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William Drinkwater Gough
The search for the sculptor

The Carvings at St Alphege's

At long last light has been thrown on the identity of the man who produced the notable carvings at Our Lady & St Alphege, thanks in part to modern technology. In 1928 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott built what he described 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 Scott, the Bishop of Clifton, and what was claimed to be the "craftsman carver". Alongside each figure is an appropriate shield: the shield alongside the architect bears the inscription "AEGIDIO ARCHITECTO" (Giles Architect), and that alongside the craftsman carver the initials D, W and G, plus a mallet and crossed chisels. The figure of the architect Scott is a fair likeness and it was therefore assumed that the figure of the carver would similarly be a likeness. However, the identity of the carver has been a mystery. The guide book has always given his name as D. W. Gough, but nothing else was known about him. The standing figure has a good head of hair and a bushy beard. At his side is an arrow and what appears to be a young deer, the significance of which was not known.


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 failed to find him. 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 caused confusion for 40 years! Now it was possible to look further.

Early Years

From earlier censuses and other documents it is possible to piece together Gough’s history. He was baptised as William Drinkwater Gough circa 1861 in Toronto, Canada, the second son of William Drinkwater Gough senior and Jane Kennedy. His parents were not Canadian however, for his father had married Jane at Marylebone, London, in 1856 before setting off for New York the following year. By 1857 they were in Canada. The father was a mason, indicating the origins of his son’s skills. By 1871 Gough senior had brought his family back to London where he was listed as a master builder at Chelsea employing 12 men and 2 boys. Subsequently the father must have encountered hard times since he was shown as a bricklayer in 1881, but had risen again to Clerk of Works by 1901.

We don’t know much about William Gough as a young man. The 1901 census reveals him as W.D. Gough, sculptor, employer, age 40, living with his wife Mary Ann and daughters at Lansdowne Road, Tottenham, North London. This was to be his home for the rest of his life. Telephone directories reveal that his firm, W. D. Gough & Co., architectural sculptor and modeller, was at Magee Street, Lambeth, by Kennington Oval.

Working with Ninian Comper

The earliest piece of his work for which we currently have evidence is dated 1912, and this was for the architect Sir Ninian Comper. Comper was originally a stained glass artist, but he became one of the foremost ecclesiastical and monumental designers of the 20th century. He was also architect of 15 churches. Much of Gough’s earlier work seems to have been for Comper, viz:

• 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.

Statue of St Joan of Arc in Winchester Cathedral 1923. Following the canonisation of Joan of Arc by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 Winchester Diocese decided that in view of the fact that the Diocese had been present in the person of its bishop, Cardinal Beaufort, at the trial and condemnation of Joan in 1431 there should be some act of reparation. It was decided that a statue of St Joan should be erected in Winchester Cathedral facing Cardinal Beaufort in his chantry, in a symbolic reconciliation. Ninian Comper was appointed to supervise the work and he engaged W.D. Gough to undertake the carving. The fine bronze figure stands nearly four feet high, richly decorated by H.A. Bernard-Smith. In the base is a tiny fragment of stone from the dungeon in Rouen where she spent her last days.

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.

St Margaret's, Roath, Cardiff. A fine carved reredos with the figures of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. 1925.

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.

http://www.fluidr.com/photos/neilsingapore/1890814478 Gough also worked on other projects not associated with Comper:

• 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 is in 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 that year 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. They 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.

When Scott selected Gough for the work 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.

Old Age

In 1937 the firm of W.D. Gough & Co, architectural sculptor, moved their works out to Munster Road, Teddington, in premises shared with the recently listed firm of W.D. and J.H. Gough, builders, contractors and joiners. J.H. Gough was William’s son John Hugh, born 1904. In 1933 The Tablet journal reported that John had helped his father in the extensive restoration of an early sixteenth century statue of the Madona and Child which had lain buried for many years in the garden of a house near Exeter. The alabaster statue had probably originally stood in Exeter Cathedral but had been buried for safety during the Reformation. It was given to St George's, Sudbury, where it now stands. William was then in his seventies and it is likely that his son had taken over the reins of the firm, diversifying into general building and joinery work in the Recession. A lifetime with mallet and chisel would have taken its toll on William's hands and his death occured in 1938.

Origins and Reflections

Gough’s lived all his life in Canada and London but his family origins lay elsewhere, in rural Gloucestershire. His father had been born circa 1831, the son of James and Mary Gough, at Stoke Orchard, Bishop’s Cleeve between Tewkesbury and Cheltenham. His grandmother had been a Drinkwater.

It is interesting to reflect that when research into Gough’s origins started there was no knowledge of where they might lie; 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 country 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.

As a result of the ongoing researches into Gough and his work contact was made with descendants of the sculptor who kindly supplied family details. It is thanks to them that we are to display the sketch of William Drinkwater Gough below. A pleasing result of the researches was bringing two sets of first cousins back into contact with each other.



A tailpiece to the story is the realisation that, contrary to what had always been claimed, Gough never carved a representation of himself. What had always been claimed as the figure of the carver was in fact St Giles, patron saint of cripples, lepers and nursing mothers, and at one time protector against the Black Death - Giles being another reference to the architect. The deer in the carving refers to the hart that Giles had protected from an arrow shot by the king; the arrow lodging in Giles instead. It may also have been a reference to Deerhurst where Alphege had been a monk.

(With thanks to the family of W.D. Gough: Jane Beveridge and Jonathan Hammond, Hilary and Chris Wood (artist) )

For photos of more carvings at St Alphege's by Gough see pages: Alphege - the saint   and   Giles Gilbert Scott - the architect

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