Very many thanks to Rowland Wateridge of Winchester for additional information. Photographs by the author. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to the Victorian Web or cite it in a print document.]

Choir screen, Winchester Cathedral

Medieval eastern-facing elevation of the Choir (or Quire) Screen at Winchester Cathedral. [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them.

Sir George Gilbert Scott took considerable care in his restoration work at Winchester Cathedral, working at first reluctantly and then sympathetically and conservatively with it. In his own account of the project, he explains:

Here I have done nothing but the opening out of the screen. I was called in about this several years back, but declined the task, thinking it impossible to effect it without altering old work.

In 1874 I was again called in, and on close examination, I found that the work forming the back of the returned stalls, and practically the east side of the screen, terminated precisely in a plane, flush with the back of the stalls, this plane bisecting all the mouldings as if they had been sawn down their axes; so that it was quite possible to open out the choir by simply removing the stone screen, which was modern [i.e. not medieval], and the rough timber framing against which the boarding behind the stalls was fixed.

This at once formed an open screen, and needed little more than the repetition of the same features on the west, which already existed on the east, to make it a sightly and consistent design. The screen, being thus bisected by a plane, wanted only the other half supplied to make it complete, and that without touching the existing work. [352]

Left to right: (a) Scott's side of the Choir Screen in situ, seen from the nave. (b) Looking up into the arch where two sides of the screen are joined. A passage overhead, accessed by a narrow stairway, links the galleries to the north and south, above the choir stalls. (c) Close-up of the carving on the side of the screen facing the nave.

This was the kind of work Scott was often called upon to do: "In several cathedrals Scott introduced open screens to make a necessary liturgical division while satisfying the taste for an uninterrupted vista to the altar" (Stamp). Although he is better known now for his metalwork screens, he did use wood as well, and it was mandated here by the existing and very fine medieval side. Thus Scott makes a point of stating "that no old work was disturbed, and ... the new western face is, in all parts which applied, an exact reproduction of the work on the eastern side" (352). The net result was indeed the desired "opening up," the solid stone screen having been without compunction sacrificed, and the wooden screen being now "all that breaks the view between west porch and reredos" (Sergeant 50).

However, Scott could still not escape censure. At first, the screen looked too pale – though this problem was solved during twentieth-century restoration work, when dark staining was removed from the rest of the woodwork. Then, the removal of the stone screen made the choir draughty, and some glazing was installed. An irate Scott comments that the screen "has been stupidly marred by filling in the openings with plate glass" (352). Such details give us a fascinating insight into the various considerations and frustrations of an architect dealing with such work.

Left: The organ gallery above the choir stalls on the north. Right: Overhead, the beautiful wooden vaulting of the tower.

Examples of Scott's more celebrated and richly decorated metalwork screens can be seen at other English cathedrals, such as Lichfield, and perhaps most famously of all at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the Hereford Screen is now prominently on display. These collaborations with Francis Skidmore were justly admired at the time, and are still admired now. But he himself felt that the "somewhat massive" Hereford Screen, especially as Skidmore had executed it, was "too loud and self-asserting for an English church" (291). Scott's more self-effacing wooden screens, here and (for example) at Ely Cathedral, are perhaps more in keeping with their ancient context. Unlike the Hereford Screen, they have stayed the course, and remain in place today.

Related Material


Scott, Sir George Gilbert. Personal and Professional Recollections, ed. G. Gilbert Scott. Ed. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1879. See Chapter 8. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of Michigan. Web. 13 April 2015.

Sergeant, Philip W. The Cathedral Church of Winchester: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See. London: George Bell, 1903. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of Michigan. Web. 13 April 2015.

Stamp, Gavin. "Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1811–1878), architect." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 13 April 2015.

Created 13 April 2015