St Nicholas’s Church – Hamburg was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott

It must have been very soon after settling his family in Avenue Road that Scott’s attention was drawn, as he recalls:

by a City friend to the advertisement [which came out in May] for the designs for the rebuilding of St Nicholas’ Church at Hamburg, which had been destroyed by the great fire. My friend had been requested (though not authoritively) to induce one of the English Church architects to enter the lists of this European competition, & he fixed upon me.

The fire raged from 5 to 8 May 1842 and destroyed the centre of the old city of Hamburg, leaving 20,000 people homeless and damaging most of its major buildings, including the Lutheran church of St. Nicholas, parts of which dated back to 1195. Only the tower of the old church survived. Immediately after the fire, the London-born City Engineer, William Lindley, drew up a new layout for the city. This was heavily criticised for its lack of artistic quality, particularly by the Hamburg-born architect Gottfried Semper, who was the Professor and Director of the Academy of Arts at Dresden at the time. Lindley’s layout was rejected in favour of a more sensitive plan by the Hamburg architect Alexis de Chateauneuf, incorporating ideas from Semper including the complete demolition of what remained of St. Nicholas and rebuilding it a few yards further south in the centre of a new Hoppenmarket. After much deliberation, Chateauneuf’s plan was adopted and the Senate of the city decided to hold an architectural competition for a design for the new church. A programme was drawn up by a committee comprising one Senator, an attorney, a painter and eight business men; there was nobody from the church or with knowledge of architecture. The church was to be a massive building with a seating capacity of between 1,200 and 1,400 and standing room for 3,000. The only architectural stipulation was that it should have a tower. The conditions were published late in May 1844 and the drawings had to be delivered to Hamburg by the end of November. Scott had already lost two months of the six month competition period before he decided to enter. His mysterious ‘City friend’, who probably had commercial connections with Hamburg, in looking for an English church architect seems to have wanted a design from the country where the Gothic Revival was already flourishing.

The trip to Calais had obviously widened Scott’s horizons and this was the first recorded time that he took any interest in foreign architecture. Clearly he realised that there was a close relationship between English Gothic and the medieval architecture of France and Germany and he ‘at once, however, made up my mind that the style of the design must be German Gothic’, although he had no experience of the style. He thereupon decided, in spite of his late entry, to embark on a two month tour of Germany to examine its medieval churches: ‘Oddly enough, it never occurred to me that France should be my first field of study. I knew what had been written by Whewell Petit & Moller but I had not gathered this fact from what they had said’. Probably the reason why it had not occurred to Scott that France, and not Germany, was the place of origin of Gothic architecture was that this was not the message that these three authors would have conveyed to him. Georg Moller’s (1784-1852) Denkmahler der deutschen Baukunst first appeared in English in 1824, with a new translation in 1836. Moller dismisses any idea that France might have introduced the style and claims it to be a Germanic invention. Likewise Petit in his Remarks believes that historically Germany was the country of origin of the Gothic style, although he thinks that the pointed arch may have come from southern France. William Whewell in his Architectural Notes on German Churches, with notes on churches in Normandy and Picardy, which first appeared in 1830, is less dogmatic but avoids getting involved in arguments which were becoming increasingly political in tone.

In 1840, it had been decided to complete Cologne Cathedral, which had been left without its western portions since the Medieval period, in accordance with plans discovered by Moller in 1814. This project was inspired by the Romantic Movement which felt that the completion of this great monument from Germany’s golden age would be a fitting symbol of German unity and a reminder of its common cultural past. However, almost as soon as work started in 1842, this patriotic zeal was somewhat undermined by the researches of Franz Kugler (1808-58) who discovered that the origins of Gothic architecture were French and not German. But Scott’s decision that his competition entry should be in German Gothic was possibly reinforced by the discovery that what was his favourite period of Gothic in England, the Middle Pointed, that of the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries, had been reproduced simultaneously in France and Germany.

So, inspite of the difficulties of travel which made any visit abroad a protracted affair, Scott straight away decided to leave Caroline and the three children, and to go to Hamburg but by the way of an extended tour to include some important examples of German architecture. He was able to draw up an itinerary presumably based on Whewell, Moller and Petit’s books, and he was able to persuade his elder brother John and two young lawyer friends to accompany him. They began ‘with one of the worst countries for pointed architecture – Belgium, though to me it was then an enchanted land’. Belgium’s real glory is its secular Gothic buildings which in their scale, quality of craftsmanship and numbers, are unequalled in England. Although most of them are fifteenth or sixteenth century civic buildings, they must have presented Scott with a completely new architectural experience and a greatly extended repertoire on which to call when making his Gothic designs. He recalls, ‘I visited with great delight Bruges, Ghent, Tournay, Mons, Hal, Brussels, Mechlin, Antwerp, Louvain, & Leige’. Scott says that his companions ‘were very agreeable’, but he was irritated that they never allowed him enough time to sketch properly:

They had always ‘done’ a place before my work was well commenced, & had I listened to their wishes, I should have obtained no advantage scarcely from my tour. As it was I worked very hard and got a great deal but it was by fighting hard against adverse circumstances. I would strongly advise architects to travel only with architects, or even alone rather than with lay fellow travellers.
They went, presumably by train, from Liege to Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle as Scott called it, through to Cologne. ‘There my legal companions had done everything by the end of the first day, & I now, out of all patience with lay intervention, got up the next morning at 4 or 5 & started off on my own hook to Altenburg’. Presumably the ‘lawyer friends’, had had enough of Scott’s irritability as they seem to have departed, leaving Scott to rejoin his brother in Bonn a few days later. Scott ‘sketched pretty well everything at Altenburg to the very patterns of the glass’. He then returned to Cologne and ‘got a good day … on which I worked myself half to death’. Work on the completion of the Cathedral was at last underway when Scott first saw it. Ernst Friedrich Zwirner (1802-61) had been appointed architect in 1833 and the reconstruction had started in 1842. It was not officially completed until 1880 so in 1844, it must have appeared very much as it had for the last three hundred years.

Scott then went twenty miles south to rejoin John at Bonn. They then went up the Rhine and, where the hills start some fifteen miles south of Bonn at Remagen, Scott stopped to visit the reconstruction of the pilgrimage church of St. Apollinarius. Zwirner had started to build this some five years before but did not complete it until 1859. He apparently derived its details from Cologne Cathedral but Scott thought that ‘Its architecture was bad’. They visited Laach Abbey, Andernach, Coblenz and then Mainz, or Mayence as Scott calls it. There Scott made a sketch of the huge Gothic church of St. Stephen, which was built between 1257 and 1328, and would be a prelude to other Gothic churches which Scott would soon be seeing. It is a so-called ‘hall church’, more common in north Germany, where the aisles are as high as the nave leaving no space for a clerestory. The result is a lofty and spacious interior but rather dark. The travellers probably crossed the bridge at Mainz to the north bank of the Rhine which was then largely open country and went twenty miles eastwards up the Main to stay at Frankfurt. While there:

we were greatly interested by the conversation of Dr. Schoppenhauer [sic] an old German philosopher who usually took his meals at the Hotel we staied [sic] at. I think I never met a man with such grand powers of conversation but, alas, he was a determined infidel: I have met him since twice at the same Hotel, the last time was as late as 1860 when I with some difficulty drew him out into conversation, which deafness rendered less easy than formerly – & I was quite astonished at his brilliancy & had it not been for his infidelity – at the noble philosophical tone of his thoughts and conversation. I meant to have sent him some books on the evidences &c of Christianity but I forgot it & when I went to Frankfort [sic] last year & looked out for him I found his portrait hanging over where he used to sit, betokening that he had departed. May it be that his philosophy had previously become christianized!
That hope was hardly likely to be realised as, of course, the ‘old German philosopher’ was the great Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who had settled at Frankfurt after lecturing at Berlin University where, in 1819, he had produced his most famous work The World as Will and Idea. Scott seemed oblivious to his friend’s importance in Germany at the time and quite impervious to his very powerful arguments, and it is absurd that he could even contemplate the idea that he could convert Schopenhauer to Christianity. All of this displays an unworldliness and naivety which keeps re-emerging throughout his life. Perhaps it was the very fact that the two English men apparently knew nothing of his somewhat chequered background which appealed to Schopenhauer and as he was well-known for his excellent command of the English language, he could practice on these two attentive and intelligent listeners. There is little doubt about John Scott’s intellectual powers as two years later he graduated as the 36th Wrangler, a wrangler being a student who has completed the third year of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge and passed with first class honours, then ranked in order of marks. But the Scotts’ had little command of German vernacular at the time, and it was not until after Scott was awarded the Hamburg church commission that he began ‘getting up German’.

At Frankfurt, Scott was able to sketch the Cathedral, but John’s ‘long vacation being nearly over he was obliged to hasten my journey’. Scott now had to concentrate on the main purpose of the tour and turn northwards to Hamburg. They stopped briefly at Marburg where ‘I had a peep only at the exterior of St Elizabeths church at Marburg while breakfast was going on’, the first High Gothic church in Germany built between 1235-83. On 8 October 1844, they reached Magdeburg, where they boarded a steamer which took them nearly two hundred miles overnight down the Elbe to Hamburg. There John made a hasty departure for England as the new term at Cambridge would have already started by the time that he got back.

Scott ‘staied [sic] on to get local information’ but says nothing about Hamburg itself which was being reconstructed after the fire. He presumably found little of interest there as he ‘took a diligence journey to Old Lubeck’. This was another forty-mile journey across the base of the Schleswig-Holstein peninsular to the Baltic coast. Here, on 11 October, he found the old town ‘to my great delight’ and where the lack of building stone in north Germany meant that even the medieval buildings were built of brick. Scott returned to Hamburg, saw the site of the proposed church and boarded a steamer to return to London. On board:

I struck out, on the first morning, my design for the church … but a stormy sea soon put a stop to the work. I think my voyage took three days & four nights during most of which I was in bed, and on reaching home I was so ill as to be laid up for several days during which time, however, I was enabled to complete my general design, on which all force was put as I had only a month left on returning to my office.

After Cologne and Altenburg, Scott had not seen any major Gothic building until St. Stephen’s at Mainz, but instead a succession of Romanesque churches and cathedrals. His excitement in seeing St. Elizabeth’s, Marburg, must have been partly because of the discovery that there were more examples of his favourite style in Germany, and this was confirmed by the other churches that he saw afterwards, particularly Magdeburg Cathedral. Scott had been away from the office for about two months and his return seemed to throw it into turmoil. Moffatt had presumably been in charge, but several of the big works were complete, or nearing completion. Chesterfield was finished, Camberwell was almost complete, as was St. Mary’s Stafford, while the various smaller churches such as Beeston, Leenside and Westwood Heath were completed in the latter part of that year. So it was an excellent time, with apparently an increasing number of assistants and pupils and a slackening off of new work, for Scott to introduce this entirely new project which required the submission, in four weeks, of an attractive and extensive set of drawings. The rest of the office work was apparently abandoned with ‘all hands being put upon them’. The drawings ‘were admirably finished’ although ‘the best elevations were made by Mr. Coe & Mr. Street’.

The drawings for St. Nicholas, Hamburg, were completed and although done in a great rush, ‘were very large & numerous’ and accompanied by a long report. Scott always appreciated the overwhelming effect that a massive display of draughtsmanship would have on judges, regardless of the quality of the design, and his choice of the motto ‘Labor ipse Voluptes’ [Labour itself a pleasure] reflects the immense industry which the submission represented. By deliberately allowing only one month to complete the work, Scott showed that he enjoyed working under pressure.

The use of mottoes to preserve anonyminity seems to indicate that this was a much fairer competition than most that Scott had previously entered. However, despite elaborate precautions, judges were often made aware of the names of the designers of the schemes that they were assessing, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to sway their decision, or in the case of Scott, by accident. The drawings were to have been sent straight by steam-boat from London to Hamburg. It was still only the beginning of December 1844 but ‘an early frost had stopped the navigation of the Elbe’ and the boat was halted at Cuxhaven some sixty miles short of its destination. Eventually the drawings arrived in Hamburg ‘three weeks after the time!’ Scott’s agent, Emilius Muller, a Hamburg merchant, ‘was indefatigable in his negotiations and the delay was condoned’, his work displayed alongside the other thirty-eight designs that were received on time. These included a design by Semper which Scott claims was grounded on ‘that of the cathedral at Florence’. However, Scott was not alone in receiving special treatment as Semper produced another scheme, a Gothic design, which was sent to the committee in January. Of the other schemes Scott says: ‘Heideldoff, Lange, &c had more or less of failures while an English architect of the name of Atkinson (the future Siberian explorer) then living at Hamburg who had made a powerful effort, had failed of making his design German’. Thomas Witlam Atkinson’s (1799-1861) design would undoubtedly have been in the Gothic style but not in the Middle-Pointed. He had moved to Hamburg to enter the competition and, after what must have been his disappointment at its outcome, abandoned architecture to become a traveller and artist, publishing Oriental and Western Siberia, in 1858.

Scott acknowledged that his most formidable opponent was Professor Semper. Gottfried Semper (1803-79) was a native of Hamburg but his best-known work at the time was the Opera House at Dresden, which he built between 1838 and 1841. He was to later carry out other major buildings in Dresden including a reconstruction of his Opera House after a fire in 1869, the Polytechnic at Zurich and various important buildings in Vienna. According to Pevsner, he was ‘the best German architect of the mid-nineteenth century’. Semper’s Hamburg entry was not in his usual Italian Renaissance style, but, as Pevsner states, it was ‘an indefinite mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine with a dome derived from Brunelleschi’. But he clearly intended that his design would show an affinity to the general reconstruction of Hamburg which was taking place in a round-arched classical style popular in Germany at the time, which he himself had helped to promote.

Scott, in his design, made no attempt to integrate with the plain classical rebuilding of Hamburg. Perhaps when he saw that the site was for a free-standing building, he felt he could produce a highly ornate design in the Middle Pointed style. In the report which Scott sent with the design, he sets down his reasoning for his choice of style, although the judges were probably expecting designs in the Gothic style anyway. He maintains that it would be ‘inconsistent to imitate the local characteristics of old buildings in the immediate district’ as it would deprive the architect of the opportunity ‘to take advantage of the varied beauties exhibited by German churches of corresponding style in general’. Here, for the first time since he was converted to Gothic architecture some five years previously, he produces a rational argument for his choice of architectural style. The Middle Pointed had clearly become his favourite, even before Hamburg, but now with the discovery that this style was common to the whole of northern Europe, he was able to produce a justification for his enthusiasm for it.

Scott’s design for St. Nicholas was like that for a cathedral. It was a huge building with a great 480 feet high spire at the west end and, although its walls were of yellow brick, they were enriched by a mass of fourteenth-century carved stonework. Internally, it had two sets of side aisles and an apsidal east end in the German form with a parallel chapel and the sacristy. As a concession to Protestantism, there were no transepts but these were later added to the final design on the insistence of the clergy. Scott claims, presumably from what Muller told him, that when his drawings were hung alongside the others, the atmosphere among the general public ‘was perfectly electric’. He continued:

They had never seen Gothic architecture carried out in a new design with anything like the old spirit; and as they were labouring under the old error that Gothic was the German (‘Alt Deutch’) style their feelings of Patriotism were stirred up in a wonderful manner. My design was to their apprehension far more German than those of any of the German architects.
Within ‘a few days of the arrival of my drawings’, articles appeared in the Hamburg newspapers ‘which for the most part advocated my design with enthusiasm’. Muller sent cuttings on to Scott who kept them for twenty years so that when he was writing his Recollections, he was able to paste two of the most complimentary items into his notebook. In an article in the Hamberger Neue Zeitung, on 23 December 1844, the author discusses the various plans and says that number thirty-nine, ‘Labor ipse voluptes’, was the crown of them all. It represents the correct development of historic Christian architecture carried out with clarity and majesty. We will, he tells us, forever admire the majesty of such a minster, and herein lives the spirit of Erwin von Steinbach.

Scott could not have hoped for higher praise than this with the reference to von Steinbach which he underlined in red ink in the Recollections. It went to the heart of the German Romantic Movement. Goethe regarded the west front of Strasbourg Cathedral as the work of a German artistic genius whom he immortalised in poetry as Erwin von Steinbach, and from this association emerged the idea in the nineteenth century, that the fully developed Gothic of the medieval period was the German national architecture. The other cutting which Scott pasted into his notebook was even more flattering. It was from the Nachrichten of 2 January 1845 and is an anonymous poem, which took the form of an address to the author of the design with the motto ‘Labor ipse voluptes’, whom he referred to as a ‘honest master builder’, who was rekindling the ancient German art. ‘An angel must have hovered about you, as light streams heavenwards from your masterpiece’. All men are astonished by the work. ‘Spread the tidings throughout the land that Saint Nicholas is once again glorified within Hamburgh’s walls’. But Scott was not satisfied that the committee would be sympathetic to his scheme.

Between December 1844 and the following January, Scott wrote five letters to the committee which were delivered by Muller. One of these, early in January, was written when it was becoming apparent that the committee would require an expert panel to judge the designs. He suggested that it should consist of three German architects who happened to be the leading Gothic scholars in the country. They were Sulpiz Boisseree and Georg Moller, who were working on the plans for Cologne Cathedral, and Johann Claudius Laussaulx, who has been called the German Pugin. Scott’s suggestion was, of course, ignored but later in the month the committee did set up a panel of seven local architects. They were all classicists with the one exception of Theodor Bulau who was carrying out some Gothic buildings in the city at the time. Scott may have hoped that Bulau would be his ally but unfortunately for him, Bulau and Semper were life-long friends and Bulau kept Semper, in Dresden, in constant touch with the panel’s deliberations.

On 20 February 1845, the panel selected Semper’s great domed structure as its favourite design, followed by the Gothic designs of Strack and Scott. However, the evangelical reformers disliked Semper’s proposals and a young Hamburg cleric, Franz Stoter immediately published an anonymous pamphlet attacking Semper and arguing for the appropriateness of Gothic for Protestant architecture. Semper seems to have panicked when he realised that extent of pro-Gothic feeling among the clergy: he not only produced his own reply to Stoter, but in five days he had rushed out a completely new Gothic design for St. Nicholas which he sent off to the panel, thus completely undermining his own anti-Gothic stance.

The Church Council, as the clients, were so embarrassed by the situation in which it had been placed that it asked Zwirner and Sulpiz Boisseree (1783-1854) to come to Hamburg and review the decision. The fact that the Council chose these two to re-examine the judges’ decision would indicate that they, in reality, wanted a Gothic design. As the architect commissioned to complete Cologne Cathedral, Zwirner was a committed Gothicist, while Boisseree, who had known Goethe, was the main driving force behind the project to complete Cologne. Scott must have been delighted with the Council’s choice as he had already met both architects the previous year. However, Boisseree was ill and could not travel to Hamburg but he had received Stoter’s and other pamphlets and decided to send, what Scott calls ‘a sort of essay on the subject, which was considered to coincide with my own views’. Inevitably Zwirner was upset to discover that he was to be the sole arbiter in this important competition when he appeared in Hamburg on 28 April.

Muller thought that it best if Scott could also go to Hamburg ‘in case of being wanted’. He seems to have been able to drop everything and go to Hull, where he presumably stayed with his cousin. He crossed from there to Hamburg at the start of May 1845. On arrival, Muller told him that in fact his presence was not required but Scott decided to stay on to await the result and to fill his time by returning to sketch in the old town of Lubeck, where he had had such a delightful time some eight months earlier. After several days he heard, presumably from Muller, as he was attempting to remain incognito, that the committee had decided that he was the winner and he returned to Hamburg. It was only then that he found out that, in spite of his efforts, his presence had been discovered, and that Zwirner and one of the committee members had also gone off to Lubeck, and unbeknown to Scott, their paths had crossed on the way. This, Scott says, ‘afforded a fine card for the invention of a conspiracy!’ Zwirner submitted his report on 8 May so, after months of dithering, the committee, on Zwirner’s recommendation, reversed the decision of the panel and on 19 May 1845 gave the first prize to Scott and Moffatt. Strack remained in second place and the third place was awarded to Lange. Semper was now completely out of the placings.

When it was clear what the outcome would be, Bulau dashed off a particularly bad-tempered letter to Semper which condemned all those involved in the decision, including the traitors of the state who ‘play into the hands of the English, that contemptuous pack of enemies. Their scheme will not be successful … The devil take them one and all’. Semper was devastated at the outcome and, suspecting that there had been a meeting at Lubeck, threatened litigation, although faced with counter claims of libel, he backed down. Scott’s behaviour may have been naïve but it seems, as he says, the conspiracy theory was an invention which could not stand up to legal scrutiny.

This was so far the greatest achievement of Scott’s career. At the age of thirty-three he had beaten off the fiercest competition to become the winner of a major international architectural competition. The prestige and status of this success completely outshone his earlier triumphs at Wanstead, Oxford and Camberwell, as although his success with the last two was undoubtedly due to his skill and knowledge of Gothic architecture, its application at Hamburg had a much greater significance. In the rising tide of German nationalism and its search for a unified cultural identity, there were very few architects like Zwirner who were capable of executing work in the fully developed Gothic style. James Fergusson, writing about the reconstruction of Hamburg after the fire of 1842, said that with some buildings the German architects ‘attempted what they call Gothic, and have failed as utterly as they generally do when they dabble in this style’. In contrast, Edward Freeman (1823-92), an Oxford historian and Secretary of the Oxford Architectural Society, wrote in 1849 that St. Nicholas was ‘the noblest work that three ages have produced’.

Instead of rushing back home to celebrate his victory, Scott stayed on in Hamburg ‘for a considerable time to make arrangements for commencing the execution of the work’. His sketch book contains sketches that he had made in the medieval town of Luneburg, twenty-five miles south-east of Hamburg, and the monastery at Lune. The news of Scott’s victory had obviously travelled before him but his triumphal return to London was somewhat marred by sourness from The Ecclesiologist. As a self-taught Gothicist, Scott was largely impervious to the didactic aspect of the Cambridge Camden movement. Oxford and Cambridge were the great recruiting grounds for the ecclesiologists, but he had not attended university, and although his family were all Cambridge men, their well-known evangelical views stemming from the ‘Commentator’, hardly helped his acceptability in High Church circles. So suspicions were confirmed when the outsider energetically fought off the other contenders to win the commission to design a church for Lutherans which The Ecclesiologist denounced as ‘one of the worst sections of a heretical sect’. It wrote about Scott that ‘We are sure that the temporary gains of such a contract are a miserable substitute indeed for its unrealism, and we must say it – its sin’. Scott was obviously deeply hurt by the attack and immediately responded on 30 July 1845 with a very long letter ‘To the Editor of the ‘Ecclesiologist’’, which, to his annoyance, was not published.

Scott returned to Hamburg late the following September, when the contract for the foundations was signed, and on 8 October ‘we formally broke ground’. The design was modified as a ‘difference of opinion had arisen’; the second aisles were omitted and transepts added, with a fleche placed over the crossing. Scott had been learning German since his second visit but John Burlison was more successful with the language and apparently now freed from his involvement with Chesterfield ‘spent some time’ at Hamburg in 1845, ‘to get up practical information’. Henry Green Mortimer, now finished with Stafford, was appointed Clerk of Works. Scott, therefore, had two of his most experienced and trustworthy assistants at Hamburg.

Again Scott had a fairly leisurely return journey from his third visit to Hamburg in October 1845. At Xanten on the Rhine he noted that it ‘contains an admirable church, which had some influence on the maturing of the Hamburg design’. So after some twelve months, the design of the church was still being modified. Hamburg changed Scott’s own life completely. No longer was there anxiety of where the next job should come from. St. Nicholas was a large and elaborate building which he could expect to take the rest of his life to build, and it almost did, with the tower being consecrated in 1874 and the baptistry, looking like a diminutive chapter house, not being finished until 1883, some five years after his death.

Scott’s routine also had to change to accommodate the fact that ‘I was in Germany nearly every year’. These trips were often extended to include visits to places of interest that he had not already seen, so presumably the apparent lack of urgency meant that both the office and his family could cope well in his absence. As the building progressed, not only did the visits become less frequent, but also the extension of the railway system and improvements to the cross-channel ferries made his journeys quicker and more comfortable. Scott paid his fourth visit to Hamburg in April 1846, when this time he went via Calais, where he no doubt saw the Belfry which is considered to be a masterpiece of brick architecture, and then he went on to Dunkirk and Bergues. He crossed the border into Belgium at Poperinghe and at Ypres he saw the famous Cloth Hall. This magnificent structure, with its 440 feet long facade and central tower, was built between 1200 and 1304 but reduced to a pile of rubble in the First World War although it has since been rebuilt. When Scott saw it in 1846, it was the finest commercial medieval monument in Europe and ‘highly delighted I was with it’. Scott then travelled eastwards, ‘by diligence across Westphalia to Minden whence I visited some of the quarries in a splendid country which supply Hamburg’. He revisited Magdeburg and returned to Hamburg, presumably again by river and thence back to England by steamer. Scott’s fifth visit to Hamburg took place in September 1846 to attend the laying of the foundation stone of St. Nicholas which was carried out ‘in great state’ on 24 September. He went straight to Hamburg by sea but again seemed in no hurry to return, as he went back ‘by way of Brunswick Hildesheim & Cologne – visiting stone quarries & sketching’. With the construction of St. Nicholas well underway, it was becoming a matter of some urgency to select a suitable building stone; although the church was faced in a yellow brick, a considerable amount of stonework for its ornamental features was required. He appears to have been unsuccessful in his quest in north Germany, as the next year he ‘visited the Saxon Switzerland in search of stone quarries’. He travelled from Hamburg to Magdeburg where he again sketched the cathedral and then went up the Elbe to the dramatic sandstone formations known as ‘the Saxon Switzerland’ on the border with Bohemia where he finally found the stone he was looking for. He then went on to Prague, where he commented on the external mosaic work on the yet unfinished medieval cathedral. He also visited the Old Synagogue and the ancient Jewish burial ground, an event which impressed him so much that he added a particularly moving account of his experience in his A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of our Ancient Churches, published three years later. Two of his drawings of St Nicholas were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1847.

In 1848, in spite of this increasing number of commissions at home, Scott was off abroad again. Initially the visit was to inspect the progression of St. Nicholas, but it seems to have turned into a protracted exploration of the parts of Germany that he had not already seen, using the new railway system as much as possible, to travel faster and further afield. His trip included a visit to Freiberg, on the edge of the Black Forest. Presumably the purpose of this visit was to see the famous Minster with its open-work spire, similar to that he was intending to use on St. Nicholas. Work on the tower, spire and nave was commenced in 1283 and finished in 1330, and these parts exactly match the Middle-Pointed in style, as well as in date. Scott was most impressed and considered ‘the tower and spire at Freyburg’ to be one of the best examples of the most superior phase of German architecture. He then went to Strasbourg, which was, as now, in France, but in 1870 it was captured by the Prussian Army and incorporated into the German Empire. The fact that it was not part of Germany in Scott’s time did not seem to deter any ideas of German nationalism arising from its architecture. It was here, of course, that when Goethe first saw the cathedral, he was so overwhelmed and ‘came to regard it as the epitome of German artistic genius’. It was essential for Scott to see Strasbourg for this reason, and particularly as he had been publically likened to the architect who rebuilt the west front, Erwin von Steinbach. Scott regarded ‘the nave and the lower parts of the western facade at Strasburg’ as another example of the superior phase of German architecture closest to his favourite Middle Pointed. It does seem extraordinary that St. Nicholas had been in the course of erection for nearly three years before Scott had seen many of the buildings from which his design was supposed to have been derived.

Scott would have had to make an unforeseen and distressing visit to Hamburg in 1849, when St. Nicholas was still in its early stages. Mortimer was killed in a fall from the scaffold and Scott had to replace him as Clerk of Works with Isaiah Wood. In 1850, Scott designed a window to Mortimer’s memory for his home church at Witham in Essex. Wood remained throughout the main construction period of St. Nicholas. A grand decking-out ceremony was held on 18 October 1859 when a wreath was hoisted onto the roof timbers of the choir. Wood saw the completion of the body of the church in 1864 and the tower in 1874 but in 1876 he probably died, as John Chapple, who had been Scott’s Clerk of Works at St. Albans, went out there temporarily. He was replaced by James Little, who supervised the construction of the Baptistry between 1878 and 1883. The massive 480 feet high spire of St Nicholas had been completed and its consecration took place on 26 August 1874. The mighty structure was taller than any building in Britain and this occasion could have been seen by its designer as a good excuse to absent himself from embarrassing meetings at the Royal Institute of British Architects, with John Ruskin’s refusal to take up the Royal Gold Medal under Scott’s presidentship. Some of the fittings were sent from England, including the font and the pulpit, which was made in 1861-63 by Scott’s favourite stone carvers, Farmer and Brindley of Lambeth. The total cost of St. Nicholas was over £184,000, compared with Scott’s original estimate of £85,000. At the usual rate of five-per-cent, Scott and his successors would have received nearly £10,000 in fees over the building period of nearly forty years. The main part of the building was badly damaged by Allied bombers in the Second World War and was completely demolished except for the tower, which is still a landmark in the centre of Hamburg. The site of the church is now a memorial to the victims of the Nazi regime.

Scott’s Recollections, II 20-37, 52-9, 74-6.
Mallgrave, H. F., Gottfried Semper, Architect of the Nineteenth Century (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996), pp. 133, 136-7, 140-1, 145-9.
Pevsner, N., Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972), pp. 23-4, 97, 253, 255.
Germann, G., Gothic Revival in Europe and Britain, Sources, Influences and Ideas (Lund Humphries, London, 1972), pp. 89, 92-3, 95, 102, n. 32, 103.
Baedeker, K., The Rhine including the Black Forest and the Vosges Handbook for Travellers (Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1911), pp. 47, 376.
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), 34 [c], 79 [a].
Lewis, M. J., The Politics of the German Gothic Revival, August Reichensperger (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1993), pp. 102 104-5, 109-10, 125-7.
Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1995), pp. 47, 84.
Hitchcock, H. R., Architecture, Nineteen and Twentieth Centuries, Pelican History of Art (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1963), pp. 100, 112.
Pevsner, N., Studies in Art, Architecture and Design, Victorian and After (Thames and Hudson, London, 1968), pp. 47, 102, 128.
Fergusson, J., History of the Modern Styles of Architecture (John Murray, London, 1891), vol. II, pp. 240-1.
Freeman, E. A., A History of Architecture (Joseph Masters, London, 1849), p. 452.
Scott, G., Sir, Lectures on the Rise and Development of Medieval Architecture delivered at the Royal Academy (John Murray, London, 1879), vol. I, pp. 26, 262, 263 [illustration], 267, 271.
Scott, G. G., A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of our Ancient Churches … (John Henry Parker, London, 1850), pp. 104, 143.
Fergusson, J., History of the Modern Styles of Architecture (John Murray, London, 1891), vol. II, pp. 743-5.
Cole, D., The Work of Sir Gilbert Scott (The Architectural Press, London, 1980), pp. 37, 189.

Hamburg Rathus – Hamburg

Scott learned that after some ten years of inaction the civic authorities of Hamburg had at last decided to hold an architectural competition to rebuild its town hall, or Rathaus, which had been destroyed in the great fire of 1842. He had been preparing for this ever since 1845, when Karl Sieviking, who was a city trustee of Hamburg, told him that the Cloth Hall at Ypres was ‘a most suggestive model’, and Scott visited Ypres the following year. The competition conditions appeared on 4 February 1854 and stipulated that the designs had to be submitted by 14 October 1854, but Scott says that it was not until ‘Late in 1854 I competed for the New Rathaus’. In the Cloth Hall, a tall tower and spire over the entrance is centrally placed between two long low uniform wings, but in Scott’s Rathaus design these wings contain rooms, rather than the big space of the Cloth Hall. Scott’s tower is much higher and more slender, and he marks its increased importance as the carriageway entrance to the courtyards behind by projecting it in front of the side wings. This feature, together with open colonnades at ground floor level, stopping against the sides of the tower, was clearly taken from the town halls at Brussels and Oudenarde. However, the first and second floor windows of the Rathaus are shown with alternating brick and stone arches, as he had seen on buildings in Verona and Mantua in 1851. This is the first major design in which Scott attempted his so-called constructive polychromy, apart from the minor essays on Longton Church and Camden Church in 1854.

Scott duly submitted his drawings, which included a large perspective of the Rathaus from the river, with small insets showing the internal courtyard and the rear of the building, and he accompanied his drawings with a memorandum in German explaining his approach to the design. He explained that his design was symmetrical ‘because I felt that the character and position of the building called for unity and splendour, which would be more in keeping with the neighbouring buildings than picturesque irregularity’. The large perspective shows that the neighbouring buildings were all in the dull classical style which characterised the reconstruction of Hamburg after the fire. Scott was relying on scale and lavish ornament to dominate these surroundings.

Following the submission of the designs on 5 November 1854, Reichensperger in the Kolner Domblatt, reiterated, but much more powerfully, Scott’s message to the competition judges. He said that it demonstrated how appropriate a Gothic building would be for a free imperial city dating from the Middle Ages and listed several German Medieval town halls as examples. Reichensperger may have helped his friend as early in 1855, as Scott recalled, ‘the competition was decided in my favour’. August de Meuron (1813-98), a Swiss-born architect, who is known for his classical houses in Hamburg, was placed second, and Ludwig Franz Karl Bohnstedt (1822-85), a German who practised in St. Petersburg, was placed third. Scott’s design was masterly. The simplicity of the massing with the tall tower in the centre of a long facade provided a classical stateliness appropriate to an important public building. Yet it was entirely Gothic, allowing it the freedom, at least in theory, to express its historical and regional characteristics, as well as those of its function and construction. His design was widely acclaimed. It was published in The Ecclesiologist and in The Builder, with a plan and a copy of the perspective. Riechensperger reprinted Scott’s memorandum in the Kolner Domblatt on 2 March 1855, and when Scott sent a perspective of his design to the Paris Exhibition later in the year, Adolphe Lance, in a pamphlet, proclaimed that ‘The Town Hall of Hamburg is a most beautiful and most rational construction of these times. Happy is the artist who can put his name to it, and happy is the town that can count it amongst its monuments’.

Unfortunately, the publication of the results of the competition coincided with a disastrous flood when more than half of Hamburg was inundated by the river Elbe and, not unnaturally, the city authorities decided that the funds set aside for the Rathus should be used in the more urgent work of improving the city’s flood defences. The scheme was postponed indefinitely.

Scott was obviously delighted with the tall-tower-in- the-centre-of-a-long-facade formula, as he used it on several later occasions, particularly in 1856, in his entry in the Government Offices Competition and his subsequent Gothic India Office design, and most spectacularly in 1866 for Glasgow University; but it is a measure of the extent of the esteem in which Scott was now held that almost as soon as it was produced, it gave rise to a spate of imitations, which persisted over the next decade. These ranged in scale from a town hall for the small Cheshire town of Congleton, by Scott’s friend and admirer, Edward William Godwin (1833-86), to the Canadian Parliament building at Ottawa by Fuller and Jones in 1859, and included Manchester Town Hall by Alfred Waterhouse in 1868, and Prichard and Seddon’s entry in the Government Offices Competition. The ubiquitous formula was so popular that by the 1880’s it had become boring and dull.

It was not until 1876 that the city authorities of Hamburg decided to revive the Rathaus project by holding another competition. The sketchbooks show that by 16 August 1876 Scott had crossed the North Sea and was in Cologne where for the fourth time he sketched the great cathedral which was now almost complete after centuries of building. While he was there he probably met Reichensperger who may have persuaded him to enter another competition for a new Rathaus at Hamburg. This was announced in The Architect on 14 May 1876 as an ‘Important Competition’ and designs had to be submitted by 1 October. Scott travelled to Hamburg and returned home by way of Trier and Munster where he continued sketching, as well as making ‘elaborate sketches’ of his proposals for the Rathaus. Again, there was another rush to complete and although The Architect implied that the competition would be open to British architects, it must have been a shock to discover that the conditions debarred him from submitting his design. Only architects who were Germans, or Austro-Germans, or who had studied in Germany, were allowed to submit designs in the second Rathaus competition. Whether this condition was designed to specifically exclude Scott is not clear but certainly his previous competition successes had aroused resentment among the German Architectural establishment. He nevertheless made a design in his characteristic secular Gothic style and an ‘alternative design’ in an early German Renaissance style.

In both designs he reproduces his composition of 1854, with a tall tower in the middle of a long façade. But the entrance under the tower is no longer a carriageway and the grand simplicity of the main elevations is compromised by four large dormers. In the Gothic design the central tower is another manifestation of the familiar clock tower first used at Kelham, while at the top of the tower in the Renaissance design he used corner turrets, as at St Mary’s Edinburgh, to change the shape of the tower from square to octagonal, capped by a small classical cupola. The Builder described this tower as ‘a very fine and effective feature with a great deal that is unusual in appearance’ and much better than the Gothic tower. The flanking wings of the Renaissance deign seem to have been based on the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings in the courtyard of Heidelberg Castle, which he had probably seen in 1873, and his design for corner turrets is shown in the sketchbook that he had used on the 1876 tour, the last time that Scott went abroad.

This is a quite extraordinary design for Scott. The sketchbook confirms that it was his personal design and yet it is quite unlike anything that he had ever produced before. Perhaps he was trying to show that he was capable of new ideas. His High Gothic style was now old-fashioned but the Foreign Office shows that he could handle Renaissance architecture with panache and he probably provided this scheme to appeal to the particular composition of the jury. This was led by Professor Wilhelm von Lubke, a noted specialist in the German Renaissance and admirer of Semper, and included his old rival in both the St Nicholas and the Reichstag competitions, Johann Strack of Berlin. His designs for the Rathaus were not published in Scott’s lifetime but in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy immediately after his death, two pen-and-ink perspective drawings ‘of stupendous size’ were exhibited as Scott’s last design for a great public building. They were made ‘in little over a fortnight’ from Scott’s sketches by Weatherley and Francis Ebenezer Jones. Both versions were later reproduced as double-page spreads in The Building News in October and November 1878.

The competiton attracted 126 entries and although Scott had prepared two alternative designs, he was not allowed to submit them. The winners of the competition were Mylius and Bluntschli of Frankfort, but again, amazingly enough, nothing happened. In the end the work was given to two Hamburg firms of architects, Grotjan & Robertson and Haller & Lamprecht, apparently because they had entered the competition with designs that retained Scott’s idea of a dominant tower in the centre of the façade. The building, which Hitchcock calls ‘a vast and turgid edifice’ was finally built, complete with tall tower, between 1886-97, by no less than nine architects.

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), 35 a & b, 79, 80, 83, 85.
Scott’s Recollections, II 162-3.
Scott, G. G., Remarks on Secular and Domestic Architecture, Present and Future (John Murray, London, 2nd ed. 1858), pp. 206, 285.
Germann, G., Gothic Revival in Europe and Britain, Sources, Influences and Ideas (Lund Humphries, London, 1972), pp. 158-9.
Hitchcock, H. R., Architecture, Nineteen and Twentieth Centuries, Pelican History of Art (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1963), pp. 38, 155.
Companion to the Almanac or Year Book of General Information of 1856 (Knight and Co., London, 1856), p. 225.
Muthesius, S., The High Victorian Movement in Architecture, 1850-70 (Routledge & Kegan Paul Books, London and Boston, 1972).
The Architect, XV, 13 May 1876, p. 316.
The Building News, XXXV, 4 October 1878, pp. 342, 352-3.
The Builder, XXXVI, 11 May 1878, p. 480.
The Building News, XXXV, 29 November 1878, pp. 567-9.
The Builder, XXXVI, 11 May 1878, p. 480.
Scott’s Sketch Book (RIBA), p. 46.
Mallgrave, H. F., Gottfried Semper, Architect of the Nineteenth Century (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996), p. 230.
Pagan, H., Catalogue 16 (1993), p. 24.