A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

William Drinkwater Gough

St Alpheges Edited (4)



By Michael Dummer (2008)

The Search for St Alphege’s Sculptor – The Carvings at St Alphege’s Church, Oldfield Park, Bath

At long last light has been thrown on the identity of the man who executed the notable carvings at Our Lady & St Alphege, Bath, thanks in part to modern technology.  In 1928 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott built what he was later to describe as “one of my favourite buildings”.    Amongst the notable features of the building are the carvings on the capitals of the pillars of the nave and under the gallery.  Those on the north side depict the life of Our Lady, and those on the south side portray events and characters in the life of St Alphege.  Alphege was born in Weston, Bath, circa 954 and entered the monastery at Deerhurst near Tewkesbury.  He subsequently became Abbot at Bath, Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury, where he was martyred by the invading Danes in 1012.  The carvings on the pillars under the gallery portray persons associated with the building of the church, including the architect.  For some time the identity of the man who executed the carvings has been an enigma.

The church guide book has long given his name as D. W. Gough.  Little else was known about him, except his appearance, for alongside the figure of the architect he carved a small representation of himself.  Since the carving of Scott is a recognisable likeness, it can be assumed that the carving of himself is also a fair likeness.  The standing figure has a good head of hair and a bushy beard.  At his side, looking up at him, stands what appears to be a young deer.  The significance of the beast is not known.  Next to his figure Gough has carved his shield, with crossed chisels, a mallet and the letters D, W, and G. arranged as at the points of a triangle.

Bath 2 

The Search for Gough

There was no indication as to whether Gough was a local or national man.  Bath was at the centre of a stone-producing industry and there would have been many in the area skilled in working the stone.  A search through local directories of the 1920s, however, failed to produce a possible Gough.   Giles Gilbert Scott was at the pinnacle of his profession at the time, having recently been knighted.  He would not have employed a carver for his church in whom he was not confident.

These days the internet is a very useful research aid, although the huge number of possible web pages listed can be overwhelming.  Searches for various combinations of Gough, sculptor and carver produced up to 3 million “hits”.  Eventually came the breakthrough; an extract from The Liverpool University Press … Public Sculptors of Great Britain.

William D. Gough (active c1915 – c1937). Architectural sculptor based in London.  He practised alone until c.1933 after which he continued as W.D. Gough and J.H. Gough, taking on monumental as well as architectural sculpture.  He carried out much work for the architect Ninian Comper.”

The triangular arrangement of the initials D, W, and G on Gough’s shield had led to a misunderstanding which had persisted for 40 years!

William Gough

William Drinkwater Gough



Working with Sir Ninian Comper

Sir Ninian Comper, formerly a stained glass artist, was one of the foremost ecclesiastical and monumental designers of the 20th century.  He also was architect of 15 churches.  Now with the new information on Gough it was possible to extend the search, revealing some of the other work that he had done for Comper:

  • Downside Abbey. Gilded wooden feretory (reliquary), Gough’s earliest work discovered so far. 1912.
  • St Michael’s Church, Stanton, Gloucestershire, 1915.  Carved figures for Comper’s reredos.
  • Oakham War Memorial, Leicestershire, showing St Martin dividing his cloak.
  • Cirencester War Memorial (w. of the Great South Porch). The Calvary is modelled on that at Fecamp.
  • Tintinhull, Somerset, Village War Memorial, 1920.
  • The Lindsey Chapel, Emmanuel Church, Boston, Massachusetts, 1924.    This chapel is considered to be one of the architectural gems of Boston.  It was built as a memorial to Lesley Lindsey, a talented young lady who was drowned on her honeymoon when the Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915. Comper was commissioned to design the stained glass, the altar and altar screen.  Gough carved the altar and altar screen.  The altar consisted of a single slab of Bath stone 11 ft by 4 ft.  Above the altar is a 13 ft frieze carved in low relief with scenes from the life of Christ.  Above the frieze the magnificent altar screen of Caen limestone incorporates large statues of the Risen Christ, Mary and Elizabeth plus 36 smaller statues of female saints, all carved from Nottinghamshire alabaster.
  • The Welsh National War Memorial, Cathay’s Park, Cardiff: carving.  1928.

The nature of many of these works reflects the need for grieving communities to honour dead husbands, sons and fathers after the Great War.  A stone carver would have found an abundance of work at this time.

Two of Gough’s works not associated with Comper are:

  • Rugby Parish War Memorial Cross, 1921.
  • The Artists Rifles War Memorial Plaque, Burlington House (Royal Academy of Arts), London, 1920.  “To the glorious dead of the 2003 members of the Artists Rifles, 28th Battalion, the London Regiment …”


Working with Giles Gilbert Scott

From the mid-1920s the demand for war memorials lessened and Gough turned to other projects.  It was around 1925 that we first find records of him working for Scott.  The architect designed the statue of St John the Baptist for the baptistery at St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, in 1925 and commissioned Gough to make it.  Scott was immersed in the remodelling of Ampleforth Abbey Church at this time and he used Gough to make the carvings and statuary on the High Altar arch there.  These are considered to be admirably suited to the severity of the architecture.   Scott also used Gough to work on the reredos of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the north aisle of his Liverpool Cathedral with an alabaster figure of Christ praying.

Scott’s experience of Gough’s work on these projects must have been the reason for selecting him to undertake the extensive carving planned for his new church of Our Lady & St Alphege, Bath in 1928.

Gough the Man and his Family

Gough’s works give no information on himself and his origins.   Until recently researching the life of a person such as Gough would have entailed much travelling to record offices and libraries and considerable correspondence.   Today we have the benefit of the internet and a mass of information made available due to the current interest in family history.

The 1901 census reveals W.D. Gough, sculptor, employer, age 40, living with his wife Mary Ann and daughters at Lansdowne Road, Tottenham, North London.  It also reveals that Gough was born in Canada about 1861.  Telephone directories show him as an architectural sculptor and modeller at that address for the rest of his life, but they also reveal that his firm, W. D. Gough & Co., was at Magee Street, Lambeth, by Kennington Oval.  In 1937 the works moved out to Munster Road, Teddington, in premises shared with the recently listed firm of W.D. and J.H. Gough, builders, contractors, joiners.  J. H. Gough was probably W.D.’s son John Hugh, born 1902.   W.D. was 76 years old and probably his son had taken over the reins of the firm, but diversified into general building and joinery work, his father’s skills no longer being available.  A lifetime with mallet and chisel takes its toll on hands. William probably died around 1938.

W.D.’s Origins

From earlier censuses and other documents it is possible to piece together Gough’s origins.  William Drinkwater Gough was born c.1861 in Toronto, Canada, the second son of William Drinkwater Gough senior and Jane Kennedy.  Gough snr had married Jane at Marylebone, London, in 1856 and set off to New York in 1857, moving on to Canada the following year. He was a mason, indicating the origins of his son’s skills.  By 1871 he had brought his family back to London where he was listed as a master builder at Chelsea employing 12 men and 2 boys.  Subsequently he must have encountered hard times since he was shown as a bricklayer in 1881, but had risen again to Clerk of Works by 1901.

The majority of the elder Gough’s life may have been spent in London and Canada but his origins lay elsewhere, in rural Gloucestershire.  He had been born c. 1831, the son of James and Mary Gough at Stoke Orchard, Bishop’s Cleeve between Tewkesbury and Cheltenham.  The family had neighbours by the name of Drinkwater.  


Gough at St Alphege’s

When Scott commissioned Gough to undertake the carving at St Alphege’s the sculptor was in his 67th year, and it must have been his last major commission.  It is possible to imagine the ageing man working at his studio in Lambeth, then carefully crating each item in wood chips and straw to send by railway to Bath goods station and thence by road to Oldfield Lane.  After hoisting into position on the pillars the carvings would have been well wrapped in sacking to protect them as building work continued on the nave above them.

It is interesting to reflect that when research into Gough’s origins started there was no knowledge of where they might be; they could have been anywhere in the world.   How fascinating therefore to find that, although he had never lived there, his ancestral home was in Gloucestershire, just a couple of lanes away from the old church at Deerhurst where Alphege had spent his formative years as a monk, that Gough’s last major creations were in the city where Alphege was born and was later to became Abbott, and that those creations included representations of Alphege and Deerhurst.  Was that why Gough carved the deer with his own figure?

(With thanks to Hilary Wood for family details, and to Andrew Millard, Guild of One-Name Studies).

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This entry was posted on July 1, 2016 by in Sculptors and tagged , , , , .
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