In 1855 Sir George Gilbert Scott’s friend, Henry Clutton, the Secretary of the Architectural Museum, secured the restoration of Salisbury Chapter House which was intended to be a memorial to Bishop Denison who had died in 1854. However, Clutton asked William Burges, who was developing into an expert on medieval craftsmanship, to help him on Salisbury Chapter House at the same time that they entered and won the competition for a new cathedral at Lille. A considerable amount of structural work had already been carried out on the Chapter House when in the autumn of 1856, Clutton decided to enter the Roman Catholic Church and abandon all his work for the Church of England. Billy Burges was no churchman and Scott as a sound low-church Protestant, perhaps with Burges’s connivance as they had known each other since 1848, replaced Clutton in 1858.

The interior of the Chapter House seems to owe more to Scott than Burges, with its biblical carvings by Philip, although credit for its restoration is usually given to Burges. Scott then went on to the main cathedral structure following a report that he made to the Chapter of the Cathedral in 1862 setting down the most urgent repairs.

In his first lecture at the Royal Academy Scott included Salisbury among ‘those glorious temples which preside in august serenity over the cities of Northern Europe’. Externally, at least, the cathedral was much as its medieval builders had left it after completing the spire, although over the subsequent centuries there has been considerable concern over the stability of this great 404 feet high structure. Probably the most destructive event in Scott’s eyes, happened in 1787 when the bishop, Shute Barrington (1734-1826), appointed the notorious James Wyatt to alter the cathedral. Barrington was wealthy and was, apparently as much as Wyatt, responsible for completely vandalising the interior of his cathedral. The best thing that they did was to improve its exterior setting by removing the jumble of old buildings that had grown up in the Close. But, unfortunately, these clearances involved the destruction of a great free-standing bell tower, a few yards to the north of the west front, which appears to have been as old as the cathedral itself.

Scott’s work started in 1863 with the promise of £10,782 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, partly as compensation for the substantial transfers of the cathedral estates to them in 1840 and 1861, but it was soon obvious that much more would be needed. Scott said that it was late in January 1865 that he had to go to Salisbury ‘to attend the first meeting of the restoration Committee’, which was presumably set up to raise the additional funds required. His work at first consisted of external repairs to the stonework, which:

though generally in fair preservation was partially decayed and the whole building was gone through carefully & Conservatively – replacing only such stones as were irrecoverably perished.

He examined the limestone quarries about ten miles west of Salisbury, at Chilmark where the original stone for the cathedral had been quarried, to find an appropriate stone for his repairs. There he discovered a most suitable strata, which although ‘superior in strength & durability to any of the others’, had been neglected by the medieval masons as it formed the roof to their quarrying. He reinforced and protected the foundations by laying a layer of concrete all around the building but, as with so many of his restorations, it was the central tower that gave him the greatest structural problems. Not unexpectedly he discovered that the tower was in a dangerous state.

It is perforated in its thickness by a triforium Gallery leaving a wall externally of little more than 2 feet thick while the interior consists of a light arcade with purbeck marble shafts. The corner turrets have each a staircase being rendering of them a mere shell. On this frail structure the 14th. century builders carried up the vast tower some 80 ft high with walls of nearly 6ft thick and a spire rising from it 180 feet more. It need not then be wondered that the older storey so unduly loaded should have become severely shattered. Subsequent builders kept bolstering it up by flying buttresses & every form of prop they could invent … Still however the crushing went on and when I examined it, it had proceeded to very alarming lengths … The chapter, for further satisfaction called in the aid of an Engineer eminent for Iron construction Mr Shields whose opinion very much coincided with my own …

With Francis Webb Shields, who also helped Scott on the Albert Memorial, they produced joint reports in 1865 entitled, Salisbury Cathedral: Reports on the tower & its sustaining piers. As Scott says, ‘To him was confided the arrangement and construction of the Ironwork – which were admirably carried out under his direction by Mess. James of London’, Hutchins as superindent. Scott was then able to ‘proceed with the reparation of the stonework’. The work on the tower and spire ‘spread over many months till at last every crushed stone was replaced by one stronger than the old one had ever been’ and Scott had the dizzy experience of inspecting the works ‘up to the very Vane’. As for the crossing piers, which had been bulging since the fifteenth century Scott, as his predecessors had done, decided to do nothing! In 1866, Scott started to restore the west front. Only eight old statues remained and these were repaired by James Frank Redfern who also made sixty new figures for the vacant niches before his untimely death. He must have had amazing energy and skill to be able to produce such a large quantity of larger than life figures in such a short time. Scott thought that Redfern was a successful man, but after his death discovered that he had been badly in debt and harried by ‘cruel usurers’, dying in poverty. He then described Philip, Stevens, Phyffers and Redfern as ‘four sculptors whom I had known to have died in Poverty within about two years’.

It was in the interior that Scott made his greatest impact on Salisbury by virtually sweeping away all Wyatt’s work. The transformation began with a scheme to restore the choir as a memorial to Bishop Hamilton who had died in August 1869. £10,000 was raised and the work carried on until Scott’s death nine years later. He embarked on a comprehensive programme, with the assistance of George Gilbert junior, to reorganise and provide new fittings for the choir in accordance with what they considered to be ancient precedent. Painting on the ceiling and walls of the choir was revealed which Clayton and Bell restored. There was controversy over the position of the high altar, so the Scott’s produced a paper in January 1876 entitled Salisbury Cathedral. Report … upon the position of the high altar, and they were allowed to move it back to its original position in the choir before Wyatt’s alterations. They provided a rich encaustic tile floor, a new marble pulpit in memory of William Edward Hony, Archdeacon of Sarum 1846-75, new choir stalls and the cathedral was reopened for services on 1 November 1876. The reredos, which Scott had designed in 1873, was an enormous structure so that it could be clearly seen from the west end of the cathedral. It was seventeen feet tall, carved by Farmer and Brindley, and paid for by Earl Beauchamp as a memorial to a remote ancestor, Bishop Beauchamp, whose chapel had been destroyed by Wyatt. Scott in his old age seems to have been finding that his clients were becoming increasingly difficult and in February 1877, he described Lord Beauchamp as ‘unpleasant a man to do business with as I ever met with & tyrant of the first water!’

In providing a clear view from the west end to his new reredos at the east, Scott swept away Wyatt’s choir screen on which the organ stood and replaced it with a transparent metal screen, as at Hereford and Lichfield. But this decision gave rise to more unpleasantness, this time from the donor of the screen, Mrs Henrietta Louisa Lear. The death of Sidney Henry Lear in February 1867 cut short what seems to have been a promising career in the church and his widow decided that she would donate the screen as a memorial to him. However, she badly upset Scott by her attitude towards him and her gift.

The choir screen was given by Mrs. – Lear as a memorial to her husband – but was very sadly stinted – while she assumed from her very partial Gift a power of tyranizing only second to that assumed by Lord B. I designed what I view as a magnificent screen but it was treated with the no Great respect by Mrs. Lear whose while it assumed to herself the honour of being the donor of the most conspicuous feature in the church not only required considerable outlay from the restoration fund to eke it out but I fear put the person wh[o] executed it Mr Skidmore to loss … Mr Skidmore has here done his very utmost.

The screen, which was erected in 1877, reflected the design of the reredos, with a central pointed arch within a gable surmounted by a cross and flanked by an arcade of two and a half arches.

The re-siting of the altar was the most important part of the scheme to make the choir into Bishop Hamilton’s memorial. Scott presumably thought that it would be appropriate to enclose the sanctuary around the altar with the Bishop’s tomb on the south side opposite that of the founder of the cathedral, Bishop Richard Poore, in its traditional place on the north side of the sanctuary. Hamilton’s tomb has a white marble effigy carved by an amateur sculptor, Bertrand Pleydell Bouverie, the son of the Earl of Radnor. On the north side of the sanctuary Scott designed a similar tomb, based on a sketch of Poore’s tomb made in 1781 by the antiquarian architect John Carter. Wyatt had removed this ‘and placed the effigy in the N. E. Transept upon a 15th. century altar tomb belonging to some one else’. However, Scott had doubts whether it was Poore’s effigy although ‘A body was anyhow found by Wyatt in the tomb’. He had consulted various writers on the subject of Poore’s burial and all agreed that Bishop Poore was buried elsewhere, probably at Tarrant Crawford, twenty-two miles south-west of Salisbury, where he had died. The effigy that Wyatt had removed to the north-east transept, and Scott returned to what he had decided was its proper position, is now known to have been that of Poore’s successor, Bishop Bingham.

The total cost of Scott’s restoration was £60,000, and with a fee of 5%, he should have received a total of £3,000 for his efforts, but in fact £950 of this was not paid until after his death. The remaining work passed to Street instead of Scott’s office, and he carried on where Scott had left off. In the great revulsion against Victorian artefacts after the Second World War, Scott’s refitting of the choir as a memorial to Bishop Hamilton suffered dreadfully. Mrs Lear’s memorial to her husband, which in 1968 was described as ‘an appalling lacquered iron erection made by Skidmore’, was removed, apart from its lower panels, some built into the communion rail at St Mary’s Church, Alderbury, Wiltshire, in 1960, the others destroyed in 1959. The great reredos which Lord Beauchamp had intended to be a permanent reminder of his worthy ancestor was also moved in 1959-60. Even Scott’s patterned stone and tile floors were replaced in the choir and Lady Chapel with polished Purbeck marble paving. So many details on which Scott lavished such care and attention have today disappeared from Salisbury. Nonetheless, his skill in preserving the fabric of the building has never been doubted and this, coupled with his almost unrivalled knowledge of medieval architecture in the 1860s, meant that many more cathedral restorations were to follow.

Crook, J. M. (ed.), The Strange Genius of William Burges, ‘Art Architect’, 1827-1881 (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1981), p. 181.
Cocke, T., and Kidson, P., Salisbury Cathedral: Perspectives on the Architectural History (HMSO, London, 1993) pp. 7, 29-31, 33, 69.
Scott, G., Sir, Lectures on the Rise and Development of Medieval Architecture delivered at the Royal Academy (John Murray, London, 1879), vol. I, p. 18.
Scott’s Recollections, II 339, III 305, 307, IV 82-4, 87-91, 94-6, 103-4, 108, 110.
RIBA list (Molesworth Roberts), p. 80.
Cobb, G., English Cathedrals, The Forgotten Centuries, Restoration and Change from 1530 to the Present Day (Thames and Hudson, London, 1980), pp. 113-14.
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), 70 [b].
A Clerical Directory (Crockford, London, 1864).
Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1995), p. 228.
Pevsner, N., and Newan, J., Dorset, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 416.
Cole, D., The Work of Sir Gilbert Scott (The Architectural Press, London, 1980), p. 89.
RIBA Drawings Collection, Ledger of Scott’s Office, 1875-1914, pp. 10, 24.