The procedure for getting early commissions for buildings was much the same as with the workhouses, with either Scott or Moffatt visiting the client to obtain his requirements and then inspecting the site. They then returned to Spring Gardens
to produce a sketch scheme, which was probably drawn out neatly by one of their assistants or ‘clerks’ as they were known. The partners would then take the scheme back to the client for approval and if satisfied, would return and instruct the clerks to produce the drawing and specifications to enable the builder to price the building. These were then sent to the builders who Scott and Moffatt felt were competent to carry out their work, perhaps in consultation with their clients. This pre-contract information was usually much less extensive than with modern buildings; the smallest builders were often capable of producing a high standard of craftsmanship. Even the despised Willmore at Gawcott, with an amateur's drawings, produced work which would be considered excellent by today's standards. Detailed drawings or amendments, if required, were often made by the Clerk of Works as the work proceeded. Scott only visited his buildings in the course of their erection very occasionally, with the supervision being left to his peripatetic Clerk of Works riding around between the various jobs. These men either came from a building background or were assistants seconded from the office. The big restorations required a trusted colleague to be stationed on site, as in the case of Burlison at Chesterfield, or Mortimer at Stafford. Scott himself was probably able to keep a close watch on Boston, and at the same time give Caroline and the children a break from the confines of Spring Gardens with her parents.
Scott recalls that about this time, ‘My church practice rapidly increased in quantity and in merit’. He started taking pupils and the premiums he could charge, which in the case of Sir Thomas Graham Jackson in 1858 was three hundred guineas, became a helpful source of additional income. Benjamin Woolfield Mountford was articled to Scott and Moffatt between 1841 and 1846, while Scott’s first pupil is often considered to be George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) who joined Scott's office in 1845.
It is tempting to trace the growth of Scott's work with the development of the railways. Certainly after the railway network was fully in place in 1855, his practice grew considerably, but before then it is difficult to establish any correlation between the transport system and the situation of various jobs. The Swindon works from the outset would, of course, have been very accessible from London on the Great Western Railway, but the railway did not reach Boston until 1848, and even the main Great Northern line did not reach Peterborough until 1845. Inevitably Scott relied on horse-drawn vehicles, whether for the whole or part of the journeys to his works. It seems likely that he hired post-chaises, or coaches, according to his needs, as in 1845 he thought Moffatt was extravagant for keeping four horses. The astonishing aspect of Scott and Moffatt's work was the size and widespread nature of their practice in a period when travelling at ten-miles-an-hour was considered to be fast. It must have taken twenty-four hours allowing for stops, to travel from London to Boston.
The fact that Scott says that his ‘Sons, pupils, & assistants worked most assiduously’ on the illustrations for his first Royal Academy lectures indicates the scale of his resources in the middle years of the 1850s. His office was very large organisation. Long-running works, such as Ely, St Nicholas's and Westminster Abbey, could not be relied upon to ensure the future of an office on this scale. In spite of his massive church-building and restoration practice, his obvious dislike of the dictatorial methods of the Ecclesiologists and their suspicions about his Evangelical leanings and the advance of their High Church favourites, such as Butterfield, Carpenter and Street, left Scott looking for a new route along which to proceed.
Scott was now at the height of his fame for his stance against Palmerston. He was also so confident in the smooth-running of the Spring Gardens organisation that he could now for the first time, afford to be absent for two months. From Jackson's account, life at Spring Gardens was a frantic rush for Scott, and no doubt the retreat to Scarborough at the end of August 1859, was to escape from this, and give himself a chance to quietly think out how he could evolve a new design for the Foreign Office, which would satisfy Palmerston and yet square with his own carefully worked-out ideas on secular architecture. The fact that he intended to give the design his sole and undivided attention for two months, shows how important he considered it to be.
According to the sculptor Harry Hems his office
represented the very best Gothic men in the country. And the system that prevailed … was simply marvellous. Contractors were never kept waiting by the hour, as was and is sometimes the case in minor architect’s offices; details and everything else were always ready to the minute.
Compared with Street, Scott did not draw all the details with his own hand, ‘but he had at his command splendid specialists who did what he wanted, and who, always in complete touch with their work, had everything ready as it was required. Sir Thomas Graham Jackson (1835-1924), who had entered Scott's office as a pupil the year before Scott’s climb down over the Foreign Office design, gives an account of what he found when he arrived there:
Scott's office was a very large one. Counting pupils, salaried assistants, and clerks, I think we were twenty-seven in all. I was put to work in the first-floor room at the back with six others; there were about a dozen more in two rooms on the second floor; the ground-floor front room, which served also as the waiting room, was the sanctum of Mr. Burlison, the head man, who made the estimates and surveys. Scott's own room was the ground-floor back, and farther back still were the writing-clerk and the office-boys.
Scott may have been interested in architectural education, but the 300 guinea premium required from intending pupils was an enormous sum, which casts doubt on his altruism. With five or six pupils at any one time, he had a useful supplement to his fee income, but it also meant that his pupils came from comfortably-off middle-class backgrounds, like Jackson, whose father was a London solicitor. It is also a measure of Scott's national reputation that well-to-do parents, from all over Britain, would pay this amount of money for their sons to enter what was considered to the best office in the country.
Because of the reputation of the ‘Spring Gardens Academy’, Scott could hardly afford to look upon his pupils as a free form of labour, as happened in Pecksniffian offices, and they seem to have been able to do things that had little to do with the office work-load. Jackson says that his first task was to draw to a different scale, an elevation of Tintern Abbey, which was certainly not one of Scott's commissions, and the pupils seem to have had the run of the office. When ‘sketches came up for some new “job” we fell upon them and metaphorically tore them to pieces’. Architectural argument apparently raged in the office and to describe anything as medieval was the ultimate accolade. At one time Garner fell into raptures over the design of the hansom cab, which although designed by an architect who had no medieval pretentions, it was described by Garner as, ‘so - so - so medieval!’
However, Ralph Neville, who had been a pupil of Scott’s between 1866 and 1869, gave an insight into Scott’s method of working:
He was most kind in directing them [his pupils] as to what books and buildings they should study. He had a marvellous capacity for work, and was most conscientious in all that he did. Nearly every drawing for every single detail and moulding went through his hands, receiving revision where necessary, which generally happened to be the case. It had been sometimes imagined that, with his very large practice, a great deal of work was done in his office of which he knew very little, but such was not the case. The amount of work he got through was marvellous, - many hours that other men devoted to social pleasures being spent by him at home in going through the drawings of the works he had in hand.
During Scott's numerous absences, it seems that Burlison, in the front room, was in charge, with Scott's multitudinous commissions being run by the salaried assistants supervised by the head men of the various other rooms. Richard Coad was in charge of what Jackson calls the lower room, presumably he means the first floor rear room as this was the lowest of the three drawing offices, with someone he calls John Bignold, ‘a perfect mine of information on building construction, whose soul was wrapped up in the office’, in charge of what Jackson calls ‘the upper room’, presumably meaning the second floor rooms. This is almost certainly Joseph Maltby Bignell, who was a pupil of Scott and Moffatt, and seems to have stayed at Spring Gardens as a senior member of the office until after 1882, after Scott's death, and not long before his own.
Jackson reveals much about the relationship between Scott and his office and his method of working. With his room between Burlison's and the writing clerk and the office boys, Scott was physically closer to the administration of his practice than its design work, which was actually carried out in the somewhat remote upper parts of the building. According to Jackson, he ‘had a wonderful power of making rapid expressive sketches’, which were passed to the heads of the different rooms, who then with their knowledge of construction, ‘were able to produce work which, curiously enough, did fall into something of a consistent style that passed for Gilbert Scott's’.
As a pupil Jackson, however, saw little of him.
He was up to the eyes in engagements and it was hard to get him to look at our work. I have seen three or four men with drawings awaiting correction or approval grouped outside his door. The door flew open and out he came: 'No time to-day!'; the cab was at the door and he was whirled away to some cathedral where he would spend a couple of hours and then fly off again to some other great work at the other end of the kingdom. Now and then the only chance of getting instructions was to go with him in the cab to the station.
Scott's own work was subjected to the sharp fire of criticism and sometimes fared badly at the hands of pupils. Clearly he was no autocrat, and although busy and somewhat remote, he tried to ensure that his office was something more than a plan factory. In fact the picture that Jackson gives, verges on the chaotic, and it must have been the organisational skills of Burlison, and perhaps Caroline at home, which gave Scott his reputation for being business-like and reliable.
In spite of his somewhat off-hand manner in the office, Jackson obviously liked Scott, and portrays him as a pleasant, almost unworldly, character. At their first meeting he said of Scott:
His negligent dress and ill-brushed hat were counterbalanced by a certain unconscious dignity in his manner and were part of the modesty and simplicity of the man. He would stand still in the middle of the road and take out a case of pencils and a notebook and would illustrate by a sketch what he was saying. I was much touched by the freedom and absence of pretension with which he discussed architecture with me, a mere tyro and a youngster with the merest smattering of knowledge on the subject.
At this personal level, Jackson's comments only reflect the universal warmth that was shown towards Scott. Even some of his fiercest opponents, like Palmerston and Grimthorpe, clearly had a liking for him, and although this feeling was sometimes not reciprocal, as his Recollections
reveal, in his desire to appear in the best light and not to offend anyone, he kept his feelings tightly bottled-up. However, as his interview with Jackson shows, he had a genuine desire to help younger men. When showing a group of students, which included the future novelist Thomas Hardy, around Westminster Abbey, Hardy was deeply touched by the great architect’s humility in front of the students’ questioning.
The academic aspect of the office was considerably enhanced in February 1866 with the formation of the Spring Gardens Sketching Club, under the leadership of Micklethwaite, who had just then completed his pupilage. The intention was to encourage sketching and all pupils, assistants, along with former members of the office and some others, became its members. The rules were that each member would submit a sketch, or measured sketch, for publication, and defaulters would have to pay a fine which went towards the publication expenses. The idea of sketching as a way of finding out about architecture was, of course, one of Scott's favourite theories and he accepted the presidency of the club. But did not submit anything himself for publication and left it very much in the hands of his staff. At first annual volumes appeared, but eventually they became rather more sparse and the club was finally wound-up in May 1890.
That Scott could leave the Spring Gardens office to run on its own for six months while he travelled round Europe in 1873, ostensibly to recuperate his health, shows how smooth-running an organisation it was. This seems to have been largely based on the affection and respect in which he was held by the staff but there had also been some important changes since Jackson’s time. His long-term chief assistant, John Burlinson, had died in 1868 and Richard Coad left in the same year to open his own office in Duke Street, off The Strand. That left Joseph Maltby Bignell as the head man with Charles Baker King, John Medland and Arthur Baker among the senior staff. Scott’s private secretary, George Wood, would have kept him informed about the business of the practice during his absence.
The visit to Germany in August 1876 was the last time that Scott went abroad but there is no indication from his sketchbooks that there was any let-up in his pursuit of work nearer home. Although the Albert Memorial, St Pancras and the Government Offices were all completed by 1876, to say that his practice was ‘falling off’, as he did in his Recollections
, is another example of Scott’s paranoia. In fact Spring Gardens had never been busier. St Mary’s Edinburgh and Glasgow University were the largest new buildings. When it came to restorations, Scott was still working on his beloved Westminster Abbey as well as Ely, Lichfield, Salisbury, Bridlington, Selby, Tewkesbury, Beverley and St Albans. George Gilbert junior helped his father at Salisbury but it was John Oldrid who assisted Scott on the rest of these major works.
When Scott died in 1878, the tributes paid to Scott were universal in emphasising his personal qualities. They praised his affability and charm, his modesty and self-effacement, his kindliness, generosity and scholarship. Grimthorpe confessed that he was, himself, a ‘wilful man’ and had had occasional differences of opinion with Scott:
but he had never known a professional man of any kind who was so thoroughly candid, so ready to listen to what could be said against his views, and so ready to confess to a mistake when he found he had made one … he was the most honest, the most forebearing, and, in every sense of the word, the pleasantest man he had ever met with.
Street said that he had known Scott since he first entered Scott’s office over thirty-three years ago. He was able to bear ‘testimony to the extreme courtesy, kindness, and considerateness displayed towards the, in some cases, troublesome young men he had in his office. His modesty was a marked characteristic of his nature’. Ewan Christian also said that Scott was ‘the kindest and pleasantest man he had ever known’, Even if these compliments were only partially true, they give the impression of someone who was unlikely to have commanded such a powerful organisation as his Spring Gardens office. How was it possible for such a man to build up the biggest architectural practice in Britain from nothing and to leave a small fortune?
Certainly he had a steely determination to succeed and the skill to design some of the best buildings of his age. And he drove himself with unremitting energy. But he could not have achieved his success without the whole-hearted backing of his office. It was the personality of Scott himself that inspired his staff. He was extremely generous but it was in his nature that his many acts of kindness should have gone unrecorded. It is an indicator of Scott’s attitude to his staff, that he treated most of them very generously when they were trying to establish themselves as independent architects. In 1860 he allowed his former pupil W. H. Crossland to set up in practice in Halifax by letting him take over Akroydon and this led to further work from Colonel Akroyd. When Jackson started out on his own in 1862, Scott was restoring Ketton Church in Rutland and he handed over the restoration of the chancel to Jackson and invited him ‘to make all you can of my office in any way which you think will help you’. In 1867, when John Drayton Wyatt set up on his own, Scott passed over all his work for the Dent family to him. This included the restorations of Sudeley Castle and Winchcombe Church. But with his sudden death, his inspirational powers had come to an abrupt end.
The disintegration of his office started with the immediate departure of Weatherley and Jones and they were followed by Arthur Baker. The brothers, George Gilbert and John Oldrid, inherited Spring Gardens as a going concern but the loss of their father was not only a blow to the morale of the office, it also affected the acquisition of work. According to E. W. Godwin, it was his ‘"gentil" courtesy that secured Scott in the good opinion of those he served, and which was one of the main things on which his success depended’. The brothers had decided to avoid their father’s scramble for work but as Charles Baker King wrote to Irvine in 1884, they had found it ‘difficult to obtain the more important works’ and by 1883, only King and John Norton of Scott’s old team were left in the office.
Another factor that led to the decline of the brothers’ office was the change in restoration work. Not only were there fewer restorations to be carried out but John’s continuation of his father’s approach was out-dated in the face of the campaign led by Morris and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. In practice, however, the Spring Gardens Academy provided its members with a solid foundation for restoration work from which even Morris benefitted. Hugh Thakeray Turner had been articled to Scott but in November 1878 he departed from John to go to George’s office and in February 1883 he left there to become the first salaried Secretary of the Society where, of course, he was in constant touch with Morris. And Micklethwaite, who had left Scott’s office in 1869, became one of the S.P.A.B.’s preferred architects. But, despite this and the lasting influence of the Spring Gardens alumni, Morris never changed his opinion about Scott.