Context 158 - March 2019

50 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 AWN Pugin: making Britain gothic Literature and architecture, intertwined, are part of the gothic story. JRR Tolkien was a Brummy, a pupil of the old King Edward’s School, located on New Street, Birmingham. His school was a gothic masterpiece, and many people said it was Birmingham’s best building. Its architect was Charles Barry, but the interiors, and possibly some of the architecture, were by AWN Pugin. It was the first building project that Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry collaborated on. Charles Barry was very much the senior figure in the partnership. They would go on to build the Palace of Westminster together. The exhibition about Tolkien at the Bodleian in Oxford last year, Tolkien: maker of middle earth, revealed that as a boy Tolkien was a proficient drawer of architectural detailing. It is easy to imagine the young Tolkien being impressed by the gothic splendour of his school, and perhaps Pugin’s interiors encouraged him to think about medieval England, and to delve further back into history. It is possible that they even helped him to conjure up the places we read about in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. When Tolkien was married in St Mary’s Immaculate Church, Warwick, in 1916, he would surely have known that Pugin’s son, Edward, designed it, and he would have been conscious of the Christian symbolism of the gothic architecture, not least because Tolkien was brought up in the Catholic church after the death of his mother when he was 12. That church, and the other gothic buildings of Warwick, probably influenced Tolkien’s writing. Certainly, if you walk along the remaining section of medieval town wall abutting the garden of the Lord Leycester Hospital, it is easy to picture yourself in Middle Earth, probably in Minas Tirith. Sadly, the gothic masterpiece of King Edward’s School was demolished in the 1930s and the school relocated to Edgbaston. But some of the interior fittings designed by Pugin were salvaged, The cathedra of the Archbishop of Birmingham in St Chad’s Cathedral (Photo: James Bradley, Wikimedia Commons) Architecturally speaking