Seely and Paget 1956-1969

History
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Seely and Paget 1956-1969

Partners in Design

John Seely & Paul Paget were brought together both in a life partnership and in a professional architectural practice. The men were successive Surveyors of St Paul’s Cathedral and they oversaw some of the most significant architectural additions to the building of the twentieth century including: the pulpit, the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire, the lighting in the Quire, the Baldaccino altar canopy and the stained glass in the apse.
 

John Seely (1899-1963) was the eldest surviving son of the 1st Baron Mottistone. He studied architecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met Paul Edward Paget (1901-1985). The pair became inseparable: in Paul’s words, ‘it was just the marriage of two minds … we became virtually one person’.


The pair went into business in 1922. The two had excellent society connections, as the heir to a title and son of a bishop respectively, they immediately found work. They also worked on a series of houses on the Isle of White estate of John’s father, Lord Mottistone, including the restoration and extension of Mottistone Manor.  The two were inseparable in business as in their personal life – each referred to the other simply as ‘the partner’.
A homosexual relationship between the two men would have been illegal for most of their lives and they were never “Out”. When they met in the early 20th century, homosexuality was illegal, the police actively enforced laws prohibiting sexual behaviour between men and, by the end of 1954, there were over 1000 gay men imprisoned in England and Wales. 


John was appointed Surveyor of St Paul’s in 1956 on the basis of work he and Paul had completed on churches around the country and for the Diocese of London in the post war period. It also no doubt helped that the Dean, Walter Matthews, knew the pair well, and had worked with Paul’s father – the Bishop of Chester. The two major achievements of John’s tenure as Surveyor were the design of the Cathedral pulpit and the Chapel for the Order of the British Empire.   


The OBE Chapel:

John’s first decision was to conceal as little of the original Christopher Wren fabric as possible, delineating the space with wrought iron grilles rather than by the introduction of carved wood panelling which separates the chapels on the cathedral floor from the nave. Inserted in to the framework of these iron grilles are panels of glass, painted in Grisaille (grey monochrome) by their friend the artist Brian Thomas. The panels depict the origins of the order – its Royal founders and emblems from around the Commonwealth. Brian Thomas also provided windows to surround the chapel, depicting acts of mercy from the Bible.    

 
The Pulpit:

Once the Chapel was complete the pair turned to their next great challenge - designing a pulpit for St Paul’s. By virtue of its purpose as a preaching platform the pulpit is a liturgical focus of attention and has to hold its own in a vast space beneath the dome. By 1960 it was felt that a wooden pulpit, more in keeping with the quire was desirable and John set about designs, these were approved by the Cathedral Chapter in 1962 and work  commenced. Making a piece of furniture this size was a complicated project involving several different companies: Freeman Fox and Partners, structural engineers, provided the steel work supports, Barlow, Leslie and Partners the  electrical engineers provided the light and microphone, and HH Martyn, wood carvers  produced the main body work.

Just as the various companies busied themselves John died unexpectedly on the 18th January 1963.  He would never see his plans executed. It was left to Paul to oversee completion and install the piece in 1964, The Dean, Walter Matthews described the pulpit as a magnificent memorial to John Seely. The pulpit has been used almost daily ever since its installation. One of its earliest uses was by Martin Luther King who stopped off in London in December 1964 on his way to collect the Nobel peace prize, and preached from the pulpit to a crowd of over 3000 people. 


Paul succeeded John as Surveyor in 1963 but, without his partner, nor any formal architectural training, he felt unable to continue alone for long. However, loyal to his partner in everything, he was determined to complete the things John had started but not seen finished: not only the pulpit but the Choir School and the tower of St Augustine’s as well as the cleaning of the cathedral exterior. Paul retired from the Surveyorship in 1969 and married for the first time shortly afterwards at the age of 70. His new spouse was the children’s writer Verily Anderson, with her friend, the comedian and actress, Joyce Grenfell as bridesmaid. They moved to Templewood near Northrepps in Norfolk, a home John and Paul had decorated with a ceiling mural depicting St Paul’s Cathedral.