It was obvious from Palmeston’s attack that the Gothic Foreign Office would be cancelled as soon as Palmeston returned to power and that could happen at any time. So Manners and Sir George Gilbert Scott pressed ahead as quickly as possible in an attempt to ensure that the preparations for building would be so far advanced that it would be impossible for a new Government to reverse them. On 17 January 1859, Manners instructed Scott to proceed with detailed drawings and these were duly delivered to the Office of Works on 3 March. Manners had also managed to get a Bill drafted to purchase the necessary land and was able to introduce it in the House on the following day, 4 March 1859. He then pushed it through Parliament with extraordinary rapidity and it became effective on 19 April.
At the same time, the preparations for the Gothic India Office were going ahead. Scott says that ‘Digby Wyatt, though no Goth, held loyally to our compact & we went on in a forlorn hope’. On 7 April they sent their drawings and a report to the Secretary of State, Lord Stanley, and only eight days later Stanley wrote back approving the design and instructing Scott to proceed with the working drawings. The designs for the Gothic India and the Foreign Offices were now complete. As in the competition entry, both buildings are in the secular Gothic style that Scott had perfected. They were to be built in stone, three stories high with basements and covered by high-pitched roofs with dormers to the attics. The details show different coloured materials, a lavish display of sculpture presumably appropriate to the functions of the two offices, and much decorative ornament.
Scott had superb perspective views made of the two offices and the designs were widely illustrated in The Builder and The Building News, with drawings by John Drayton Wyatt (1820-91). But all this frenetic energy was to be of no avail. On 31 March 1859, the Conservative Government was defeated on Disraeli’s Reform Bill. Lord Derby called a General Election and although Derby’s Government was returned, it still did not have the overall majority and Scott lost his friends Akroyd and Hope from the House. Scott said that ‘At length however the fatal day arrived, the Government resigned & my arch opponent became once more the Autocrat of England!’ However, it was not until 1 July that Palmerston was able to inform Queen Victoria that he could form a government. As Scott said:
It was a considerable time before a Commissioner of Public Works was nominated & I lived upon the slender hope that he might be favourably inclined. At length Mr. Fitzroy took the office, and personally he actually was on my side, but was nevertheless sworn to uphold Lord P’s views.
Fitzroy was pressed by Tite to adhere to Manners promise to exhibit Scott’s design and, although Scott and his office were working hard to complete the drawings, it was not until 20 July 1859 that the designs of both offices appeared in the library of the House of Commons. 120 drawings were displayed, along with a model by Heburn Salter of Hammersmith. Thirteen builders sent in tenders the following week, of which the lowest, at £232,024, was submitted by John Kelk of South Street, Grosvenor Square, London. Hunt introduced this method, which although widely used in private work, was the first time that general contractors for government building projects had been asked to submit a firm price for which they would carry out all necessary works. Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was delighted that he was able to accurately forecast the actual cost of the building.
Scott with his 120 drawings, was as usual, clearly intent on overwhelming the M.P.s with his design, but a few days after they were displayed:
Lord Palmerston sent for me and told me in a jaunty way that he would have nothing to do with this Gothic style & that though he did not want to disturb my appointment he must insist on my making a design in the Italian style which he felt sure I could do as well as the other. That he heard I was so tremendously successful in the Gothic style that if he let me alone I should Gothicize the whole country &c., &c., &c.
Although hardly unexpected, Scott was so taken aback by the suddenness and vigour of Palmerston’s attack, that words seem to have failed him in the presence of the great man and he retreated to Spring Gardens to write a twenty-page letter, ‘placing the case more formally before you and stating my views in a more consecutive manner than I was able to do in conversation’. He sets down the arguments in favour of the Gothic Revival. There was, in some, a desire for ‘the introduction of some new style especially marking our own age, in others in the wish to see the Architecture which so especially belongs to our own and immediately neighbouring Countries’ and there was ‘the adaptability of this noble style of architecture to all the requirements, materials inventions and arts of our own day’. ‘… on hearing of the probability of the Competition, and feeling that the genius loci of the proposed site was peculiarly favourable to the development of my views I, long before the publication of the programme, withdrew myself in a great degree from ordinary business to devote my undisturbed attention to studying the subject’. Hall had assured ‘the leading Architects in London’, of which he was one, that there would be no bias towards any particular style and the Select Committee had no stylistic preference.
It is not a very impressive letter. As well as being too long, it is repetitive and obsequious in tone, and probably tells Palmerston little that he had not heard before. However, Palmerston read it, and replied with a not unfriendly letter in his own hand. He regrets that ‘the late Board of Works should have encouraged you to go on with your Gothic Plan’, but there has since been a strong expression of opinion in Parliament against the choice of Gothic. The internal arrangements would be applicable whatever style was adopted, and he had not ‘the smallest doubt that an architect of your known talent and ability will find it an easy task to design an elevation in the Italian or Classic style’. There was no hurry for these revised elevations as he would only be asking Parliament for enough funds for the foundations in the present session.
But Scott persisted. On the same day that he received Palmerston’s letter, he dashed off a reply, this time from The Grove and not the office. He was absolutely certain that it would not be a gloomy-looking building, as Palmerston had asserted, but instead it would be a particularly cheerful-looking building of ‘fresh-coloured Portland Stone interspersed with shafts of polished granite’ and with bright contrasts of light and shade. This second letter of Scott’s is considerably shorter than the first. But Palmerston had issued his orders and expected Scott to obey.
On Friday, 29 July 1859, over forty M.P.s went to see Palmerston at his town house in Piccadilly to support Scott. With the absence of Hope and Akroyd they were led by Lord Elcho, who repeated the usual arguments in favour of Gothic and pointed out that the Select Committee could find no difference between the styles. Many of his arguments so closely followed Scott’s second letter to Palmerston that it is probable that he was briefed by Scott. Palmerston replied in much the same way that he had responded to Scott. He had arranged with Fitzroy to put £30,000 in the estimates for this year for the foundations, as ‘a foundation will do for one elevation as well for another’. He would wish that something more in keeping with the other styles of London is erected but he will bow to the wishes of the House. He seems to have adopted a more conciliatory tone with the deputation than with Scott, but everybody there knew that Palmerston had an immense personal following in the Commons, which could be relied upon to ensure that his wishes prevailed.