Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) - Arts and Crafts Designers

The Early Life and Influence of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was the son of a French draughtsman, Augustus Charles Pugin, who fled to England to avoid the French Revolution. He trained his young son to draw Gothic architecture for use as illustrations in the books he wrote, almost certainly the main reason why his son became the leading designer in the Gothic Revival Movement in furniture and architecture. A.W.N. Pugin was a fanatical, tireless designer, and a monumental workaholic. He was the most important man who changed architecture and furniture design, influencing style throughout the entire Victorian period. His principles of honest design were used and reinterpreted by many of the most important architects and designers of the 19th and 20th centuries, who carried those principles of honest craftsmanship in design for almost another 100 years. He was invited by the architect Charles Barry to work with him on the designs of the interiors for the Houses of Parliament, or The New Palace of Westminster, its given name when it was built after the great fire razed the original buildings in 1834. This was to be Pugin's most important commission ever; he was responsible for the interiors, the external detailing, and even the decoration of Big Ben, the latter modeled on the clock tower at Scarisbrick Hall, which Pugin had designed for Lord Scarisbrick in 1836.

Pugin's Personal Life and Work Ethic

Pugin nearly always worked alone; he never had assistants and was reported to have said, "Clerk, my dear sir, clerk? I never would employ one. I should kill him in a week." His only escape was boating, and he once said: "There is nothing worth living for except Christian Architecture and a boat." He had a smack and traded woodcarvings from Flanders. He was shipwrecked near Leith in 1830. This love of the sea was strong in him until the end of his life. A deeply religious man, he converted to Catholicism at 23 years old, mainly because of his study of ancient ecclesiastical architecture. This decision was crucial for his future career.

Pugin's Early Career and Family Life

Pugin was educated at Christ's Hospital, also known as the Blue Coat School. At 15, he was employed by the London furniture makers Morel and Seddon, designing furniture in "Gothick" style for Windsor Castle. At 17, he designed stage scenes for "Kenilworth," the ballet at The Covent Garden Theatre, for Sir Walter Scott. He started working with Sir Charles Barry on designs for King Edward’s School, Birmingham, in 1833. In 1835, his book "Gothic Furniture in the Style of the 15th Century" was published. He built his first house in 1835, 'St. Marie’s Grange', at Laverstock, near Salisbury. He married Ann Garnett in 1831, but she died in childbirth in May 1832. In 1833, he married Louisa Burton and moved to Salisbury, where Louisa bore him six children, including Edward William (1834-1875) and Peter Paul (1851-1904), who both joined the business.

Pugin's Unique Appearance and Character

Pugin was a short, stumpy, plumpish man who usually wore a sailor's jacket and loose trousers. He looked more like a sailor than the most important Gothic designer of his period. Like Morris and Ruskin, he was a great speaker, able to captivate audiences with his conversation and humor. He was honest and to the point, never verbally vicious as so many were in that period. He taught and trained his own workmen, who respected him with great pride and were always loyal. Pugin was a complete workaholic, often working day and night. He drew with delicate precision, and his artistry in architecture drawing was masterly. However, this intensity led to his demise, as Pugin died insane from a mental collapse from overwork in 1852 at the age of just 40 years old.

A.W.N. Pugin and E.W. Pugin at Scarisbrick Hall

Scarisbrick Hall was first built in 1595 by Edward Scarisbrick, with additions made over the years. Thomas Scarisbrick undertook much restoration between 1813 and 1816. In 1833, Thomas Scarisbrick died, and Charles claimed the Scarisbrick and Eccleston Estates. By the 1850s, his annual income was £60,000. Charles Scarisbrick became quite reclusive and died in 1860, requesting a simple funeral with only servants in attendance. Pugin's exterior at Scarisbrick Hall is a real eyeful, and his son Edward William Pugin later added the tower, the East wing, and the stables. Inside, the chapel has wonderful marble angels at the base of the marble columns. Augustus originally started at Scarisbrick Hall in 1836, designing the fireplace in the Great Hall and a stone circular garden seat. Pugin started the main works in 1837, adding various features, including comical gargoyles and imaginary creatures.

The Enduring Legacy of Pugin's Work

From 1844, Pugin was designing the interior decoration and furniture for the new Houses of Parliament. He also worked for his busy architectural practice and wrote more books. His extraordinary output in his 40-year lifespan revolutionized architecture in the mid-Victorian Period. The genius of Pugin sowed the seed and influenced the course of architecture and design, encompassing the ethos of The Arts and Crafts Movement 40 years before it began.

Researched and written by Tony Geering.

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