July 1861 was a busy month for Sir George Gilbert Scott. Apart from the great debate in the House of Commons, only eight days after Palmerston had laid the foundation stone of the Vaughan Library, he was at another public school to see Prince Albert lay the foundation stone for the chapel that he had designed for Wellington College. The school had been founded as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington who died in 1852, and its buildings, designed by John Shaw (1803-70), were erected between 1856 and 1859 in a sort of elaborate Frenchified Wren style. He drew up a great symmetrical layout plan for the school which included a chapel orientated towards the south.
Scott probably knew Shaw through the Institute, and although he would have tolerated a southern orientation, as he had to at Dundee, he would have hated Shaw’s decadent Renaissance style. The headmaster of the new school, Edward Benson White (1829-1896), another clergyman headmaster and later archbishop of Canterbury, found Scott’s ideas for religious buildings more congenial, and in 1860, on Shaw’s suggestion, Scott was appointed to design the chapel for the new school. However his building is tucked away to one side at the rear, where it does not impinge upon Shaw’s grand layout.
Scott met Prince Albert on 12 July 1861, when, between bouts of illness, he laid the foundation stone of Scott’s chapel at Wellington College. The Prince’s increasingly poor health did not prevent him from being dragged into an argument between the Headmaster and the Governors over the size of the school chapel.
On 4 November 1861 the Prince inspected the work in progress and agreed to support the Head’s contention that the chapel was too small even though Myer’s was well advanced with the construction. It is typical of Scott’s nature that although he would go to any lengths to resist the ideas of the bullying Palmerston, when it came to the gentle Prince, he immediately bowed to his ideas, however inconvenient and ill-considered, and amended his drawings. But the alterations had not been agreed by the Governors and it was probably at their meeting at the House of Lords on 11 November that Scott last saw the Prince. A heated argument had developed over what form the extension should take when the ailing Prince quietly suggested a compromise. This was to add just one bay to the chapel, to which proposal all the Governors were in immediate agreement, and the building was built with an additional bay to that shown on Scott’s drawings. Prince Albert’s death on 14 December 1861 shocked the nation and devastated the Queen.
Prince Albert wanted a smaller version of Eton College chapel but what he got, had he lived to see it, was a lavish version of one of Scott’s village churches with an apsidal east end and a rose window at the west end and details in Scott’s High Victorian style. On 26 August 1861, George Myers, who was completing Pennethorne’s Army Staff College at nearby Camberley at the time, signed the contract to build the new chapel. The stone carving was by Brindley and Farmer based on local leaves and flowers, the woodwork by Ruddle, the glass by Hardman except for the west window by Lusson. The chapel was consecrated on 16 July 1863 having cost about £9000 to complete.
Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1995), p. 862.
Pevsner, N., Berkshire, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1966), p. 262.
DNB, Supplement, p. 171;
Newsome, D., A History of Wellington College 1859-1959 (Wellington College, Wellington, 1984), pp. 106, 112-3.
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), 70 [b & c].
Pound, R., Albert, A Biography of the Prince Consort (London, 1973).
Illustrated in Civil Engineer & Architect’s Journal , XXX (1 January 1867), p. 2 verso.
Spencer-Silver, P., Pugin’s Builder: Life and Work of George Myers: The Life and Work of George Myers (University of Hull Press, Hull, 1993), pp. 252, 279.
Scott’s Recollections, II 283.