Sunday, January 22, 2012

Restoration Man

Restoration Man - George Clarke
Channel 4’s George Clarke was up in Cumbria visiting a project on a 19th century church in this week’s episode of ‘Restoration Man’ (Thursday Jan 19).

Phil Evans and his partner had paid £128,000 for a dilapidated church in the picturesque village of Gamblesby in the North Pennines. Built in 1868 St John’s had stood empty for eight years when the young couple took on the challenge of converting it into a family home. 

The church was built in a mixture of architectural styles and loosely based on the Victorian Gothic Revival.  George took time out from the build to visit the Chapel at Exeter College, Oxford designed by the doyen of Victorian Church architects Scott, but he could have just as easily popped into Swindon to see more examples of the great man’s work.

George Gilbert Scott was born on July 13, 1811 at Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, the third son of Rev Thomas Scott and his wife Euphemia Lynch.  Scott moved to London in 1827 and after completing his articles with architect James Edmeston went on to work first for contractors Grissell and Peto before entering the office of Henry Roberts in 1832.

Anxious to go it alone, Scott decided to establish his own practice and entered into partnership with William Bonython Moffatt in 1838.  Together they won competitions to design Reading gaol and the Infant Orphan Asylum, Wanstead.

Scott went on to design some of the most iconic buildings of the Victorian era, including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Building in Westminster, the St Pancras Station and Hotel and the Albert Memorial in Kensington for which he received a knighthood from Queen Victoria. And during the 1840s and 50s he designed not just one, but two of Swindon’s historic buildings.

In 1840 Brunel and Gooch established a repair and maintenance railway workshop at Swindon where passengers could take refreshments while a change of engines took place.  The town of New Swindon grew faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Building on accommodation for the workforce began in late 1841.  As to their spiritual needs, the GWR provided a room in the factory where services could be held, but this could clearly only be a temporary measure.

St Mark's Church

In 1842 G.H. Gibbs, a director in the GWR, left £500 in his will to go towards building a church and school for the company employees and they chose an architectural star on the ascent to design it for them.
Built in limestone, the design of St Marks bears many of Scott’s hallmarks, such as the large chancel and panelled roof supported by elaborate cornices.

In 1851 Scott returned to Swindon, this time to design a building to replace the old parish church of Holy Rood.  The 13th century church was in a state of disrepair and too small to cater for the demands of the growing town.  Scott came up with the magnificent Christ Church, built in the style of the late 13th century and complete with chancel, clerestoried nave of three bays with aisles, transepts and a western tower with broach spire.
The final cost of St Mark’s was £6,000, considerably more than the modest village church in Gamblesby whose congregation stumped up £1075 19s to build St John’s, but just a fraction of the bill Phil and his partner faced at the end of their project.

The restoration work cost £175,000 more than £45,000 in excess of their original budget which left them mortgaged to the hilt and in debt.  With the work completed Phil and Joanne were unable to move in to the beautifully restored church.  They were hoping that instead of selling up, which they had at first feared they would have to do; they might be able to rent out the converted church and move in at some future date when their financial situation improved.

This programme is still available to view on Channel 4oD for the next 27 days but if you want to see examples of Sir Gilbert Scott’s work pop in to St Mark’s or Christ Church.

Christ Church

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