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The Victorian period was one of revival, not only of religion, but also of Gothic architecture. This year is the 200th anniversary of Puginís birth, and a reappraisal of him by Richard Taylor for BBC4 in January 2012, subtitled Godís Own Architect set him in the forefront of both aspects of the revival, and suggested his relevance to todayís social and political context.


Gothic architecture can be traced from its medieval origins through its survival into the 17th century, and its revival as Gothick, a purely visual or decorative style in the 18th century. The Commissionersí Churches built in the 1820ís and 30í were neither picturesque nor archaeological, and chose Gothic as that was cheaper than classical. Other churches and college work were more archeologically correct in the early 19th, but it then became a matter of morality and even theology.

Puginís gothic style was employed by both Catholic and Anglican, and eventually noncomformist denominations. It was the first time a style of architecture was seen as moral, and is Puginís lasting contribution, seen still today in the High Tech style. Even in the 21st century cards with Victorian Christmas scenes are popular, for most people Gothic and churches go together, and Gothic churches still feature on the covers of Christian literature.


A W N Pugin, a devout and complex man, grew up when the industrial revolution was in full swing. The mill owners were getting richer while the mill workers lived in disease ridden back to back slums. Following the Napoleonic Wars there was economic depression, unemployment, rising food prices and demands for the right to vote. This was the context of the Peterloo massacre of 1819, and some feared social unrest could lead to a French style revolution, and even to the end of civilization. .

Strong moral leadership was required but George IV was a hedonistic dilettante, held in contempt, and his government and politicians were seen as corrupt. When Parliament burnt down in 1834 some thought "good riddance."

George IVís architect Nash was driving new roads through slum areas, and in spite of their grand appearance the buildings were often of shoddy construction no more than facades one room deep, with stucco aping stone, columns supporting nothing and frivolous decoration.

Puginís polemical book Contrasts published in 1836 was aggressive and satirical but had a moral vision at its heart, and became a controversial best seller. Pugin condemned the Classical style as pagan and saw the Regency style as a physical expression of moral decadence. He contrasted it with English medieval architecture of the 14th century with its truthful expression of true construction and function, with its solid workmanship, and caring society. While writing Contrasts Pugin saw that he must also take on its spiritual authority and joined the Roman Catholic Church. It was this zeal of a new convert that gave the book its edge. Pugin was only just beginning to build, but St Giles Cheadle, 1841-6, was "Contrasts brought to life" and opened to international acclaim. His churches were successful due to his collaborating craftsmen and decorators, and in particular George Myers, his builder, who understood what he wanted and had the technical ability to construct it.


That Anglican architects followed his style was partly due to his next book The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture which emphasized Gothic as the national style, the structural rationality of Gothic architecture, and the morality of truth to materials, and what we now call Ďform follows function.í He also "justified his passionate adherence to Gothic by echoing the language of C18 neoclassical rationalism. The equation of architectural beauty with structural honesty was familiar in France and Italy." ((Neoclassical and19th Century Architecture by Middleton & Watkin, Faber & Faber 1980)

Decoration was not to be frivolous, but the enrichment of the essential construction. The Evangelical Movement also stressed morality and the Catholic revival in the Anglican Church led by the Cambridge Camden Society had similar interests to Pugin in Gothic architecture and ritual.

Puginís best known, and loved, building is not a church but the Palace of Westminster, and in particular the Big Ben Tower, an icon of parliamentary democracy, London and indeed the UK. The Palace of Westminster was planned by Charles Barry but all the decorative work and internal fittings were designed by Pugin. Big Ben was designed in his last years as he succumbed to mental illness and died in 1851.

Middleton & Watkin conclude that Pugin "probably exercised as much influence over English architecture and architectural theory as any other architect of any period. In a series of compelling books, by turns amusing, polemical and scholarly Ė Contrasts (1836) The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England (1843) and An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England (1843) - Pugin made a case for the adoption of Gothic, not as one of a number of styles chosen on grounds of beauty or association but as the style, indeed, as "truth." Gothic was the truthful expression of true construction and function, of true religion (i.e. Roman Catholicism), and of the true genius of the English people."

Christian architects creating a Christian society with Christian buildingsÖ.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Puginís birth there will events around his group of buildings in Manchester and Staffordshire, many commissioned by John Talbot 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, political leader of the Catholics in the House of Lords. For details visit 



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