In delaying bringing the question of the style of the new Foreign Office until 1861, Palmerston, the supreme manipulator, was perhaps hoping that the pressure the Gothic lobby had built up in 1859 and early 1860, would have evaporated, particularly after the full extent of Scott’s capitulation had been realised.
In the meantime the India Office had sold East India House in the City of London and moved into temporary accommodation. But, according to Scott, tired of waiting, it commissioned Digby Wyatt to look for another site. Scott realised that if the two offices were separated, he would be unlikely to retain his share of the India Office. On 23 August 1860, in a rather less magnanimous mood than when he gave away half his commission eighteen months earlier, Scott wrote to Wyatt saying that the proposed separation would result in the loss of ‘a noble opportunity of building a really grand mass of building’. Wyatt, however, did not find a new site, but on 29 August presented the India Office with an imaginative scheme using the existing site, with the two offices sharing the park front and placing two smaller offices where it had been intended to site the India Office facing King Street. As far as the Government was concerned, this must have seemed an attractive proposal as it not only gave both offices a share of the park frontage but it also provided space for other government departments. It was obvious that Wyatt, with his classical background, was well placed to take over the whole building.
At the end of August 1860, Hunt sent for Scott and offered ‘some very serious though mystic advice to me comply with any directions I might receive or I should be in danger of losing my appointment’. On Saturday 8 September 1860, Scott was summoned to Palmerston’s presence for the fourth time:
he told me that he did not wish to disturb my position, but that he would have nothing to do with Gothic & as to the style of my recent design it, was ‘neither one thing nor t’other – a regular mongrel affair & he would have nothing to do with it: That he must insist in my making a design in the ordinary Italian & that though he had no wish to displace me he nevertheless if I refused must cancel my appointment.
Palmerston’s version of the interview is typically more robust. He said that he told Scott, ‘I know you are capable of excelling in any style; now for Heaven’s sake go and bring me something in the Italian style.’ Poor Scott was thrown into a state of shock, but before he could gather his thoughts for a reply, Palmerston told him about the new site arrangements. The State Paper Office, immediately to the west of the site, would be demolished, allowing the new offices to ‘project irregularly into the park, leaving the King Street front as a future work.’ Scott says that he came away from the meeting ‘thunderstruck and in sore perplexity’, and while walking back from Palmerston’s house in Piccadilly to the office, contemplating whether to ‘resign or swallow the bitter pill’, he unexpectedly, so he believed, met Hunt in Pall Mall. Hunt would have known about Scott’s appointment with Palmerston and, from what we know about Hunt, it seems quite likely that he engineered this apparently chance encounter. Scott said:
I at once told him what had transpired & he in turn told me what had given rise to the advice which, a few days earlier he had kindly volunteered. He had been consulted by Mr. Cowper as to whether they could not fairly get rid of me (as I suppose a troublesome contumacious fellow). He Mr. Hunt had put the case in this way. That I was regularly appointed by his (Mr. C’s) predecessor & had performed without fault the duties committed to me; that it was no fault of mine that a change of masters had taken place whose tastes were different & that it would be a very serious injury to me to displace me & one for which no pecuniary compensation would make amends. On the other hand that employers had an undoubted right to prescribe the style of the building they desired to erect and that as in the case of an heir succeeding to an estate after a new mansion had been designed though good feeling suggested the continuance of the same Architect it was a fair condition that he should on his part should be willing to conform to the views of his new employer. By these arguments alone he had quieted the impatience of my employers now stirred up to a climax & he now conjured me to act in conformity with the views which he had suggested, he urged the claims of my family whom I had no right to deprive of what had become their right as much as my own for a mere individual preference on a question of taste &c &c.
If Hunt had paved the way for his friend to receive the commission in the first place by organising the competition and his evidence to Hope’s committee, he was hardly likely to allow Scott to let it slip away over the mere question of style and could have told Cowper that he would ensure that Scott would change his mind. Hunt knew Scott well enough to deploy all the right arguments to bring this about. There is no doubt about Scott’s deep devotion for his wife and children but, as a compulsive worker, he was only too aware that he did not see enough of her and the youngest boys and, by way of compensation, tried to ensure the financial stability which would give them a comfortable life. As events surrounding Moffatt’s dismissal seem to show, Caroline’s own finances were inextricably linked with those of Scott’s own practice and, because of this, he would not have done anything which would have deprived them of a very substantial income.
Scott then saw Wyatt, who according to Scott, very disinterestedly, strongly urged the same view as Hunt.
I say disinterestedly for had I resigned he would beyond a doubt have had the whole of the India Office instead of a half of it committed to his hands. I was in a terrible state of mental perturbation – but I made up my mind – went straight in for Digby Wyatts bought some costly works on Italian Architecture & set vigorously to work to rub up what though I had once understood pretty intimately I had allowed to grow rusty by 20 years neglect.
With the two offices now linked together, it was inconceivable that they could be designed by separate architects. Wyatt was a different sort of architect to Scott. He was as much a theoretician and writer as a practising architect. He did not have Scott’s massive office back up and may have quailed at the prospect of being engulfed by the enormous quantity of work for many years to come.
The turning point in Scott’s career had come when he and Manners failed to push the Gothic design far enough ahead for it to be irreversible before Palmerston return to power. Now, some fourteen months later, he had to think out how to produce a classical Foreign Office. Scott devoted the autumn of 1860 to the new design, presumably with the aid of his well-thumbed copy of Chamber’s book which he had kept since his time at Latimer and, ‘as I think, met with great success’. He visited Paris again, but this time to see it’s classical rather than its Gothic buildings. These included the Louvre, which since his previous visit in 1855 had had its splendid new additions, with the Tuileries Palace still standing between the two long wings of the Louvre. His elevations to the Foreign Office quadrangle bear a strong resemblance to parts of the Tuileries and he felt that he ‘really recovered some of my lost feelings for the style though I ever and anon fell into fits of desperate lamentation & annoyance, & almost thought of giving the work up again’.
Caroline, as usual, had gone to St. Leonards for the winter with the youngest boys, but when eleven-year-old Alwynne Gilbert contracted a ‘severe fever’, Scott had to go and stay there for six weeks and, typically, managed to carry on with the design. But progress was very slow. As late as 28 February 1861, he had to tell the Office of Works, who were pressing him for the design, that he still had to complete one of his elevations.
As Spring Gardens had acquired a reputation as the Mecca for aspiring Gothic revival architects, Scott was one of the few members of his own office who knew much about classical architecture, which probably accounts for the delay in producing the scheme. In 1861, Robert Edgar (1837-73) joined the office as a qualified architect with, as Scott wrote, ‘a thoroughly practical and artistic knowledge of both Classic, Renaissance and Mediaeval, with a very considerable skill in designing in either of these styles’ and took ‘a very leading position in the direction of the works at the new Foreign Office, and of the external portions of the India Office, under me’. Edgar may have joined the office to work in the Gothic style, but Scott found that his classical abilities would be a great help in producing the drawings so urgently required and young Edgar was plunged into this huge task. He left Scott’s office in 1873, intending to go to the United States, but suddenly died. He was only thirty-six.
Scott was certainly very pleased with his own classical efforts.
My designs were beautifully got up in outline. The figures I put in myself & even composed the groups for though I have no skill in that way I was so determined to shew myself not behind hand with the classicists that I seemed to have more power than usual. The India Office was wholly my design though I had adopted an idea as to its grouping & outline suggested by a sketch of Wyatt’s & which I thought very excellent …
Although Wyatt suggested the irregular grouping of the park front, Scott seems to have been responsible for all the detailed design and one of his sketch books shows how the massing of this part of the design evolved from its Byzantine predecessor.
Cowper had to wait until late March, or early April 1861, before he received the full set of drawings for the classical Foreign and India Offices. On 12 April 1861 Cockerell wrote to Scott saying:
Allow me to congratulate you, and that most heartily, in the effect of your ability and perseverance in this glorious approachment to the new Foreign Office – I trust that there is no longer doubt – and that you and your family rejoice in the attainment of your honourable ambition. So gratifying to your noble aspirations.
Scott must have been delighted with such praise from the man acknowledged to be greatest classical architect of his day. His particular triumph is on the park side, where he used the irregularity of the site to produce a masterly composition. Here he retained a tall central tower from his earlier schemes but used it as a pivot from which to project the front forward with a quadrant towards the park. Scott appreciated the picturesque character of this part of his site in relation to the park and designed the building, like the country houses that he was working on at the time, as an informal composition with an irregular roof line of towers and chimneys to be seen across the lake and between the trees. It has a vitality and exuberance which most of the classical architects of the day were unable to produce and is undoubtedly the best design that he produced throughout his career. Away from the park front the building is less exciting. It retains the old layout from the competition design, with the offices forming the three sides of a quadrangle but with the entrances in the side wings. Here is the most obvious outcome of the trip to Paris, with pavilions in the centre of each side of the quadrangle, looking very much like parts of the Louvre. Scott later described the style he used as Italian although he ‘took some liberties with the style and used some decorations which are not exactly Italian’, and there was also ‘a slight infusion of Greek’ into the ornamentation.
By now Scott, despairing of his Gothic scheme ever being realised, had sent the drawings of his last Gothic proposals off to the Royal Academy for its Summer Exhibition of 1861, as a sort of ‘silent protest against what was going on’. Drawings of Scott’s classical scheme were eventually displayed in the Tea Room of the House of Commons on 2 July 1861. So after two years of waiting, the great debate, which Palmerston had promised, finally took place in the House of Commons on the afternoon of Monday 8 July 1861. Scott knew that it would alter nothing. Palmerston had got a design which he ‘highly approved of’, and his immense popular following in the House would ensure that the country would now get his classical Foreign Office. After ‘a very short fight by the Gothic party who naturally & consistently opposed it strenuously’, Palmerston got his way by a majority of ninety-three votes. The debate had been rather a grand affair occupying over forty-two columns of Hansard and involving twenty-four speakers. Scott must have been considerably heartened by what was said about him from all sides of the House. Buxton described Scott as ‘a man of genius, but his genius lay in Gothic’. Dudley Fortescue, who was a member of the deputation of Scott supporters to Palmerston in July 1859, called Scott a ‘first-rate genius, one whom he, for one, would not be afraid of comparing with the greatest architects of bygone times’, while Manners said that he ‘was the greatest Gothic architect, not in England only, nor even in Europe; his fame was spread over the whole habitable globe’. The only sourness came from Austen Henry Layard (1817-94), with whom Scott was soon to have much greater contact, when he said that the classical scheme was a ‘mean design’. However, Palmerston, in winding up the debate, said that it was ‘a very beautiful plan, and one which combines with sufficient beauty and ornament great moderation of expense’.
Scott was still keen to remind everyone of what Palmerston had turned down. Having been elected a full member of the Royal Academy in 1860, he was obliged to deposit a Diploma Work as a specimen of his ability before he could receive his letter of admission. But, presumably on the grounds of his work-load, he was allowed to defer the submission of his Diploma Work until the summer of 1864, when he sent in a huge perspective view of the Foreign and India Offices in the Gothic style.