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A.W.N. Pugin and Christchurch - Part 1
|LINKS WITH CHRISTCHURCH AND THE PRIORY CHURCH
The Landmark Trust have recently restored the former home of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852). The house, called The Grange, is located in Ramsgate and was built in 1843-44. Pugin's first home was near Salisbury, but even this location was not a preferred one; for he had originally wished to settle near Christchurch.
A. W. N. Pugin was a celebrated proponent of all things Gothic and in the 1830s and 40s penned several very influential books on the subject of Gothic design and more particularly its application to architecture. In his short but fiery life he became famous (and infamous!) as a leading architect, designer in the decorative arts, architectural theorist and critic. His views in all these matters were strongly driven by his Catholic faith and his belief that Classical forms of architecture were the 'debased' products of the decay in Christian faith, a decay that had begun with the Reformation.
Pugin inspired a number of contemporaries to apply the Gothic style and revive it in the Victorian period. Among those who he influenced was our own Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880), with whom he attended school in London. In Ferrey's 1861 biography of Pugin [Ref 1], it becomes clear that Pugin loved Christchurch long before his affairs with both Salisbury and Ramsgate.
The following extracts from Ferrey's somewhat unreliable biography provide an insight into Pugin's connections with the Christchurch area, first made when in his late teens and perhaps intermittently continued for the rest of his short but inspired life. It is very likely that Pugin was initially drawn to Christchurch by Ferrey himself. One can imagine the two young gentlemen exploring the delights of the Priory Church and Mudeford Harbour, where it is possible that Pugin learnt to sail. The Priory Church would have provided many visual delights for the young Pugin, possessing as it does a vast array of medieval architecture in Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Ferrey recounts the early links with the area as follows:
"A year or two previous to his [first] marriage, [Pugin] had a severe illness, and upon his recovery a change of air became needful. Accompanied by his mother he went to the south-west coast, and selected the neighbourhood of Christchurch as his temporary residence [c. 1828].
Here he was truly delighted with the magnificent Priory church, the ruins of the castle and castellen's house, as well as the beautiful marine scenery of the town and neighbourhood. The natural quietude was also very congenial to him in his then enfeebled state of health; and the spot struck him as being particularly well calculated for his retreat when desiring to study apart from the turmoil of business in London.
Pugin consequently cherished the idea of obtaining a piece of ground and building a house, in which he might indulge his own taste and show the manner in which a domestic residence should be arranged fitted up in strict accordance with mediaeval examples. The hope of accomplishing this was ever foremost in his mind, and the precise part of the country in which it might be realized was immaterial to him, provided there was some great castle or church, of architectural interest, near. Upon hearing that the site for a house in a retired situation near the town of Christchurch, called Holfleet, commanding a view of all the objects he admired, backed by the hills of St Catherine stretching up the valleys of the Stour and Avon, was to be obtained, a negotiation for its purchase was at once set on foot."
Although Ferrey implies that Pugin did not particularly care about the location of his planned recreated-medieval home, there must have been good reasons for him to wish to establish an idyllic country retreat in the Christchurch area. The true reasons are lost to us, however it seems likely that the connection with the Ferrey family was a strong one.
Holfleet (SZ199963) is located between Winkton and Bockhampton and today consists of arable fields, a single pub (the Lamb Inn) and one or two cottages. At some 2.5 miles from Christchurch, the views of the Priory Church and castle could not have been very inspiring! Despite the apparent naivety of his building plans, Pugin seems to have been determined to push them forward. Ferrey continues:
"Pugin, however, being still a minor, it was necessary for the owner of the land [presumably Mr Shute] to consult his father [Augustus Charles Pugin 1762-1832] upon the propriety of the step his son was meditating, and also on the means of carrying the project into effect. The father, remembering and disapproving his conduct in connexion with the theatrical world, refused to become guarantee, or to give consent. Thus for a while the project fell to the ground, but he never relinquished the hope that one day he should carry his favourite scheme into effect; and it was no doubt the operation of this feeling which led him to determine on burying his wife at Christchurch."
Pugin's first marriage was in January 1832 to Sarah Ann Garnett (1814-32) of London. Tragically she died following childbirth when the couple remained ‘newly-weds’ on 27th May 1832, their daughter surviving. Ferrey continues:
"The grief which he suffered through the sad loss of his partner indisposed him from pursuing his favourite idea for some months; but he was too much occupied in business to suffer any depressing feelings to take lasting effect upon him, and soon we find him again reverting to the project of building. But instead of renewing his application for the land at Christchurch, he selected another site for his dwelling, though still in the valley of the Avon. It was in 1835 that he purchased half an acre of ground, about a mile and a half from Salisbury, from Mr Staples, on the road to Southampton.
Here he set boldly to work, and designed and built a house for himself exhibiting all the peculiar arrangements common to domestic dwellings of the 15th century. The structure was principally of brick. It was quaint and odd, and much noticed by people of the neighbourhood who took an interest in such matters. The place was called St Marie's Grange. Here he frequently resided, collecting old books, prints, manuscripts, pictures, &c...."
The house still exists, but in a much-altered state, near Alderbury. It had three towers, a spiral staircase, parlour, library, chapel, two bedrooms, domestic quarters and good views across the Avon Valley to Salisbury Cathedral. On the burial of Pugin's wife Sarah Ann in 1832, Ferrey continues:
"He selected the ancient Priory Church, at Christchurch, Hants, for her burial-place. A vault was there formed in the north aisle of the choir, and on the 15th of June she was buried. The spot is now marked by a black marble slab, inlaid with a beautiful brass cross, and bearing an inscription.”
Monument to His First Wife
|Today the slab is inlaid with a rectangular brass plaque, 9 x 18 inches. The inscription reads as follows: "Here lieth the Body of Anne the first and beloved wife of Augustus Welby Northmore de Pugin, Architect: who departed this life at London, on the XXVII day of May in the year of our Lord MDCCCXXXII. R.I.P. Amen." The typography was undoubtedly designed by Pugin himself. Ferrey continues:
“Note: This slab was laid down in the year after his conversion to Roman Catholicism [he converted in 1835], and the inscription concludes with the pious aspiration common to such Catholic memorials. It is the only instance in which he adopted his triple Christian name, Augustus Welby Northmore, and there may be observed also the French prefix of de to his surname. The funeral was remarkable. The internment did not take place till the 15th of June at 8 o'clock P.M., the remains being brought to the church on the 8th of June, and deposited during the interval in Prior Draper's Chapel. The service was read in the choir, the coffin being placed in the centre, an unusual practice.
Pugin also presented to the church, at a subsequent time, a finely carved oak altar-table. Of course, anything designed by him excited much remark, and this table was the subject of criticism; for, though admirable as a piece of carving, it was wanting in ecclesiastical expression, and too much resembled the richly-carved cabinets of the 16th century."
The Pugin Altar Table
|The communion table is now located in the North Transept, but was formerly used in the Great Quire. The table is clearly dated 1831, prior to the death of Sarah Ann, so it seems that Ferrey has his facts wrong. The table has the following inscription carved on its top front edge:
This + table + was + made + and + presented + to + this + church + by + Augustus + Welby + Pugin + A.D. 1831
The table is attributed to Pugin at a time when he was running his ill-fated furniture business from rented accommodation at 12 Hart Street, Covent Garden [Ref 3]. A month or two after his presentation of the table "he was seized for non-payment of rent, and placed in a sponging house near Chancery Lane". Druitt [Ref 2] provides us with the Minutes of the Vestry meeting that record the gift of the Table to the church:
"And at the said Vestry held the said 20th May 1831 [W. F. Burrows, Vicar, Chairman]. It was unanimously resolved That the thanks of this Meeting be conveyed to Augustus Welby Pugin Esquire of Great Russell Street Bloomsbury for the very handsome donation of a magnificent Carved Oak Communion Table, presented by him through his friend Mr. Benjamin Ferrey the Younger : And that Mr. Ferrey be requested to make known this resolution and forward a letter of thanks to the said Augustus Welby Pugin. And this Meeting farther return thanks to the said Benjamin Ferrey for presenting the said Table."
Several months after the burial of Sarah Anne, Pugin wrote to the antiquary Edward James Willson, a work colleague of his father’s. The letter [Ref 3] is revealing, as it states that it was Sarah Ann’s wish to be buried at Christchurch and implies that Pugin may have been ambivalent about the choice (contrary to the impression given by Ferrey). Furthermore, it reveals that Pugin needed to make significant payments to the church for the burial, over and above the gifts that he had already made. The additional implication is that he made other gifts to the church, as well as the Communion Table; this demands further local research.
Original Location of the Altar Table
|It is interesting to speculate on why Pugin felt a need to donate such a lavish item to the church at this time and whilst he was still only 19 years old. Perhaps he had, both on his initial vacation here with his mother and his subsequent search for a suitable building site, made a number of connections in the community and with the church that warranted such a gift.
Pugin ultimately went on to build a reputation in Gothic design and architecture that saw him create some truly outstanding examples of Victorian art. Examples include his decorations for the (new) Houses of Parliament, numerous church buildings (perhaps the most famous being St. Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham) and his own home ‘The Grange’ in Ramsgate.
It seems that Pugin and Ferrey ultimately fell out with each other in c. 1835/36 – they had different religious views, they had competed for contracts and perhaps Pugin was slightly jealous of Ferrey’s excellent book on Christchurch Priory (published in 1834). Nonetheless, it seems probable that Pugin retained a ‘soft spot’ for the Christchurch area and the Priory Church in particular; a building that would have provided his vivid imagination with a never-ending stream of delights.
1 Ferrey, Benjamin. Recollections of A.N. Welby Pugin, and his father Augustus Pugin; with notices of their works . With an appendix by E. Sheridan Purcell. London, Edward Stanford 1861.
2 Druitt, Herbert. ‘Christchurch Miscellany’. A series of articles written between 1919 and 1930, bound and re-published by the Christchurch Local History Society, 1996.
3 Belcher, Margaret. ‘The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin, Vol 1, 1830-1842’ Oxford University Press, 2001.
Notes on Holfleet: Druitt [Ref 2] provides us with some detailed history of the plot: 'Hoffleet Farm, parcel of the Manor of Furnhules or Fernhill Court, belonged to the Tulse family in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was purchased in 1765 by Robert Stupart (churchwarden, 1767 & 1768); in 1777 by Gregory Olive (died 30th November 1779) and in 1801 by Samuel Shute'
Notes compiled by Fraser Donachie. The author acknowledges the recent article by Alexandra Wedgwood in 'True Principles Vol iii, Number ii' (the Journal of the Pugin Society) that discusses the in-depth research by Michael Egan into the biographical details of Pugin's three wives. Further details of the Pugin Society may be found at www.pugin-society.1to1.org.
Copyright © Fraser Donachie 2006