Perhaps the retreat to Scarborough was to escape the Gothic fanatics of Spring Gardens but it demonstrates Scott’s somewhat individualistic approach to design problems. Whereas Jackson seems to have revelled in the exchange of ideas generated in the office atmosphere, Scott’s difficulties in facing criticism led him to prefer to work away on his own and to present his proposals in an advanced state. He could do this at Scarborough with only Caroline and the younger members of the family around. While there:
The course I determined on was to prepare a design in a variety of Italian as little inconsistent with my antecedents as possible. I had in dealing with Lord Hill’s chapel at Hawkstone and with St. Michael’s Cornhill, attempted a sort of Early Basilican style to give a tone to the existing classic architecture & it struck me that not wholly alien to this was the Byzantine of the Early Venetian palaces & that the earliest renaissance of Venice … I therefore conceived the idea of generating what would be strictly an Italian style out these two sets of examples …
It is difficult to be too certain about what Scott actually did at Hawkstone as this fine Georgian house, twelve miles north-east of Shrewsbury, has been considerably altered since Scott’s time. With praise like this, from where he most wanted it, it is not surprising that Scott turned to St. Michael’s Cornhill as a possible solution to his problems over a style for the Foreign Office.
When he made his request for ‘a design in the Italian style’, Palmerston, like most of his generation, specifically meant a classical design, while Scott, it seems deliberately, confuses the issue by referring to ‘Italian’ as the architecture of Italy. Scott knew exactly what Palmerston meant and it is difficult to understand how he thought that, by using this play on words, he would get away with producing a building based on the Byzantine, Early Basilican and early Italian Renaissance styles. In laying down the principles of his new style for public buildings in towns, he had already said in the Remarks that he was quite capable of looking at other styles. He stated: ‘I am no mediaevalist; I do not advocate the styles of the middle ages as such’, but at the same time he could not countenance a return to full classical architecture, even though he understood it and was capable, as Palmerston knew, of working in that style. Although he had only been to Italy the once, in 1851, he was so impressed with its medieval town architecture, particularly in Venice, he thought that if he could use the round-arch style which was the basis of these fine medieval buildings, he would be as consistent with his ‘antecedents as possible’, and yet go a long way towards meeting Palmerston’s demand for an ‘Italian’ building.
After his return from Scarborough:
I worked these ideas out into new designs for both buildings and not as I think without considerable success – The designs were both original & pleasing in effect, indeed Lord Elcho to whom I shewed them before laying them before the authorities thought them better than the Gothic design and rejoiced that good was likely to come out of evil …
The design shows the Foreign and India Offices grouped in a similar form to the Gothic scheme with regular facades three stories high with ranges of round-headed windows on each floor. A particularly Venetian feature is the grouping together round-headed windows behind projecting balconies.
Scott, however, found it difficult to obtain any official response to his latest ideas as Henry Fitzroy, the First Commissioner, had been ill all the autumn of 1859 and eventually died on 22 December. He seems to have regarded Fitzroy as a possible ally in his fight against Palmerston and must have been somewhat dismayed that after a wait of nearly two months, on 16 February 1860, Palmerston made his stepson, William Francis Cowper (1811-88), the new First Commissioner, who ‘was of course a slave to Lord Palmerston’. Eventually Scott was able to show his design to Cowper, as he said:
Left to himself he would I believe like Mr. Fitzroy have preferred the Gothic design & now I equally believe he liked the Byzantinesque one, but being a mere puppet, so far as this question went, in the hands of a strong Master he only hummed & hawed & said civil things which could not be made any use …
Cowper said that he would arrange another meeting with Palmerston. But nothing happened for several weeks, during which Scott heard from other sources, presumably Hunt, that Garling was preparing a design. Scott assumed that Palmerston had asked Garling to produce a design ‘so that he might have “two strings to his bow”’, and thought the delay was because of this. In fact, Palmerston was dealing with a major constitutional crisis arising from Gladstone’s budget. When Scott was eventually summoned, ‘he kept me waiting two hours & a half in his back room (during a part of which I heard him very deliberately going through his Luncheon in the next room) & then sent me away unseen’. This is another example of Scott’s paranoia and unworldliness. Actually, he had done rather well as Palmerston was notorious for keeping everybody waiting, however eminent. The Belgian Minister claimed that he had read the whole of Richardson’s five-volume novel, Clarissa, while waiting in Palmerston’s anteroom, and in a particularly well-publicised incident, the Russian Ambassador was furious and regarded it an insult that Palmerston had kept him waiting for two hours. Eventually Scott showed him the design.
He was very civil & I thought liked it, indeed I believe he did, but I suppose thought it hardly consistent with his professions & instructions. After this I saw Mr. Cowper & told him that I thought Ld P was favourably impressed, having occasion to go at once to Hamburg I left the matter as I thought in a tolerably satisfactory position …
But he could hardly have been surprised that while he was at Hamburg: I received a letter from Mr. C. saying that I was mistaken in my impression as to Lord P’s feelings, & saying I must modify the design to make it much more like modern architecture. This led on my return, to a number of futile attempts, & in the midst of them I heard by a side wind that Garling had not only made a design but that it was actually at the Office of Works & under consideration!
The ‘side wind’ was obviously Hunt, who was perhaps being as devious as Scott was naive. By telling Scott of this threat, he was ensuring that the wishes of his political masters would be carried out, as Scott would now feel compelled to alter his design. It is difficult to assess how real the threat was from Garling, but Scott’s reaction was typical. He now:
entered a decided protest against the course thus secretly taken. This protest I sent to Mr. Cowper, and told my supporters in the House of Commons of what had been done. This seems to have quashed the project and shortly afterwards I was directed to make some modifications in my semy Bysantine design to meet views half way & then the design was referred to the joint opinion of Messrs. Cockerell, Burn, & Fergusson …
It was on 6 July 1860 that Cowper wrote to these three architects asking them to form a ‘Committee of Reference’ to examine both of Scott’s schemes. This was presumably the first that the architects had heard of Scott’s so-called ‘Italian’ design, and must have been surprised when they were confronted with the ‘semy Bysantine’ effort.
It would seem that it was only about now that Scott’s capitulation to Palmerston, in the previous August, was becoming generally known. Having started the whole protest against Palmerston’s imposition of a classical design, he appears to have been content to let others fight for the cause which he had effectively given up. Events, in fact, had moved out of his control, and he was reluctant to inform those who thought that they were helping him about the futility of their actions.
In the previous summer, Scott had tried to persuade Freeman to write an apparently unsolicited letter to The Times endorsing his Gothic design, as presumably after the up-roar after his letter of 6 August, he was anxious that his name should not appear again, supporting his own case. Freeman seems to have prevaricated for some time, but eventually, on 19 October 1859, a letter appeared over the initials E.A.F., which made a powerful case for a Gothic Foreign Office. It created a great impression and became a rallying cry for Scott’s supporters. The Building News, The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Ecclesiologist all reprinted it in full. Apparently Ruskin did not recognise Freeman’s initials and asked the editor of The Times to tell him who the author was. The editor obliged, whereupon Freeman accused the editor of breach of confidence and attacked Ruskin, which prompted the editor to prohibit any further correspondence on the subject. According to Jackson, Scott thus ‘lost the best champion of his cause’.
However there were many other champions anxious to support Scott’s Gothic design. In January 1860, the groundless optimism continued with a forthright article in The Gentleman’s Magazine, presumably by Parker, prompting a deluge of pamphlets, arguing for, or against, Gothic, which continued well into the summer. Even Scott’s acquaintance from Venice, Sir Francis Scott, produced a long paper supporting Gothic. But the Saturday was ominously silent. Hope probably knew the real situation and, realising that a Gothic Foreign Office would never be built, was quietly furious at Scott’s capitulation. Eventually the Saturday on 11 July 1860, published a damning article, presumably from the pen of Hope, which stated that:
in listening to Lord Palmerston’s ignorant dictation on a matter of art, Mr. Scott compromised his own artistic principles, and that, consenting to work under such inspiration, he was foregoing a high moral position.
Scott knew that he had betrayed the trust of his friends and supporters in submitting to Palmerston, but delaying the news of his climb-down to avoid their wrath, probably only increased their outrage. If he felt badly hurt by the actions of his professional opponents, now he had lost the respect of his allies, which he never fully regained.
Perhaps it was something of a relief to Scott that the ‘Committee of Reference’ would have Cockerell, William Burn and James Fergusson as its members. None of them had taken sides in the argument and he could reasonably expect a fair consideration from all of them. Scott knew Cockerell well from the Academy and the Paris jury, and from the Oatlands encounter he knew that Burn liked his approach. But he had little previous contact with Fergusson, although he had mentioned Fergusson’s Illustrated Handbook of Architecture, which came out in 1855, in one of his Academy lectures. In the event Fergusson proved to be Scott’s strongest supporter.
I had frequent interviews with these three gentlemen and I have every reason to be grateful for the kind consideration with which I was treated by them. Mr. Cockerell being a pure classicist had the greatest difficulty in swallowing my new style. He lectured me for hours together on the beauties of the true classic going over book after book with me & pouring forth extatic eulogys on his beloved style of art.
Cockerell, now seventy-two, was the doyen of Scott’s profession. It would have been completely uncharacteristic of Scott to argue against such a venerable figure, particularly if he felt that Cockerell genuinely wanted to help him. But Cockerell was so unimpressed with Scott’s much vaunted knowledge of classical architecture, that a year later when Scott embarked on his classical Foreign Office, Cockerell offered him the services of a colleague of thirty years to help him with the design.
However, Fergusson, according to Scott, ‘was strongly in favour of my views. They embodied in a great measure what he had been for years advocating …’ and although Burn ‘did not go strongly into the question of style’, he upheld Scott’s rights against the claims of those trying to deprive him of the work. Together they ‘brought over Cockerell to their views & they made a joint report in favour of my design subject to a few modifications…’
The committee passed its comments to Cowper on 20 July 1860 but his design was ‘toned down step by step till no real stuff was left in it’. Palmerston had promised to let M.P.s see both the Gothic design and the Byzantine scheme but, much to his annoyance, Cowper would only allow the ‘toned down’ Byzantine version to be exhibited alongside his Gothic proposals.
Scott had ‘the most forlorn hope that the House of Commons might still decide in favour of the Gothic design!’ But the Parliamentary session was slipping away without anything being decided and, on 28 July, the Saturday asked ‘what is the excuse for further delay?’ A week later, Cowper told the House that it was not necessary to ask Parliament to vote the money during the present session and Members could ‘raise any questions about the style of the building’ when the estimates were discussed in the next session. Parliament was finally prorogued on Tuesday 28 August 1860 and it did not meet again until Tuesday 5 February 1861. As Scott wrote, his ‘second great campaign was over!’