I have written a book, Free Seats For All to mark the bicentenary of the Incorporated Church Building Society (1818-2018. ICBS was finally absorbed into the National Churches Trust which presents the King of Prussia Gold Medal for church repair and conservation architecture each year. Its history is just being revealed.
In May 1857, the Prussian Consul to Britain passed on a letter from the King of Prussia’s architect, Friedrich August Stüler to Rev Thomas Bowdler, Secretary to the ICBS. Bowdler had died the previous year so the letter only came before the Board in July 1857.
Stüler was a very distinguished architect, pupil of Schinkel, and had just completed his masterpiece the Neues Museum in Berlin. He was commanded by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, a passionate and committed patron of architecture, to express thanks to ICBS for some plans and drawings that he had received “showing the very satisfactory activity of the Society.” He enclosed a gold medal “to be presented by the Society at its own discretion in the name of his Majesty to the Architect whose exertions may have been most conducive to its success.” It was clear from the rest of the letter that Stüler had either recently visited London or had wider correspondence with someone in ICBS. At the time of writing he was involved in the design of three churches in Prussia and the completion of the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, a particularly important project for the King.
The ICBS Board looked long and deeply into the mouth of this gift horse. They discovered a ‘communication’ from Samuel Sanders Teulon about plans that the late Mr. Bowdler had suggested to be sent to Prussia; the committee postponed discussion yet again to find out what this all meant. Finally, in December 1857, they carefully stated that “the Board cannot admit that there exists any claim on the Society for the expenses of the same” and resolved to ask Bowdler’s executors if the Board should follow the King’s wishes. Almost a year after the letter was sent it was decided to award the medal, at some point, as there appeared to be no quid pro quo or hidden financial problem.
The medal was designed by Christoph Carl Pfeuffer inspired by a medal designed by Benjamin Wyon that Friedrich Wilhelm himself received on a visit to England in 1842 for the christening of the future Edward VII for whom the King stood as sponsor (or royal godfather).
Friedrich August Stüler is known to have been in England that same year, specifically looking at cast iron buildings. and we can presume that his research would have included the iron churches built in Liverpool by Thomas Rickman.
GILL HEDLEY www.gillhedley.co.uk