4th February 2015: How Pugin changed English houses

Wye Historical Society's February lecture proved extremely popular and those who attended were treated to an erudite and well presented talk on 'How Pugin changed English houses' by Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin. Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) was an English architect, designer, artist and critic who is chiefly remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style; perhaps his most notable work is the interior design of the Palace of Westminster. Pugin had a Kent connection in that he built himself a large house ('The Grange') and, at his own expense, a church at Ramsgate.

During the course of his lecture Dr Brittain-Catlin outlined a number of different ways in which Pugin changed English architecture. Particularly striking is the fact that Pugin designed buildings so that everything was explanatory: things looked as they are. To do this required an understanding of how materials work and the crafts that make a building what it is. Following naturally from this was the need for an architect to design not just the building but everything in it. Pugin was a master of this approach and as a result it became normal for architects to control every aspect, both exterior and interior, of a building's design and construction. This led to the architect assuming much greater importance as he became responsible for a great deal more than he had been in the past.

Pugin is not just remembered for his house designs, many though they were. He was also responsible for institutional and major ecclesiastical designs. These included both churches and abbeys as well as schools and convents. With regard to the latter, Pugin showed himself to be an architect of communities not just of individual buildings.

Pugin died at the age of only 40 which makes his legacy all the more astonishing. Not only did he leave an enduring heritage in England but he also left his mark in Ireland (where his work consisted mainly of religious buildings) and in Australia (where, as a result of a request from the first Catholic Bishop of New South Wales a number of churches were built to Pugin's designs). His influence on the development of architecture and design in the 19th century was, as Dr Brittain-Catlin so ably explained, substantial and resonates to the present day.

Jenny Oram