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Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin
Architect and archeologist, born in London, 1 March, 1812; died at Ramsgate, 14 September, 1852; only child of Augustus Charles Pugin (originally de Pugin), a French Protestant of good family, who had fled from France and settled in London about 1798, and soon acquired distinction as a draughtsman in the office of John Nash, and as a teacher of architectural drawing. The young Pugin received his elementary education as a day-boy at Christ's Hospital, better known as the Blue-coat School. At an early age he took his place among his father's pupils, and in 1825 he accompanied a party to Normandy for the study of Gothic architecture. From his father he inherited a surprising delicacy and dexterity in drawing and from his mother, Catherine Welby, some of that force of character and piety which so distinguished him in after years. When fourteen he was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing drawings of Rochester Castle, and the year following, on occasion of his second visit to France, we find him suffering from overwork while sketching in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Paris. In the same year he was engaged to design furniture for Windsor Castle. In his youth a passion for theatrical accessories took possession of him. He fitted up a model stage with mechanical appliances of all kinds on the upper floor of his father's house in Great Russell St.; he executed the scenery for the new ballet opera of "Kenilworth", which owed its success largely to the architectural effects of his scenery; and subsequently he worked at the rearrangement of the stage machinery of Drury Lane. 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 in 1830. This love of the sea was strong in him to the end of his life.
In 1831 he married Ann Garnett, and shortly afterwards was imprisoned for non-payment of rent. He then opened a shop in Hart Street, Covent Gardens, for the supply of architects' drawings and architectural accessories. The venture, however, did not succeed. His wife died in childbirth 27 May, 1832. In 1833 he married Louisa Burton who bore him six children, among whom were the two who successively carried on his business, the eldest, Edward (d. 1875) and the youngest, Peter Paul (d. 1904). Both received from the pope the decoration of the Order of St. Sylvester. After his second marriage he took up his residence at Salisbury, and in 1834 embraced the Catholic Faith, his wife following his example in 1839. Of his conversion he tells us that the study of ancient ecclesiastical architecture was the primary cause of the change in his sentiments, by inducing him to pursue a course of study, terminating in complete conversion. He never swerved in his fidelity to the Church, notwithstanding the bitter trials he experienced. he found that he had exchanged the noble English cathedrals with their service of chant for Moorfield chapel with its maimed rites.
In 1835 he bought a small plot of ground at Laverstock, near Salisbury, on which he built for himself a quaint fifteenth-century house, St. Marie's Grange. In 1837 he made the acquaintance of the authorities of St. Mary's College, Oscott, where his fame as a write had preceded him. He found there men in sympathy with his ideas about art and religion. The president, Rev. Henry Weedall, was so impressed by him, that he accepted his services for the completion of the new chapel and for the decorations of the new college, which was opened in 1838. He designed the apse with its effective groinings, the stained glass of the chancel windows, the decorated ceiling, the stone pulpit, and the splendid Gothic vestments. He constructed the reredos of old wood-carvings brought from the Continent, he placed the Limoges enamels on the front of the super-altar, he provided the seventeenth-century confessional, altar rails, and stalls, the carved pulpit (from St. Gertrude's, Louvain), the finest in England, as well as the ambries and chests of the sacristy (see "The Oscotian", July, 1905). He built both lodges and added the turret called "Pugin's night-cap" to the tower. Above all he inspired superiors and students with an ardent enthusiasm for his ideals in Gothic art, liturgy, and the sacred chant. Tradition points out the room in which on Saturday afternoons he used to instruct the workmen from Hardman's, Birmingham, in the spirit and technic of their craft. The president appointed him professor of ecclesiastical antiquities (1838-44). While at the "Old College" he gave his lectures in what is now the orphans' dining-room, and at the new college in a room which still bears in the inscription "Architectura". This association with one of the leading Catholic colleges in England afforded him valuable opportunities for the advancement of his views. During this period he did much of his best work in writing, teaching, and structural design. Although at different times he had visited Frances and the Netherlands either alone, or in the company of his father 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 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 in 1848 Jane, daughter of Thomas Knill of Typtree Hall, Herefordshire, by whom he had two children. 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, 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-dential 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, in St. George's Fields, Lambeth. 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.
Pugin was somewhat below the middle stature and rather thick-set, with long dark hair and grey eyes that seemed to take in everything. He usually wore a sailor's jacket, loose pilot trousers, a low-crowned hat, a black silk handkerchief thrown negligently round his neck, and shapeless footwear carelessly tied. His form and attire suggested the seaman rather than a man of art. A voluble talker both at work and at table, he possessed a fund of anecdote and a great power of dramatic presentation; and when in good health overflowed with energy and good humour. And if sometimes his language was vigorous or personal, he was generous and never vindictive. Inured to industry from childhood, as a man he would work from sunrise to midnight with extraordinary ease and rapidity. His short thick hands, his stumpy tapering fingers, with the aid of a short pencil, a paid of compasses and a carpenter's rule, performed their delicate work even under such unfavourable circumstances as sailing his lugger off the South Coast. Most of his architectural work he entrusted to an enthusiastic builder whom he had known as a workingman at Beverley. He trained the workmen he employed, and was in turn idolized by them. In his home at Ramsgate he lived with the regularity and abstemiousness of a monk, and the intellectual eagerness of a student. His benevolence made him everywhere the father of the poor.
His life was a battle for truth and fitness in architecture. He fought for the Christian inspiration of medievalism as against the cold paganism of the classic style. The victor4y ultimately fell to his side. The Englishman of today can with difficulty realize the condition of bad taste and ignorance which prevailed in matters of art at the commencement of the nineteenth century. "When Welby Pugin began his labours," says Ferrey, "there was not a single building of modern date, either public or private, which was not a reproach and a disgrace to the country." And although not alone, still more than any other man Pugin worked for a restoration. He revealed the principles of the medieval builder and the enlightened skill of their craftsmen. Others have since applied his principles. The occasional exaggeration or narrowness of his views has been corrected or avoided; and it remains true that the restoration of our ancient churches, as well as the varied beauty of many of our new structures, is due to the ability and unconquerable energy of Pugin. He was the man for his time. Gothic art was being studied, and many were turning their thoughts to the Church out of which it had sprung. Still, prejudice had to be broken down and ignorance removed; but the spirit of Pugin triumphed in the end.
The following may be set down as typical and fairly complete:
Much discussion has arise 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 Barry (afterwards Sir Charles) received the approval of the Commissioners from among some eighty-four competitors. The first stone of the new erection was laid in 1840 and the queen formally opened the 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's own statement on the subject is decisive: "Barry's great work", he said, "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 a twelve-month" (i.e. by their opposition and interference).
The influence he wielded must be ascribed as much to his vigorous writings and exquisite designs as to any particular edifice which he erected. His "Contracts (1836) placed him at once ahead of the pioneers of the day. His "Glossary" (1844), so brilliant a revival in form and colour, produced nothing short of a revolution in church decoration. Scarcely less important were his designs for "Furniture" (1835), for "Iron and Brass Work" (1836), and for "Gold and Silver-Smiths" (1836) to which should be added his "Ancient Timber Houses of the XVth and XVIth Centuries" (1836), and his latest architectural work on "Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts" (1851). Besides the above elaborately illustrated productions, many other explanatory and apologetical writings, especially his lectures delivered at Oscott (see "Catholic Magazine", 1838, April and foll.) gave powerful expression to the message he had to deliver. As closely allied with his idea of the restoration of constructive and decorative art, he brought out a pamphlet on the chant: "An Earnest Appeal for the Revival of the Ancient Plain Song" (1850). It is worthy of mention that some of his earliest drawing appears in the volumes published by his father ("Examples of Gothic Architecture", 1821, 226 plates; "Architectural Antiquities of Normandy", 1828, 80 plates; "Gothic Ornaments, England and France", 1831, 91 plates). In knowledge of medieval architecture and in his insight into its spirit and form, he stood above all his contemporaries. As a draughtsman he was without a rival. The success of his career is to be sought not so much in the buildings he erected, which, being mostly for the Catholic body, were nearly always shorn of their chief splendour by the poverty of his patrons. He invented now new forms of design, though he freely used the old; his instinct led him to Art as such, but to the Gothic embodiement of Art, which seemed to him the only true form of Christian architecture. He lacked the patience and breadth of the truly great mind, yet he may justly claim to rank as the architectural genius of the century. His unquestioned merit is the restoration of architecture in England and the revival of the forms of medieval England, which since his day have covered the land. Queen Victoria granted his widow a pension of 100 pounds a year, and a committee of all parties founded the Pugin Travelling Scholarship (controlled by the Royal Institute of British Architects) as the most appropriate memorial of his work and a partial realization of the project which he had brought forward in his "Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England" (1843),
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