In about 1855, Sir George Gilbert Scott began ‘in my leisure moments a series of somewhat unconnected papers’ on secular buildings. No doubt the numerous sketches that he made of old houses in France and Germany were part of this study. This eventually led to his second book, Remarks on Secular & Domestic Architecture, Present & Future, which John Murray published in 1857, with a second, slightly amended, edition, in the following year.
Sir George Gilbert Scott argued that as Gothic was now accepted for church-building, its principles should extend to all building, and it should provide the groundwork for secular building which could be bent to ‘the requirements of our age’. He urged his reader to follow medieval precedents and suggested that lack of relief can be compensated by what ‘has recently received the name of constructive polychromy’, which has been ‘a continual recurrence in Italy’. He quotes from Ruskin’s chapter on ‘The Nature of Gothic’, in the second volume of The Stones of Venice, which came out in 1853; if Gothic builders ‘wanted a window, they opened one; a room, they added one; a buttress, they built one, – utterly regardless of any conventionalities of external appearance’. But he says that it was Pugin who first pointed out this characteristic in The True Principals and it was a great error if ‘the plans of buildings are designed to suit the elevation, instead of the elevation being made subservient to the plan’. It is noticeable that Scott, in a long extract from Pugin, carefully omits the portions which reveal his hero’s ardent Catholicism, such as, ‘Catholic England was merry England, at least for the humbler classes’, and in the Protestant Elizabethan period, ‘the very worst kind of English architecture’, called after ‘the female tyrant’ was carried out.
Sir George Gilbert Scott goes on to complain that ‘nothing was ever half so villanous as the villa-building about London!’ with the ‘outlying masses of the same hideous and close-packed house-building which disgraces the outskirts of London’. This strange outburst was no doubt prompted by the fact that when the Scotts first moved to Avenue Road it stood on the northern edge of built-up London but during the time that they were there, the countryside rapidly receded from them. After this digression about the degradation of London, Scott returns to country buildings, which he states should be based ‘upon the traditional style of building in the neighbourhood’. He urges his readers not to go to ‘ancient Greece or Rome for examples, but to the remains of our own villages and farmsteads’ and he describes at length the appropriate materials for cottages including cob.
When it comes to building for ‘the nobleman or great landed proprietor’, he lists the ‘material requisites for a dignified building’, which should include a ‘good and commanding position’, and generous dimensions, especially height. He also urges the reader to look at the way that materials dictated the design of old cities, such as brick in Lubeck or Verona, or timber in Coventry or Brunswick, and see how this approach can be adapted to the requirements of the present day. His Evangelical up-bringing reappears with a forthright plea for better housing for the poor. ‘Of all our national crimes, perhaps the most flagrant is the state in which, year after year, we leave the dwellings of the poor in London and others of our great cities’. A new palatial style, with a Gothic basis, is needed for all public building, not just schools, colleges and, of course, churches. This new style requires stateliness, which can arise ‘from a noble simplicity of general form, and the avoiding of needless breaks and subdivisions’, beauty and refinement of details and the use of certain features, such as porticoes, cornices, a columnar style of decoration and long ranges of covered arcading. Costly materials contribute to a ‘dignity of style’ and sculpture should be of the highest class. In a chapter, entitled ‘Commercial Buildings, &c.’, Scott particularly mentions the medieval warehouses of Nuremberg, which are ‘noble structures’, as are some of the factories of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He likes the engine sheds at Camden Town, one of which is now known as the Round House, the roof at Birmingham Station and the ‘simple country stations between Lancaster and Carlisle’, but the ‘best developments of railway architecture I have seen are on the Hanoverian lines’, which are in coloured moulded brickwork or in timber. He has a chapter headed ‘On Restorations’, but having already ‘expressed myself pretty strongly on the restoration of churches’, he is mercifully brief on secular restorations. It is not necessary to slavishly extend a house in the existing style, but ‘to regulate our course according to the merits of each particular case’. In his last chapter, Scott predicts ‘The Architecture of the Future’. ‘We should avoid a capricious eclecticism’, and he looks forward to the union of lintel and arch with, of course, ‘our own pointed architecture as a nucleus’. This union should include the ‘great Eastern branch of Christian art’, and its ‘most noble feature, the dome’. The book ends with Scott’s account of the architecture that he saw in Italy in 1851, which first appeared in The Ecclesiologist in June 1855.
The book is an even greater rag-bag of ideas than the Plea. Most of it is written in the style of a public address and some of the chapters do not relate to each other. There is much repetition of ideas and, in several places, he completely loses track of his arguments, which become vague, rambling and even contradictory. The probable reason for these shortcomings, as Scott revealed in his Recollections, is that he often wrote while travelling. ‘I find that it rather amuses than fatigues me & that my thoughts are freer at such times than any other while in a night journey, I often warm up to more enthusiastic sentiment than at other times I have leisure for’. There are no illustrations other than an elaborate title page which incorporates an architectural fantasy drawn by Orlando Jewitt. This shows what Scott would have considered to be the two most important secular buildings in Europe, the Cloth Hall at Ypres, representing the architecture of the north, facing across a square to the Doge’s Palace at Venice, representing the architecture of the south.
He dedicated the book to Beresford Hope, who was just the sort of person that Scott could have been expected to honour in this way; he was wealthy, influential, and a well-known Gothic enthusiast. Scott had probably first met him at Ecclesiologist Society meetings, and he had been an Honorary Fellow of the Institute since 1850. Hope was Scott’s most persistent ally in the Foreign Office controversy while he was in the House of Commons, and in the pages of The Saturday Review, which Hope owned, as well as being its joint-editor and its chief contributor on architectural matters. Events show that the aristocratic Hope liked Scott personally although he was never one of the various architects that Hope employed directly. Perhaps he was too evangelical for Hope’s high-church beliefs.
Scott, after this dedication, might well have been disappointed with the tone of a review of the book when it appeared in The Saturday on 1 May 1858, presumably from the pen of Hope. The reviewer commented:
Though somewhat diffuse in style, and occasionally perhaps rather too familiar and colloquial in expression, this work is so agreeably written and with such evident heartiness and sincerity of purpose that it almost disarms formal criticism and may [be] recommended to general readers in pursuit of amusement as well as … instruction.
After several years work, this patronizing tone is hardly what Scott would have hoped for his serious work, but the review is probably better than the book deserves. The first print run was soon sold out and a second edition appeared in the following year, but the publishers mis-calculated the demand and it eventually had to be remaindered.