Context 158 - March 2019

52 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 a baby daughter to look after. After these catastrophes he spent a contemplative time walking around the medieval ruins of Tintern Abbey in theWye Valley. It was here that he found his true calling to be a gothic designer and he decided to convert to Catholicism. A few years later, in 1836, at the age of 24, Pugin’s fame was accelerated with the publication of his book Contrasts . The book contrasts the merits of gothic architecture, or what Pugin refers to as Christian architecture, with classical Greek design, which he dismisses as being pagan.With his combination of architecture and writing Pugin was getting ready to change the face of Britain. A very effective networker and influencer, he used his books to get his ideas about gothic design accepted among the political elite. He would send free copies of his books to the people he wanted to impress and influence. Contrasts was a discourse on Pugin’s architectural beliefs, including authenticity in construction, which meant expressing the structure of a building in an honest way. For example, he did not hide the hinges of a door but revealed them, celebrating their function and their appearance. ‘All ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building,’ he wrote. He believed that only gothic or ‘pointed’ architecture could satisfy all of his worthy objectives. He hated classical Greek design, not only because he considered it pagan but because it was based on construction with timber posts and beams, and when the ancients evolved to using stone instead of timber, they continued to build in the same way, rather than applying the true possibilities of stone to create soaring vaults and flying buttresses. To understand why Pugin became so influential, it is helpful to return to a sunny, spring day in 1837, when he was 25 years old. He travelled up to Birmingham on the brand-new railway, but the project had not been completed on time and it was a coach replacement service that brought him into New Street. He walked through the splendid Georgian squares of Birmingham with a swagger because his new book Contrasts was receiving favourable attention from influential people.Walking along New Street, he saw King Edward’s School, the building he designed in partnership with Charles Barry, under construction. There was not time for him to loiter as he was on his way to a job interview at Oscott, the new Catholic seminary, built on the boundary of Birmingham and the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield. The job was to design the interior of the seminary’s chapel and two new gatehouses leading into the seminary. The interview at Oscott was life- changing and it was instrumental in helping him to turn Britain gothic. He won the commission to design the chapel and the gatehouses, and he was invited to stay on at Oscott as their professor of ecclesiastical antiquities, a role created uniquely for him. He was the only lay member of the teaching staff. He stayed at Oscott, on and off, for a year. It was there that he met the Birmingham manufacturer, John Hardman, Lord Shrewsbury and BishopWalsh, all of whom became his life-long friends, and with whom he would change the face of Britain. Pugin convinced John Hardman to turn his Birmingham manufactory over from the production of buttons to the production of stained-glass windows and gothic metalwork, which he needed for his churches. They worked together on the ancient craft of glass making, and scaled it up for mass production. They recreated vibrant medieval colours at realistic prices, and Hardman’s Birmingham manufactory went on to produce all windows and the gothic metalwork needed for the Palace of Westminster. There were other seismic factors simmering away that added to a perfect storm at Oscott seminary in 1837, which would advance Pugin’s gothic cause. These will be revealed in the next issue of Context . Nick Corbett, associate director (heritage) with Indigo Planning is the author of Palace of Pugin, published by Transforming Cities. Oak panels drawn by Pugin A drawing by Pugin of St Peter’s Church, Woolwich. The church was built in 1842–3 but the tower and spire were never built (Image: Yale Center for British Art) Poor houses modern and ancient, from Pugin’s Contrasts

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