Page 2, 3rd October 1952

3rd October 1952
Page 2
Page 2, 3rd October 1952 — PUGIN NO COPYIST

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Organisations: Abbey Church of Ramsgate


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From Hubert Welby Pugin

SIR, In Linwood Sleigh's article "The Great Pugin," where it was confined to him, it gave me great pleasure in reading. It is fair and concise, stating the facts that those others who wrote of him either forgot or ignored, For this the family thanks you.

But it is whcn Mr. Sleigh wrote of my father, Edmund Peter Pugin, as bcing eclectic a mere copyist you offend for it was far from the truth. If the son of an artist, when painting, is told that he has his father's touch, is he to be accused of merely copying? Are his churches at Preston, St. Leonards and Tower Hill "elaborate heaviness and eclectic repertoire of mongrel detail"? Would any knowledgeable person call that a fair description of these fine churches?

That he was forced, as his father was forced before him, to whittle down for the "something for nothing" clients is true. This, of course, reflects in many of the buildings he designed.

He was an artist at heart and those who should know have always stated he should have taken to the brush and canvas. He himself found the restricted practice of church architecture of the times frustrating. 1 little doubt that his mother, Jane Welby Pugin, lectured him and pointed to what she considered his duty and inheritance. For it was this same lady of remarkable strong character, who, after my father's death, lectured me upon the same subject. I rebelled against being forced, and have no regrets.

In my father's case necessity probable had much to do with it. The Abbey Church of Ramsgate had impoverished the family resources and he had to sustain not only his own family in London but that of the Group at Ramsgate. He died when I Was very young. My memory of him Was of a man who saw his duty and submerged all else to it. That he was a good architect there can be no doubt; that he was merely a copyistnever!

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Hubert Welby Pugin.


Snt,-Your contributor, Mr. Linwood Sleigh, writes of Pugin: "Surely . . . there is more consistency in reproducing the architectural manner and employing the architectural materials and arrangements that were evolved by our own countrymen for or own climate and landscape." May I briefly comment?

"Evolved" from what? Gothic architecture, the style of the pointed arch, evolved from Romanesque architecture, itself based on the cross-vault evolved by the Romans. Britain was a Roman province for .nearly 400 years, a long space of time in which the Christians then known to have existed here could have known no more of Gothic architecture than did the builders of the ancient basilican churches of Rome or of ancient domed churches such as Santa Sophia at Constantinople. The Christians of these centuries used, naturally enough, the architectural "materials and arrangements" of their day; the classical Corinthian capital, to name but one detail, became the Norman "cushion" capital, is reflected in the Gothic choir at Canterbury (late 12th century), and at Autun is even combined at so late a period with the fluted classical pilaster. It is simply not true that only Gothic is Christian, or national ("our own countrymen"), or uniquely suitable for "our own climate and landscape," in which Romano-British Christians lived unprotesting at the architectural idiom of their day. They and all other Christians of Imperial Roman times knew no other.

"Christian architecture," as Pugin defines it, is a dogma as false as that of the neo-Hellenists who preceded him. The architects of the Renaissance revived, not the Hellenic style as the men of the New Learning revived Greek, but the Roman style, from which Gothic had descended. They were right : for the Greeks had avoided using the arch. What, then, did Pugin do? As in the 16th century English Gothic (and French Gothic, despite St. Eustace in Paris) had little apparently left to develop or evolve, so in 18Q0 the classical style in England was largely moribund. Pugin rightly leant to a renaissance of Gothic, but wrongly excluded anything not Gothic. Italianate models were not defunct, and in fact there was in the 19th century a new renaissance of Renaissance, Pearsall's madrigals, and the work of Alfred Stevens.

What Pugin gave to the renaissance of Gothic was comprehension of our Gothic centuries. In this his fire and versatility were supreme, and his stature towers._But, as Mr. Linwood Sleigh involuntarily shows, men still are so smitten with the sheer impact of Pugin that they remain enslaved. Cardinal Newman would not be browbeaten by Pugin's circle, and said so; for indeed their extremism was untenable. Even now I have found a prejudice in favour of a "Gothic" monstrance! Let us never doubt Pugin's greatness; for great he was. But let us not be blind to what he did not see. Edmund Esdalle.

Learns End, West Hoathly, East Grinstead, Sussex.

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