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Scott, Sir George Gilbert, 1811-1878, architect

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Sir George Gilbert Scott was born in 1811 , at Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, England. He was first educated at home by his father, before attending in 1826, a preparatory schooling with his uncle, the Rev. Samuel King, at Latimers, near Chesham. In 1827, he became a pupil of the architect,James Edmeston. In 1831, he briefly joined the London firm of Grissell & Peto, who appointed him superintendent of their works in progress at Hungerford Market. He spent 1832-1834 at the office of Henry Roberts, where he trained under Sir Robert Smirke, and assisted him in the working-drawings, execution, and measuring up of the Fishmongers' Hall.

The death of his father, in 1834, threw upon Scott the necessity of immediate bread-winning, and he went into partnership with a builder's son whom he had met at Edmeston, by the name of W.B. Moffat, to build workhouses. This terminated in 1845, after the erection of some fifty buildings of the workhouse class.

In 1844, Scott achieved European reputation by winning the open competition for the church of St. Nicholas at Hamburg. The style adopted in the design of this building was German Gothic of the fourteenth century. The years between 1845 and 1862 were full of commissions and appointments involving designs of new buildings, restorations, and reports, including, in 1849, the important appointment of architect to the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey.

The competition for the rebuilding of the war and foreign offices in the autumn of 1856, was signalled by a stormy conflict between the Gothic and classic schools of architecture, waged even in the House of Commons. Scott's first design submitted in the competition was a sincere attempt to adapt the elements of French and Italian Gothic to the purposes of a modern English institution. In November 1858, he was appointed architect, and set to work on certain necessary revisions of his design. The war office portion of the scheme was subsequently abandoned, but it was arranged that Scott should be associated in a design for the India office with Matthew Digby Wyatt, the official architect to that department. At this point the classical opposition gathered strength led by Lord Palmerston. After prolonged debates and controversy, Scott was forced either to abandon his appointment or to strike his colours as the Gothic champion. He chose the latter course, accepted Wyatt's collaboration for the India office, and produced a design, which satisfied Lord Palmerston. As might be expected, it encountered stout opposition from Scott's old friends of the Gothic party, but finally passed the House of Commons in 1861, nearly five years after the competition was initiated.

In 1864, Scott was engaged in carrying out the Albert memorial, and the next year, designed one of his finest works, the station and hotel at St. Pancras. He regarded it as the fullest realisation of his own special treatment of Gothic for modern purposes.

The buildings of Glasgow University, undertaken at about the same time, were designed in a manner which Scott had already adopted in the Albert Institute at Dundee. The University had sold its old High street site and bought the lands of Gilmorehill, in the fashionable west end for GBP65,000 in 1865. Instead of setting up the expected architectural competition, the University offered the commission to Scott. This stirred up the intense anger of the local architectural establishment. It looked like a repeat of the battle between the classical and gothic schools which had raged over the war and foreign offices. The most influential critic was Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, who detested Scott's style. However there is no evidence that Thomson ever submitted a design for the new building. Of his work Scott declared: 'I adopt a style which I may call my own invention...It is simply a thirteenth or fourteenth century secular style with the addition of certain Scottish features peculiar in that country to the sixteenth century'. His style came to be known as Scottish Gothic.

The new Glasgow University building was the largest public building to be constructed since the Houses of Parliament were completed in 1860. Although the style was gothic the building technique was modern, with extensive use of concrete, cast and wrought iron columns and beams, and cast-iron windows. The facades from all perspectives were intended to give an impression of grandeur and solidity. It mimicked the layout of the old high Street building, which Scott had been so impressed by that he had called, unsuccessfully, for its preservation. It consisited of two, east and west, courtyards united by a central tower. In 1877, Scott, with the assistance of the Marquess of Bute, prepared plans for the great hall, known as the Bute hall. However, Scott died before the completion of the hall, or the tower, both of which were completed by his son, John Oldrid Scott.

On 19 March 1878, Scott's health began to give way, and he died from a heart attack at his hom in South Kensington, 27 March 1878. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. During his life he worked on 29 cathedrals, British or colonial, 10 minsters, 476 churches, 25 schools, 23 parsonages, 58 monumental works, 25 colleges or college chapels, 26 public buildings, 43 mansions, and various small ecclesiastical accessories.


Scott was the son of Thomas Scott, perpetual curate of that place, and grandson of Thomas Scott, the commentator. Scott's mother was daughter of Dr. Lynch of Antigua, and was descended maternally from the Gilberts, a family of West Indian proprietors.

Scott married, on 5 June 1838, a second cousin, Caroline Oldrid (her sister married his brother, the Rev. Thomas Scott). By her he had five sons, two of whom, George Gilbert Scott, F.S.A., and John Oldrid Scott, followed the profession of architecture, and carried out some of the works left unfinished at his death.

Many architects were trained in Scott's office, among them George Edmund Street, R.A. and G. F. Bodley, A.R.A

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of Ancient Churches, ( 1850)

Remarks on Secular and Domestic Architecture, ( 1850)

Gleanings from Westminster Abbey, ( 1862)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1855: Associate of the Royal Academy

1859: Royal gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects

1861: Member of the Royal Academy

1868: Professor of architecture at the Royal Academy

1872: Knighthood

1873-1876: President of the Royal Institute of British Architects


List of sources for the biographical information:

Brown, A.L. and Moss, M, The University of Glasgow: 1451-1996, first ed, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1996)

Fisher, Joe, The Glasgow Encyclopedia, (Edinburgh, Mainstream Publishing Co Ltd, 1994)

Harrison, Brian (editor), Dictionary of National Biography, ( University Press, 1995)

Rules or Conventions

Authority record created according to theNational Council on ArchivesRules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names (NCA Rules)1997 and International Council on Archives: Ad Hoc Committee on Descriptive StandardsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR)CPF1995

Author and Date of Biographical History

Personal name authority record compiled for the GASHE project by John O'Brien, Glasgow University Archive Services, 1 August 2002