A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
GILBERT BLOUNT: AN ARCHITECT THROUGH HIS DIARIES
BY PHILIPPA HUNTER
To be continued and the footnotes added
Gilbert Robert Blount was born at Mapledurham near Reading on March 2nd1819, the second child and son of Michael Joseph Blount and his wife Catherine (nee Wright). Michael and Catherine were half first cousins. Michael was the second son of Joseph Blount and Mary Canning, and Catherine the daughter of Catherine Petre and her first husband Francis Wright. After Francis Wright died, Catherine married Michael Blount III of Mapledurham, brother of Joseph Blount. These were all old Catholic recusant families.
WORK FOR BRUNEL
Gilbert was educated at Downside (September 1834 – December 1836) and began his professional training as a civil engineer with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, working on the Thames Tunnel (Rotherhithe to Wapping) in 1841. It would appear that Gilbert’s father had some influence upon the directors of the Tunnel Company and he obtained this trainee post for his son shortly before Christmas 1840. The aspiring engineer took a lodging at 16 St James Place, Bermondsey so that he could be near to his place of work, namely, Walbrook Buildings, Walbrook. In September1841 he received a letter of appointment “I have much pleasure in acquainting you, that the board this day agreed to your appointment as a temporary assistant at the works at a weekly pay of 10/-“1and, a month later, this salary was enhanced with the reimbursement of his expenses, “In consideration of your not receiving Fuel and Candles from the Company’s works in kind, the Board have authorized your being paid hence-forward an additional 10/- per week in lieu”.
Gilbert was made Superintendent of Construction but during one of the many floods in the tunnel he narrowly escaped drowning. His mother, brother Alfred and sister Louisa, came in a carriage to visit the Tunnel on January 17th 1842 and his diary reveals that, on February 2nd, “the King of Prussia attended by Lord Hardwick passed through the Tunnel and back, taking us rather by surprise”.
Soon afterwards the company experienced financial difficulties and, on February 13th, Gilbert received an official notice from Mr Charlier, clerk of the Thames Tunnel works, “that my services would be dispensed with in one month from yesterday as an engineer at the Thames Tunnel.” However, he continued to work at Sir Marc Isambard Brunel’s house on the Rotherhithe Staircase. By June 1842 the young man was showing signs of a change of direction and began studying architecture and even undertaking some of his own commissions. On June 15th: “Lady Camoys sends me a ticket of admission for the British Museum so I can commence reading Palladio on Architecture”. Gilbert also “went to examine St George in the Fields Catholic Church (now Southwark Catholic Cathedral) and had a bit of a row with the contractors” He was a great walker and, when staying with his parents at Purley which is situated on the opposite side of the River Thames to Mapledurham, thought nothing of walking to Reading and back for Mass.
WORK FOR ANTHONY SALVIN
On October 13th, 1842, Gilbert’s father wrote to his son who was at the time staying with Robert Canning at Hartpury in Gloucestershire, saying,
“I had an interview yesterday morning with Mr Salvin who received me with cordiality, examined your drawings and agreed to receive you in his office. I had a clear understanding with him that you were to be initiated into every department of the profession. My impression is that you will like him and I think he is favourably inclined towards you. Let us hope that it will prove an advantageous opening for you. Mr Salvin appears to be a good natured gentlemanly person. He will let us know when he has moved into his new house, which I do not expect will be the case for three weeks to come, therefore make the most of your time…. Pray remember me very kindly to all friends at Hartpury and I hope you have had some good shooting…. Adieu M.J.B.”
A letter dated December 2nd, from his aunt, Elizabeth Riddell, says, “I was very glad to hear that you have entered into Mr Salvin’s employ…. Your hours of attendance are very reasonable from 9 to 5, so you will have plenty of time to yourself. I enclose you half a £10 note, the other half will follow in a day or two.” His aunt was instrumental in obtaining this position, as Mrs Anne de Lisle, Anthony Salvin’s half-sister, was a great friend of hers.
Gilbert started working with Salvin on November 28th at 32 Somerset Street in West London. The office was to move, in 1844, to Savile Row and then, later on, to Argyle Street. Salvin, himself, lived at Elmhurst, Finchley from 1833-1852 and then he moved to 11 Hanover Terrace in Regents Park.
We read in the diary, “Went to Mr Salvin’s office for the first time and commenced tracing for a monument for the late Bishop of York.” Whilst working with Salvin, Gilbert produced office plans for Trinity College, Cambridge, the screen for St Sepulchre’s Church, Cambridge, work at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Torquay, Shottesbrooke Church, near Twyford in Berkshire, St Stephen’s Church, South Shields, and also Buckland Church and House, near Faringdon, in present-day Oxfordshire. Sadly, his diaries for 1844-1847 are missing, so it is not known how long Gilbert worked for Salvin, except that we know that Gilbert spent time in Madrid from February – September 1846.
However, by early 1847 Blount was working on various house alterations for some well-known Catholic families such as the Doughtys of Tichbourne in Hampshire. He worked on the Priest’s House at East Hendred, Berkshire, for the Eyston Family and carried out alterations at Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire, for the Huddlestons. He described Sawston Hall as, “a very curious place.” He also produced vestment designs for the Riddell Family.
New Year 1848 saw Dr Wiseman (Vicar-Apostolic of the London District and later one of Gilbert’s most important patrons) and Gilbert staying with the Camoys at Stonor Park, near Henley-on-Thames. The Camoys were related to the Blounts and Gilbert later designed the two lodges at the entrance to their Park. It is interesting to note that up until at least the mid-1800s most Catholic families who could be described as landed gentry seem to have been related to each other.
February 22nd, 1848, was perhaps a turning point in Gilbert’s life as he “was introduced to Pugin at Dr Wiseman’s Conversazione”. Meanwhile, Gilbert was working on a canopy for one of the choir stalls at Wells Cathedral. It is noteworthy that by May 1st “Archdeacon Law (had) found fault with the canopy” Jill Allibone, in her book, ‘Anthony Salvin – Pioneer of Gothic Revival Architecture’, says, “With his contemporaries, like Gilbert Scott, Salvin must bear part of the responsibility for the rape of the English parish church in the nineteenth century.”
On July 4th Gilbert attended the opening of St George in the Fields, and is given a V.I.P. chair in the nave. One can only assume that he had some involvement with the project. This may indicate a blossoming acquaintance with A.W. N. Pugin, who was the architect, or perhaps a connection with one of the clergy or benefactors. Interestingly, Dominic Barberi was one of the 240 clergy to attend and was seen walking in the procession of clergy.
Maria Canning, daughter of Robert Canning, was one of the many people to succumb to smallpox in the June of 1848. Robert Canning’s first wife had died many years earlier and in 1813 a memorial to her was erected in Hartpury Parish Church. This was designed by Cooke of Gloucester and it is possible that Gilbert, seeing this work when staying at Hartpury, chose to use him for various jobs such as memorials and tombstones for various Catholic families.
Gilbert’s aunt, Elizabeth Riddell, died in 1849 and was buried next to her mother Mary Blount at the new St Benet’s Catholic Church at Kemerton which was then situated within Gloucestershire. Gilbert designed the headstone as he had done earlier for his grandmother. At the beginning of the diary for 1850 we find the following:
Susan and Matthew Cooke executed head and foot stones for Grandmother – cost £7-7s-0d
Expenses of fixing at Kemerton £1-7s-6d
Later, Cooke, the stonemason, was to become involved with William Farmer of London in the building of St Peter’s Church in Gloucester.
On August 31st 1849, Gilbert received a letter from Father William Amherst “asking me to get out two sketches for a church in Germany.” These plans were for De la Barre Bodenham, of Rotherwas, Hereford, whose wife, Irena Dzierzykraj-Morawka, was from Operow in the Grand Duchy of Posen (then in the Polish part of Germany). Sadly, it is not known whether this church was actually constructed.
Later in that year Gilbert met the Pugins whilst staying in Ramsgate and, on Christmas Eve, he and his brother Alfred Blount, finally left their residence at 27 Upper Montague Street to live at 1 Montague Place.
There is a fascinating detail in his diary for 1850 which reveals that “Archdeacon Manning, Lord Camden, Revd Anderton of St Margaret’s, Leicester… they have put themselves for instruction under Father Vincent, the Passionist at Broadway”.
By the year 1850 Gilbert had definitely left Salvin and he had established his own office. A diary entry for March 15th mentions Thomas Gibbins “called for a clerk of the works place”. On May 6th “Gibbins (was) taken on as clerk of the works for St Ed’s convent Blan Sq at £2 per week.” By May 27th the first signs were apparent that Gibbins, the clerk, “was in liquor” and the authorities at Blandford Square wanted him dismissed. This turned out to be a major problem whilst he worked for Gilbert who eventually gave him notice and he finally left on December 5th 1859.
Back in May 1848, Dr Wise man “told me he wishes me to build a convent in Harewood Square”. However, by the end of August, it was decided that the site should be moved to Blandford Square and, “if we have the convent church to hold 4 or 5 hundred it will be sufficient!”
According to an article in the Tablet, during 1850, St Edward’s Convent was to include a chapel, living quarters for fifty nuns, a school for up to a thousand girls, and a House of Mercy for fifty distressed women, of good character, chiefly servants temporarily without a place. Apparently, White of Vauxhall Bridge Road had already modelled the figure, in clay, of St Edward before the first brick was laid at Blandford Square on May 16th.
Gilbert noted in his diary that Dr Wiseman left for Rome “to be elected a Cardinal” on August 16th and a group of people “met at the Thatched House Tavern to get up a memorial.”
During the same year, 1850, Lady Mostyn asked for designs for the proposed schools at Mortlake and, during the November, Gilbert wrote, “I believe it is arranged for me to build the Mortlake Church.” The plans were completed by the end of the year.
1851 was clearly a very busy year for Gilbert and his diary reveals that he was working for very long hours first on his design for St Mary’s Schools, Mortlake, (London), which were accepted, on February 7th. As an aside, he mentioned in his diary that the Great Exhibition opened on May 1st and cost 2/6 admission.
May 8th “Smith called and will undertake to build Mortlake Church for £….”
June 19th “Went to Mortlake where they are digging the trenches for the ch.”
June 20th “Wenham (the priest) and Smith sign contract for Mortlake Church.”
July 19th ” Lunched with Lady Mostyn.”
July 22nd “Went to Mortlake where the Cardinal laid the first stone of the new church”
January 26th 1852 “Went to Mortlake, settle with Wenham gable crosses, chancel steps, also settled additional support to organ loft”
April 17th “Gibbins told me the Sacristy ceiling under the organ loft at Mortlake is cracked and that the Organ is very heavy, so went down with a carpenter, but found no indication on anything giving way, but as a precaution I had the plate at the west side strutted and shall have two stronger corbels put in.”
The final bill at Mortlake brought the total sum to £2620 and the church was opened on May 12th.
In June 1851 Smith, the builder at Mortlake, won the competition to build the Brook Green Schools with an estimate of £1997, “Bird £1999 and Wilson about £400 more.”
February 5th 1852: “Bought and sent by Gib to B. Green 4 doz ink stands for Children’s desks” December 5th 1851: “Called on Mr Pagliano, his gift of £300 towards House of Mercy no longer a secret”
A note at the front of the 1851 diary: “A rod of brickwork:- 4300 bricks, 1yd lime, 2yds sand, bricklayer 4 1/2 days, labourer 4 1/2 days, scaffolding 4/- per rod”.
Meanwhile, the nuns entered the new convent in Blandford Square on June 16th 1851 and it was officially opened on the 26th with a “grand celebration”. The House of Mercy plans were started in 1852 and Smith’s estimate for the earthworks amounted to £3,448.
However, by the beginning of July “water was coming thro’ the roof in 4 or 5 places”. Unfortunately, we also read more about Gilbert’s clerk of works and his disturbing antics, “Gibbins has been twice in the Station House and was fined 5/- for being drunk and he lost three plans for Spitalfields House and grounds.” It cost Gilbert 12/6 to recover them!
On July 25th1851 work started on plans for the alteration of “Fieldgate Church”. Gilbert had already designed the belfry in 1849 and Mr Taylor was paid £50 to build it. ‘Fieldgate Church’ was actually the Church of St Augustine at Kenilworth, known locally as St Austin’s, which had been designed by A.W.N. Pugin in 1841 for the Amherst family. The two sons, William and Francis had been pupils at Oscott at the time when Pugin was lecturing there. Pugin was the Professor of Ecclesiastical Antiquities and this was where he had established a museum of medieval artefacts and casts. William and Francis were very good friends of Gilbert and they were regular visitors to his house during the 1850’s and 1860’s.
August 10th:” W. Amherst came to tea. Gave him my design for alterations to Fieldgate Church.” August 20th: “left London & came to Fieldgate. W. Amherst not well Frank arrived in the evening.” August 21st: “Took some measurements of the church & made a fresh design. Wm not well. Frank left for Oscott.”(Francis had been ordained in1846 and was later to become Bishop of Northampton.)
August 25th”: Left Kenilworth by 7.40am train. Wm not any better.”
September 1st: “Heard Wm has received the last rites of the church.”9
The nave at Kenilworth was lengthened, and north aisle, sacristy and confessional added. Work finished on January 31st1852 and the church was officially re-opened by the bishop on August 10th. At the end of December plans began for the erection of a priest’s house and school. The foundations were commenced on March 25th 1852 by Mr Joyce of Kenilworth. Gilbert also won the tender for the church alterations which were to cost £315-11s-11d. Smith tendered at £370.
May 15th “Came to Kennilworth, find the Presbytery and School progressing slowly”.
The presbytery was finished during the month of December in 1852. The parish priest Fr Walker did not employ a housekeeper but was helped with the household duties by a young boy whose room was over the hall of the house. Fr Walker did not like to see women cleaning in the church, either, so red curtains were fixed to the rood screen and when any women attended to the altar, the curtains were drawn to conceal them from view.
Two windows were changed at Kenilworth in 1855 and these were a double light in the nave and a window in the West End, costing £22-13s-3d.
Whilst the Mortlake church was being constructed, Gilbert began work on a church complex at Crewe for Mr Hall of Macclesfield. This was started on May 30th, 1851, and, on January 19th 1852, Gilbert went by train from Kenilworth to measure the ground meeting both “Mr Hall and Mr Allcock”. Two sets of drawings were made in 1851 and 1852. Whether these were ever executed it is not known, except that, on August 27th 1854, “Very Rev J. Hall V.G called to say they had built part of the Crewe Presbytery to my design. I said I decidedly objected to my designs being used without my supervision.” Nothing of this work survives to-day. The original complex was for a church, presbytery, school and master’s house, and, as local records show, a church and school were opened in 1852 and 1854 in Russell Street – now Heath Street.
St Anne’s, Spitalfields, in Underwood Road, London, was perhaps Gilbert’s masterpiece. The project comprised of the Church, the Presbytery – known as the Monastery – and the Hall. On November 19th 1850 Father J. Quiblier, a French Sulpician priest, who had been sent from Montreal to do missionary work in London, applied to open a chapel: “…. A place for Divine Worship according to the Roman Catholic Rite.” This marks the beginning of the Mother House of the Marist Fathers in this country. The Marists had been asked by, the then, Mgr Nicholas Wiseman to take charge of the new mission during the previous August. The area was an extensive one and included Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Mile End. There was an estimated Catholic population of approximately 6,000 souls, mostly poor Irish who had come to the East End to work in the cloth mills.
September 29th “Mr Bernin (first parish priest of St Anne’s) called and settled to have the Spitalfields house built, if done for £3000.”
March 5th1852 “Mr Bernin and Mr Locke sign the contract for Spitalfields Monastery
March 12th “Wrote to Locke & Nesham, (of 68 Theobalds Road, Holborn,) to give orders to commence at Spitalfields.”
John Carew was appointed clerk of the works at 38/- per week. For the next few months a great deal of time was spent by Gilbert on drawings, site visits and technicalities.
July 2 “…saw Mr Bernin who wishes to omit the two rooms at ends of passages”
July 25th “The drains overflowed at Spitalfields owing to the heavy rain” which caused the basement to flood.
October 1 “Mr Bernin called at office and told me to design their church and let them know the probable cost.”
November 1 the Monastery was blessed by Cardinal Wiseman.
During the month of November and during part of December, we read in his diary that Gilbert visited various sites and relatives, and at one point he stayed with the Giffards at Chillington, Staffordshire. He was very fond of their children and enjoyed being with them. He would normally shoot during most of the day, but the whole week was “very wet” so he spent the days on the drawings for Spitalfield Church. His new shooting jacket had cost £2-6s-0d.
Work progressed at Spitalfields and the 6,000 Catholics quickly grew to 9,000, and seven Masses were celebrated every Sunday in the Spitalfields Schools. Here 500 could be squeezed into every Mass to the acute discomfort of all concerned, but it was evident that these arrangements were insufficient for the needs of the mission. Cardinal Wiseman, in a letter dated January 13th, 1853, gave his blessing to an appeal for funds which was launched in that month. The clergy were also faced with the need for further schools to accommodate the ever-growing number of boys and girls, living in the area served by the mission, who were clamouring for an education in Catholic schools. To resolve such difficulties would require almost superhuman strength. A private appeal was sent out to two hundred titled families living in the country but this only brought in £5!!! The poor Catholics of the area came to the rescue, subscribing the £600 which would purchase the site. Thus, began the construction of the Church of St Anne, which was later described by the Tablet as “…the best modern specimen of a conventual church adapted to parochial purposes which we know of in England”
February 8th, 1853 (Shrove Tuesday) “…Two letters from Mr Bernin stating they are not intending to spend more than £10,000 on their church”
February 11th, Mr Bernin “does not appear to know exactly what he wants with regards to their church .”
February 15th, “Attended a meeting of the Committee for the building of Spitalfields Church at which Mr Bernin was present. Also met him again at the Cardinal’s in the evening, when he decided upon having a new design for the church.”
February 16, “..on third design for Spitalfields Church.”
February 23, “..On Spitalfields ch third design. Mr Bernin called and gave me to understand he will have the original design for cross ch carried out, so I commenced again to work on it.”
Both Gilbert and Gibbins worked on the church plans for many hours but there were obviously problems of communication between “Mr Bernin” and France.
The foundations were commenced in the summer by Edward Reddin, of 43 Bankside, whose tender came in at £30 less than Locke & Nesham. Eventually, on May 13th1854, “Mr Chaurain (one of the Marist priests) and Mr Locke signed Spitalfields agreement.”
It is not clear when the foundation stone was laid but we do know that Mr Chaurain asked, on May 18th, “to have the laying of the first stone postponed for the present.” Work had definitely begun by the autumn, and the church was officially opened on September 8th 1855. The final bill brought the total cost to £11,351-12s-2d.
“The Church of St Anne, Spitalfields, by Mr Blount, is an excellent example of the Early English architecture of the later period. The nave and a temporary apse only have been erected, but the design embraces a copious chancel for the community, a central tower, spire and transepts, the foundations of which are already made. The nave and side aisles now completed are 90 feet by 71 feet and form an admirable church, with 23 confessionals (!) entered from the aisles…… There is an appearance of extraordinary massiveness in the walls and roof…. What would have been the west front if the nature of the site had allowed it, i.e. the front opposite the chancel, is ornamented with a large rose window, seventeen feet in diameter, several niches for statues, and four pinnacles. The entrance is a very richly recessed doorway. The pitch of the roof strikes us as flatter than is ordinarily adopted, and the architect has certainly affected the horizontal rather than the perpendicular in his enrichments. In this respect the style is a slight approximation to the Italian Gothic.”
William Farmer, a stonemason, who lived at 4 Mead Place, Westminster Road, Sutton, London, was to become stonemason for the majority of Gilbert’s churches. He had his works at Freeman’s Stone Wharf at Deptford, and he spent 86 days on the carvings at Spitalfields. The church was later extended in 1894 this realised more of Gilbert’s original designs. In 2007 St Anne’s Church was the Brazilian Chaplaincy for the Westminster Diocese.
The church hall, which was destroyed by fire on October 5th 1965, stood to the south of the church. Tenders were invited in April 1859, and Mr Kelly’s was accepted as contractor for £1,130. It opened in 1859 and, during the 1860’s, housed a secondary school for boys run by the Marist Brothers, the first of its kind in East London. The girls were taught by the Marist Sisters who came over from France in 1858. Gilbert designed a convent and school during the period 1862-63 and these were built in Hunton Court, next to Underwood Road. Gilbert Blount attended the official opening on June 1st 1863.
During the year 1852 Gilbert spent time working on plans for a presbytery at Gravesend for Mr Butt. Like the Crewe complex these plans do not appear to have been realised.
October 1852 was an important month for Gilbert because it marked his introduction to Hardman of Birmingham. However, it was not until November 12th, 1855, when he was in Birmingham journeying from Kenilworth to Chillington, that he “called at Hardman’s and went over his establishment”. This establishment was at 66 Great Charles Street. John Hardman’s father, also John, was originally a button and medal maker, but he set up the firm, John Hardman & Co, in 1838, to meet the growing demand for metal fittings for new churches. When the firm moved to Great Charles Street, in 1845, they also supplied stained glass. From that time on Gilbert was to use Hardman’s for most of his door fittings, tabernacles and altar rails. John Hardman & Co also had an office at 13 King William Street, Strand, London.
1853 was a busy year for Gilbert Blount as work continued at both Spitalfields and Blandford Square, two major projects. He also prepared two sets of plans for Lanark Church and Presbytery for a Mr Monteith. The designs for the schools at Homer Row (Marylebone Road) were also commenced during this period. At the end of the year Gilbert moved his office from 6, Duke Street, Adelphi, to his home, 1 Montague Place, where here he converted the stables. This property was where he was to live and work for the rest of his life.
During 1854 Gilbert spends a great deal of time on plans for a school at Winchester Row (possibly near Marylebone Road) and the school at Mortlake. He also carried out work at Clapham Convent and oversaw alterations to Hippenscombe House, near Chute in Hampshire, the home of Edmund Wheble his brother-in-law. At the same time, he was responsible for the enlargement of St Mary’s Training College at Hammersmith.
Thomas Riddell was the grandson of Gilbert’s aunt, Elizabeth Riddell. It was through her, that Gilbert had become an apprentice to Anthony Salvin, after he had left the employment of Brunel. In the November of 1854 Gilbert went to stay with the Riddells at Felton Park in Northumberland and, whilst he was there, he took ground measurements for a new church and he started to draw plans. We know from his diary that he also saw the village carpenter and had discussions with a stonemason. Gilbert paid a visit to Helm Moor Quarry where he inspected the stone which would be used for the construction of the church.
This church, St Mary’s, was finally completed in 1857, after endless delays with the builders during the years 1855 and 1856. St Mary’s Church had beautiful stone carved corbels, gargoyles and angels. The altar, which cost £50, was made by William Farmer and John Hardman and Co supplied the iron safe and the tabernacle. Sadly, this church is now a private dwelling.
Diary entries for 1855 reveal further projects and commissions:
On January 23rd 1855, “Heard from the Clapham Nuns, giving up my design and asking for my account.”
In April, Gilbert is asked to begin plans for the Chelsea Almshouses and a second design for the nuns at Clapham.
August 9th “Win Row Schools opened.”
September 1st “I understand Hansom has brought down the builders contract for Brook Green within the £7,000.”
Gilbert Blount wins the competition to build the college.
William Farmer, “the carver”, calls on Gilbert a great deal during this year.
In April and May Gilbert makes frequent calls on the Cardinal, usually in the evening.
On May 16th, “Breakfast at the Cardinal’s but he did not appear not having recovered from his fall.”
On September 11th he leaves a sketch of the Cardinal’s reliquary with Mr Searle.
Construction work ended at Spitalfields during the late summer of 1855 and Gilbert began the Church and Schools of Our Lady of the Rosary in Marylebone Road, London. It was his first large brick commission and consisted of a building on three floors. The ground floor housed the church and the upper two floors the schools. The only indication that it had a religious connection was a life-size statue of a Madonna and a bell turret, otherwise the passer-by would have thought it was merely a large house. This building was demolished in 1960 because it had developed severe dry rot.
The building of St Ambrose, Kidderminster was Blount’s next major project. It is not known who suggested or recommended him as architect, possibly it was his cousin, Sir Edward Blount, who lived nearby at Mawley, or perhaps it was Bishop William Ullathorne of Birmingham from whom he had received various other commissions. A diary entry for March 10th1856 records that “Rev Courtenay & Mr Hodges call about Kidderminster ch for which they told me to prepare designs.”
This church was built to replace a small chapel which was erected in 1834. Fr Ambrose Courtenay had taken a two-year long leave of absence, between 1853 and 1855, to raise funds for the new church. He travelled around the world but spent much of his time in Australia, where he later returned during the 1860s to set up missions and schools.
The first two of Gilbert’s designs were rejected, the third was sent to the bishop on June 7th 1856 and in response, on July 3rd, Ullathorne called on him and “settled to build the nave and aisles of Kidderminster ch to cost including commission £1,300”. The post on December 15th must have caused some distress at 1 Montague Place as, “had a letter from (E.W.) Pugin saying Kidderminster is his work!!!”
Matters were obviously resolved and the builder appointed was Mr R Wullow of Wolverhampton and the bricks and stone came from Burgess of Kidderminster. The first stone was laid on Whit Monday, June 1st 1857 and Gilbert travelled up from London by train for the day with N.W Hodges. The cost of tickets was £1-19s-9d for a day return and the journey took five hours each way. They left London at 6.15am and returned home by 9.30pm.
Later in the year the bishop informed Gilbert that he was “to carry out sacristy and adjoining chapel at Kidderminster.” However, relationships with the Pugins must have remained entirely amicable because Gilbert was in correspondence with Anne Powell, the eldest daughter of A.W.N. Pugin, who had married John Hardman Powell in 1850. Mrs Powell had moved to 5 Gordon Square, London in November 1856 with her children, to share the house there with her brother Edward and stepmother Jane. Her husband, John, divided his time between Birmingham and Ramsgate. By 1858 Edward Pugin had moved back to Ramsgate and Anne had returned to Birmingham but before their departure they held a party on February 10th and Gilbert Blount was invited.
“The Bish of Birmingham told me to get estimate of Kid spire & design altar – also told me he wants another job done”. This new commission from Ullathorne was for the design of a church for Bromsgrove which Blount began in January 1859. During the same week, in March 1858, the Canning sisters from Hartpury in Gloucestershire, together with the Bishop of Clifton, invited Gilbert to build a new church in Gloucester to replace the small brick structure which had been erected some years earlier in the garden of the priest’s house.
Work progressed, meanwhile, on St Ambrose’s Church where the bricklaying was carried out by T. Thomas of Kidderminster. During the months of April and May William Farmer, the stone mason from London, carved the main altar, font and pulpit for Kidderminster. The pulpit is now surrounded by mosaic and is adorned with painted figures of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John together with Saint Peter and St Paul. This was erected as a memorial to Mother Augustine who was headmistress of the school from 1888 until 1910. John Hardman and Co supplied the door fittings and tabernacle safe, which cost £100.
On August 17th1859 Gilbert left London at 6.15am on a journey to Stoke where he visited the site and viewed the progress of the schools which were being built for “Mr Northcote” before travelling on to the convent at Stone. James Spencer Northcote was a convert and former Anglican clergyman, who taught at Prior Park College in Bath before moving to Birmingham with Ullathorne when he was appointed bishop there. Northcote and Edgar Edmund Estcourt, who had also taught at Prior Park, both played key roles in the Diocese of Birmingham and, also, at St Mary’s College, Oscott.
This excursion also involved a stop-off at Kidderminster where he arrived at 9.30pm on 17th. Having spent the night there, he then, on the following day, attended the solemn opening and blessing of the church before returning to London at 10pm. Bishop Ullathorne was the celebrant at the Pontifical High Mass and Bishop Amherst of Northampton preached. The train fare cost Gilbert £1-1s-4d, dinner 5/6 and the cab one shilling.
The pulpit at Kidderminster was finished on October 9th1858. Gilbert never saw the tower completed as the spire was not added until 1901.
Inside the front cover of his diary for this year there is a set of accounts:
Nave & aisles: £1,340-10-0d
Chancel chapels & sacristy: £611-13-0d
Part of tower: £151-16-0d
In 1801 Catherine Berkeley married Robert Canning, a second son of an ancient family whose seat was at Foxcote, near to Ilmington situated on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire border. It is likely that upon their marriage the Berkeleys built Hartpury House for Robert and Catherine Canning leaving the ancient manor house, Hartpury Court, vacant. Sadly, Catherine died in 1823 and Robert remarried and had two daughters, Maria and Frances Canning, who were Gilbert’s second cousins.
Gilbert used to visit the Canning family at Hartpury in Gloucestershire on a regular basis, usually during the shooting season, and it was during one of these visits, in 1842, that he heard that he had obtained the trainee position in Salvin’s architectural office.
Mary Coote, the architectural historian of the English Second Order (contemplative) Dominican nuns, has discovered that Gilbert paid a boyhood visit to their community at Hartpury Court. The nuns were at Hartpury for forty years and this foundation was supported by Catherine Berkeley and later by her husband, Robert Canning of Foxcote. In about 1830 Robert Canning built St Mary’s Chapel for the use of the sisters and for the girls who attended their small school. In later years Gilbert was to build a new convent for the Hartpury nuns at Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight and it is said, that when he met with the community, one or two of the sisters remembered his childhood visit to Hartpury Court.
Robert Canning’s daughter, Maria, married Patrick Gordon in 1848 and they continued to live at Hartpury House. The family also owned Longford House, Gloucester, which is where Frances was living in the late 1850s and early 1860s. It is not surprising that Gilbert Blount was invited to draw up the plans for the new church in Gloucester on March 11th 1858. The commission directed that the new building, “was to be in the plain decorated Gothic style prevalent in England during the reigns of the three Edwards,”
Gilbert wasted no time and, by April 5th, the designs were completed and copies were sent to Frances and Dr Clifford, the Bishop of Clifton. Mr Calderbank, the missioner at Gloucester, was also consulted. The working drawings were started by the end of the month and further progress was made during a visit to Hartpury in the July when he “took dimensions of Gloster ground & called at Longford, but found no one at home”.
October 5th “Glos ch examining papers & drawings & sent contract drawings & also wrote to Mr Calderbank”.
In November Mr Calderbank called to talk over the plans, but, “… he now seems doubtful about light on the railway side.”
Wingate and Sons, the builders who eventually won the contract, were asked to estimate facing the church with stone. The Cardinal and Dr Clifford were clearly satisfied with the plans and by the beginning of 1859 papers were drawn up for the signing of the contract between Mr Calderbank and Wingate & Sons. Accounts at the back of the 1858 diary show a sharp rise in the train fare from London to Gloucester between March and December:
March 22nd Fare to Gloster – £1-0-0, Cab 1/-, Lunch 1/-, Fare to Lon – £1-0-0
December 3rd Fare Birm to Chelt – 10/-, Bus 6d, Hotel 9/3
December 4th Fare to Gloster -7/3, Fare Glos to Lon £1-5-0
Further entries in the diary shed further light on this important commission:
May 25th1859 “Went to Gloucester by 9.30am train & took up my quarters at Longford. Bishop of Clifton did the same & Mr Calderbank dined there”.
May 26th ” Gloster ch first stone was laid. I returned to London by 2.42pm train.”
Some four hundred spectators were present at the laying of the Foundation Stone which was almost certainly laid by Frances Canning who had given £1,000 towards the cost of the church. The first portion of the church consisted of two-thirds of the nave and aisles, the chancel, lady chapel and sacristy and cost £2,500. This phase of the building was solemnly opened by Bishop Clifford on March 22nd1860. Except for the altar-stone itself, which was of marble and supported by marble columns, the altar and reredos were of carved stone, beautifully executed by William Farmer at his stone works in Freeman’s Wharf in Deptford, London. The altar cost £120 and was paid for by the bishop.
In the year 1863 Gilbert designed the schools at Gloucester and these were built at a cost of £600. At the end of August 1865, a bill was sent to Dr Case, by now the missionary Rector, from John Hardman and Co for the East window of the church. It consisted of 5 lights all depicting the life of St Peter and the cost was £107-10/-. The fixing, with wire guards, cost an extra £120.
In August 1867 Dr Case was given permission to knock down the old presbytery and work resumed on the church to the Blount’s design, so that the nave and aisles were extended by two bays, ending in a western organ gallery and the façade at the ‘West end’, facing on to the street, included a rose window. A baptistery and spire (159ft) were added, the top stone and vane being fixed by Dr Case on the evening of August 3rd1868. A new stone pulpit with open panels, columns and steps of Devonshire and Irish marble was carved by William Farmer and given by Frances Canning. Minton tiles were used for the floors. The Lady Chapel and chancel were rebuilt, with a groin-vaulted wooden ceiling being added. Reynolds was the clerk of the works and he was paid £2-15/- per week. The builders were, once again, Wingate & Sons. The cost of all this work added a further £4000 to the total cost.
The completed church was consecrated by Dr Clifford on October 8th1868. The Gloucestershire Chronicle summed up the work,
“… that whilst the general effect of the incomplete building was neat and simple, undoubted appearance of the finished structure is extremely beautiful. The Roman Catholics of Gloucester may congratulate themselves upon having erected an exceedingly handsome ecclesiastical structure”
Gilbert’s final accounts were paid during the following February and work on the church, as far as he was concerned, was now completed. In 1863 he worked on some designs for the schools and these were accepted. The working drawings were sent to Canon Calderbank in the following May. The adjoining presbytery was designed by Canon A.J.C. Scoles after Gilbert’s death.
St Peter’s in Gloucester is still probably the best of Gilbert’s churches to survive in the way that he designed it.
1859 was to be a very busy year for Gilbert Blount as he was involved with Bromsgrove Catholic Church and Cinderford Cottages at Grove Hill Farm, Hellingby, in Sussex, a property belonging to Cardinal Wiseman. Further projects included the Convent at Westbury-on-Trym, the Catholic Church at Brentwood, a gate house for Highgate Cemetery in London and the schools at Wardour in Dorset. Gilbert also had various house alterations in progress as well at the monument for Lady Newburgh of Slindon. Anne Webb, a daughter of Sir John Webb, 5th Baronet of Odstock, was born at Hatherop in Gloucestershire on 14th February 1763. She married Anthony James Radcliffe on the 30th June 1789 and died at Slindon House, Slindon on the 4th August 1861. Plans for the monument seem to have been drawn prior to her death and these were sent to Wilkinson at Chichester.
A few diary entries for 1859:
January 21st: ‘Saw Bishop of Birmingham at 8 York Place (the Cardinal’s London residence), he told me he wants to build a church at Bromsgrove.
January 27th: ‘Left by 6.15am train for Bromsgrove, arrived there 11.7am & found the Bishop & Mr Estcourt. We examined the ground for proposed church. Then went to Grafton Manor, calling on the way at Mr Webber’s, the agent of the Shrewsbury Estate. Lunched with Mr Campbell. Looked at old ch at Bromsgrove. Returned to Birm & I returned to Lon by train arriving at 11pm.’
To unpack some of this detail, the Bishop of Birmingham was Dr William Ullathorne and Mr Estcourt was Edgar Edmund Estcourt, a convert from Anglicanism who taught at Prior Park, Bath, during the time that Dr Ullathorne was Vicar Apostolic of the Western District and living in the City. Estcourt was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in about 1850 and he followed Dr Ullathorne to Birmingham becoming his financial secretary and later Chancellor of the diocese. The Cardinal was, of course, Nicholas Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster.
Grafton Manor was situated about a mile from Bromsgrove and for many generations it belonged to the Talbot Family. The estate had been given to them by King Henry VII and Catholics had worshipped there in secret after the break with Rome. The Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 allowed Catholics to meet publicly for worship and so local families gathered for Mass in the chapel at Grafton Manor. John Talbot, born at Grafton in 1791, became the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury in 1827 and he moved to Alton Towers in Staffordshire where he endowed a number of Catholic foundations and, as result of the skill of his favoured architect, the area is, today, affectionately known as ‘Pugin-land’. The Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the wealthiest men in England and his chapel at Alton Towers was of great beauty. The altar was designed by Joseph Potter of Lichfield but its reredos was the work of Augustus Welby Pugin. In due course, after the death of the Earl, this altarpiece (altar and reredos) was moved to the new Church of St Peter at Bromsgrove, a church designed by Gilbert Blount. The old church at Bromsgrove had been dedicated to St John the Baptist.
More extracts from the diary:
February 17th: ‘Bromsgrove ch design finished and sent to the Bishop’
March 22nd: ‘Left Lon by 6.15am train & went to Bromsgrove to look at fresh site for ch. Mr Jeffries accompanied me from Birmingham. We saw Mr Campbell & Mr Webber. Saw the Bishop & dined in Bir. Called at Hardman’s’
Mr Jeffries was Canon George Jeffries, the Vicar-General of Birmingham Diocese. In the year 1867 he was appointed to St Peter’s, Bromsgrove. Mr Campbell was Rev Henry Campbell, the last priest to serve the mission at Grafton Manor. He was at Grafton from 1814 until 1874. At this time the secular Roman Catholic Clergy were not generally given the title of ‘Father’.
During the next four weeks Gilbert was spending at least eight hours a day on his plans for Bromsgrove. The diary entries continue:
May 14th: ‘Bromsgrove sent plans to Mr Webber. Invited builders to tender and wrote to Mr Jefferies.’
June 21st: ‘Left Lon by 6.15 train for Birmingham where the Bishop and Wilson signed Bromsgrove agreement. Went to Bromsgrove & fixed position of ch. Then to Gloster.’
Mr J. Wilson was the builder of the church and he lived at Soho Hill, close to what is now the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter. The stone chosen for the building was local grey sandstone and this was quarried from the site.
September 16th: ‘Bromsgrove ch – on Niche for western end and also windows. 7hrs.’
December 7th: ‘Left Clifton, called at Gloucester, Bromsgrove & Birmingham & returned to London.’
May 3rd: ‘Bromsgrove heard from Wilson about a settlement at West End.’
May 7th: ‘Bromsgrove went there. Called on the Bishop of Birmingham & returned Lon.’
May 8th: ‘Bromsgrove ch on relieving arch.’
May 9th: ‘Bromsgrove ch sent rel arch tracing to Wilson.’
To be continued and footnotes added