Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1 March 1812 – 14 September 1852) was an English architect, designer, and theorist of design, now best remembered for his work on churches and on the Houses of Parliament.
He was the son of a French draughtsman, Augustus Charles Pugin, who trained him to draw Gothic buildings for use as illustrations in his books, and his wife Catherine Welby. This was the key to his work as a leader of the Gothic revival movement in architecture. Between 1821 and 1838 Pugin and his father published a series of volumes of architectural drawings, the first two entitled, Specimens of Gothic Architecture, and the following three, Examples of Gothic Architecture, that were to remain both in print and the standard references for Gothic architecture for at least the next century.
Pugin became an advocate of Gothic architecture, which he believed to be the true Christian form of architecture. He attacked the influence of "pagan" Classical architecture in his book Contrasts, in which he set up medieval society as an ideal, in contrast to modern secular culture. A fine example of his work in this regard is the church of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire.
After the burning of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, Pugin was employed by Sir Charles Barry to work on the new Parliament buildings in London. He converted to Catholicism, but also designed and refurbished Anglican as well as Catholic churches throughout the country and abroad. His views, as expressed in works such as True Principles of Christian Architecture (1841) were highly influential.
Other works include the interior of St Chad's Cathedral, Erdington Abbey, and Oscott College, all in Birmingham. He also designed the college buildings of St Patrick and St Mary in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth; though not the college chapel. His original plans included both a chapel and an aula maxima, neither of which were built due to financial constraints. The college chapel was designed by a follower of Pugin, the Irish architect J.J.McCarthy. Pugin also designed St. Mary's Cathedral in Killarney. He revised the plans for St. Michael's Church in Ballinasloe, Galway.
Pugin produced a "mediæval court" at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but died suddenly after a mental collapse.
Slightly less grand than the above are the railway cottages at Windermere railway station in Cumberland. Believed to date from 1849, and probably some of the first houses to be built in Windermere, the terrace of cottages was built for railway executives,A typical example is Old Codgers Cottage currently used as a holiday Cottage.The owners have researched its history to find that it was inhabited by the head Drayman for the railway company on the 1861 census. One of the fireplaces is a copy of one of his in the Palace of Westminster. He was the father of E.W. Pugin and Peter Paul Pugin, who continued their father's architectural firm as Pugin and Pugin, including several buildings in Australasia.
His father, Augustin Pugin (originally de Pugin), a French Protestant of good family, worked in the fashionable “gothick” taste of the late 18th century. In England he got work as a designer and illustrator of books on Gothic architecture and decoration compiled by the architect John Nash Elephant-siderography-LaBastille.jpg. He also kept a number of pupils whom he trained, together with his son, in architectural drawing. Every summer this little school went on trips to sketch Gothic both at home in England and also in France. In this way the younger Pugin accumulated a wealth of detailed knowledge about the Gothic style from an early age. At his father’s death in 1832 Pugin was able to carry on the illustrated series that his father had begun.
The young Pugin received his elementary education as a day-boy at Christ's Hospital, better known as the Bluecoat School. Pugin had shown a precocious talent for design and at the age of 15 went to work for the London furniture-makers Morel & Seddon, designing furniture in “gothick” style for Windsor Castle. At the same time he was involved, as a freelance designer, in making drawings of furniture and metalwork for other London firms. At 17 Pugin set up his own small business, supplying furniture and ornamental carved work for houses throughout the United Kingdom. After an initial success the business failed in 1831. During this period Pugin was also designing for Covent Garden Theatre, notably the staging for Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth adapted as a ballet.
In 1833 he was working with Sir Charles Barry on designs for King Edward’s School, Birmingham. This collaboration was followed in 1835-6 by detailed designs for Barry's entries in the competition to build the new Houses of Parliament. 1835 was a major turning point in Pugin’s career. His book Gothic Furniture in the Style of the Fifteenth Century was published, showing a new understanding of medieval techniques of construction. In the same year he built his first house, St Marie’s Grange, Salisbury, and most importantly, converted to Catholicism. While still a delicate youth he became intensely fond of the sea, had a smack of his own, did some small trading in carrying woodcarvings from Flanders, and was shipwrecked off Leith, near Edinburgh in 1830. This love of the sea was strong in him to the end of his life.
Architecture did not take up his entire attention at The Grange; from the tower of the house Pugin would watch for ships aground off the Goodwin Sands. He supplemented his income by the activity of wrecking - using his lugger "The Caroline" to salvage cargoes from wrecked and stranded ships.
Pugin began work on Thomas Rickman’s existing west wing, to which he added the library bay window, the garden porch and north-west turret, as well as external and internal decoration. Also in 1837 he designed the south front of the Hall; although this was further embellished when built.
The problems of planning the building were considerable, as it was the client’s wish to preserve the old part of the Hall, and any new work had to take this into account. Pugin’s solution was to provide a north-south and east-west corridor connecting the old and new parts of the Hall on both ground and first floors. The problem of lighting these corridors was solved with masterly ingenuity; Pugin put skylights over the east-west corridor and a glazed turret over the point where the corridors crossed. He then made the upper corridor floor half the width of the one beneath and introduced superbly carved bracket supports between which light could fall into the lower corridor. True to his own code, he had made an awkward problem into a feature of the building.
In 1838 Pugin proceeded to design the north elevation and this was followed by the Clock Tower in 1839. This has since been replaced with a more spectacular tower by E.W. Pugin (his son), but the original appears in the carved view of the Hall on the main staircase at Scarisbrick. It apparently had a steeply pitched roof over the clock stage, and was the prototype for the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament.
Drawings of 1840 show Pugin working on the windows of the Great Hall, and designing the series of attractive and humorous carvings that ornament the bosses on its exterior. This vast room was planned as a banqueting hall, and so the bosses all show scenes concerned with eating and drinking. In the same year Pugin made designs for the main staircase and staircase roof. The previous lack of this apparently vital feature would not have disturbed Charles Scarisbrick’s comfort, as there are two spiral staircases leading from the Oak Room and the North Library in the West Wing to his bedroom suite above.
In 1841 Pugin was engaged in designing the leaded windows of the Library. There is a range of very attractive geometric patterns in the leading of casements at Scarisbrick. The original effect must have been rich, as they were finished with gilding.
After this there comes a gap in the dated drawings. Pugin’s work was in demand from other clients, and although he continued to work at Scarisbrick until at least 1845, the first impetus was gone and Charles Scarisbrick’s generosity seems to have been wearing thin. From 1844 onwards Pugin was involved in the tremendous task of designing the interior decoration and furniture for the new Houses of Parliament. He was also keeping up his own busy architectural practice and finding time to write more books. Once asked why he kept no clerk to help him, Pugin replied: “Clerk, my dear sir, clerk, I never employ one. I should kill him in a week.” Instead, Pugin wore himself out, and died in 1852.
In such a short life it is remarkable that Pugin had managed to influence the course of architecture and design so strongly. Through his writings he could justly claim that he had “revolutionised the taste of England.” At Scarisbrick Hall he had been given his first real opportunity to put his ideas into practice, and the result must have justified Charles Scarisbrick’s expectations completely.
Much discussion has arisen concerning the claims of Pugin to the credit of having designed the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. The old Palace of Westminster had been destroyed by fire in 1834; plans for the new buildings were invited, and those of Charles (later Sir Charles) Barry received the approval of the Commissioners from among about 84 competitors. Work on the new parliament started in 1840 and Queen Victoria formally opened its two houses in 1852. At the outset Barry called in Pugin (1836-37) to complete his half-drawn plans, and he further entrusted to him the working plans and the entire decoration (1837-52). Pugin himself wrote: "Barry's great work was immeasurably superior to any that I could at the time have produced, and had it been otherwise, the Commissioners would have killed me in twelve months" ' [by their opposition and interference]. Pugin's biographer Rosemary Hill (God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (2007) shows that, Barry may have designed the Palace as a whole and that only he could coordinate such a large project and dealing with its difficult paymasters, but he relied entirely on Pugin for its Gothic interiors, wallpapers, and furnishings, including the royal thrones and the Palace's clock tower in which Big Ben hangs. It is very close in form to earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall. The tower was Pugin's last design before descending into madness and dying. In her biography, Hill quotes Pugin as writing of what is probably his best known building: "I never worked so hard in my life [as] for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower and it is beautiful."
Pugin had a long term professional relationship with John Talbot, the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury. It was an interesting combination of minds for both architect and patron were Roman Catholic converts: Pugin, a wealthy gentleman architect from the upper middle class, and Talbot, the richest noble in the land. It was, to all intents and purposes, a business partnership made in heaven for the furtherance of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Pugin's genius fused with the Catholic fervour and finance of the Talbots, and peppered Staffordshire with churches, convents and schools of medieval splendour and magnificence. Pugin, the medieval dreamer and set designer of Victorian Gothic found in John Talbot not only a friend but also a collaborator. The building programme was certainly led by Talbot as patron, with Pugin as his master-craftsman. Indeed, it has overtones of the rapport between Edward III and Henry Yevele, in the 14th century and of Henry VII and his master builder, John Wastell of Bury St Edmunds, in the 15th century.
The list of buildings erected by the Talbot–Pugin partnership in Staffordshire during the twelve years between 1836 and 1848 is formidable: St Mary’s, Uttoxeter; the Hospital of St John, Alton Castle and Alton Towers; St Giles’ Church, School and Presbytery, Cheadle; St Joseph’s Convent, also in Cheadle; St Wilfrid’s, Cotton; St Mary’s, Brewood. Fourteen buildings in all.
The first Catholic bishop of New South Wales, Australia, John Bede Polding, met Pugin and was present when St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham and St Giles' Church, Cheadle were officially opened. Polding persuaded Pugin to design a series of churches for him. Although a number of churches do not survive, St Francis Xavier's in Berrima, New South Wales is regarded as a fine example of a Pugin church. In Sydney there are several altered examples of his work , namely St Benedict's, Chippendale; St Charles Borromeo, Ryde; the former church of St Augustine of Hippo (next to the existing church), Balmain; and St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta, which was gutted by a fire in 1996 Pugin's legacy in Australia, is particularly of the idea of what a church should look like:
Pugin's notion was that Gothic was Christian and Christian was Gothic, ... It became the way people built churches and perceived churches should be. Even today if you ask someone what a church should look like, they'll describe a Gothic building with pointed windows and arches. Right across Australia, from outback towns with tiny churches made out of corrugated iron with a little pointed door and pointed windows, to our very greatest cathedrals, you have buildings which are directly related to Pugin's ideas.
After his death A.W. Pugin's two sons; E.W. Pugin and Peter Paul Pugin, continued operating their father's architectural firm under the name Pugin and Pugin. This work includes most of the "Pugin" buildings in Australia and New Zealand.
During this period he did much of his best work in writing, teaching, and structural design. Although at different times he had visited France and the Netherlands either alone, or in the company of the Earl of Shrewsbury, he did not visit the great cities of Italy until 1847. The ecclesiastical buildings of Rome sorely disappointed him; but he had his compensation in the gift from Pope Pius IX of a splendid gold medal as a token of approval, which gratified Pugin more than any event in his life. His second wife having died in 1844, he married Jane, daughter of Thomas Knill of Typtree Hall, Herefordshire, by whom he had two children. They were the first couple to be married in the newly built St George's Cathedral, Southwark, designed by Pugin, on 10 August 1848.
In the meantime he had removed from Laverstock, and after a temporary residence at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (1841), he took up his residence at Ramsgate, Kent living first with his aunt, Miss Selina Welby, who made him her heir, and then in the house called St Augustine's Grange, which, together with a church, he had built for himself. Of these he said that they were the only buildings in which his designs had not been curtailed by financial conditions.
Under a presentiment of approaching death, of which he had an unusual fear, he went into retreat in 1851, and prepared himself by prayer and self-denial for the end. At the close of the year his mind became affected and early in 1852 he was placed in the asylum commonly called Bedlam (now the Imperial War Museum), in St George's Fields, Lambeth, south London. At the urgent request of his wife and in opposition to the wishes of the rest of his friends, he was removed from the asylum, first to the Grove, Hammersmith, where after six weeks' care his condition had improved to such an extent that it was possible for him to return to Ramsgate; but two days after he reached home he had a fatal stroke.
A.W.N. Pugin died, at the age of 40, on 14 September 1852 as a result, not of insanity, but probably of the effects of syphilis .. His body is in a vault under the church that he designed next to The Grange in Ramsgate .
Pugin's legacy extends far beyond his own architectural designs. He was responsible for popularising a style and philosophy of architecture that reached into every corner of Victorian life. He influenced writers like John Ruskin, and designers like William Morris. His ideas were expressed in private and public architecture and art throughout Great Britain and beyond.