Augustus Northmore Welby Pugin was born on March 1, 1812, at a house in Store Street, Bedford Square. His father, as is well known, had been a French refugee, who, during the horrors of the revolution in his own country, escaped to England, and obtained employment in the office of Mr. Nash, then one of the most celebrated and successful architects of his day. Nash was not slow to perceive the bent of his assistant's talents, and advised the young Frenchman to begin a series of studies illustrative of English Gothic — with a view to publication. Some of these sketches were picturesquely treated, and of sufficient merit to cause Pugin's election as a member of the old Water Colour Society, in 1808. But it was by his later and more strictly professional works that the elder Pugin first established a reputation. His Specimens of Gothic Architecturein England and his Antiquities of Normandy have been already mentioned. In addition to these, he published The Edifices of London in two volumes; Examples of Gothic Architecture quarto, 1831; Ornamental Timber Gables &c.
Of professional practice the elder Pugin had very little, and it remarkable that, of his many pupils, but few have followed the profession for which they were intended. There were, however, some exceptions, among whom may be mentioned Sir James Pennethorne late Surveyor to the Office of Works, Talbot Bury, and B. Ferrey, who was destined to become the biographer of the younger and more famous Pugin. The latter was educated at Christ's Hospital, where he showed at an early age great aptitude for learning. Even as a child, we are told, he was quick in all that he attempted, and expressed his opinions with a confidence which certainly did not abate in later life. After leaving school, young Pugin entered his father's office, where the natural facility of his hand for sketching soon declared itself. He passed through the usual elementary course of study in his profession, learnt perspective, and at once began to make drawings in Westminster Abbey.
About the year 1825, the elder Pugin went with some of his pupils to Paris, for the purpose of preparing a series of views illustrative of that city. His son, then a mere boy, accompanied him, and made such good use of his pencil that he was of real service to his father. In July, 1826, young Pugin and Mr. B. Ferrey visited Rochester, where they made many sketches of the Castle — the former carrying his researches so far as to take an accurate survey of the foundations. In the prosecution of this work he was more ardent than discreet, and twice narrowly escaped with life the consequences of his temerity.
In 1827, he again accompanied his father on a professional tour in France, and gratified his now rapidly developing taste for Medieval art by visiting the splendid Churches of Normandy. Up to this time his dislike to sedentary pursuits, and the dry routine of an architect's office, had prevented his entering on any practical work. The first employment which, he received independent of his father appears to been from Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, the well-known goldsmiths. A member of that firm, while engaged in examining some elegant designs for plate in the British Museum, had observed young Pugin copying a print from Albert Dürer, and soon became aware of his taste for Mediæval art. The lad's services were secured forthwith, and some clever designs resulted from the commission. Shortly afterwards Messrs. Morel and Seddon, the King's upholsterers, applied to xxxx Pugin for his professional assistance in preparing drawings for the new furniture at Windsor Castle, which had been entrusted to their care, and which it was determined should partake of the ancient character of that building. This was an excellent opportunity for the display of young Pugln's abilities, and, though he afterwards frankly admitted the errors of his youthful effort, it is probable that at the time the designs were made, no better could have been procured. During the progress of the works at Windsor, Pugin formed the acquaintance of Mr. George Dayes, a son of the artist of that name. This man occupied a humble position in the management of the scenery at Covent Garden Theatre. To a boy of fifteen who had never yet seen a play, the description of stage effects and scenery offered great attractions. At last his curiosity was gratified. He was introduced to the mysterious little world beyond the footlights — learned the art of distemper painting, and when the new opera of Kenilworth was produced in 1831, and it was required to produce something like a faithful representation of Mediæval architecture, young Pugin designed the scenes. During the period of this connection, and partly to aid him in his study of effect, he fitted up a model theatre at his father's house, where all the tricks and appliances of the real stage were in- geniously mimicked.
His tastes in this direction were but transient, and he was next possessed by an extraordinary passion for a maritime life. To the great distress of his father he actually commanded for a short while a small merchant schooner which traded between this country and Holland. In addition to the little freight, for the convoy of which Pugin was responsible, he managed to bririg over; some interesting specimens of old furniture and carving from Flanders, which afterwards helped to fill his museum at Ramsgate. In one of these cruises he was wrecked on the Scotch coast near Leith — a temporary misfortune, which he had no reason to regret, for it brought him into contact with Mr. Gillespie Graham, an Edinburgh architect of some repute, who, doubtless knowing his father's name, and perceiving the ability of young Pugin, recommended him to give up his seafaring hobby and stick to his profession — a piece of sound advice, which the young man had good sense enough to follow,
At this time, though many architects had adopted Mediæval architecture in their designs, few were acquainted with Gothic detail, and young Pugin's studies in that direction thus rendered him extremely useful to many who were glad to avail themselves of his services. Not content, however, with this secondhand employment, he embarked in sundry speculations by which he undertook to supply carved work in stone and wood to those who required it for the ornamental portion of their works. But his inexperience in the varying price of labour and material soon brought him into pecuniary difficulties, and, but for the assistance of his relations, he would have been imprisoned for debt, This failure showed him the importance of adhering exclusively to the profession for which he had been educated, and to which thenceforth he turned his serious attention. That he must have realised some money by its practice is pretty evident from the fact that, while still a minor, he married in 1831 Miss Garnet, a grand niece of Dayes, the artist, who has been already mentioned. His first wife (for he married three times) unfortunately died in childbirth, and a few years afterwards Pugin built himself a house near Salisbury, in the style to which he was so much attached. It was, however, far inferior to his later works, and he had not yet learned the art of combining a picturesque exterior with the ordinary comforts of an English home.
It was during his residence at St. Marie's Grange that he began to Inveigh so bitterly against the barbarisms which were still practised by the introduction of hideous pagan monuments into our noble cathedrals and churches, and which he afterwards exposed more systematically in his published works. He made a tour for the purpose of inspecting the principal examples of Mediæval architecture in the west, and improved his taste by constant study. In the meantime he had married again.
His second wife does not appear to have been pleased with his resi- At all events, Pugin, who had expended upwards of 1,000 l. on the house, made up his mind to sell it at a great sacrifice. It only fetched 500 l. He had now a gradually increasing practice, his principal work at the time being Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire, an interesting example of domestic Gothic, in which the lofty clock-tower was a graceful and picturesque feature.
Pugin's father and mother died in 1832 — and by their death he succeeded to some property which had belonged to his aunt. Miss Welby. His secession from the Church of England had meanwhile been an important event in his life. The causes which led to a change of his religious convictions, and the controversies which then arose, not only between members of the Anglican and Roman branches of the Church Catholic, but among those who belonged to the communion he embraced, have been amply discussed elsewhere. That he was sincere in his change of faith, and that it was the result of more serious considerations than those associated with the art which he practised, no one can, charitably, doubt. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the importance then attached to certain proprieties of ecclesiastical furniture and decorations has been vastly overrated on both sides.
In 1836 Pugin published his celebrated Contrasts a pungent satire on modern architecture as compared with that of the Middle Ages. The illustrations which accompanied it were drawn and etched by himself, and afford evidence not only of great artistic power, but of a keen sense of humour. To the circulation of this work — coloured though it may be by a strong theological bias — we may attribute the care and jealousy with which our ancient churches and cathedrals have since been protected and kept in repair. For such a result, who would not overlook many faults, which, after all, had no worse origin than in the earnest zeal of a convert?
In 1832, Pugin had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who, not only from his high rank, but from his attachment to the Church of Rome, and to Pugin's own views regarding art, proved to him a most valuable patron. This nobleman at once employed him in the alterations and additions to his residence, Alton Towers, which subsequently led to many other commissions.
The success attending Pugin's publication of the Contrasts induced him, in 1841, to bring out his True Principles of Gothic Architecture the title of which has since passed almost into a proverb among the friends of that style. An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England, followed in 1843, and in 1844 appeared The Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, compiled and illustrated from ancient authorities and examples. The influence of this work, as Mr. Ferrey truly remarks, upon polychromatic decoration in our churches has been immense. Among Pugin's other literary productions are The present state of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England reprinted from the Dublin Review 1843; Floriated Ornament, a series of thirty-one designs, 1849; Some Remarks on the Articles which have recently appeared in the 'Rambler,' relative to Ecclesiastical Architecture and Decoration, 1850. In the same year he published The Present State of Public Worship among the Roman Catholics, by a Roman Catholic; and in 1851 appeared his Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts, their antiquity, use, and symbolic signification, a work in which certain theories were advanced that called forth much warm discussion among ecclesiologists.
In 1841 Pugin left Salisbury and came to London, where he resided for some time at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea; but having previously purchased ground at the West Cliff, Ramsgate, he not only built for himself a large and commodious house on that site, but began at his own expense a church, which advanced from time to time, as he could best spare the means from his yearly income. In 1844 he became again a widower. His wife was buried at St. Chads, Birmingham, a church which he had himself designed. Lord Shrewsbury showed his respect and affection for Pugin by attending the funeral. This severe loss was all the more to be deplored, because Pugin had at this time reached the zenith of his professional fame. After remaining a widower for five years, he married lastly Miss Knill, a lady of good family.
In 1847 he made a tour in Italy, and his antipathy to Italian Architecture was in no wise lessened by his visit to Rome, from which place he wrote home in utter disgust with St. Peter's — with the Sistine Chapel — with the Scala Regia, and most of the architectural 'lions' which the ordinary traveller feels bound to admire. The Mediæval art of North Italy, however, filled him with admiration, and confirms the general opinion that, had he lived to see the present aspect of the Gothic Revival, he would have gone with the stream in regard to the character of his design.
In estimating the effect which Pugin's efforts, both as an artist and an author produced on the Gothic Revival, the only danger lies in the possibility of overrating their worth. The man whose name was for at least a quarter of a century a household word in every house where ancient art was loved and appreciated — who fanned into a flame the smouldering fire of ecclesiastical sentiment which had been slowly kindled in this country — whose very faith was pledged to Mediæval tradition — such a writer and such an architect will not easily be forgotten, — as aesthetic principles which he advocated are recognised and maintained. But it must not be overlooked that the tone of his literary work is biassed throughout, and to some extent weakened, first by an absolute assumption on the part of its author that the moral and social condition of England was infinitely superior in the Middle Ages to that of the present, and secondly that a good architect ought to inaugurate his professional career by adopting the faith of the Roman Catholic Church. Such convictions as these are excusable in the mind of a zealous convert, but they have no legitimate place in the polemics of art.
Again, as a practical architect, it can scarcely be said that Pugin always followed in the spirit of his work the principles which he was never tired of reiterating in print. If there is one characteristic more apparent than any other in the buildings of our ancestors it is the ample and generous manner in which they dealt with constructive materials. But Pugin's church walls are often miserably slight, his roof timbers thin, his mouldings poor and wiry. It may be urged — and, indeed, was more than once urged by himself — that the restriction of cost had often affected to considerable disadvantage the execution of his design.
To this it must be answered that stability of workmanship is a primary condition of architectural excellence, and that in the same churches which exhibit these defects there is an unnecessary and even profuse display of ornament. The money lavished on elaborate carving in wood and stone, on painting and gilding work which had better in many instances have been left without this adventitious mode of enrichment, would often have been more advantageously spent in adding a foot to the thickness of his walls and doubling the width of his rafters. The fact is, that the very nature of Pugin's chief ability tended to lead him into many errors. Of constructive science he probably knew but little. His strength as an artist lay in the design of ornamental detail. The facility with which he invented patterns for mural diapers, and every kind of surface decoration, was extraordinary. Those deco- rative features which with many an architect are the result of thoughtful study were conceived and drawn by him with a rapidity which astonished his professional friends. During the erection of the Houses of Parliament, and while his services were engaged to assist Mr, Barry, he dashed off, with a ready fancy and dexterous pencil, hundreds of sketches which were frequently wanted on the spot, and at a short notice, for the guidance of workmen. Indeed, even his more important designs were remarkable for their hasty execution, and were rarely finished after the fashion of an ordinary working drawing. To record on paper his notion of a church tower, or the plan of a new convent, was with him — if a labour at all — a labour of love. But the production of ornament he treated as mere child's play.
Four examples of Pugin's designs for John Hardman & Company [Click on thumbnails
for larger images and information about the objects].
It is, therefore, no wonder that his artistic genius should have been often beguiled into an elaboration of details of which his memory supplied an inexhaustible store, and which his hand was ever ready to delineate. The carver, the cabinet maker, the silversmith who sought his assistance, or whose work he was called on to superintend, might |reckon with safety on the rich fertility of his inventive power, and in truth Pugin's influence on the progress of art manufacture may be described as more remarkable than his skill as an architect. For the revival of Mediæval taste in stained glass and metal work we are indebted to his association with Messrs. Hardman. The attention which he bestowed on ecclesiastical furniture has been the means of reviving the arts of wood-carving and embroidery — of improving the public taste in the choice of carpets and paper-hangings. Those establishments which are known in London as 'ecclesiastical warehouses' owe their existence and their source of profit to Pugin's exertions in the cause of rubrical propriety.
His labours in that cause, and the strictures which he ventured to utter in connection with the subject, were not confined to the Anglican comm-unity. He found much that was irregular and contrary to tradition in the appointment and ceremonies of the church which he had entered, and he did his best to reform what he considered to be a degeneracy from ancient custom, and from the true principles of design. In his essay on the Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England he lays down, with great care and minute attention to detail, the orthodox plan and internal arrangements of a Roman Catholic Church. He describes the proper position and purpose of the chancel screen, rood and rood loft; the plan and number of the sedilia; the use of the sacrarum and revestry; the shape and furniture of the altar. These are matters upon which at the present time the clergy of neither church would require much information; but it must be remembered that before Pugin began to write, ecclesiastical sentiment was rare, and artistic taste was rarer. The Roman Catholics had perverted the forms and ceremonies which pertained to the ancient faith. The Anglicans had almost forgotten them.
But a change was at hand a new impulse was received from an unexpected quarter, which turned the tide of popular interest towards these matters. Whether the cause of religion has gained or lost by this movement need not here be discussed, but that it has been advantageous on the whole to national art there can be no question.
Elevation and chancel of St. Giles, Cheadle
One of the most successful of Pugin's churches was that of St. Giles, at Cheadle. The arrangement of its short compact plan, the proportions of its tower and spire, and the elaborate fittings and decoration of the interior, make it as attractive an example of Pugin's skill as could be quoted. Its chancel will certainly bear a favourable comparison with that of St. Mary at Uttoxeter, or that of St. Alban, Macclesfield. Indeed, in the latter church the flat pitch of the chancel roof, and the reedy,, attenuated look of the nave piers are very unsatisfactory, nor does the introduction of a clerestory (a feature which, from either choice or necessity, was omitted from many of Pugin's churches) help in any great degree to give scale and proportion to the interior.
(Left) Chancel of St. Alban, Macclesfield. Right: St. Georges-in-the-fields
In London, the most important work which Pugin executed was the pro-cathedral in St. George's Fields, Westminster. The fact that the upper portion of the tower and spire of this church has never been completed, and the subsequent addition of buildings at the east end, not contemplated in the original design, make it difficult to judge of the exterior as a composition. But it may fairly be doubted whether, under any conditions, it would convey to the eye that sense of grandeur and dignity which one might reasonably expect from a structure of such size. In the first place, the common yellow brick used for the walls is the meanest and most uninteresting of building materials, and in London, where It is chiefly used, speedily acquires a dingy appearance. But independently of this drawback, there is a want of vitality about the building. The pinnacles which crown the buttresses are cold and heavy. The carved work, though executed with care and even delicacy here and there, is spiritless, except in the treatment of animal form. Crockets and ball-flower ornaments are needlessly multiplied. The tracery of the windows is correct and aims at variety; and the doorways are arched with orthodox mouldings, but there is scarcely a single feature in the exterior which arrests attention by the beauty of its form or the aptness of its place.
Internally the nave is divided into eight bays, with an aisle on either side, carried to nearly the same height as the nave. There is, conse- quently, no clerestory. The nave arches reach at their apex to with- in a few feet of the roof, and the great height thus given to the thinly moulded piers (unintersected as they are by any horizontal string courses, which at once lend scale and apparent strength to a shaft) is a defect which becomes apparent at first sight. The aisle walls are singularly slight for so large a church, and one looks in vain for the bold splay and deep reveal which are characteristic of old fenestratlon.
Still there are features in the interior which reflect no small credit on I the architect when one remembers the date of its erection (1843). The double chancel screen, with its graceful arches and light tracery, though suggestive of wood-work rather than stone in design, is picturesque, and is effectively relieved against the dimly-lighted chancel behind. The chancel itself was said to have been well studied from ancient models. Architects of the present day may smile at the simplicity of its reredos, a row of ten narrow niches be-pinnacled, and canopied, and crocketed, each containing a small figure, flanked by two broader and higher niches of the same design, each containing a larger figure. But here again one must bear in mind that these details were designed and executed at a time when such design and such execution rose to the level of high artistic excellence beside contemporary work. Pugin had with the greatest patience trained the artisans whom he employed, and whatever may be said of the aim of their efforts, no one can doubt its refinement. We have far more accomplished architects in 1871 than we had thirty years ago, but it may be doubted whether we have more skilful workmen.
The church of St. Chad, at Birmingham, may fairly be ranked among Pugin's most important works. In plan it presents no great peculiarity, but the sloping line of the ground on which it stands, the lofty height of its nave, the towers which flank its western front, and the sculpture with which it is enriched, combine to give a character to its exterior which is wanting in many of Pugin's churches. The general effect Indicates some tendency on the part of the designer to a taste for German Gothic, without, however, any careful reproduction of its noblest features. Indeed, a glance at the details reveals at once the period of its erection — that period in which after long disuse the traditions of Mediæval art were revived in the letter rather than the spirit. Its slate-roofed spires are 'broached' at an abrupt and ungraceful angle. Its buttresses are long and lean, with 'set-offs' at rare intervals, and coarsely accentuated. Its walls of brick — once red, but now toned down by time and the noxious smoke of Birmingham to dingy brown have a mean impoverished look about them, which is scarcely redeemed by the freestone tracery of its windows, or the canopied and really cleverly-carved figures which adorn its western portal.
Internally the building displays evidence of Pugin's strength and weakness in an eminent degree. The chancel fittings, the rood screen with its sacred burden, the altar tombs — in a word, furniture of the church — are, if we accept the motive of the style in which they are designed, as correct in form as any antiquary could wish, and are wrought with marvellous refinement. But in general effect the interior is far from satisfactory. The attenuated and lanky nave piers rise to such a disproportionate height as scarcely to leave room for the arches which surmount them. The walls are thin and poor, the roof timbers slight and weak looking. There is no clerestory, and the aisle roofs follow that of the nave in one continuous slope. The aisles are moreover extraordinarily high in proportion to their width. An English poet has described to us the beauties of the 'long-drawn aisle,' but here the aisles appear to have been drawn out the wrong way. The chancel is of far better proportions, and with its elaborate rood screen richly gilt and painted, its oak fittings and bishop's throne, its canopied reredos and mural decoration, is decidedly a feature par excellence of this church.2 The rest of the interior is plain, and depends for its effect on the stained glass used in the Windows. Much of this glass is well designed as far as the drawing of figures and character of ornament are concerned, but it has the all-important defect which distinguished most of the glass of this period, viz. — a crude and inharmonious association of colour. This is especially noticeable in the windows of a chapel in the north aisle, where the tints used are peculiarly harsh and offensive.
In no department of decorative art have the works of the Middle Ages been until recently so hopelessly misunderstood and so cruelly burlesqued as in the design of stained glass. In the last century the inventions of Reynolds, of West, and others plainly indicate the prevailing belief that a painted window should be a transparent picture; and when Sir Joshua filled the west end of New College Chapel at Oxford with work of this description, he probably conceived that it was a great advance on the style of old glass — fifteenth-century glass-specimens of which may still be seen by its side. How far this notion was correct may be judged by any intelligent amateur who will compare the two works. The effect of Sir Joshua's window, with its simpering nymphs who have stepped on pedestals in order to personate the Virtues, is cold and lifeless, while the old glass, quaint and conventional though it may be in its abstractive treatment of natural form, glows with generous colour, which acquires double value from the fact that it is broken up into a thousand various shapes by the intersecting lines of lead as it crosses the glass at every conceivable angle.
The glass stainers of Pugin's time did not indeed fall into the error of supposing that they could treat the design of windows after the same fashion as an easel picture. But it is evident that they and their successors for years after gave less attention to the question of colour than to the drawing and grouping of their figures. The saints and angels of old glass are, it must be admitted, neither very saintly nor angelic in their action, if we are to regard them in the light of pictorial representations. But we may be sure that neither the most profound hagiologist, nor the sincerest devotee, nor the most enlightened amateur who has visited the cathedrals of York and Exeter, has regretted this fact in the very slightest degree. As well might a connoisseur of six mark China deplore the want of probability in every incident portrayed on a Nankin vase, or an admirer of old textile art object to the nondescript forms which pass for leaves and flowers on a Turkey carpet!
The truth is that in the apparent imperfections of some arts lies the real secret of their excellence. The superior quality of colour which long distinguished old glass from new was due in a great measure to its streakyness and irregularity of tint. In the early days of the Revival this was regarded as a defect, while the quaint and angular forms by which, in old work, the human figure was typified or suggested, rather than represented, were deemed barbarous and ungraceful.
So our enlightened art reformers of the nineteenth century set to work to remedy these faults. They produced a glass without blemish; figures were drawn and shaded with academical propriety. But this was not all. It occurred to them that by using larger pieces of glass they might dispense with half the dull heavy lines of lead which meandered over the old windows. Finally, they determined that the odd-looking patches of white or slightly tinted glass which they found in ancient work should be replaced in their designs by glass as brilliant as the rest.
Whatever may have been the contemporary opinion of these supposed 'improvements,'3 the modern critic can scarcely fail to regard them as thorough blunders.
Every one now admits that the conditions of design in a painted window belong to decorative, not to imitative art. It was with a wise purpose — or at least with a sound instinct, that the old craftsman shaped those awkward heroes and graceless saints in his window — crossed their forms with abrupt black lines of lead, and left broad spaces of delicate grisaille to relieve the more positive colours of their robes. The advantage of such treatment will be best measured by those who take the trouble to compare it with the blaze of ill-associated colour and dull propriety of outline which distinguish the glass manufactured some forty years ago. In our own time, indeed, accomplished designers like Mr. Burne Jones and Mr. Holiday have aimed at combining a certain abstract grace of form with beauty of colour, but the instances of such success are rare, and even when they occur it may be doubted whether such designs would not have been doubly admirable if employed for mural decoration.
The Church of St. Wilfrid, in Manchester (built externally of red brick), exhibits in the design of its nave arcade a more refined sense of proportion than is observable in many of Pugin's larger works. Here the piers are (comparatively) short, and the arches which they support are acutely pointed. The aisle windows are narrow, and, indeed, would, no doubt, have been insufficient for light, buffer those of the clerestory with which the church is provided. The rood screen — that indispensable feature in Pugin's churches, and one which subsequently became the subject of much controversy, is richly painted. The treatment of the altar and reredos is extremely simple, but far more dignified than the fussy elaboration of those objects in some examples of later work. One of the most interesting features in the church is the stone pulpit, which does not stand isolated, but is corbelled out from the wall on the south side of the chancel arch.
One of the main objections which were raised against the revival of Gothic for Church Architecture at this time was the additional expense which it involved when compared with the soi-disant classic style which had been so long in vogue. Pugin determined that St. Wilfrid's, which was erected in 1842, should prove, both in its design and execution, the fallacy of this notion. How far he succeeded in this endeavour may be inferred from the fact that the entire cost of the church (which will hold a congregation of about 800 persons) and of the priest's house attached to it, did not exceed 5,000. Although Pugin was thus not unwilling to enter the lists with utilitarians in a financial sense, he strongly objected to be led by their arguments in matters which affected his artistic views. The chancel of St. Wilfrid's was found to be very dark, and some time after its erection enquiry was made of him, as the architect of the church, whether there would be any objection to intro- duce a small skylight in its roof, just behind the chancel arch, where it would be serviceable without obtruding on the design. Pugin sternly refused to sanction — even on these conciliatory terms — the adoption of any such plan, which he declared would have the effect of reducing his sanctuary to the level of a Manchester warehouse.
St. Marie's Church, Liverpool, is an early and interesting example of pugin's skill. It is built of local red sandstone, and displays in the mouldings of its door jambs and fashion of its window tracery consider- able refinement of detail. It has no chancel in the proper sense of the word, but the easternmost part of the nave serves for that purpose. The nave arches are acutely pointed, and their mouldings die into an octagonal block just above the impost moulding of the pier. The peculiarity of this treatment is the more remarkable when we remember the stereotyped appearance which a nave arcade of this date (1838) usually presented, and the narrow license which was then accorded to inventive taste in the design of such features.
St. Marie's, in its plan as well as in the general character of its composition, is essentially a town church. It is now, and probably always was, surrounded by lofty warehouses of gaunt and dismal exterior, but stored inside, no doubt, with ample fruits of human labour and commercial industry. It is curious to turn aside from the narrow, dirty, bustling streets in which these buildings stand, and find oneself at once so suddenly and so thoroughly removed from the noise and turmoil of the outside world in this fair, quiet, modest house of prayer. It has no claim to architectural grandeur. It was built at a melancholy period of British art. Its structural features just do their duty and nothing more. The nave, which is of great length, has been left plain and undecorated. But on the 'wall-veil' and altar fittings at the east end of the church both architect and workman have lavished their utmost skill. The reredos of the high altar is extremely simple in general form but exhibits great refinement of detail. That of the Lady Chapel is most elaborate in design and workmanship. Figures, niches, canopies, pinnacles, crockets, and finials crowd into a sumptuous group — worthy of the best workmanship in the latter part of the fourteenth century. Modern critics urge with reason that that period affords by no means the best type of Mediæval art for our imitation. The revived taste for Gothic, which in our own day at first manifested itself in a reproduction of Tudor mansions and churches of the Perpendicular style, has been gradually attracted towards earlier — and still earlier — types. But we must remember that in Pugln's time late Decorated work was still admired as the most perfect development of Pointed Architecture, and he certainly did his best to maintain its popularity. The altar and reredos in the Lady Chapel of St. Marie are real gems in their way, and may be cited as specimens not only of Pugin's thorough knowledge of detail, but also of the success with which in a very few years he had managed to educate up to a standard of excellence, not realised during many previous generations, the art-workmen whom he entrusted to execute his designs.
Whether such excessive elaboration was judicious in a town church so dimly lighted as St. Marie's — whether it was even justifiable in a building whose structural features are certainly on no generous scale of stability, may be questioned. It has frequently been affirmed, and with some show of reason, that Pugin enriched his churche? at a sacrifice of their strength — that he starved his roof-tree to gild his altar. It is only fair, however, to point out that in many instances where this apparent inconsistency has been observed, although the buildings were commenced with but slender funds, subscriptions or bequests were added just as the works approached completion, and that the architect was thus called upon to spend in mere decoration money which, if it had been available earlier, he would gladly have devoted to a worthier purpose.
It is certain that in the one work which he carried out completely to his own satisfaction, because he was in this case — to use his own words — 'paymaster, architect, and builder,' there is no stint of solidity in con- struction. For that reason the church of St. Augustine, which he founded at Ramsgate, may be regarded as one of his most successful achievements. Its plan, which is singularly ingenious and unconventional in arrangement, consists of a chancel about thirty-five feet long, and divided into two bays, with a Lady Chapel on its south side, a central tower and south transept only, a nave and south aisle. The outer bay of the south transept is divided from the rest of the church by a richly-carved oak screen, and forms the 'Pugin Chantry Chapel'. The annexed view is taken from under the tower looking south. It shows the screen of the Pugin Chantry, the arch in front of the Lady Chapel, and a portion of the rood screen.
The whole church is lined internally with ashlar stone of a warm grey colour, the woodwork of the screen, stalls, &c., being of dark oak. The general tone of the interior, lighted as it is by stained glass windows (executed by Hardman, and very fair for their time), is most agreeable and wonderfully suggestive of old work. The roofs of the chancel. Lady Chapel, and transept are panelled; those of the nave and aisles are open timbered, but all are executed in oak. The altars and font are of Caen stone, richly sculptured. On them, as well as on the rood screen and choir stalls, Pugin has bestowed that careful study of detail for which, in his time, he stood unrivalled4. The exterior of the church is simple but picturesque in outline. As a composition it can scarcely be considered complete in its present state, seeing that Pugin intended to carry up the tower a storey higher than it is at present, and to roof it with a slate spire.sup>5 The walls are of cut flint, with string-courses and dressings of dark yellow stone. No student or lover of old English Architecture can examine this interesting little church without perceiving the thoughtful, earnest care with which it has been designed and executed, down to the minutest detail. It is evident that Pugin strove to invest the building with local traditions of style. This is shown in its general arrangement, the single transept and other peciuliarities of plan being characteristic of Kent.
Close to the west end of St. Augustine's Church is Pugin's house, externally a very simple and unpretending brick building with a square embattled tower of no great height, a steep roof, and mullioned windows. The internal plan is one which no doubt was convenient and pleasing to Pugin himself, but which would, hardly meet tlie modern requirements of an ordinary home. The principal entrance (from a paved courtyard at the back of the house) opens at once on a hall which is carried up to the entire height of the building. Two sides of this hall are occupied by a staircase; the other two, wooden galleries are bracketed out, and give access to the bedrooms above. This is a picturesque arrangement, but open to objection, inasmuch as it would appear impossible for inmates to pass from one reception room to another, or to reach the rooms above, without coming within sightvof the entrance door. The drawing rooms (on the right of the hall) are fitted with carved stone mantel-pieces and panelled ceilings of mahogany — a wood which Pugin seems to have liked very much — the centre of each panel being painted with some conventional ornament.
The dining room, which is opposite the entrance doorway, is a well proportioned apartment, depending chiefly on panelled work for its decoration. Here may be seen some of the quaint furniture which Pugin so cleverly and readily designed. The walls are papered with the armorial bearings of the Pugin family — a black martlet with the motto 'En avant,' The windows throughout the house are fitted with casements, the modern sash being among the owner's peculiar aversions. Plate glass was permitted in those windows which command a sea view, but small quarried' glazing is chiefly adopted for the others.6
Attached to the house is a small but well-proportioned private chapel, the interior of which is very effective in design.
Left: St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Right: Cathedral of St Barnabas, Nottingham. 1841-44.
The list of Pugin's works is a long one, including churches, besides those already mentioned, at Derby, Kenilworth, Cambridge, Stockton-on-Tees, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Preston, Rugby, Northampton, Pontefract, Nottingham, Woolwich, and a host of other places. Bilton Grange, erected for Captain W. Hibbert, Warwick; Lord Dunraven's seat at Adare, in Ireland (since remodelled by Mr. P. C. Hardwick), Scarisbrick Hall, St. John's Hospital, Alton, and the restoration at Chirk Castle, Denbighshire, may be mentioned among his works in domestic architecture. But notwithstanding the size and importance of some of these buildings, it must be confessed that in his house and the church^at Ramsgate one recognises more thorough and genuine examples of Pugin's genius and strongly marked predilections for Mediæval architecture than elsewhere. With one great national undertaking [the Houses of Parliament], indeed, his name has been intimately associated. But this marks so important a stage in the history of the Gothic Revival, that it must be reserved for another chapter.
Related Biographical Material
- A Brief Biography
- "A Marvellous Man": A Review of Rosemary Hill's God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain
- Pugin and the Gothic Revival
Last modified 12 November 2008