My vision in stone


Sunday’s Communion service, from Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, will be ITV’s most ambitious church broadcast yet

Sunday’s Communion service, from Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral will be ITV’s most ambitious church broadcast. Two ABC outside broadcast units will televise the service, and special equipment never before used will illuminate the vast cathedral. Seven cameras will take viewers round the cathedral, the origins of which are described by the man who has made it his life’s work


Cover of TVTimes
From the TVTimes for 13-19 September 1959

I DON’T think I realised when I decided to enter for the competition to design Liverpool Cathedral in 1901 that it would affect my whole life. It was a small beginning, just a blank sheet of paper, a well-sharpened pencil, and the need a vision for what I knew I wanted to do.

I was living with my family in a flat overlooking London’s Battersea Park. My father, an architect, had died while I was still at school, and I was articled to a church architect, Mr Temple Moore.

The terms of my articles said I must not undertake any outside work without permission so I sought the permission of Mr Moore. “It will be good experience you, my boy.” he said. A truer word was never spoken. I have been working on the cathedral ever since, and I shall never see it finished.

Architects, of course, employ different techniques. Broadly speaking. I like to try several lines before I make my choice. But once I have an idea I like on my blank sheet of paper, the task becomes a joy.

That is, just how it was with Liverpool Cathedral. The only hardship for me, once I had got started, was going to bed.

When I was doing my drawings for the competition, I used to leave the office on the early side and get there in the morning a little late. I went to bed around 1 am.

A view down the nave
This is how viewers will see the cathedral interior during the television service

After I had won the competition — I was then 22 – Mr Moore asked: “However did you find the time to do such wonderful drawings?” I told him about my late and early finish at the office. I don’t think he minded.

Now I am 78 and there is nearly another quarter of the cathedral to be completed. Since winning the competition, I have never looked back. I never had to struggle with “early beginnings.” The cathedral gave me a flying start in life.

Because of my youth and inexperience on the business side, the executive committee responsible for building the cathedral appointed me a joint architect with Mr G. F. Bodley, one of their advisory architects.

The design went through three stages: the first was my competition design; the second was that design much modified by Bodley; and the third came after 1907, when Mr Bodley died and I was left in sole charge of the building. I then redesigned it.

A man looks at plans
Work on the cathedral began in 1901. Today it is still incomplete

At that time we did not have what is called now “contemporary architecture.” We used past styles. There was the Gothic style, which emphasises the perpendicular lines of a building, and the classic, such as St Paul’s, which emphasises the horizontal.

I preferred the Gothic because its vertical lines appear to disappear into the skies where we believe, I never can quite understand why, Heaven lies. Hell is down below. I felt that for a church, this vertical style has much more of a religious inspiration than the classic.

Drawing the plans in small scale was only a part of my work for the cathedral. It is no good saying to the builders, stonemasons and other craftsmen: “There are the plans Get on with it.”

I have drawn in full scale every line of that cathedral. I have had the drawing paper on my office floor, crawling over it, drawing mouldings to full scale. I have done plans of every piece of intricate masonry.

A view of the exterior
The cathedral is Britain’s largest, and the fifth biggest in the world

Sometimes I have expected the craftsmen to come back to me with scores of questions. But they have not done so, and am delighted to record my admiration for the craftsmen who have worked on the cathedral.

They are the finest in the world. I am sometimes astounded how they have done such intricate work so that everything falls perfectly into line.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

Naturally, Liverpool Cathedral is my own child. I love it all, for I have watched it grow, stone by stone. And I think my favourite interior view is looking up at the central vault from the central space.

It was in the central space that I once met a woman sightseer who, not knowing who I was, murmured: “I do think it extraordinary that the architect of this building could have so big a thing in so small a brain.” In a quiet way I was rather flattered.

During the war. when mercifully the cathedral was spared any serious structural damage, we had some old stonemasons continuing with the work.

In my life I have designed hundreds of buildings: Waterloo Bridge, Battersea Power Station, the re-building of the House of Commons, the restoration of London’s Guildhall … and the public telephone kiosk – though I didn’t choose its beastly red colour.

Two men stand outside the cathedral
The Dean, The Very Rev F. W. Dillistone, and David Southwood, head of ABC’s outside broadcasts

As an old but nevertheless active and practising architect, I am just a little sad that I shall never see my greatest work, Liverpool Cathedral, finished. But I have every hope that my son and partner, Richard Gilbert Scott, will.

The cathedral was completed in 1978, but not to the additional plans drawn up by Richard Gilbert Scott – Ed

About the author

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott OM RA FRIBA (1880–1960) was an architect.

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