi …
He made a sketch of this ancient palace which in the seventeenth century had become a warehouse for Turkish merchandise. In spite of having been built as late as the thirteenth century, it is in the round-arched style which Scott and Ruskin described as Byzantine although, at that time, it was in an appalling state. Ruskin, in 1853, in the third volume of The Stones of Venice gives a particularly vivid description of this then ‘ghastly ruin’. The whole of the facade on to the Grand Canal consists of two stories of open arcades of tightly-packed round-headed arches. Scott was particularly impressed with architectural treatment and was able to use it on one of his proposals for the Foreign Office. It was so harshly restored in 1869 that today it looks like just another nineteenth century building.
As Scott and Ferrey understood that Gothic architecture derived from the structure and function of the building, it is not surprising that they were disappointed at seeing how much Gothic architecture in Venice seemed like applied decoration, but what is surprising, in view of his commitment to Gothic, is Scott’s enthusiasm for the interior of St Mark’s. It seems astonishing that he was able to write in 1864, nearly thirteen years later, that he had not seen anything more impressive, although it is a Byzantine interior and he had visited many fine Gothic interiors in the intervening years. But, of course, Scott liked domes and St Mark’s has no less than five domes.
After Venice, Scott and Ferrey spent 22 October in Padua where they ‘worked tremendously hard at St Antonio & the Arena Chapel & great was our delight in both’. The next day they travelled sixty miles by train to Verona, stopping off on the way for a cursory glance at Vicenza, where Scott sketched the Palazzo Da Schio. This rather disdainful treatment of the home city of Andrea Palladio, the great hero of English eighteenth century classicists, is as much as could be expected from two Gothic Revivalists. Verona however, ‘charmed us beyond measure & we worked very hard for a day & a half’. Scott and Ferrey then travelled twenty miles south to Mantua on 24 October. They seem to have been travelling as fast as any modern sight-seeing tourist, having seen Padua, Vicenza and Verona in the course of three days. Scott was particularly interested in the combination of brick and stone, which he called constructive polychromy, in the Gothic buildings of the area. He mentions that this appears on the Ducal Palace at Mantua, which was commenced in 1302, where the window arches are formed in alternating patterns of brick and stone. He made two sketches of this and also sketched the cathedral. From Mantua they went by Modena to Bologna and somewhere along the route they met up with the twenty-four year-old eldest son of the well-known castle architect Anthony Salvin, also called Anthony, who acted as their interpreter. They probably knew the father through the Institute, where he was one of the earliest members and was a Vice-President when Scott was elected in 1849. Scott was particularly impressed by the Mercanzia in Bologna, built between 1382-4, with its open loggia of pointed arches on the ground floor and traceried windows above. ‘Its front is of exquisite beauty, and is almost wholly of brick, including carvings of the richest character and the most beautiful execution’.
They then went by train, sixty miles southwards, to Florence, where Scott sketched the cathedral and bapistry:
Again we had three days of the purest delight. I worked violently & the last day timing myself strictly to the work I was to do every hour of the day; & at last to my intense disgust & dismay forgot San Miniato! Next to my three Venice days, these at Florence occupy the choicest corner of my art recollections.
At Santa Croce, which was the closest to Gothic architecture that Scott saw in Florence, he was particularly interested in the apse with its coloured glass and frescoes, and ‘spent a considerable time in it, carefully examining its detail’. Scott and Ferrey then travelled to Siena ‘and had the three hours hardest work in my life & the pleasantist It was really too bad to hurry in such a manner but Ferrey was in fits at the idea of crossing the Alps in the Snow & we had reached the end of October’. No sketches appear to survive as the products of Scott’s hard work, but he certainly saw the cathedral, which was built between 1245 and 1380, at the time of his favourite style. They then travelled sixty miles north-westwards, and ‘spent one working day & a Sunday at Pisa again with unalloyed delight & again worked hard & got much’. There is little evidence of what excited him so much; presumably he was impressed by the famous group of white marble Romanesque buildings, which includes the cathedral, with its small dome, the baptistry and the Leaning Tower. From there, at last, they started their homeward journey on the coastal railway, nearly one hundred miles to Genoa, stopping at Spezia on the way, and then onto Milan. ‘Fear of snow lead us to pass through Pavia without stopping’, and they therefore only allowed themselves one day to explore the great city of Milan with its numerous medieval monuments and do not appear to have had time to do any sketching.
‘Haste alas, without good speed’, as thirty miles to the north, they found themselves ‘ankle deep in snow’ as they stepped off the train at Como, ‘after only half-an-hour’s fall, and in the very beginning of November’. This was the end of the railway, as the St. Gotthard tunnel was not to open until nearly thirty years later, and the travellers had to resort to slower and more hazardous transport through the Alps in worsening weather.
In going by diligence from Como to the pass one of our horses jumped over a precipice. I was asleep but Ferrey who saw it woke me up in dismay – happily … a tree caught him & we drew him up again by ropes .
Presumably the weather became so bad that the diligence could not proceed, as Scott says that, ‘we had to cross the Alps after all th[r]ough 6 feet of snow, and in s[l]edges (ie deal boxes nailed on ash poles) with some twenty men to dig a way for us & nothing to be seen for snow & fog!’ Fog persisted for most of the homeward journey. As they had feared, they had left it far too late to return but their friendship remained firm.