!THE GREAT LI LinwooBir Sleigh Pugin ;
Author of "St Etheldreda's and Ely Place"
IF ever a prophet has lacked honour among his own people his name is Pugin, who died 100 years ago this year on September 14-Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. It is necessary to particularise his Christian names, for to most Catholics "Pugin" connotes indiscriminately the protagonist of Christian Architecture and his immeasurably inferior sons, Edward Welby and Edmund Peter. Their elaborate heaviness and eclectic repertoire of mongrel detail are all too often, even by Catholic architects w h o should know better, attributcd to their father, the greatest genius of the Gothic Revival. Outside the Church his reputation stands high, a n d since Eastlake's History of the Gothic Revival it has steadily grown. In Kenneth Clark's masterly work on the same subject, recently reissued, h is name stands on the first and last pages, the Alpha and Omega of English 19th-century building, while no essayist of repute dares now to ignore his influence. His Contrasts is a classic, a pungent pictorial satire, on the Industrial Revolution, his Apology is an anticipation of all those principles Ruskin spun out in the interminable pages of his Seven Lamps and Stones of Venice; Ruskin's diatribes against him more than suggest a debt repudiated. Gilbert Scott, founder of a dynasty of architects that flourishes today. insisted that Pugin's figure should stand full length on the plinth of the Albert Memorial, while he himself, its designer, allowed himself no more than a medallion beside his inspirer, who, he confessed, had awakened him from his slumbers by the thunder of his writings.
DUGIN, it is true, is greater in his writings than in his buildings, as he himself would have been the first to admit. Whatever fault one finds in the well over 60 ecclesiastical buildings he conceived and executed in his short 40 years of life. it will he discovered that he has already either in his books or letters admitted that identical defect himself.
Working without a single assistant -"A clerk? Why, I should kill him in a week!"-he was compelled by the insistence of clients to rush up building after building on unsuitable sites with pitiably inadequate fundsSay thirty shillings more and have a tower and spire as well," he wrote to one importunate prelate.
It was only in St. Augustine's, Ramsgate, paid for with his earnings on Protestant commissions, and in his almost perfect reproductions of a 14th-century parish church and of a 15th-century hospital at Cheadle and Alton, where he was able to draw without Limit on the munificence of the Earl of Shrewsbury, that he owned himself even partly satisfied.
His cathedrals in the big industrial townsSouthwark, Nottingham, Newcastle, Birmingham, none of them do him justice, though the dignity and picturesque grouping of parts he contrived for them out of ignoble materials on cramped sites goes far to atone for their shortcomings.
THE main cause, however, of our
present indifference to Pugin is not his architectural shortcomings tut the adventitious fact that Gothic is no longer fashionable. We sneer at imi
r-e tation Gothic, but imitation Byzantine, imitation "Early Christian," imitation Romanesque, in imitation stone and imitation marble. arc almost de rigueur for English Catholic churches.
Yet surely, if we are to allow reproductions of past styles of building at all, there is more consistency in reproducing the architectural manner and employing the architectural materials and arrangements that were evolved by our own countrymen for our own climate and landscape.
The oddly misinformed notion persists that Gothic is gloomy. As Pugin, again, indignantly exclaimed: "Melancholy! And therefore suitable for religious buildings!"
Repeated coats of discolouring varnish, colours that have faded reproduced in their fading instead of their original brilliance, has made so man! Pugin churches dim and gloom y. But where, as in St. Thomas's, Fulham, his only London church, or in St. Marie's, Derby, the original tones have been regained, the whole interior is redolent of light and gaiety.
YET, though we have lost the taste for Gothic revivalism, very few, even today, would sneer at the Houses of Parliament, the work, as everybody knows, of Sir Charles Barry. What everybody does not know is that, while their plan is Barry's, every visible feature, from the Victoria Tower to the inkpots, is Pugin's.
Nor is it recognised that the Camden Society, now known as the Ecclesiological Society, that reformed the entire liturgical arrangements of Anglican churches to the discreet medievalism that seems native to them nowadays, in place of the threedecker pulpits, invisible communion tables and vast family pews, took direct from Pugin all their principles (they still use the seal he designed for them).
It was Pugin. again, who by his researches into forgotten craftsmanship in metal and ceramics fathered the revival of arts and crafts; by his study of local styles initiated the revival of vernacular building; who faced a hurricane of abuse for his advocacy of the ancient form of vestments; who anticipated by half a century Papal insistence. on seemly liturgical music.
Again, in his dicta that the builder may ornament construction. never construct ornament, that a building must be based on its plan, not its elevation, rising from and grappling with its site. and that every building that is treated naturally, without disguise or concealment, cannot fail to look well, he showed himself in essence, behind his medieval screen, no pedantic antiquarian but a modern of the moderns.