Spring Gardens is now a dingy service backwater between St. James’s Park and Trafalgar Square, which since Scott’s time has been mutilated by various additions to the Admiralty, and in 1910, the eastward extension of The Mall into Trafalgar Square cut the street into two parts. The street takes its name from the Spring Garden which was formed out of St. James’s Park as an extension to the pleasure gardens of Whitehall Palace, in the late sixteenth century. The somewhat romantic sounding name, according to Peter Cunningham, refers to a spring activated contraption which squirted water on the unwary visitor, much to everyone else’s amusement!
A map produced in 1746 shows the garden completely built-over, with Spring Gardens as a street following round the backs of the houses facing Charing Cross and a new access point opposite the statue of King Charles I. This famous landmark stands on the site of the last of the Eleanor Crosses and was erected in 1675. Scott repaired the pedestal in 1855-6, and it was reproduced on the title page of various volumes of the Spring Gardens Sketch Book, as a sort of office emblem. Number 20 was on the east side and was one of the less desirable houses in the street. It was probably built in 1765. It had no basement area, and apparently no means of access to the rear except through the front door. It was a ‘second rate’ house of three stories with an attic and a cellar. Its special architectural features were a fine open-well stair and a huge fan-light over the front door. This was in the form of a petalled oval of delicate leadwork, over which was an elliptical arch carried on two Doric columns either side of the wide doorway. The great fan-light was a most unusual feature and must have flooded the entrance hall with daylight. The house stood until 1929 when it was demolished, along with the Ship Tavern in Whitehall, to make way for the Whitehall Theatre.
When the Scotts’ arrived the area was in physical turmoil. Trafalgar Square was still being laid out, and although the National Gallery was completed in 1838, it was not until 1840 that Barry designed the terrace on the north side of the square and Nelson’s Column was not completed until December 1843. The square was finally opened to the public on 1 May 1844. At the other end of Whitehall, in the midst of the ruins of Westminster Palace, Grissell and Peto were starting work on the great foundations that were to bear Barry’s new Houses of Parliament. The completion of this work and the changes which took place during the rest of Scott’s lifetime, made the area into very much what it is today.
At first, when Scott rented 20, Spring Gardens from John Britton, the antiquary, it was the Scotts’ home as well as the office of the partnership, which employed at least one clerk. Perhaps it was because of this potentially awkward situation that soon after they had moved to Spring Gardens, Scott and Moffatt drew up a formal partnership agreement, although they still seem to have been able to carry out work under their individual names. The practice of uniting one’s professional offices with one’s home was common in those days, and in many ways it was an ideal situation for Scott. He was in the midst of the country’s architectural activity, with the Royal Academy now relocated in the newly completed east wing of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, The Institute of British Architects installed in rooms at 16, Lower Grosvenor Street only ten minutes walk away, and the Society of Architects, slightly further away at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. From the point of view of family life, it was also ideal, or so perhaps it seemed at first. Although there was no garden, St. James’s Park on the doorstep more than compensated for this deficiency, and across the square was the church of St. Martin’s in the Fields, which the Scotts’ started to attend every Sunday.
As their parish church, it was the obvious choice, but architecturally it seems strange that Scott was so happy with this as his place of worship when he clearly saw a strong connection between the act of worship and its setting. St. Martin’s is arguably the finest eighteenth century church in Britain, and it is certainly the most influential having been a model for many new churches in Colonial America, particularly with its grand Corinthian entrance portico, surmounted by a steeple which Pevsner calls ‘an excellent piece of design’. It was built between 1722 and 1726 by James Gibbs in a classical style, which owes much to Wren. It is a completely Protestant church, with no proper chancel, galleries on three sides and box pews. Scott’s conversion to the need for full chancels came soon after he started worshipping at St. Martin’s, and it is extraordinary that at a time when he was adding chancels to other churches, his own devotions were carried out in such a starkly Protestant setting.
Scott successfully ran his office from Spring Gardens taking over various parts of the street throughout his career. After his death his sons took over the practice but by 1885 John’s establishment was so reduced that parts of 31, Spring Gardens were let off to others including a solicitor and two architects. By 1895 John had moved to two doors along Spring Gardens to number 35 but this was demolished in 1902 to make way for an extension to Cocks, Biddulph’s bank, so John then moved to 2 Dean’s Yard. The original bank building faces onto Whitehall and was rebuilt between 1873 and 1874 by Scott’s former assistant, Richard Coad. In 1902 John was commissioned to build a large rear extension on the sites of numbers 33 and 35 Spring Gardens which the bank owned. This is an extraordinary building for John to have designed. It was completely out of scale with his old office building next door and it is in a style which is more like genuine Queen Anne than the ‘barbarities’ of thirty years before. It is very ornate with small pediments over projecting end-bays but for a rear extension, it is extraordinarily elaborate.
After John moved out of number 31 it was taken over by the London County Council’s Public Contract Department and it was eventually demolished in 1929 to provide the back-stage area of the Whitehall Theatre. The site where beautiful godly works were conceived became the dressing rooms of showgirls! When John died in June 1913, his seventh son, Charles Marriot Oldrid Scott, who had joined his father in 1902, succeeded to the practice with Charles Baker King still in attendance. The office moved from Dean’s Yard in about 1934 to Victoria Street and then to Queen Anne’s Gate and finally to Grosvenor Place. That was the actual end of Scott’s great practice although the name stayed in the public eye with the work of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, George’s fourth son, who came to prominence in 1901 when he won the competition for the Anglican Cathedral at Liverpool. He died in 1960 after a highly successful career. C. M. O. Scott had to live in the shadow of a brilliant cousin while coping with the then much maligned legacy of his grandfather.