W. R. Lethaby, the leading exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement and a friend of Morris, in his biography of Philip Webb published in 1935 stated the usual early twentieth century view of Scott:
Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-78) made his way, by remarkable powers of energy and persistence, to a position of eminence and prosperity. It is told that once having left town by the six o’clock train, the ‘office’ on slackly assembling, found a telegram from a Midland station asking ‘Why am I here?’ On another journey he is said to have noticed a church that was being built and to have inquired who was the architect – ‘Sir Gilbert Scott’. These are doubtless fictions, but tales tell.
Further on Lethaby is even crueler when he contrasts Butterfield with Scott. One represents a group of architects who were what he calls the ‘hards’, these were thinkers and constructors, while the other represented the ‘softs’, who were primarily sketchers and exhibitors of ‘designs’. As late as 1958 Henry-Russell Hitchcock described Scott as ‘never a really great architect but a notable self-publicist’, who operated something akin to an American ‘plan-factory’. But it was Hitchcock, along with Pevsner, Casson and Betjeman who led the revival of interest in Victorian architecture in the mid 1950s. The appreciation of Scott was slow to gain momentum and in the meantime his buildings were neglected, threatened and demolished. This has recently come to fruition with the restoration of Scott’s major works, the Albert Memorial, the Foreign Office and St Pancras Station, with the acknowledgment of the enduring power of his skill as an architect and not least, as a preserver of old buildings.
In the published Recollections
, Scott does come over as a rather self-important publicist, which is far from the truth. He was, in fact, modest, generous, somewhat shy and self-effacing. He suffered from a private paranoia, which led to some extraordinary outbursts recorded in the Recollections
, but in public, he kept his inner feelings bottled-up. He is also often presented as a businessman, whose aim was to accumulate wealth, but this is not true. Certainly he did make a large amount of money, but this seems to have been almost incidental in his quest to design beautiful buildings. He had no grasp of business and had to rely on his financially astute wife to organise his affairs. Even when he had amassed a small fortune towards the end of his life, he was completely oblivious to his wealth and thought that it was necessary to be more economical in his lifestyle. His rise from humble beginnings, as the son of a vicar, to the predominant architect of his day with his funeral held at Westminster Abbey, is perhaps the quintessential tale of the Victorian self-made man. This site aims to document his life’s work and is based on the research of one man.
Ian Toplis trained as an architect during the 1950s, based in and around London. He was working on post-war building schemes to help rebuild the infrastructure when he became interested in Victorian architecture and specifically, George Gilbert Scott, at the point when many of his buildings were under threat.
Gaining a teaching post in architecture at Thames Polytechnic, which later became the University of Greenwich, Ian took a sabbatical to undertake a PhD to research the building of the Foreign Office which was published as a book in 1987 [Toplis, I., The Foreign Office, an Architectural History
(Mansell Publishing, London and New York, 1987)]. An acknowledged expert on the Foreign Office and on Scott, he lectured on both subjects, leading tours round the building on open days and publishing papers in academic journals. On his retirement in 1992, he devoted the remainder of his life to researching the life of Scott, hoping to publish his research as a biography.
Sadly, he passed away before the task was completed. This website is partly memorial to him and his passion, and partly to Scott, who work has also shaped the lives of other family members. It is derived entirely from Ian’s research over the years and it is hoped will inform future research for those interested in Scott.
Information is freely given, in the spirit of academic cooperation, although please credit the source.
All mistakes are our own, and any errors, typos or corrections spotted, or indeed additions, please contact the administrator.