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Nowt marks the spot

How come Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of the Anglican Cathedral and the red telephone box, is anonymously buried under the road to a car park? Larry Neild investigates

Published on June 24th 2008.


Nowt marks the spot

WITHOUT a second glance or a split-second thought, hundreds of visitors to one of Liverpool’s greatest gems, the magnificent Anglican Cathedral, walk over or drive across the final resting place of its distinguished architect.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott lies in an unmarked grave close to the entrance to the cathedral.

Is this desecration of a tomb, or a reality of modern life, where even the dear departed are denied exclusive use of their own resting space?

A cobbled-stone hexagon, with loose gravel in the centre, marks the spot where Sir Giles is buried with his wife. He was laid to rest in front of the great West Door, rather than inside the building he created, because he was a Roman Catholic. Though a memorial stone to Sir Giles is given pride of place to him inside the cathedral.

So it is that Sir Giles is buried outside the cathedral in what is currently an unmarked grave, slap bang in the middle of one of the lanes leading to the car park. Is this desecration of a tomb, or a reality of modern life, where even the dear departed are denied exclusive use of their own resting space?

I went to have a look after an architectural historian pointed out that the great man’s grave is not marked in any way by a memorial stone.

It is easy to see why. When the cathedral bosses decided to create a pay-and-display car park at the side of the cathedral it would have been difficult to navigate a monumental tombstone, short of creating a mini island. That, though, would create problems and no doubt place the cathedral authorities at risk of litigation should a motorist, admiring the vastness of the place, collide into a fenced or raised memorial.

But you would have thought at least there could be, at the side of the roadway, some kind of plaque to signify the importance of the hexagon shaped area.

Maybe Sir Giles rests happily knowing that hundreds of thousands of people a year visit the cathedral he created high up on Saint James’ Mount.

That is how I would feel; happy for people to dance on my grave should they wish to.

Remember, as children, our parents warned us not to walk on graves so as to show respect to the dead.

Some, though, feel a grave is hollowed ground and should be given a wide berth.

Sir Giles was born in London in 1880 and, at the age of just 21, entered a design contest for a proposed great cathedral in Liverpool. He had developed an interest in church architecture much earlier and spent holidays steeple-chasing – visiting interesting places of worship to admire their spires. He was declared winner in 1903 of the Liverpool competition, selected from a short list of five.

His employers must have been cheesed off: they also entered the design contest and were ruled out. The cathedral authorities declared young Scott should work with George Frederick Bodley, and, seemingly, there was no love lost between the two. Scott was about to quit when Bodley snuffed it in 1907, giving the young architect the freedom to work alone. Scott’s original design would have seen twin towers in traditional Gothic style. He started from scratch and came up with the familiar building that dominates our skyline.

Scott won many other commissions, including Battersea and Bankside (now Tate Modern) power stations, and he also managed to find time to design the much loved red telephone box.

Locally he worked on Chester Cathedral and he designed St Paul’s Church, Stoneycroft (1916), the war memorial at St Saviour’s Church, Birkenhead (1920), All Saint’s in Wallasey.

He died in 1960 without seeing the completion of his greatest work, Liverpool Cathedral, which was not finished until 1978.

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V. I. Lenin AirportJune 23rd 2008.

At least Gilbert Scott's grave isn't surmounted by a memorial that is being systematically vandalised, as has been the fate of possibly the greatest Liverpudlian of us all, William Roscoe.Roscoe's memorial and its surrounding garden on Mount Pleasant have survived The Blitz, 60s slum clearance and Derek Hatton, but it couldn’t survive 2008, the European Capital of Culture, when we ought to be celebrating Roscoe and preserving his monument, not watching its degradation and gradual destruction.

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