Worcester Cathedral, Worcester

Unlike Salisbury, Worcester Cathedral is today the most complete surviving example of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s refitting of a cathedral choir. The work was carried out between 1864 and 1874, although he says that he ‘had been occasionally consulted by the Dean’ before these dates. This was John Peel, who had been appointed Dean by his eldest brother Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, in 1845. Scott had his first consultation with Peel in 1858 and sketched the cathedral in 1859. As this sketchbook contains some of his early ideas for a Gothic Foreign Office, perhaps he had to tell Peel that he did not have the time, at present, to take over the cathedral but that it was already in safe hands.

Abraham Edward Perkins had been appointed Architect to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral in 1848 and in 1854 embarked on a long-term restoration programme. Worcester, like Salisbury, had survived the Middle Ages comparatively unscathed but without structural problems or the modernising zeal of the ubiquitous Wyatt. The problem with Worcester has always been the poor quality of the sandstone from which it is built. Perkins’s main task was to replace much of the crumbling exterior of the building, which he carried out with a largely faithful reproduction of the medieval original, and to repair the walls where buildings had earlier stood against the cathedral. He also provided new windows to the ends of the transepts and a new west window. In fact, the somewhat Victorian appearance of the exterior of Worcester is entirely due to Perkins, with the exception of the pinnacles and parapets to the tower, which Grimthorpe claimed to have designed himself. It is likely that Scott knew about Perkins before he became involved with Worcester and Scott’s confidence in his work was such that he handed over the completion of the restoration of Cradley Church, near Malvern, to him in 1868, having carried out the chancel himself.

Money for the restoration of Worcester Cathedral, as at Salisbury, came from awards to the Dean and Chapter in 1857 and 1859 for the transference of their lands to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Perkins started on the interior by removing a great double screen which completely separated the nave from the choir. But in 1863 all the award money had been spent yet there was still much to be done to the interior. Probably bearing in mind the ability of Scott’s name to attract funds, the Dean and Chapter commissioned him to make a report on how the choir could be rearranged which he presented to them in November 1863. This led to a grand fund-raising meeting on 7 April 1864 at Worcester Guildhall presided over by Lord Lyttleton, the Lord Lieutenant.

Lyttleton had already met Scott over the restoration of Hawarden Church in North Wales, which had been badly damaged by fire on 29 October 1859. On 25 July 1839, Lyttleton had married Mary Glynne at a joint ceremony at Hawarden when her sister, Catherine, married Gladstone. Immediately after the fire, a restoration committee was set up which included Gladstone as Treasurer, Sir Stephen Glynne his brother-in-law and the squire of Hawarden, and Lyttleton. Scott repaired the church between 1857-9 and added a squat spire to the central tower.

Scott said that the meeting at Worcester handed over the restoration to a General Committee of local grandees including Lord Lyttleton and the Dean who was the Chairman. It also included Sir Edmund Anthony Harley Lechmere of Rhydd Court, near Malvern, who had been High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1862 and was the head of the Worcester Old Bank. He was an active member of the Society of Antiquaries and in 1876 served on its Council. He was to become a firm friend and admirer of Scott. In 1872 he donated land at Hanley Swan, near Malvern, for a new church which Scott built in a plain thirteenth century style. He later involved Scott in a proposal to rebuild the Guildhall at Worcester and, as Chairman of the Restoration Committee of Tewkesbury Abbey, he first consulted Scott on its restoration in 1864. The grandest and certainly the wealthiest of this galaxy was William Humble Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley of Witley Court. He was one of the richest men in Britain at the time and when he died in 1885, left over £1,026,000. Dudley was well-known as a patron of the arts and brought the talented carver James Forsyth to Worcestershire from his estate in Scotland. As Scott was to discover, he also had a determined nature and, like Grimthorpe, he was quite prepared to use his wealth to secure his aims.

At the Guildhall meeting, Dudley turned out to be the most enthusiastic and generous of all the supporters of the restoration of Worcester Cathedral, but at a price. He donated half of the £12,000 raised at the meeting, on condition that the tower was included in the scheme, but this added another £8,000 to the total cost. He disliked the use of the cathedral for the Three Choirs Festival and hoped that ‘the whole Cathedral were restored as a house of prayer’ and offered to complete the restoration at his own expense, on condition that the festival was discontinued. The annual Three Choirs Festival is a six-day event, which was started in about 1715 and is based in turn in the cathedrals of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. Dudley’s threat eventually focused on the 1875 festival but the restoration had largely been completed by then and the Dean and Chapter managed to placate him by insisting that it would take the form of a series of church services. This concession was sufficient to allow Dudley to continue his contribution, but the 1875 festival was dubbed the ‘Mock Festival’ and local pressure was strong enough to ensure that when the festival returned to Worcester three years later, it would revert to its traditional form.

The Guildhall meeting ensured that sufficient funds were available for Scott to proceed with the refurbishment of the choir of the cathedral in accordance with his report of November 1863. He wrote that he ‘came in at Worcester as a colleague & backer up to Mr Perkins the cathedral Architect & my work has been limited to the fitting up etc of the Choir with some trifling exceptions’. Perkins had removed the old screen and in 1864 Scott proposed a new screen with the keyboard of the organ on top, as Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley, the Precentor of Hereford Cathedral, had recommended. This arrangement would have benefitted the Three Choirs Festival but Dudley opposed the proposal. Therefore Scott withdrew the idea and was instructed to provide a massive organ in the south transept, which he regarded as ‘useless & obtrusive’. He believed his views were ‘suppressed for want of courage to withstand the munificence of Lord Dudley – a feeling in wh. [sic] I sympathize from a sense of his Grand Generosity’. The transept organ was intended to serve the nave and Scott placed another smaller instrument in the aisle to the north of the choir to serve the Choir. This was later extended to become the main cathedral organ while Dudley’s great structure in the transept is now mostly empty.

In place of the screen which Perkins had removed, Scott decided that another transparent screen of the Hereford type was required and Skidmore was immediately commissioned to produce it. It was not until 1873 that it was finally set up. It has the same arrangement as the now missing screens at Hereford and Salisbury but is rather more substantial. The choir stall incorporating medieval work, dated from 1556 with alterations from about 1660. Scott admitted, after Perkin’s death, that:

I fear I am jointly responsible for the removal of the Jacobean & Elizabethan canopies & the Choir screen but I forget how it was [.] The ancient stalls remain. Strangely as an effect of divided responsibility I forget whether there were ancient return stalls.

Scott seems to regret the removal of the return stalls but it was clearly essential that they should be removed for him to achieve the open screen effect. But their loss provided him with the opportunity to rebuild the side stalls in a manner more in keeping with the surviving medieval portions. Scott’s stalls were carved by Farmer and Brindley and incorporate a fine set of medieval misericords. Behind the stalls he placed elaborate gilded screens by Skidmore.

Scott gives the impression that he would have preferred to retain the Jacobean choir at Worcester and its loss was partly due to Perkin’s timidity. But the ferocious Dudley was pushing the idea of opening up the whole cathedral which inevitably meant the removal of the old choir stalls. Perkins, as the resident architect, was a convenient scapegoat who could not answer back but Scott, as usual, probably did not give the work all the attention that it deserved.

In 1868 Dean Peel gave the reredos as a memorial to his wife. It was carved by Farmer and Brindley at a cost of £1,500 and is very elaborate yet effective and altogether much more successful than Scott’s later effort at Salisbury where he was being harassed by Lord Beauchamp. Peel stayed on as Dean until the age of seventy-six, but only a few months after he retired he died, in February 1875. Two years later the new Dean and the canons of the cathedral had the rear of Peel’s reredos incised with a decorative pattern incorporating a cross as a memorial to Peel and his wife.

Scott had drawn out his proposals for the choir vaulting ‘to a great extent’ during the winter of 1870-1 while he was ill and they were carried out in 1871. They were executed ‘under My direction by Mss Hardman Powell’ and consist of medallions containing saints set in a highly elaborate foliated pattern which particularly emphasises the ribs and bosses of the vaulting. In 1986 these decorations were restored to their former glory. Hardmans were Pugin’s favourite stained-glass artists but Scott rarely employed them, perhaps because of their Roman Catholic connections. As Perkins had chosen them to execute the glass for his new east window, they were an obvious choice to decorate the choir vaulting and in 1875 Scott employed them to carry out the great west window to his own design. This is an outstanding work and shows richness in colour and pattern which he had hoped for in his stained glass artists but rarely achieved. The subject is The Creation, with its sequel, the story of Adam and Eve, occupying the central lights.

Around the time of Perkin’s death in 1873, Scott had done other ‘sundry works in the nave’. These included laying a new floor in an elaborate pattern of white and black marbles donated by Dudley, at a cost of between £4,000 and £5,000. The design is said to have been inspired by the floor of Amiens but its bold Greek-key pattern down the centre of the nave flanked by a diamond pattern suggests a classical inspiration. Dudley also provided a new nave pulpit in 1874 which Scott designed in a very rich fourteenth century style and it was carved by Forsyth in alabaster.

Eventually, after twenty years of constant building work under Perkins and Scott, the restoration was finally completed and on Wednesday 8 April 1874, amidst much celebration, the opening services were held. At the banquet which followed, Lyttleton expressed his regret that Perkins had not lived to see the completion of his work and Dudley spoke of Scott’s genius and the high level of workmanship achieved.

Today Worcester is not only one of the few complete and faithfully maintained examples of Scott’s cathedral interiors, but in the glass of the west window and in the decoration of the chancel ceiling, it has two fine illustrations of his skill as a designer. His hectic life-style of constant travelling and meetings had to be suspended during his illness in the winter of 1870-1 and this gave him the rare opportunity to indulge, as he probably felt, in his own creativity and to sit at the drawing board and actually do what he did best as an architect: design.

Scott’s Recollections, I 166, III 332, 334, IV 164-7, 170-4.
Green, B., Bishops and Deans of Worcester (privately published, Worcester, 1979), pp. 55-6.
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), 81 [b].
Ede, W. M., The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary of Worcester … (Phillips and Probert, Worcester, 1925), pp. 229-32.
Ferriday, P., Lord Grimthorpe 1816-1905 (John Murray, London, 1957), p. 68.
Pevsner, N., Worcestershire, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1968), p. 106.
Morley, J., The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (Edward Lloyd Ltd, London, 1908).
Pritchard, W., St Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden (Much Wenlock,1997), p. 8.
Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 19 April 1873.
Miele, C., in Parry, L. (ed.), William Morris (Philip Wilson, London, 1996), p. 75.
Complete Peerage, IV pp. 490-1.
Pardoe, B., Witley Court and Church, Life and Luxury in a Great Country House (P. Huxtable Designs, Great Witley, 1986).
Sadie, S. (ed.), The New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Macmillan, London, 2001), vol. XXV, pp. 431-3.
Parrott, I., Elgar in the Master Musicians Series (Dent, London, 1971), p. 3.
Pevsner, N., and Metcalf, P., The Cathedrals of England: Midland, Eastern and Northern England (Viking, Harmondsworth, 1985), pp. 310, 327, 329-30.
Cobb, G., English Cathedrals, The Forgotten Centuries, Restoration and Change from 1530 to the Present Day (Thames and Hudson, London, 1980), p. 162.
Pitkin Guide to Worcester Cathedral, p. 12.
Meara, D., Victorian Memorial Brasses (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1983), p. 30.
Harrison, M., Victorian Stained Glass (Barrie and Jenkins, 1980), p. 78.
Pamphlet in Worcester Library, W.081.

Lyttleton and Dudley Monument, Worcester Cathedral, Worcester

In 1876 Lord Lyttleton ‘killed himself in an attack of constitutional melancholia’. A superb monument, designed by Scott, was raised in the retrochoir of Worcester Cathedral to his memory. The white marble effigy was carved by Forsyth in 1878, with attending angels in the corners and placed on an elaborate tomb-chest of different coloured marbles. When Lord Dudley died in 1885, he was given an equally outstanding monument in the corresponding position on the opposite side of the retrochoir, thus making that part of the cathedral into a special memorial space for its two greatest Victorian benefactors. Dudley’s tomb is very similar to Lyttleton’s, with a white marble effigy carved by Forsyth in 1888, on an open arcaded base of alabaster and green marble. The design was by Scott, but it was not erected until ten years after Scott’s death.

Concise Dictionary of National Biography, p. 805.
Pevsner, N., and Metcalf, P., The Cathedrals of England: Midland, Eastern and Northern England (Viking, Harmondsworth, 1985), p. 126.