In 1871, before any work had started on the Holywell Building and while he was still in favour with the dons, Sir George Gilbert Scott was commissioned by them to produce a preliminary design and estimates for restoring the college chapel. Again it fell to Scott to undo James Wyatt’s mock-Gothic misdeeds. Nothing happened, presumably because of lack of funds, until 1875 when a new fund-raising committee embarked on a more vigorous campaign. Scott submitted three alternative designs to the committee for the chapel roof and the dons selected, somewhat perversely, his least favourite, the hammer-beam roof. But it was not until 1877, the year before Scott’s death, that he was finally instructed to proceed with the contract drawings. In March 1877, George Shaw, apparently now separated from his partner Charles Jackson, signed a contract to carry out the structural parts of the work, including the big new roof, and in the following July, Farmer and Brindley undertook to do all the carving for Scott. This included the reredos, sedilia and piscina in stone, and the woodwork of the stalls and organ screen, incorporating, where possible, the original misericords, stall-backs and canopies. Scott died in March 1878, while the chapel was still in its early stages and it was left to John Oldrid to deal with the awkward dons. The work was finished in 1880 and had cost £23,729, without the reredos.
The most spectacular feature of the chapel is the great reredos, which covers the whole of the eastern wall. It was plastered over by Wyatt but Scott designed the present structure and it was completed by Pearson between 1888 and 1891, with over fifty figures by Nathaniel Hitch (1846-1938). New College Chapel, as seen today, is not one of Scott’s best efforts. The dons had acted against his advice over the roof, while John Oldrid, who knew how his father wanted to complete the work, was largely ignored, particularly when it came to applying colour to the fittings and the roof.
Buxton, J., and Williams, H., New College Oxford, 1379-1979 (Warden and Fellows of New College Oxford, Oxford, 1979), pp. 150, 250-1, 253.
Fisher, G., Stamp, G. and Heseltine, J., (eds), The Scott Family, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Avebury Publishing, Amersham, 1981), 117.
Victoria County History, III, (1954), p. 147.
Quiney, A., John Loughborough Pearson (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1979), pp. 268, 271, 277.