Edmeston had employed Moffatt’s father as a builder, who had persuaded Edmeston to take his son on as a pupil. Born in Cornwall, young Moffatt suffered from lameness as a result of a fever, and although uneducated, was ‘remarkably intelligent’. He was an expert joiner and cabinet maker, ‘which with the brightness of his uncultivated parts won for him in my mind a sort of regretful respect’. Edmeston opened an office at Hackney, which Moffatt attended and Sir George Gilbert Scott also moved there. The pupils got on well together, with Scott instructing Moffatt in drawing and the office procedures, and presumably Moffatt being able to apply his knowledge of building to Sir George Gilbert Scott’s advantage.
After Sir George Gilbert Scott completed his pupilage in March 1831, Moffatt moved to the Bishopsgate office and, on the advice of Scott, attended Maddox’s classes. From 1835, gaining workhouse commissions, Scott took on one assistant and asked Moffatt to help him with the working drawings ‘which he did with the utmost diligence and efficiency’. When building started, Moffatt became Clerk of Works and moved into the area, riding around to the various sites. Scott rapidly realised that the new Poor Law Reform Act would require a massive building programme. In fact, even by August 1835, 112 Unions had been formed and by the following year this number had risen to 351. Scott, with Moffatt’s assistance, set about trying to exploit his rapidly growing expertise in workhouse design to produce for himself sufficient funds to provide for his family and for his own future marriage. It was:
an era of turmoil, and of violent activity and exertion. For weeks I almost lived on horseback canvassing newly formed unions then alternated periods of close, hard, work in my little office at Carlton Chambers, & coach journeys chiefly by night followed by meetings of Guardians searching out of materials, & riding from union to union, often riding across unknown bits of country after dark.
Moffatt, to Scott’s evident surprise, knew an influential magistrate in Wiltshire who invited him to visit there. This led to Moffatt being appointed architect to the Amesbury Union Workhouse. Scott and Moffatt did all the drawings together and work started in May 1836, costing £4,678 when it was completed in 1837. Moffatt felt that with the numerous unions being formed in the West Country, he could use his contacts in that area to expand the work of the office. However, he told Scott that he felt that ‘his youthful appearance’, in fact he was only a year younger than Scott, was a hindrance to getting work and suggested that if he could say that ‘he had a partner already in practice whose name he could use to back him’, this problem might be resolved. They therefore agreed to form a partnership to procure and build workhouses in the west, with each partner keeping other work that they had obtained to themselves. According to Scott:
The effect of Moffatts new arrangement was magical! He followed up Union hunting into Devonshire & Cornwall with almost uniform success and my poor little quartette of works round my old home soon became as nothing when compared with the engagements which flowed in upon us as partners. Moffatt’s own exertions were almost superhuman, & when I recollect that no railways came to his help I feel perfectly amazed to think what he effected!
The partners were on a relentless treadmill. Between the years 1835 and 1841, Scott, or Moffatt, or Scott and Moffatt as a partnership, built about forty workhouses in different parts of England, with the main groups in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Wiltshire, with smaller groups, presumably the Scott areas, in Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Essex. Scott gives the impression of a continuous state of intense activity, which is probably correct, but their work was uneven. Before the completion of the first five Union Houses in 1836, Oundle in Northampton and Williton in Somerset had been given to them, but then the partners must have had about a year’s anxiety as to where the next job would come from, which resulted in the intense lobbying that Scott recalls.
Williton appears to have been the first building built in accordance with the new layout devised by Scott and Moffatt, or perhaps just Moffat, as it first appeared in his area of influence. In 1836, the partners produced an explanation of the particular benefits of their plan, which was sent to the unions that they were canvassing. They were clearly trying to produce answers to the criticisms that had been levelled at Kempthorne’s standard layouts. Their most obvious change was to make the entrance through an arched gateway in the centre of a detached single-storey entrance range, containing the porters lodge, the chapel and the board room where the public had contact with the inmates but without being involved in the harsh realities of their supervised day-to-day existence. This took place in a three storey range parallel to the entrance range, in the centre of which was an octagonal three or four storey tower, often capped with a lantern. This, as in Kempthorne’s plans, was the residence of the Master and Matron, but unlike the model plans, which assumed that they would be married, provision was made for the octagon to be divided into separate residences. But the main improvement was the provision of a separate infirmary block at the rear of the workhouse, instead of the sick, often with infectious diseases, being accommodated at the ends of the main sleeping areas. The new separate entrance block, with its big double height archway, also provided an opportunity for some sort of architectural display. The arch was very classical in detail, with its voussoirs picked out and placed between pilasters, capped by a pediment. Inside the archway there was usually stone vaulting. The lower wings on either side of the arch, containing the chapel and boardroom, had well proportioned Georgian windows separated by pilasters.
The circular shows the partners’ genuine concern about the paupers who had to inhabit their buildings and these changes were clearly designed to give the workhouse a more human and welcoming face, which in some instances, such as Horncastle, was further emphasised by a long approach avenue. The enthusiasm with which they set about implementing the conditions of the Poor Law Act perhaps indicates that the youthful partners believed that it would produce a better life for the poor, and that the criticisms that were already being levelled at the system could be answered by improvements to the design of the building. Although personal contacts provided the firm with its initial commissions, competitions increasingly became an important means of getting work for Scott and Moffatt. Every week they went to Peele’s Coffee House in Fleet Street, where all the newspapers were kept, to search those from the provinces for advertisements for workhouse competitions. Scott was later extremely critical of the competition arrangements, which ‘were open in every sense and each competitor was at liberty to take any step he thought good’. The Guardians, beyond knowing how many paupers they required to be housed, seemed to have had little idea of their building requirements and only allowed the minimum possible time for the submission of schemes.
Moffatt had apparently overcome his misgivings about his appearance as he would travel to the place where the workhouse was to be built and interview the Chairman and Clerk of the Board along with any other Guardians who had ideas about the proposed building. He then returned to Carlton Chambers, where ‘we set to work with violence to make the design & prepare the competition drawings often working all night as well as all day’. Moffatt ‘was the best arranger of a plan the hardest worker & the best hand at advocating the merits of what he had to propose I ever met with … Constantly communicating with the most experienced governors’ to improve its layout, while Scott probably drew the perspectives, which he felt were ‘regarded as attractive elements in a competition’. In May 1834, he wrote to The Architectural Magazine defending the use of highly finished drawings showing the proposed building set in an attractive landscape with water-colour washes indicating the form of the building. They would then rush at the last moment to the General Post Office at St. Martin’s-le-Grand, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, or The Angel at Islington, to send off their drawings, or to set off themselves with their work, to submit to the Guardians. Scott describes the excitement that he felt travelling on the box seat of a mail coach which ‘cleared eleven miles an hour all the way down, stoppings included! It was a splendid perfection of machinery, but its fate was sealed the great lines of railway being in rapid progress’.
One of the many benefits to basing their practice in London were the lines of mail coaches radiating from London which enabled Scott and Moffatt to reach all parts of England, and this pattern was reinforced when the first railway terminals were opened in London in 1838. In the coaching days, Moffatt ‘would start off by the mail travell [sic] all night, meet the Board of Guardians, & perhaps win the competition & return during the next night & set to work on another design’. As Scott recalls, prior to the submission date for schemes there was nothing to prevent the competitors advocating the merits of their individual schemes to any of the Guardians:
While on the day on which the designs were to be examined the competitors were usually waiting in the ante-room & were called in one by one to give personal explanations & the decision was often announced then & there to the assembled candidates. Moffatt was most successful in this kind of fighting having an instinctive perception of which men to aim at pleasing and of how to meet their views and to address himself successfully to meet their particular temperaments.
The peak of workhouse building for Scott and Moffatt were the two years of 1837 and 1838, when thirty buildings were being built at an average cost of £5,000. This would produce for the partnership over £5,000 of fees.
Although Scott later expressed dislike for the competition system, Scott and Moffatt appear to have entered many of the competitions for major institutional buildings throughout England during this period. As with the workhouses, in this work, it seems that the planning was usually done by Moffatt and the elevations by Scott.
The vigour with which Moffatt entered upon these and his assiduous energy in obtaining the opinions of practical authorities on questions of arrangement, was beyond all praise. These competition drawings were usually prepared at his private house at Kennington where he gave up all his Sitting Rooms, and peopled the house with clerks – who had all their meals together and had half an hour for a good game after dinner in his grounds – every other minute of the day being devoted to the closest work in which he & often I, joined as closely as any of them.
Their first major success in this area came early in 1841, with a competition for the Infant Orphan Asylum in Wanstead, for Dr Andrew Reed (1787-1862), a well-known philanthropist and independent minister, who had already founded other similar institutions in London. Scott said, ‘Nothing could exceed the energy with which Moffatt threw himself into this competition, the most important by far which we had then entered’. It would seem that Moffatt took the lead in the big institutional competitions; he had the energy and industry to produce large scale submissions to the authorities in the incredibly short periods of time which were then usually allowed for competitions.
Moffatt had no involvement with St Nicholas and while Scott was away, he remained at Spring Gardens working on speculative schemes, including one in 1845 for housing 350,000 people in new villages within four to ten miles of central London. This was intended to alleviate the pressures of housing in the centre, and although apparently philanthropic in inspiration, also seems to have had a commercial basis. He was involved with the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes, which was founded in 1841, and he built their first housing scheme in Old St Pancras Road, London, in 1847. The work probably came to Scott and Moffatt from Henry Roberts who made favourable comments about Moffatt’s design.
Moffatt excelled as a planner. He was brilliant at organising complicated requirements into a cohesive architectural form, but this did not fit in at all with Scott’s version of a basically ecclesiastical practice where these skills would have had little use. So in about 1845, Scott felt that ‘a constantly increasing desire had grown up in my mind to terminate my partnership with Moffatt. My wife was most anxious on the subject and was constantly pressing it upon my attention, but my courage failed me & I could not muster pluck to broach it’. Moffatt regarded himself and Scott as equal partners, but Caroline was probably concerned that as the long-term benefits emanating from St Nicholas were due entirely to her husband’s exertions, Moffatt had no claim to these rewards, particularly as she and the children had had to suffer Scott’s prolonged absences. Another reason that Caroline took the initiative may be connected with Boston Church. The completion of the first phase of restoration was in 1845 and this would have been overseen by Moffatt in Scott’s absence. Here, Caroline’s father and brother may have been offended by Moffatt’s treatment of them. Scott makes the point that Moffatt had ‘got into a sad way of offending employers’. If this refers to Boston, it would explain why Scott was not commissioned to continue with the restoration in 1851.
Moffatt’s extravagances, such as keeping four horses, were leading the practice into debt, and he was also indulging in the current mania of railway speculation. He was, Scott said, ‘severly bitten, so much so as to be absolutely wild, & the line of practice he was actually getting into partook so much of a speculative character as to be decidedly dangerous’. The rules of partnership meant that both men could be responsible for each other’s debts to the full extent of their personal assets, so Caroline’s concerns about Moffatt’s lifestyle, including speculations, were probably very genuine. Not only could his debts loose her her house and home, but could effect her inheritance from her father. In fact the partnership was in debt, ‘having been 10 years in practice of the most unprecedented activity, to have put by next to nothing’, and with a declining work-load the situation was ‘decidedly dangerous’ and they could ill afford extravagances. Scott on the other hand, comes over as cautious and uncertain over money matters and it was Caroline, with a strong business sense inherited from her father that would have appreciated the futility of Moffatt’s speculations to restore the fortunes of the practice. Unless she acted it would have been left to her husband’s prudence and her own thrift to rescue Moffatt from the impending disaster.
At length Mrs. Scott ‘took the bull by the horns’: She drove to the office while I was out of town asked to see M. privately & told him that I had made up my mind to dissolve our partnership. He was tremendously astounded but behaved well &, the ice thus broken, I followed it up vigourously.
All this seems to have taken place after Scott’s return through the Netherlands from his third visit to Germany, and by the end of 1845, it was agreed to dissolve the partnership but to delay ‘the actual gazetting of the dissolution’ until the end of 1846. They valued the probable income from their various jobs and other outstanding bills and divided the work into three; one part each and the other third to the bank.
This arrangement turned out better for me than for Moffatt as his works having a certain amount of speculation about them he lost a good deal of the estimated value of some of them. As, however, they were in their own nature & origin his works it did not seem unfair he that should stand the brunt of their speculative character.
So presumably poor Moffatt was landed with that grandiose scheme for villages around London, which although on paper was extremely valuable had, in fact, little chance of being realised and producing any income at all. He also took over the difficult commission to complete St. Mary’s, Nottingham, with its central tower problems, perhaps to Scott’s relief, but he successfully carried out this work including the new west front. Scott seems to have been uneasy about breaking-up the partnership. Moffatt clearly had no intention of ending the partnership and the severance was entirely Scott’s, or at least Caroline’s, idea. He acknowledges that while Moffatt was ‘very talented very practical & very industrious’, he himself was too ‘quiet and retiring’ to get on in the ‘rough world’.
Moffatt supplied just the stuff I was wanting in. He was thoroughly fitted to cope with the world; he saw through character in a moment and could shape himself precisely to the necessities of the case & the character of the people he had to do with. This enabled me, through a sort of apprenticeship of 10 years to learn to rough it on my own account. Strange to say his instincts failed him as time went on, & he gradually lost his power of acting wisely …
The arrangement that the bank should be paid the income from one third of the work of the partnership meant effectively that a third of the earnings of the partnership went straight to the bank who would have wanted the debts to be re-paid as quickly as possible. Scott had acquired the works which could produce a steady income but Moffatt turned to the apparently lucrative railway enterprises in the hope of redeeming his position. In one month in 1844, 357 projects were advertised which attracted a total capital of £332,000,000. Some were honest undertakings, but many were ‘bubble projects’, set up by the unscrupulous to fleece the unwary. Moffatt seems to have stayed on at 20 Spring Gardens for about two or three years, then moving up the street to 9 Spring Gardens, and later to other offices across London.
Moffatt’s moment of real success occurred when he won a competition for the new Assize Courts and Judges Lodgings at Taunton, which were built between 1855-8. He had a short-lived partnership with an engineer, Alfred Bevan, but this seems to have been dissolved after only one year. He ended up being arrested and imprisoned in the Queen’s Bench Prison in Southwark for debts of about £1,000, in 1860. Scott contributed twenty pounds, and his legal expenses were paid, in an odd reversal of roles, by Charles Strange, who had worked for Moffatt from March 1859 until his imprisonment. At his release, after six months, aged forty-eight, his architectural practice seems to have finished, and although he lived for another twenty-seven years, there is nothing which can be ascribed to him after 1860. He must have become a disgruntled spectator to Scott’s rise to fame and fortune as his own career fizzled out. Little wonder that immediately after Scott’s death, he tried to muscle-in on Scott’s success by claiming a completely fictitious involvement in the design of St Nicholas.