Pugin â€“ The God of Gothic
â€œSadly, no preview tapes were available for this one-off, but it should be fascinating. Just don't expect a regular Time Team format - there are no archaeologists digging against the clock. Instead, Tony Robinson talks us through the renovation of, perhaps, one of the most important homes ever built: Augustus Pugin's home in Ramsgate. In the mid-19th century, Pugin reinvented a medieval style of architecture that became known as Gothic Revival. Best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament, he built the Grange in Ramsgate in the 1840s using his own money and with, as he put it, "not an untrue bolt or joint from foundation to flagpole". Amazingly, the house was about to be destroyed in 2004 when the Landmark Trust set about restoring it. Time Team follows the transformation of the property and visits other Pugin creations around the country. It promises to be an intriguing mix of Grand Designs and Restoration - what could be better?â€
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puginâ€™s home restored
The Grange in Ramsgate, Kent, designed by A.W.N. Pugin for himself in 1843, was the most influential house of its age. Rosemary Hill assesses its controversial restoration by the Landmark Trust. Photographs by Martin Charles.
1 The Grangeâ€™s garden front, facing the sea. In the background is St Augustineâ€™s church, also designed by A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52)
2 The Grange (detail) by A.W.N. Pugin, c. 1843. Lithograph, 28.6 x 44.5 cm. V&A, London. This shows the house almost as built
3 The staircase living hall, the houseâ€™s most innovatory feature. The wallpaper is a replica of the original, designd by Pugin
Great menâ€™s legacies are often like their lives and this is noticeably true of A.W.N. Pugin. Brilliant, volatile and impulsive, Pugin was a man of vision, but surprisingly little foresight, who worked at tremendous speed and changed his mind often. All of this had its effect on the Grange, the house he built in 1843-44 on the cliff-top at Ramsgate for himself and his family, and it has been reflected in the houseâ€™s tangled history since his death in 1852. His eldest son, E.W. Pugin, returning on a visit in 1856, found his former home looking â€˜melancholyâ€¦ dull and miserable, all lifeâ€™, he wrote, â€˜seems to have departed from it.â€™(1) Until this summer, when the Landmark Trust unveiled its restoration, most visitors have felt the same.
Yet the Grange is one of the most important secular buildings of the 19th century. Pugin used it as a proving ground for his ideas about domestic architecture, ideas that were both original and influential. Here he invented the modern suburban home, a model, as he put it, for â€˜the smaller detached houses which the present state of society has generatedâ€™.(2) It was the railways that created this demand for houses where the professional classes could live at a distance from their work in something more substantial than the typical Victorian villa, but less extensive than a mansion. Within 50 years they were ubiquitous, but Puginâ€™s may fairly claim to be the first.
4 The view from Pugin's library and office into the drawing room. As in Pugin's time, only a curtain separates them
5 The view from the entrance hall into the drawing room
6 The view in Figure 5, in a watercolour by A.W.N. Pugin, 1849, 22.9 x 23.9 cm. Â© Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
His most important invention was the plan. The principal ground-floor rooms are grouped around a central double-height staircase hall (Fig. 3), large enough to be a living space in itself. The concept was a combination of a typical Nash villa plan with the essence of the medieval manor house, but the result was something new: Victorian domestic gothic. From it, in Puginâ€™s other houses and then in those of Butterfield, Norman Shaw and W.E. Nesfield, the Arts and Crafts house, with its agglomerative planning and central â€˜living-hallâ€™ emerged. In other ways too, with its inter-connecting rooms and its inglenook fireplace (Fig. 8), the Grange was extraordinarily prescient. But while Puginâ€™s ideas were enjoying this fruitful afterlife his own house fell into decline. By 1997, when the Landmark Trust acquired it, it had suffered a century and a half of neglect and haphazard alteration.
Pugin died intestate and much of the contents of his house was sold immediately. It was let to tenants until 1861, after which the family returned and adapted it, piecemeal, to their changing requirements. A fire in 1904 resulted in the roof being rebuilt and after 1928 it was used as boarding accommodation for the nearby Abbey School. It took years of research to recover the original form of the house and most of the work has been done by investigation of the fabric. Pugin worked alone, without a clerk, and made few drawings. The only one to survive for the Grange is a foundation plan (now in the drawings collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects), which makes clear that his home was always a work in progress. Pugin lengthened the oratory (Fig. 11), for example, while it was being built.
The restoration, undertaken with Heritage Lottery Fund grants of just under Â£1.9m and help from Thanet District Council, began with a conservation plan commissioned by the architects, Donald Insall Associates, from Paul Drury. This revealed more than had been known in living memory about the house. Most remarkable was Druryâ€™s discovery of the approach that Pugin devised for the Grange. Visitors entered by a small door in the wall to the west and found themselves in an outer courtyard. From here, they were led round to face the house, which was further protected by a small gatehouse and an inner court. Only then, within the last enclosure, was a full view of the building suddenly before them, rising up dramatically. The arrangement was purely Picturesque, a sequence of concealment and revelation that Humphry Repton would have understood. At the same time, the plan of inner and outer courts was medieval. Like the house, it brought the Georgian and the gothic together to make something original. In practice, however, it must have been cramped.
7 A.W.N. Pugin by an unknown artist, c. 1840. Oil on canvas, 61.3 x 50.8 cm. National Portrait Gallery, London
8 The dining room. Like the rest of the house, it has been furnished with Puginian pieces by the Landmark Trust
The gatehouse went during the first phase of alterations by E.W. Pugin, between about 1860 and 1873. He brought the house up to date, making a more conventional entrance from the main road. He added bathrooms and a conservatory, extended the kitchen and the drawing room, increased the size of doorways, embellished fireplaces and added a long, glazed porch. After his death in 1875, further alterations were made by his brother Cuthbert. As the history of the Grange became clearer, the problem of how to restore it, or rather what to restore, became more complex. E.W. Pugin was a considerable architect in his own right and Cuthbert, too, if less accomplished, was also in practice. Any attempt to return the building to its original state would mean removing their work, and a total restoration was in any event impossible, as there was insufficient evidence to reconstruct the original gatehouse approach.
After a period of debate, some of it heated, work was begun in January 2004 by Insallâ€™s, who were replaced as architects by Thomas Ford and Partners in 2005. The house has been taken back to A.W.N. Puginâ€™s time wherever the evidence existed to do it. Where it does not, the later additions have been allowed to remain. The result is in some senses a chimera, the â€˜restorationâ€™ of a building to a state in which it never previously existed, and this has offended purists. There has certainly been loss as well as gain. E.W. Puginâ€™s drawing-room extension, his â€˜business roomâ€™ as it was known, has gone, as have most of his chimneypieces, elements that arguably contributed something of value, giving a sense of the houseâ€™s evolution from early to High Victorian through the generations of its architect owners. What has been gained, however, particularly in the ground-floor rooms, is a unique insight into A.W.N. Puginâ€™s ideas on domestic architecture and his vision of the Picturesque house. No other surviving secular building gives such a sense of what he intended. This is the result of restoring the rooms to their original shape, reducing the arch between the library and the drawing room (Fig. 4) and the doorways from the hall to their intended size (Fig. 5), and other relatively small alterations, such as the removal of E.W. Puginâ€™s deep skirting boards. The effect is surprisingly dramatic. In his houses, as in his later churches, Pugin favoured sequential views, one space framed by another. In the watercolours he made of the house and of his first home, St Marieâ€™s Grange, near Salisbury, he invariably shows a view through a doorway (Fig. 6). With these framing devices returned to the correct proportions the sense of passing from one space to another is accentuated, bringing Puginâ€™s aesthetic powerfully back to life.
Upstairs, the main bedrooms, leading off the gallery, have also been restored to their original proportions, with the exception of one, which was fitted up by E.W. Pugin for his stepmother, Jane. There was insufficient evidence to return this to its original state and it has been left with his additions, including a fireplace with Janeâ€™s initials (Fig. 9). Here the High Victorian development can be appreciated without detracting from the houseâ€™s overall effect. The other bedrooms, like the hall and main reception rooms, are papered with the same design, featuring the martlet from Puginâ€™s family crest, in different colours. Pugin used this paper extensively in the Grange and one of the most exciting discoveries during the restoration work was a fragment of the original behind panelling, which Coles have reproduced. With its boldly scaled pattern and strong diagonals, the wallpaper gives the restored interior its most powerful flavour. The new papers are not hand-blocked and so lack something of the sharpness of the original, which was designed at about the time Pugin was working on his Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament (1844), which is illustrated with vivid chromolithographic plates. The martlet paper as he designed it has a similar, almost dazzling intensity and perhaps for the sake of the holiday-makers who will be renting the Grange it is as well that some of its restlessness has been lost.
If the restoration reveals Puginâ€™s originality and genius it has also uncovered some of his weaknesses. He loved mechanical devices but did not always think them through. He designed massive shutters to be drawn up from casings below the ground-floor windows and in order to restore those in the dining room the Trust used lead taken from the roof during rebuilding to make the two 97lb weights required. They also had rope specially constructed. Pugin, it seems, did not take similar precautions and a trap- door cut through the cellar and holes smashed through the under-floor vaulting reveal his frantic efforts to retrieve the sash weights when the original rope broke. Nor was Pugin always true to his True Principles of honesty in the use of materials. The panelling, now stripped of layers of paint, is pitch- pine. Although Pugin left his woodwork unpainted, it did not quite show, as his friend William Etty thought, the â€˜natural and consequently beautiful transparency of the woodâ€™, for in fact he stained it to look like mahogany.(3)
9 E.W. Puginâ€™s alterations to the house have mostly been eliminated in the restoration, but in this bedroom his enrichment of his fatherâ€™s simple details, here with a new chimneypiece, has been left. The portrait of E.W. Pugin, by W.B.M. Measor (1837-72), is on loan from a private collection
10 E.W. Pugin, depicted as a boy in a window in the oratory. The glass was designed by his father and made by William Wailes
11 The oratory. Its floor is laid with Minton tiles designed by Pugin
Externally, the restoration has given the Grange back much of its neat, compact appearance, especially on its principal garden front (Figs. 1 and 2). The roof has been returned to its original form with a central valley. Much of the stone work has been renewed, mostly with Caen stone, and the original fenestration restored. This makes the house legible again as Pugin intended. The windows are irregularly but logically placed. They indicate the principal rooms with a double-height projecting bay, the oratory (Fig. 10), whose two-light window is the most obviously â€˜gothicâ€™ feature of the whole building, the tower staircase and the water closets, one above another. To the north, E.W. Puginâ€™s entrance and its glazed covered way have survived but the surrounding planting is cleverly arranged to indicate, for those with eyes to see, the position of the original gate-house. Puginâ€™s studio or Cartoon Room, converted by E.W. Pugin into a coach house, has become an exhibition space and meeting room, which will be available for use by local groups, while the garden has been laid out broadly as Pugin arranged it. Although he was above all a Picturesque architect, Pugin had a horror of Picturesque gardens, which he thought modern and artificial, favouring instead the formal, medieval arrangement of paths and beds.
In furnishing the house, the Trust has had to use its imagination, the original contents having been long dispersed and pieces to Puginâ€™s design being prohibitively expensive. The result is subtly poised between evocation and recreation. Puginâ€™s influence on Victorian furniture was such that John Evetts, the Landmark Trustâ€™s Furnishings Manager, has been able to bring together a collection of Puginesque pieces culled from salerooms that successfully suggest his style and it is a solution that is more than simply faute de mieux (see Fig. 8). Pugin was interested in batch production and urged his collaborator, J.G. Crace, to produce affordable furniture, â€˜articles that are within the reach of the middling classâ€™.(4) He did not envisage the â€˜smaller detached housesâ€™ of Victorian England that followed from his own being furnished with unique pieces. He was also apt to make furniture up out of old panelling, as Evetts has done in one or two instances. There has been some other creative recycling. Finding the remains of Puginâ€™s slate scullery shelves lying about in the garden, Evetts re-used them for kitchen worktops.
Pugin was never entirely satisfied with his house and nobody else has been satisfied with it since. The Landmark Trust, however, has brought about the nearest possible thing to a happy ending, the restoration not just of the fabric but of more than seemed possible a decade ago of the spirit and vision of its architect.
The Grange is open to the public every Wednesday afternoon, by appointment. For more details, contact the number below. There are also four public open days this year, 7-10 September, 10am-4pm (no booking necessary). Like the Landmark Trustâ€™s other properties, the Grange is available for holiday lets: +44 (0) 1628 825925.
Rosemary Hillâ€™s biography of A.W.N. Pugin, Godâ€™s Architect, will be published by Penguin next year.
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