Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pugin, Augustus Welby Northmore
PUGIN, AUGUSTUS WELBY NORTHMORE (1812–1852), architect, ecclesiologist, and writer, born on 1 March 1812 at 34 Store Street, Bedford Square, was son of Augustus Charles Pugin [q. v.], from whom he received his training as an architect and inherited a remarkable facility in draughtsmanship. After being educated at Christ's Hospital as a private student, he joined his father's pupils, and for two or three years assisted his work as an archæologist, architect, and illustrator. In his thirteenth year he was sufficiently advanced to accompany his father on an architectural visit to Paris; and a drawing of Christ Church, Hampshire (reproduced in Ferrey's ‘Recollections’), testifies to his precocious powers of sketching.
In 1826 he was engaged in making investigations and drawings of Rochester Castle, and in the following year was taken ill from overwork while sketching in the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Paris. After assisting his father in preparing a scheme, which resulted in the establishment of Kensal Green cemetery, he engaged in June 1827 in his first important independent work, the designing of the furniture for Windsor Castle. This commission led incidentally to an acquaintance with George Dayes, son of the artist Edward Dayes [q. v.], and it was through him, says Pugin in his ‘Diary’ (26 June 1827), ‘that I first imbibed the taste for stage-machinery and scenic representations, to which I afterwards applied myself so closely.’ His enthusiasm for theatrical accessories led him to fit up a small model stage at his father's house in Great Russell Street (on which was presented a moving panorama of ‘Old London’), and it culminated in 1831 with the execution, by Pugin, of scenery for the new ballet of ‘Kenilworth,’ an adaptation of a spectacular piece which had been first presented at Drury Lane in January 1824 (Genest, Hist. ix. 232). He was subsequently employed in the rearrangement of the stage machinery at Drury Lane. While still under age and in uncertain health, he developed another taste which exercised a great influence on his life: he became passionately fond of sailing, purchased a smack, and subsequently a lugger, and at one time took to trading by sea in a small way. In 1830 he was shipwrecked off Leith, and made his way to the residence of James Gillespie Graham [q. v.], the architect, to whom he was a complete stranger. Graham gave him, besides some good advice, the compasses which figure in Herbert's portrait of him. His passion for the sea was never subdued. His ordinary costume was that of a pilot, and, but for his hatred of beer and tobacco, he might have been taken for one. ‘There is nothing worth living for,’ he is reported to have said, ‘but Christian architecture and a boat.’
In 1831, at the age of nineteen, he married Ann Garnett (a connection of George Daves), who died in childbirth on 27 May 1832, and was buried at Christ Church Priory. Soon after the marriage Pugin was imprisoned for debt, and after his release opened in Hart Street, Covent Garden, a sort of workshop of architectural details. His intention was to supply to architects drawings and architectural accessories, such as carving and metal work, for designing which he justly felt he had unequalled capacity. The venture was not pecuniarily successful, and Pugin was forced to abandon it, though he ultimately paid his creditors in full. In 1833 he married his second wife, Louisa Burton, and established himself at Salisbury. In 1835 he bought an acre of ground at Laverstock, an adjoining hamlet, and built on it a house named St. Marie's Grange. In 1841 he left Salisbury for a temporary sojourn at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Subsequently he settled at Ramsgate, where resided his aunt, Miss Selina Welby, who eventually made him her heir. At Ramsgate he built for himself a house with a church adjoining on the West Cliff, and was wont to assert that these were the only buildings in which, being his own paymaster, his designs were not hampered by financial restrictions. Soon after his second marriage he was received into the Roman catholic church. He took this step under a sense of its spiritual importance, though on his own admission he was first drawn to Roman catholicism by his artistic sympathies. He believed the Roman catholic religion and Gothic art to be intimately associated, and came to regard it as almost a religious obligation for catholics to encourage Gothic architecture and no other (cf. W. G. Ward and the Oxford Movement, pp. 153–5). At Ramsgate, profiting by the propinquity of his church, he spent much time in the observance of religious rites, and practised a rigid asceticism.
Meanwhile Pugin began a regular architectural practice. Accident had made him acquainted with the Earl of Shrewsbury, to whose patronage he owed some of his most congenial opportunities of architectural work. He designed for the earl the additions to Alton Towers, the church at Cheadle, and the chapel and other buildings at St. John's Hospital, Alton, and rebuilt the castle on Alton Rock. In 1835 he first appeared as an architectural author, publishing his ‘Gothic Furniture in the Style of the Fifteenth Century’ (London, 4to). This was followed in 1836 by his ‘Ancient Timber Houses’ (London, 4to), and by a more remarkable and very polemical publication, the celebrated ‘Contrasts’ (Salisbury, 4to), in which, by means of satirical sketches and cutting sarcasm, the so-called ‘Pagan’ method of architecture is compared to its disadvantage with the ‘Christian.’
In the same year (1836) the report of the commissioners on the competing schemes for the new houses of parliament was issued. No design had been sent in under Pugin's name, but it was well known that he had assisted one of the competitors, Gillespie Graham. The design of Charles (afterwards Sir Charles) Barry [q. v.] was chosen, and Barry was appointed the architect for the new building. Barry employed Pugin in the gigantic task of providing the detail drawings during six or seven following years. In 1867, after both Pugin and Barry were dead, the former's son, Edward Welby Pugin [q. v.], claimed that his father originated the design which Sir Charles Barry submitted in the competition, and was the guiding spirit of the design as carried out. Edward Pugin declared that Barry adopted a scheme of his father's conception, and sent it in after it had been redrawn in his own office in order to conceal its likeness in handiwork to the design which was nominally Graham's. This claim was hardly substantiated; but it is probable that while Barry initiated the design—and he must in any case be allowed the whole credit of the arrangement of the plan—Pugin was called in as a skilled draughtsman to assist in the completion of Barry's half-finished drawings. In such work a man of his originality could hardly have acted as a mere copyist; and it may therefore be concluded that he had at least a share at this stage in the elegance and artistic merit which won for Barry's design the first place in the competition. With regard to the working drawings prepared after the competition, every witness, including Sir Charles Barry, acknowledges that the detail drawings all came from Pugin's hand; and when it is considered how largely the effect of that building is due to its details, no critic will deny to Pugin an all-important share in the credit of the completed work (cf. Edward Welby Pugin, Who was the Art Architect of the Houses of Parliament? 1867; Alfred Barry, The Architect of the New Palace of Westminster, 1867; E. W. Pugin, Notes on Dr. Barry's Reply to the ‘Infatuated Statements’ made by E. W. P., 1867).
Pugin's practice rapidly increased. Working with little assistance, and largely without the usual instruments (he never used a T square), he achieved a vast amount of work. In 1839, besides Alton Towers, he was engaged upon St. Chad's Church at Birmingham, Downside Priory near Bath, and the churches of St. Mary, Derby, and St. Oswald, Liverpool; while the churches of St. Mary, Stockton-on-Tees, St. Wilfrid, Hulme, near Manchester, St. Mary, Dudley, St. Mary, Uttoxeter, St. Giles, Cheadle, St. Anne, Keighley, St. Mary-on-the-Sands, Southport, and St. Alban, Macclesfield, belong to about the same period. In 1841 appeared Pugin's ‘True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture’ (London, 4to), a book which shows that the author combined with his enthusiasm a remarkable power of logical analysis. There followed ‘An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England’ (London, 4to, 1843), the ‘Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume’ (London, 4to, 1844), and two articles in the ‘Dublin Review’ on ‘The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England’ (republished separately 1843). These articles, which he did not sign, met with some severe and not undeserved criticism. They largely consist of appreciative accounts, with illustrations, of the works of Pugin himself.
Pugin had already made many sketching tours in France and the Netherlands, and his masterly sketches are not the least of his artistic achievements (see AYLING'S reproductions of the sketches, 2 vols. 8vo, 1865). In 1847 he made, for the first time, a tour in Italy. He visited Florence, Rome (with which he was disappointed), Assisi, Perugia, Arezzo, Cortona, and Verona, besides many French towns—Avignon, Carcassonne, Mülhausen, Besançon. Although his practice at this period was in full vigour, and the pressure on his time, powers, and eyesight was terrific, he published in 1849 a work in chromolithograph on ‘Floriated Ornament’ (London, 8vo), and in 1850 ‘Remarks on Articles in the “Rambler”’ (a pamphlet containing some autobiographical notes). In 1851 he was appointed a commissioner of fine arts for the Great Exhibition, but before the close of the year his mind, overwrought with excess of occupation, became unhinged. Next year found him a patient in a private asylum, whence he was subsequently removed to Bedlam. On 14 Sept. 1852 he died in his own house at Ramsgate. His second wife had died in 1844, and, after paying addresses to two other ladies, for one of whom he had designed as a wedding gift the jewellery shown by him at the Great Exhibition, he married, in 1849, a third wife, daughter of Thomas Knill. She survived him, with eight children; she died 15 Feb. 1909, aged 82. His son, Edward Welby Pugin [q. v.], had taken charge of his professional work during his last illness.
Pugin was never a candidate for personal honour, and when his name was proposed for the associateship of the Royal Academy, it was without his sanction. The Pugin travelling studentship, controlled by the Royal Institute of British Architects, was established as a memorial after his death.
An indomitable energy was the basis of Pugin's character; his guiding principle was his belief in Gothic architecture, and his reputation lies in his chronological position as a Gothic artist. It may almost be said that he was the first to reduce to axioms the fundamental relationship of structure and ornament in architecture, and the first productive architect of modern times who gave a complete, serious, and rational study to the details and inner spirit of mediæval architecture. A few contemporaries were working on the same conscientious lines, but they recognised him as their leader. His work is open to adverse modern criticism, and shows certain errors in the light of later knowledge. Occasionally it exhibits a meagreness in the use of materials, which, to do Pugin justice, is often attributable to false economy on the part of his clients. None the less it was in its day the most sincere, most faithful, and most Gothic work that had been executed in England since the fifteenth century.
In the midst of his pressure of work Pugin formed an extensive library of books bearing on mediæval art and worship. A fine collection of prints, carvings, enamels, and objects of ancient art also adorned his Ramsgate house. As a landscape artist in water-colour he displayed appreciable skill.
Pugin was of moderate stature, rather thick set, with a heavy complexion, high brow, and keen grey eyes. Quick in movement, a frank and voluble talker whether at work or at table, master of a fund of anecdote and a dramatic manner of narration, he fairly overflowed, when in health, with energy and humour. His hands, which worked in drawing with marvellous rapidity, were thick and dumpy, with short fingers tapering off to small tips; in these a stump of pencil, his compasses, and a carpenter's rule, sufficed for even the most elaborate work; and he could turn out his exquisite drawings under the most untoward circumstances—even in a Ramsgate steamer rolling off the North Foreland.
The chief portrait of Pugin is the oil-painting by J. R. Herbert, R.A., now in the possession of the Pugin family, which is only moderately good as a likeness. It was etched by the painter, and a lithograph from it by J. H. Lynch was published, with a short memoir, in the first issue of the ‘Metropolitan and Provincial Catholic Almanac,’ 1853. A different lithograph portrait of Pugin in youth is printed in Ferrey's ‘Reminiscences.’
Although chiefly employed by Roman catholics in his ecclesiastical designs, the restorations at St. Mary's, Beverley, and at the parish churches of Wymeswold, Leicestershire, and Winwick, Lancashire, are examples of his work for the church of England. The following are the principal works which have not already been specially mentioned: The cathedrals of Southwark (St. George's), Killarney, and Enniscorthy; churches at Liverpool (St. Edward and St. Mary); Kenilworth; Cambridge; Stockton-on-Tees; Newcastle-on-Tyne; Preston; Ushaw; Warwick; Rugby; Northampton; Stoke-on-Trent; Woolwich; Hammersmith; Pontefract; Fulham; Walham Green; St. Edmund, near Ware (with adjoining buildings); Buckingham; St. Wilfrid, near Alton; Nottingham (with a convent and a chapel); Lynn; St. John, Salford (design not carried out); Salisbury; Kirkham; Whitwick; Solihull; Great Marlow; Blairgowrie; Guernsey; besides various designs for Australia and the colonies. Conventual buildings at Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, London, Bermondsey, Waterford, and Gorey; St. Bernard's Monastery, Leicestershire; a small chapel at Reading, a chapel and convent at Edge Hill; the Jesus Chapel near Pontefract; colleges at Radcliffe, Rugby and St. Mary's Oscott (completion); Sibthorpe's almshouses, Lincoln; the restoration of Tofts, near Brandon, a chapel for Sir William Stuart in Scotland; the church, and restoration of Grace Dieu Manor for Ambrose Lisle Phillipps, and the gateway of Magdalen College, Oxford. He made plans (which were never executed) for the rebuilding of Hornby Castle for the Duke of Leeds; and his domestic work was further represented by Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire; Bilton Grange, Warwick; Lord Dunraven's seat at Adare, co. Limerick, in Ireland, and the restorations at Chirk Castle, Denbighshire. A fuller list (not, however, free from inaccuracies) will be found in Ferrey's ‘Recollections.’
J. G. Crace, the decorative artist, who was engaged in much of the work at the houses of parliament, was associated with Pugin in the carrying out of many of his designs for interiors, such as Eastnor Castle, Leighton Hall, near Liverpool, and Abney Hall. He also executed from Pugin's cartoons a set of stained-glass windows for Bolton Abbey. Among builders Pugin preferred and generally employed a man named Myers, whose enthusiastic and rugged temperament suited his own.
In addition to his more important architectural works, mentioned above, Pugin published: 1. ‘Designs for Gold- and Silversmiths,’ Smiths,’ 4to, London, 1836. 2. ‘Designs for Brass and Iron Work,’ 4to, London, 1836. 3. ‘Treatise of Chancel Screens,’ &c., 4to, London, 1851.
Besides various pamphlets of small importance setting forth his religious views, his desire for the reunion of the churches, and similar topics, he issued in tract form in 1850 ‘An Earnest Appeal for the Revival of Ancient Plain Song.’
Ferrey's Recollections of A. W. N. Pugin; Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists; Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary; Eastlake's Gothic Revival; Ward and the Catholic Revival; Builder, 1852, 1862, 1896; Ecclesiologist, 1852; Royal Inst. Brit. Arch. Journal, 1894, pp. 517, 519, 598; Mozley's Reminiscences; private information.]