Augustus Welby Pugin

Augustus Welby Pugin

AW Pugin

Augustus Welby Pugin has been called the foremost British architect of the 19. Pugin was

born on March 1, 1812, in Bloomsbury, London. His father Auguste, was a member of the French

aristocracy who had thought it prudent to flee France during the Revolution.

From his father, Augustus learned a profound love of medieval Gothic architecture. The elder Pugin often

took his son on tours abroad, during which time he studied architectural style and design. Although

Pugin was enrolled at Christ’s Hospital School in London, it is doubtful whether he ever received a formal


The elder Pugin worked as an artist and draughtsman, eventually becoming the chief draughtsman for

prominent architect John Nash. Augustus helped his father create a series of wonderfully detailed and

exact drawings providing details of medieval Gothic architecture and decoration. These drawings, in

such volumes as Specimens of Gothic Architecture (1821-3), and Examples of Gothic Architecture

(1828-31), helped a generation of architects emulate Gothic style, and helped spawn the movement in

architecture and design that we now call Victorian Gothic.

So influential were the Pugin drawings (and so well – connected his patrons), that at the tender age of 19

he was employed to design furniture for Windsor Castle. Soon he started his own business, carving

architectural decoration in Gothic style.

At the same time, Pugin married Anne Garnet. However, she died in childbirth in 1832, leaving Pugin

with a daughter. Just a year later Pugin married again, this time to Louisa Burton, with whom he had

another five children. Louisa died in 1844 and Pugin married for a third time, to Jane Knill, with whom he

had two more children.

In the meantime Pugin converted to Roman Catholicism, a conversion which left him filled with a fervent

desire to express his faith through architecture. He came to regard the period of 1280-1340 (the

Second Pointed Period as it was called in the Victorian age), as the apex of human history, when

people expressed their faith through the creative arts.

He abhorred the work of James Wyatt and his early 19 contemporaries, who merely copied

the form of Gothic style, but used inferior materials or supported their work with iron. In support of his

arguments in favour of authentic Gothic, Pugin produced his master work, Contrasts, A Parallel between

the Noble Edifices of the 14 th and 15 th centuries and Similar buildings of the Present Day. Showing a

Decay of Taste (1836).

Pugin followed Contrasts with other books, developing his arguments in favour of Gothic purity. The True

Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), and The Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament

(1844), were among the most widely read.

The success of Contrasts and his subsequent works brought Pugin a number of architectural

commissions, notably at Southwark Cathedral. Other churches were Pugin had a hand in design – or

redesign, include St. Chad ‘s (The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Birmingham), St. Marie, Derby, and St.

Oswald, Liverpool.

Pugin was involved in more than ecclesiastical architecture. He worked on the interior of Chirk Castle, at

Bilton Grange, Warwickshire, and at Scarisbrook Hall, Lancashire. He designed ornamental and

decorative architectural details as diverse as wallpaper, tiles, furniture, stained glass, and gargoyles.

One building stands above all others as a testament to Pugin ‘s influence, however. The Palace of

Westminster (i.e. The Houses of Parliament) in London, was built under the direction of Sir Charles

Barry, but Pugin was responsible for the every aspect of the interiors, as well as for creating working

drawings of all the exterior details.

In 1844 Pugin built a home for himself in Ramsgate, Kent, overlooking the sea. From the library of this

rather severe house, called The Grange, Pugin did most of his work.

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 Goodwind Sands. He would put out in his wrecker, The Caroline, to

rescue the ships and cargo. The salvage money he gained from these rescues brought him a tidy

supplement to his income from architecture.

In 1851 Pugin was hard at work on the Medieval Court for the Great Exhibition (the Crystal Palace), but

a lifetime of ceaseless work took its toll. Pugin suffered a breakdown from exhaustion and spent time in

a private asylum before he finally died at his home in Ramsgate on 14.

Pugin ‘s legacy extends far beyond his own architectural designs. He was responsible for popularizing a

style and philosophy of architecture that reached into every corner of Victorian life. He influence 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.

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