Gloucester Cathedral – Gloucester
Sir George Gilbert Scott restored all of the Three Choirs cathedrals but his work at Gloucester was the last and least assertive of the three. In many respects, his involvement there was similar to that at Worcester in that a competent local architect was working on the building when he was first consulted. Thomas Fulljames was the son of a local surveyor and in 1831, he had advised the Chapter of Gloucester on alterations to the little cloister of the Cathedral . He had an independent architectural practice and his restoration of Swindon Church near Cheltenham, in about 1845, was criticised by The Gentleman’s Magazine for having destroyed a vast amount of original Norman work to fit in more seating. In 1839 Fulljames took on Frederick Sandham Waller as a pupil, and within eight years they became partners. But, perhaps sensitive of the criticism of his restoration work, he allowed Waller to take an increasingly active role in the care of Gloucester Cathedral. In 1847 they were jointly advising the Chapter and in 1852 Waller was appointed Supervisor of the Works. In 1856 he published General Architectural Description of the Cathedral Church …at Gloucester etc. for the Chapter, who then decided to ask the opinion of ‘Sir Charles Barry or some other eminent architect’ on Waller’s report. In the end it was sent to Scott, who seems to have been impressed with it and describes Waller as a ‘man of considerable talent’.
Waller proposed an extensive restoration of the whole cathedral, costing £66,235, and in January 1863 the wealthy Henry Law became Dean. He had never married and devoted an inherited fortune to numerous religious charities and works, eventually becoming the largest contributor to the restoration of his Cathedral. However, in the month before Law moved to Gloucester, Waller had a hunting accident which left him so severely injured that he had to pass all his work back to Fulljames. Fulljames was thus once again the cathedral architect and Scott having already acted in an advisory role, became associated with Fulljames. Perhaps the Chapter, under the new Dean, felt that Fulljames’ drastic approach to restoration needed some restraint and Scott’s authority could be exercised to provide necessary control. In the event, Fulljames made a large financial contribution to the restoration fund and retired at the end of 1865. With Waller still not recovered, Scott was appointed cathedral architect.
Law, as one of the leaders of the by now declining evangelical movement, would have had no qualms about Scott’s religious views. Even The Ecclesiologist, in March 1866, thought that the ‘rougher part of the restoration’ had been ‘well done, in the foundations, walls and windows’, by Fulljames but ‘Mr. Scott’s work will be to revive its spirit as a church’.
Work on the restoration of the stonework of the nave was finished by Christmas Day 1868 when the first service was held there but the south porch was not fully completed until 1870. Waller had helped Scott with drawings he had made of the porch ‘before the decay had been so complete’ and six figures by Redfern were placed in restored niches over the doorway. Scott says that Law objected to the proposal in Waller’s report to open up the choir to the nave and it was, perhaps because of this, that Scott was requested to make a report on the choir which he produced in April 1867. He said that he was ‘not very anxious on the subject’ of opening up the choir as he wanted to keep ‘the historical arrangement of the choir and its stalls’. He proposed that the eighteenth century choir seating should be replaced ‘with new fittings agreeable in character with the stalls’ and, of course, the plain screen behind the High Altar, designed by Sir Robert Smirke in 1807, would have to go and be replaced with a proper reredos. The ‘ancient and beautiful sedilia’, which stand to the south of the High altar, should be restored as closely as possible to their original form. The tile pavement in the sanctuary was, he says, as fine a medieval pavement as he had seen and should be preserved while the floor of the choir and presbytery should be repaved. For the great vault over the choir with its intricate web of ribs he proposed that ‘a moderate amount of colour in the ceiling would do more than almost anything to add that warmth of effect which the choir so much needs’. He also proposed that the Lady Chapel should be restored and as he had never seen windows ‘more beautifully or more expertly restored than those recently done by Hardman in the nave’, he urged that Hardman should be re-commissioned to re-glaze the windows of the Lady Chapel.
The Chapter accepted Scott’s recommendations and an appeal for funds was launched. As soon as the nave was completed at the end of 1868, work immediately started on the choir. Scott was again able to persuade the cathedral authorities to employ his favourite craftsmen and specialist suppliers, and although various firms tendered for the work of painting and gilding the vault it was, of course, Clayton and Bell’s quotation of £557 which was accepted in March 1871. Although no traces of medieval painting were found this did not deter Scott from proceeding with a scheme which critics felt lowered the apparent height of the building. Gambier Parry condemned it completely but Scott maintained that it was a success. For the paving Scott used William Godwin of Lugwardine, whom he had first used at Hereford, to make copies of the old tiles in the cathedral. The whole of the choir and presbytery was floored with an elaborate tile and marble pattern, with the exception of the sanctuary, where Scott repaired and restored the fine medieval design. In the centre of the presbytery floor there is an impressive series of biblical scenes in black cement set into white marble squares. It is said that these are to Scott’s own design. They certainly have a similar vigour and quality to his identified personal work at Worcester.
The repairs and alterations to the choir stalls were the work of Farmer and Brindley and were carried out around 1873 at a cost of £2,775. For this sum they provided a new bishop’s throne and mayor’s seat, replaced the front seats to the choir and repaired the fine set of stalls which date from about 1370. These, like Worcester, contain an excellent set of forty-four medieval misericords and only fourteen from Scott’s restoration. In March 1871, Scott’s design for the new reredos was accepted and Redfern, having just completed the statues on the south porch, was given the task of carving the figures. It turned out to be one of Scott’s finest reredoses with a lightness of touch which must have been inspired by the nearby canopy of King Edward II’s tomb of 1330 in the north ambulatory. It has a rich intricacy of detail which is lacking in Scott’s Salisbury and Worcester designs. The fine architectural stone carving was also the work of Farmer and Brindley and the whole structure, which cost £1,400, was donated by the Freemasons of Gloucestershire and unveiled at a grand Masonic ceremony on 5 June 1873. It was later made even more spectacular by the application of gilding and multi-coloured paintwork.
In 1872, Waller ‘having happily been restored to health’, was, according to Scott, ‘re-instated in his position of resident Architect I retaining that of Consulting architect’. In 1873, with the choir nearly complete and presumably no further funds available to extend the restoration to the Lady Chapel, Scott seems to have withdrawn from Gloucester Cathedral. It was only with Gambier Parry that Scott had problems. Ever since he bought the Highnam estate in 1839, just to the west of Gloucester, Gambier Parry was considered to be a person of importance and influential in the affairs of the city. But he was furious when Scott rejected his scheme to decorate the choir vault of the cathedral in spite of having already carried out a successful decoration of the tiny St. Andrew’s Chapel off the south transept.
Scott’s last work at Gloucester was a font donated by Mrs Gibbs as a memorial to her husband, William Gibbs of Tyntesfield near Bristol. Gibbs, who had commissioned Scott to design Flaxley Church next to Mrs Gibb’s home twenty years earlier, died in April 1875. In the event, Scott’s design for the Gloucester font is not like anything at Flaxley but, presumably, because it was to be placed at the west end of the Norman nave, it is an extraordinary Romanesque affair. It was richly carved from Inverness granite by Farmer and Brindley and cost £800. It was dedicated by the bishop on Easter Sunday 1878 three weeks after Scott’s death. In recent years it has been relegated to the crypt.
After Scott’s death, Waller carried on repairing the stonework and with general maintenance until his retirement in 1900. Although Scott’s involvement with Gloucester lasted over a long period, his principal task, the restoration of the choir, was carried out in four years. It was one of his smaller cathedral restorations compared to the ten years taken on Worcester, or a lifetime on Ely, and like Worcester, all the structural work was undertaken by another architect.
Welander, D., The History, Art and Architecture of Gloucester Cathedral (Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1991), pp. 431-3, 446, 454-8, 466, 468-71, 473-7, 479-80, 486.
Pevsner, N., Verey, D., and Brooks, A., Gloucestershire I: The Cotswolds in the Buildings of England (Penguin Books, London, 1999), pp. 36, 206, 209-10, 354.
Scott’s Recollections III, 321-5, IV 155, 160, 163.
Dictionary of National Biography, XXXII, p. 228.
The Ecclesiologist, XVII (1866), p. 99.
Gloucester Journal, 26 August 1871, p. 339.
Farr, D., Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-1888) as Artist and Collector (Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1993), p. 57.
Directory of British Architects 1834-1914 (Continuim, London, 2001), vol. II, p. 902.
Gloucester Cathedral font – Gloucester