Posts Tagged 'architecture'

In the Spotlight: A.W. Pugin

With due respect to those who have been put In the Spotlight so far, it cannot be said that any of them are actually household names. We warned about this at the outset of the series. Only a few of the patients we are featuring emerged from relative obscurity in their own lifetimes, and (given that all were admitted before 1939) their stars have long since waned. Last month’s post is a case in point. George Gilbert Scott Junior’s architectural achievements warrant recognition; yet who remembers him today? That said, the contemporary profile of this month’s subject, like Scott Junior an architect (and like him a convert to Roman Catholicism), is a little higher than usual. His principal works (the clock tower at Westminster popularly known as ‘Big Ben’ and the spire of Tolbooth St John’s among them) continue to define the skylines of British cities. Of him, Scott’s more famous father could write, ‘He was our leader and our most able pioneer’.1 His name, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, is virtually synonymous with the Gothic Revival.

This is not the place to attempt a biography of the man (interested readers may follow the footnotes to this piece to find one), or to do anything other than place on record (as biographers have previously done) his five and a half weeks’ residence at Bethlem in the summer of 1852, suffering what a contemporary psychiatrist with access to Pugin’s Victorian medical notes has described as ‘mania without psychotic symptoms’ (F30.1 in the 1992 edition of International Classification of Diseases), and in a state of collapse following a sustained period of overwork. At one point Pugin’s Bethlem doctor, Alexander Morison, described how he ‘got him to make a sketch of his church at Ramsgate’ – St Augustine’s, on which he had been working since 1845 – but ‘so soon as he had completed [the sketch], he tore it up’. No mental improvement was recorded by Morison, yet at the end of July Pugin was discharged at the request, and into the care, of his friends and family. He died within seven weeks of leaving the Hospital, the cause of death recorded as ‘convulsions followed by coma’.2 His life, though short, left a legacy which can still be seen today in the built heritage of Britain. It is appropriate, perhaps, that the once-derelict house in Ramsgate in which he lived and died, The Grange, has been restored by a conservation charity and is now available for holiday lettings.

1 Rosemary Hill, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Penguin, 2008), p. 1.

2 ibid. p. 492


In the Spotlight: George Gilbert Scott Junior

Since the subject of this month’s In the Spotlight is George Gilbert Scott Junior (1839-1897), arguably one of the least known of a family of prominent architects, one might be tempted to (unkindly) dub it ‘In the Shadows’. Scott’s father of the same name was a key figure in Victorian architecture’s Gothic Revival, and was responsible for the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, the Foreign Office, and the University of Glasgow’s Bute and Randolph Halls, along with many other domestic, public and ecclesiastical buildings. His son, Giles Gilbert Scott, was behind such ‘Gothic-modernist’ projects as Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, Cambridge University Library and William Booth College in Denmark Hill, but is best remembered for having designed the iconic red London telephone box. His brother, John Scott, and remote cousin Elisabeth Scott, were also well-known architects of their respective generations.

Certainly George Gilbert Scott Junior had his own share of success, but he is less well remembered today, perhaps because two of his masterpieces (the Anglo-Catholic churches of All Hallows, Southwark and St Agnes, Kennington) were destroyed in the Blitz. The survival of a third signature ecclesiastical work (St John’s, Norwich, now a Roman Catholic diocesan cathedral) might be thought to be wryly appropriate in the light of his own conversion to Rome in 1880. Scott’s career was also disrupted by ill-health, both mental and physical, and alcoholism. Following a period of erratic, delusional and occasionally paranoid behaviour, he was admitted to Bethlem Hospital in July 1883. While in hospital, Scott commenced work on another of his ecclesiastical commissions, St Augustine’s Church in Hull. According to his modern biographer, the “notes [and] drawings made while he was confined were meticulously dated, as if to engage in academic or artistic activity…gave him a feeling of security and a hold on his sanity”.1

Three months after his admission, Scott escaped the Hospital and fled the country, but shortly afterwards returned to England and to hospital, though not this time to Bethlem. He spent the next ten years in and out of hospital, but continued to “devote his best energies” to his architectural work, his attacks having “not affected his business capacity at all”, as his brother John wrote to one worried client.2

Scott died of cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease at the age of 67, while resident at the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station (ironically another of his father’s best known works, now restored and renamed the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel). The most affecting tribute to him came many years later, in his son Giles’ judgement of the respective professional merits of George Gilbert Senior and Junior: “Grandfather was the successful practical man, and a phenomenal scholar in Gothic precedent, but Father was the artist”.3

1 Gavin Stamp, An Architect of Promise: George Gilbert Scott Junior (1839-1897) and the Late Gothic Revival (2002), p. 334.

2 ibid., p. 337.

3 ibid., p. 361.

Inside the Dome: Photographs

You might remember that, last September, the Imperial War Museum opened up the dome (formerly the chapel of Bethlem Hospital) for Open House weekend. We’re hoping the same event will go ahead this year. In the meantime, however, we were lucky enough to be back in the dome for an event at the beginning of April, and would like to share some of our photographs with those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit.

It was a gloriously sunny day, with plenty of light spilling through the high windows: the perfect conditions for viewing the bright, white room. The dome has required much restoration over the years, particularly after a devastating arson attack. However, it is still easy to picture the former uses of the room, from chapel to reading room, as you can see in the images below.


Inside the Dome, a set on Flickr.