George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church

I’m four days in to a new project looking at the neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This 16-month project is part of a larger Leverhume-funed one led by Professor Sam McKinstry at University of West of Scotland, investigating Gilbert Scott’s highly-successful business networks.

George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was the leading neo-gothic architect of his day in terms of the scale of his practice, successfully employing a large number of people who worked in a ‘house style’. You can find out easily about Gilbert Scott, but history has often judged him harshly. It was an unfortunate feature of the architects, musicians and theologians of the nineteenth-century church (as in wider culture) that their high sense of drive and progress necessitated looking down upon their immediate predecessors, and even on their own earlier work. Their biographies and autobiographies bequeathed this patronising attitude to historians, who only recently have begun to learn that deficiencies based on what they couldn’t have known yet might be less important than their insights and wisdom which were subsequently forgotten. I don’t know a great deal about gothic revival architecture so ask me again what I think of Gilbert Scott’s architecture in a few weeks.

George Gilbert Scott designed six Scottish Episcopal Churches:
1855 St Paul’s Dundee
1858 St Cuthbert’s Hawick and St Mary’s Broughty Ferry
1861 St James the Less, Leith
1871 St Mary’s Glasgow
1876 St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh.
He also designed or revised elements of the Episcopal Churches in St Andrew’s and Kilmarnock and the clergy training college at Glenalmond, and designed memorials for two of the most famous Victorian Episcopalians, Dean Ramsay and Bishop Forbes.

This was a motley mixture. The churches in Dundee, Leith and Glasgow were the original Episcopal congregations of those places, thrown out of their parish churches when Presbyterianism was established in 1689. Hawick and Broughty Ferry were both new missions in towns that had no Episcopal congregation. The Dundee and Glasgow churches were later raised to Cathedral status, but only St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh was actually designed as a Cathedral, a new foundation in a small city already well-stocked with large Episcopal Churches.

The Duke of Buccleuch appears to have been an important link between the Episcopal Church and Gilbert Scott, with whom he shared a surname. Buccleuch commissioned Gilbert Scott to provide plans for a chapel at Drumlanrig Castle: these were not executed although a chapel was opened in 1850. Buccleuch appears to have funded the mission at Hawick, and laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Edinburgh.

The bishops of the dioceses, Forbes of Brechin, Terrot of Edinburgh and Trower of Glasgow, were largely responsible for instigating the projects and in three cases were commissioning churches for their own use. They were a mixture of Scottish and English, High and Broad church influences.

Gilbert Scott, whose early Evangelicalism mellowed into Broad Anglicanism, appears to have followed a similar spiritual path to Bishop Terrot, as several clergy did who, like Terrot, began their career under Bishop Sandford of Edinburgh. It is no surprise that, when spending a summer at Wrotham in Kent, the Gilbert Scotts formed a warm friendship with the local rector and his wife — Charles Lane, Sandford’s former curate, who had married the bishop’s clever daughter Frances. Gilbert Scott, like Sandford and his followers, were well-disposed towards the High Church although they were not part of it, admiring its combination of missionary zeal, social concern, and passion for historical tradition, and he gained his first Scottish commission from the Episcopal Churches first, and for a long time only, Tractarian bishop Forbes.

My hope is that investigating the contacts and networks which led to the construction of these churches will provide an insight into the importance of Gilbert Scott’s own spirituality in his highly successful business — which will involve unearthing a great deal of Episcopalian history along the way.

Please do get in touch with me if you have a particular interest in Gilbert Scott or in these churches, which I’m certainly hoping to contact and visit in the course of the year, and follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris for future updates.