Scott's greatest project for Bishop Thirlwall was the restoration of his cathedral at St. David’s which continued long after both men had died. It is the largest cathedral in Wales and bigger than several English cathedrals, such as Rochester and Ripon. But it is situated at the end of a remote peninsular, over eighty miles from Brecon and far from any town, although the little village which grew up around it has been given city status.
In the early 1840s an Oxford student, William Basil Jones (1822-1897), whose home was at Llangynfelyn, north of Aberystwyth, became fascinated with the crumbling old cathedral. He wrote some ‘very pretty verses’ about it and encouraged his fellow students to travel there during the long vacations for reading parties. Chief among these was Edward Freeman, who was to graduate from Trinity College at the same time as Jones and became his life-long friend. At Oxford, he organised a fund to restore the great screen under the western arch of the tower which Bishop Gower had set up in the fourteenth century to incorporate his own tomb. Freeman's early enthusiasm for architecture, apparently kindled by Jones, resulted in the first of his many books. A History of Architecture
, which was published in 1849 when he was twenty-five years old, is dedicated to Jones ‘in memory of the pleasure and instruction derived from many happy hours spent in his society’, and it is here that he praises St. Nicholas at Hamburg. He later collaborated with Jones to produce The History and Antiquities of St. David's
which came out in four parts starting in 1852, and as a complete volume in 1856. It is dedicated to Thirlwall.
Scott first saw St. David’s during a tour of south Wales ‘about 1853 or 4’ as he wrote inside the cover of one of his sketch books. It has several sketches of the cathedral, including a particularly good one of the western bays of the nave, which he used in one of his 1858 Academy lectures. He is acknowledged by Jones and Freeman for a contribution towards their work and it is clear that by 1858, when he was commissioned by Thirlwall to report on St. David’s, that he was fairly familiar with the building.
Although William Butterfield was already working on the cathedral it is obvious why Scott was chosen to supersede him. Butterfield was not known for his restoration work while Scott's name alone could attract funds. Thirlwall was clearly an admirer of Scott, as he later described him as ‘one of the most experienced and eminent architects of our day’ and Butterfield's high church tendency had now become clear. So once again, Scott was able to oust a highly respected and competent fellow architect. St. David’s was not the only time that Butterfield had suffered from an intervention by Scott. In 1843 he had expected to win the competition for St. Mark's at Swindon, but Scott won instead, and at the same time as he lost St. David’s, Scott took over Dorchester Abbey, near Oxford, from him. In spite of supplanting him at least three times, Scott seems to have respected Butterfield and mentions him twice in the Remarks
, but how Butterfield felt about Scott can only be guessed at. Personal contact between the two men may have been limited to the Athenaeum Clubhouse, where both men were members. Scott's lack of remorse when he took work away from other architects was in sharp contrast to his outrage over the Foreign Office. It was only a few months after he ousted Butterfield at St. David’s that he accused Charles Barry junior of attempting ‘to wrest a work from the hands of a brother architect’.
In the report on St. David’s, which Scott produced in the spring of 1858, he drew heavily on Jones and Freeman's History
for background material but he also stated that old building was in an appalling state and would need a vast sum of money spent on it. He estimated that between £27,500 and £30,000 would be required to restore it. This huge sum, according to The Builder
, ‘seems to have frightened the Dean and Chapter’ into doing nothing. Certainly Scott would have been grateful for the delay as, of course, he was soon to be overwhelmed by the Foreign Office.
The period of inactivity came to an end with a public meeting on 28 October 1863, at Carmarthen, at which Thirlwall again presided. He said that he thought the problem in raising funds was the remoteness of St. David’s, as it was unknown to many and had few visitors. He quoted Scott's report extolling its virtues. But the state of the tower ‘is in the highest degree alarming’, the building ‘partly by neglect and still more by good intentions misdirected and perverted by ignorance and weak judgement’, was in an appalling condition, but he said, ‘I am sure the name of Mr. Scott is a sufficient guarantee that not a single superfluous stone will be added to the building - nothing more than is absolutely necessary to bring out its genuine and original character. (Applause.)’
After that amazing panegyric, Scott, inevitably, was more prosaic with his dull practicalities. The ‘walls and pavements were literally streaming with water’, but it was the great tower that was in the most urgent need of attention. This, for Scott, was yet another central tower problem but aggravated by the desire of the medieval bishops of St. David’s to make their cathedral visible above the surrounding hills, without, it seems, properly considering the effect of the weight of extra stories on the structure below. He was clearly confident that he was now the master of such situations, but he tried to frighten his audience by reminding them about the fall of the tower and spire of Chichester Cathedral in 1861, due, so he said, to lack of funds. Therefore £30,000 was needed to bring the cathedral into a ‘seemly and safe state of repair’. At the end Lord Dynevor proposed a yearly expenditure of £3,000 or £4,000, and it was agreed that they should take immediate steps to repair and restore the building in conformity with Scott's report. Thirlwall promised £1,000, the Dean and Chapter another £1,000, and Lord Dynevor, £500. There were other donations, and later the Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave £10,000 towards the work.
Although Scott had said that the tower was ‘actually threatening to fall’, it was not until 12 January 1866, two years after the meeting, that repairs were started on the north-west tower pier. The two western tower piers were the oldest, having been retained after the tower fell in 1220, but by Scott's time they were ‘more alarmingly shattered than anything I have witnessed elsewhere’. Timber beams were passed through the nave roof to hold up the tower while the piers below were being reconstructed. But as the upper stories of the tower were also ‘split from top to bottom by gaping cracks of vast width’, iron ties were inserted to bind it together. A considerable amount of liquid cement was injected in the piers and walls to bond the shattered masonry. He opened up the inside of the tower to let light in and thus produced one of the most dramatic features of the cathedral, with daylight illuminating his highly decorated lantern. Scott then turned his attention to the chancel where the walls had been raised in the fifteenth century. Here the Perpendicular east window was ‘of inferior Stone & was so decayed as to need renewal’, and he was therefore able to indulge in detective work. He found cills of four older lancets beneath the window, and on discovering that the heightened side walls contained stones from the older windows, he said:
I determined on a bolder course than usual & took down the added walling for the treasure buried in it & having secured that treasure rebuilt it. This gave me the details of the Eastern lancets - in design perfectly & in great measure the actual stonework fit to be reused, So that the lights are now replaced in part with their old material, wholly of their old design.
Scott gives the impression that he had vandalized the higher fifteenth century walls solely to extract some of their stonework, but as it was ten years after the work when he wrote this passage, perhaps he had forgotten that there were other reasons why he had taken down the later walling.
The chancel roof is an ornate fifteenth century panelled structure, built at the same time as the walls were raised and the east window inserted, but in Scott's time there were great struts spanning across the chancel and spoiling the view of the fine roof. They may have been the remains of the old roof, but they served little structural purpose and by rebuilding the side walls and strengthening and repairing the fifteenth century roof, they could be safely removed. Freeman criticised the inconsistency of Scott's approach in removing the Perpendicular east window and replacing it with a thirteenth century design, but having removed the side walls, he thought that Scott should have restored the whole chancel to its original thirteenth century design with lower eaves and a steeply pitched roof. Scott ignored this criticism in the 1872 account of St. David’s in his Recollections
, but when it came to 1877, what may have been a passing remark by Freeman had grown into an issue of such importance in Scott's mind that he felt that he had to set down a three-point justification for his approach.
1. The perpendicular window was rotten & I had found the older one; 2. The perpendicular roof was handsome & susceptible of reparation & the old one was of plain square timbers 3. I knew what the East end had been up to the foot of the Gable & thus far I could restore it with absolute certainty & in a considerable degree with its own actual material & workmanship but I knew nothing whatever of the older design of the older gable. I therefore took the intermediate course preserving & replacing all I knew of the earlier work & beyond this preserving the later work …
Externally Scott linked his four lancets with blank arcading and was able to install stained glass donated by ‘My late dear friend The Rev. John Lucy of Hampton Lucy as a memorial to Bp. Lucy’. John Lucy (1790-1874), was the Rector of Hampton Lucy, near Stratford-upon-Avon, and in 1856 commissioned Scott to add a High Victorian chancel, with an ornate eight-sided apse, to his church. His claim that William Lucy (1594-1677), who was Bishop of St. David’s between 1660 and 1677, was an ancestor of his is far from straightforward. But he attempted to establish his Lucy credentials at St. David’s by not only providing the four stained glass windows but also by filling the three blank windows below with glass mosaics designed by Salviati.
In 1869 Scott produced a second report, in which he states that although £18,000 had already been spent, £11,000 was still required for the interior, the walls and the roofs. Canon James Allen (1802-1897) succeeded as Chancellor in November 1870. Scott said of him, ‘a more admirable man could not be’. He was a keen member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association and gave large grants to enable various parts of the cathedral to be restored including oak vaulting in the north transept, following marks ‘on the walls but never executed’.
The work continued with repairing the nave with its ‘beautiful oak ceiling of the 16th. Century’ and, at about this time, Charles Baker King took over the supervision of the work from Mr Clear. It is perhaps not surprising that Jackson does not remember King, as he seems to have supervised a number of Scott's far-flung restorations and probably only visited Spring Gardens occasionally. In 1861, he exhibited a drawing at the Architectural Exhibition of St. Mary in Castro in Dover Castle, which Scott was restoring at the time, and he was also involved with Scott's restorations of Tawstock and Totnes churches in Devon, which both started in 1867.
King's first contact with St. David’s was early in 1865, when he made a fine set of measured drawings of Gower's screen, but by September 1872, he was representing Scott at the meetings of the restoration committee. On 13 September he reported that the restoration of the nave and its fine ceiling was nearly complete and that a concrete floor, covered in stone slabs, was being laid at a cost of £3,400.
Canon Allen also paid for the restoration of Gower's three-storied chapter house which, after 1795, housed the Grammar School and the cathedral library. The work included a new roof, a new triangular window following the form of the old one in the east gable, and replacement windows on the north and east sides. It must have been soon after the completion of the chapter house that Thirlwall, at the age of seventy-seven, blind and partially paralysed, decided, in May 1874, to resign his bishopric and retire to Bath. He had seen the completion of Brecon and the major work on St. David’s, with only the eastern chapels, the porch, the west front and the south transept still remaining to be restored. He was a great supporter of Scott and his work. Scott must have been upset to loose such an enthusiastic ally when there was still this work to be done. However Scott must have been pleased that Disraeli had decided that Basil Jones should move back from York to become Thirlwall's successor. Scott had reviewed his book about St. David’s and is listed as one of the subscribers, while his extensive use of Jones's work in his first report demonstrates a genuine appreciation of Jones's scholarship.
After Thirlwall's death, in July 1875, various discussions took place about the form of a suitable memorial. A meeting was held at Trinity College, Cambridge early in 1876 followed by another in Westminster Abbey, which must have suited Scott well and made Thirlwall's memorial into a national issue. It was decided that rather than erecting a monumental figure, his memorial would be a restored west front to St. David’s. Canon Allen once again became a major contributor to the fund and, on 24 October 1876, King visited St. David’s to start the reconstruction of the front.
The existing west front had been designed by John Nash and, in spite of being less than sixty years old, was completely shattered. Its reconstruction was therefore as much a structural necessity as a desire to remove the reviled Nash's clumsy effort. Scott unearthed an old drawing in the Society of Antiquaries and produced a design which related to the Transitional style of the nave. Perhaps in an attempt to show that this work was a reconstruction, the front is built entirely in the local purplish stone from a quarry at Caerfai, just to the south of the cathedral. Although Scott had used this stone to repair other parts of the building, grey stone predominates elsewhere, and the west front appears to be an alien addition. The work was not very far advanced at the time of his death and it could be that it was King or John Oldrid Scott who decided that the whole front should be built of Caerfai stone.
As with Selby, St. David’s provided the Scott family with work for many years. John Oldrid took over the west front and, as late as July 1895, issued a drawing showing details of the south aisle window. He also completed the south transept and started on the roof and vaulting of the Lady Chapel in June 1900. His son, Charles Marriot Oldrid Scott (1880-1952), made a drawing for the roof to the northern chapel, alongside the Lady Chapel, in 1904 and carried out work on the southern chapel, for which he was claiming fees as late as 1914.