In 1836, the partners produced an explanation of the particular benefits of their plan, which was sent to the unions that they were canvassing. They were clearly trying to produce answers to the criticisms that had been levelled at Kempthorne’s standard layouts. Their most obvious change was to make the entrance through an arched gateway in the centre of a detached single-storey entrance range, containing the porters lodge, the chapel and the board room where the public had contact with the inmates without being involved in the harsh realities of their supervised day-to-day existence. This took place in a three storey range parallel to the entrance range, in the centre of which was an octagonal three or four storey tower, often capped with a lantern. This, as in Kempthorne’s plans, was the residence of the Master and Matron, but unlike the model plans, which assumed that they would be married, provision was made for the octagon to be divided into separate residences. But the main improvement was the provision of a separate infirmary block at the rear of the workhouse, instead of the sick, often with infectious diseases, being accommodated at the ends of the main sleeping areas. The new separate entrance block, with its big double height archway, also provided an opportunity for some sort of architectural display. The arch was very classical in detail, with its voisoirs picked out and placed between pilasters, and capped by a pediment. Inside the archway there was usually stone vaulting. The lower wings on either side of the arch, containing the chapel and boardroom, had well proportioned Georgian windows separated by pilasters.
The circular shows the partners’ genuine concern about the paupers who had to inhabit their buildings and these changes were clearly designed to give the workhouse a more human and welcoming face, which in some instances, such as Horncastle, was further emphasised by a long approach avenue. The enthusiasm with which they set about implementing the conditions of the Poor Law Act perhaps indicates that the youthful partners believed that it would produce a better life for the poor, and that the criticisms that were already being levelled at the system could be answered by improvements to the design of the building. Although personal contacts provided the firm with its initial commissions, competitions increasingly became an important means of getting work for Sir George Gilbert Scott and Moffatt. Every week they went to Peele’s Coffee House in Fleet Street, where all the newspapers were kept, to search those from the provinces for advertisements for workhouse competitions. Scott was later extremely critical of the competition arrangements, which ‘were open in every sense and each competitor was at liberty to take any step he thought good’. The Guardians, beyond knowing how many paupers they required to be housed, seemed to have had little idea of their building requirements, and only allowed the minimum possible time for the submission of schemes.
Moffatt had apparently overcome his misgivings about his appearance as he would travel to the place where the workhouse was to be built and interview the Chairman and Clerk of the Board along with any other Guardians who had ideas about the proposed building. He then returned to Carlton Chambers, where ‘we set to work with violence to make the design & prepare the competition drawings often working all night as well as all day’. Moffatt ‘was the best arranger of a plan the hardest worker & the best hand at advocating the merits of what he had to propose I ever met with … Constantly communicating with the most experienced governors’ to improve its layout, while Scott probably drew the perspectives, which he felt were ‘regarded as attractive elements in a competition’. In May 1834, he wrote to The Architectural Magazine defending the use of highly finished drawings showing the proposed building set in an attractive landscape with water-colour washes indicating the form of the building. They would then rush at the last moment to the General Post Office at St. Martin’s-le-Grand, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, or The Angel at Islington, to send off their drawings, or to set off themselves with their work, to submit to the Guardians. Scott describes the excitement that he felt travelling on the box seat of a mail coach which ‘cleared eleven miles an hour all the way down, stoppings included! It was a splendid perfection of machinery, but its fate was sealed the great lines of railway being in rapid progress’.
One of the many benefits to basing their practice in London were the lines of mail coaches radiating from London which enabled Scott and Moffatt to reach all parts of England, and this pattern was reinforced when the first railway terminals were opened in London in 1838. In the coaching days, Moffatt ‘would start off by the mail travell [sic] all night, meet the Board of Guardians, & perhaps win the competition & return during the next night & set to work on another design’. As Scott recalls, prior to the submission date for schemes there was nothing to prevent the competitors advocating the merits of their individual schemes to any of the Guardians:
While on the day on which the designs were to be examined the competitors were usually waiting in the ante-room & were called in one by one to give personal explanations & the decision was often announced then & there to the assembled candidates. Moffatt was most successful in this kind of fighting having an instinctive perception of which men to aim at pleasing and of how to meet their views and to address himself successfully to meet their particular temperaments.
Scott found that with competitions in particular, the Guardians would select the most attractive looking building: ‘external appearance began to timidly to be thought of and estimates stealthily to creep upwards and many a row and uproar did this produce, to the joy of disappointed competitors’. Scott established that the local Guardians were inclined to have a good looking building that worked well, rather than adhere too closely to the rigours of the Commissioners at Somerset House. No doubt this was another advantage of the practice being within a few minutes walk of Somerset House, where special cases could be pleaded by the two partners.
The peak of workhouse building for Scott and Moffatt were the two years of 1837 and 1838, when thirty buildings were being built at an average cost of £5,000. This would produce for the partnership over £5,000 of fees. So from comparative poverty at the time of the death of his father in February 1835, Scott some three years later, at the age of twenty-seven, would have had an income approaching £2,000 a year. It is not surprising that he now decided that he had sufficient means to overcome his mother’s reservations about the Scotts having designs on the Oldrid money, and he and Caroline decided to get married.
Liskeard was authorised in 1837 and was built to a Scott and Moffatt plan in 1839, in a classical style, and predominantly Scott’s influence. There was no arch between the entrance blocks, just gates. Intended to accommodate 350 inmates, the Poor Law Commissioners authorised the sum of £5,250 on its construction. The building is now partly demolished with the upper floors gone.
Murray, [King, R. J.], Handbook to the Cathedrals of England, Southern Division Part I, Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Wells (John Murray, London, 1861), p. 644.
Scott’s Recollections, I 285-9, 292-3.