Most people will know Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for his design of Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, and the original red telephone boxes. Others will know the William Booth Memorial College, his splendid Salvation Army headquarters in Camberwell, but few will realise that Dulwich has its own Giles Gilbert Scott building at Atholl House, 138-140 College Road, now Dulwich's Cheshire Home. Not listed in his complete works and, in fairness, probably designed by someone in his office, the house was originally built for a Mr Basil Aldous, a prominent local resident and later Chairman of the Estate Governors. It was the most expensive house to be built in Dulwich before WW II costing over £8,500, nearly twice the cost of the next most expensive house.

In the Report of the Building Operations Committee in the Estate Board Meeting Minutes dated 23rd July 1936, C E Barry, the Estate Architect, is recorded as saying 'I submit sketch plans prepared by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott RA of the house which Mr B C Aldous wishes to erect on the site to be leased to him. The house shown would be built with external walls having a 2" cavity, and 1' 3" thick, the external thickness being of light coloured facing bricks. The roof would be covered with brown pantiles. The ground floor comprises a large hall, drawing room, billiards room, dining room, study, kitchen, maid's sitting room and laundry. On the first floor there are seven bedrooms, a dressing room, study and three bathrooms. The house contains 127,727 cu ft, which, at 1s 4d per foot would give a cost of £8,515. I recommend that these sketch plans be approved, subject to the submission of the complete working drawings.'

Scott's other connection with Dulwich is perhaps more tenuous and comes from his work as the designer of the K2 telephone box. He was one of three architects invited by the Royal Fine Arts Commission to submit designs for new telephone kiosks - the invitation coming at the same time that Scott had become a trustee of Sir John Soane's Museum. His winning design was in the classical style, but topped with a dome reminiscent of Soane's self-designed mausoleum in St Pancras Old Churchyard, London (though you can also see some resemblance in the original photographs of the rear of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, also by Soane). Later designs adapted the same general look for mass-production and the K6, known originally as the Jubilee kiosk, introduced for King George V's silver jubilee in 1935, eventually became a fixture in almost every town and village in the country.

Scott was the grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect of the recently refurbished and extended St Pancras Station Hotel. He was brought up by his mother after his father was declared insane when he was aged 3 and he was articled to church architect Temple Lushington Moore in 1899. Moore, who had been a pupil of Scott's father, actually worked at home leaving Scott in his office, allowing Scott to develop his own architectural knowledge of his father's designs - which he regarded as the work of a genius, and superior to those of his grandfather.

When the competition for a 'Design for a twentieth century cathedral' in Liverpool was announced in 1902, he began work on the drawings at his home in Battersea in his spare time and was surprised to be one of the five architects selected for the second round (his employer's designs were rejected) and even more surprised to win. The choice of Scott was a shock to the architectural establishment because of Scott's youth (he was 22), his lack of experience (at that point he had only designed a few private houses), and faith (he was a Catholic).

Scott was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal in 1925 and he was elected President of the RIBA in 1933, its centenary year, at the height of his reputation - the late 30s saw him complete the University Library at Cambridge as well as a huge number of churches. In his inaugural address he criticised both the diehard traditionalists and the up and coming modernists, calling for a 'middle line' in which architects accepted new methods of construction while seeking to always retain the place of a human element in architecture.

Scott's reputation as a church architect and work on the reconstruction of the Houses of Parliament, and projects such as the Bankside Power Station and the Guildhall extension in the City of London, kept him in work after WW II, despite his style seeming old fashioned. He was still at work when he died in 1960 and is buried with his wife outside the main entrance to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

Go to top