Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, 1880 -1960
Giles barely knew his father and recalled meeting him only twice. The only decision George took concerning his son’s future was to send him to Beaumont – a Jesuit school in Windsor – as he approved of J.F. Bentley’s design of the school buildings.
Giles grew up at Hollis Street Farm at Ninfield in Sussex, which he had received, at the age of nine as a bequest from an unmarried uncle. His mother was given the life tenancy and was able to use this venerable property to escape from her increasingly difficult husband and to continue to live here until she died in 1953, aged to 99.
From an early age, his mother decided that he and his brother Adrian were to become architects and took them ‘steeplechasing’ on bicycles around the Sussex countryside.
Giles was articled to Temple Moore and, in 1902, won a competition to build an Anglican cathedral in Liverpool. When the committee learnt of the decision to employ an inexperienced 22-year-old Roman Catholic, they imposed G.F. Bodley, one of the assessors, as joint architect. Although a close family friend; the partnership was not a success, tastes were different and Bodley was busy building two other cathedrals in the U.S. Four years later, with only the Lady Chapel and foundations complete, he died allowing Giles first to modify his original design and then to convince the committee to change it radically with a single central tower.
The cathedral finally built is the longest in the world and one of the splendours of C20th design. Designing down to the smallest detail and supervising its building, Liverpool dominated Giles life. Work was curtailed during the first war, but sufficiently advanced by 1924 to justify consecration, the tower was finished in 1942 during another war, which saw damage from enemy bombs and work again ceasing.
When Giles died, the first bay of the nave was complete. As a Roman Catholic he was buried in what was planned to become the porch for the West door. Tightness of funds meant that the cathedral when it was finally finished in 1978 was a bay shorter and Giles found himself under a black cobble cross in the middle of the road. In 2012 he was moved to a more suitable spot opposite under a fine stone designed by his son.
Giles, in the interwar years, designed a number of churches, notably the Catholic cathedral at Oban, Ampleforth college church, Charterhouse school chapel, Our Lady & St Alphege, Bath.…His secular works include the Memorial court at Clare, Cambridge, that University’s Library, Waterloo Bridge, Battersea and Bankside power station (now Tate Modern), the Guinness brewery at Park Royal, the red telephone box (inspired by his time as trustee of the Soane Museum), post-war rebuilding at the Guildhall and the House of Commons…
Giles advocated a ‘middle line’ between tradition and modernity, seldom repeated himself, took great care over the choice of building materials and the use of natural light, designed down to the smallest detail, adapted readily to technical change and respected Churchill’s adage that
‘we shape our dwellings and afterwards our dwellings shape us’.
His offices, inherited from Bodley, with 8 -10 staff were in Gray’s Inn. He married in 1914 Louise Hughes, met while she was a receptionist in the Adlephi Hotel where he stayed in Liverpool. While in London they lived in a flat in Battersea until 1924, when Giles designed and built Chester House in Clarendon Place W2. President of the RIBA, Giles was a modest, unimposing, chain-smoker happiest when either on the golf course or behind his drawing board.
He features on the new British passport.