Aled Jones discovers the remarkable story of leading church architect Augustus Pugin. Two hundred years after his birth, his designs are a lasting legacy to his faith.
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He's a great Briton honoured on a first-class stamp,
as designer of the Clock Tower
and interiors of the Houses of Parliament.
He inspired generations of church architects.
Without him, there would be no fun at Alton Towers.
But, sadly, his own short life was a roller coaster ride
of illness, poverty and bereavements.
Yet, at the heart of everything he did
was his deep-rooted Christian faith,
which is why Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin
is known as God's architect.
This is Pugin's 200th anniversary year.
So tonight, from churches
which inspired or were inspired by his architecture and design,
congregations from all over the country sing out the faith
that motivated his every thoughts.
I've come to Kent to St Augustine's in Ramsgate,
Pugin's last church,
which he built for his own community,
next door to his own house,
and this is where he is buried.
People really remember Pugin
mostly as a church architect,
though he was very, very innovative as a domestic architect
and a secular architect as well.
But for Pugin his faith was the framework
within which everything else happened.
So, for Pugin, everything is for the glory of God.
When we speak of a church, we don't simply mean the physical building.
Pugin's principal aim is to create
living architecture, architecture with soul,
architecture that is decorated according to its function.
And its function is for the people of God, for the worship of God.
Pugin influenced an entire generation of architects
as well as being the father of an architectural dynasty.
And our first hymn comes from a building that was designed,
like this chapel, by his eldest son, Edward.
Once at the heart of industrial Manchester,
Gorton Monastery fell into disrepair in the 1990s.
But it was saved from dereliction by the local community, who loved it.
In 1812, when Augustus Pugin was born,
the only child of a French artist father and English mother,
the height of fashion in art and architecture was very different from this.
It was the Georgian, neoclassical style.
It wasn't British, it wasn't Christian.
The Greeks and the Romans were not Christians.
It was built for pagan gods, as he called them.
And also, it must be said that when Pugin was growing up,
the neoclassical architecture of the Regency was pretty flimsy,
a lot of stucco, a lot of plaster,
everything that he most disliked about the architecture and also the society,
which he felt was rather upfront and hypocritical as well.
Gothic architecture was the architecture of the Middle Ages in Europe
and it was more or less characterised
in the 19th century - people talked about Gothic or pointed architecture.
So it's all those churches and cathedrals with pointy spires and crockets and pinnacles.
-And Pugin was a big fan?
-Pugin loved Gothic architecture.
He thought that it was the right architecture for this country,
because it was a native architecture.
It was more practical, because, as he said,
if you import classical architecture from Greece and Rome
designed for a Mediterranean climate, whereas, as he said,
the pinnacles in England keep off the rain.
Contrasts was the first book you could call an architectural manifesto.
What he was trying to say and indeed succeeded very well in saying
was that English society had reached a crisis point.
There were slums, factories, workhouses
and Contrasts compares the modern state of society,
especially the workhouses which were new,
and were coming under the new Poor Law,
with the way that things were organised in the Middle Ages,
in which you had, Pugin believed, a much more integrated society
in which the poor would be looked after in a humane manner.
And that was his main point,
to suggest that through architecture,
you achieve a different kind of society.
Pugin saw Gothic buildings as physical symbols
of an idealised Christian community.
Many of his contemporaries followed in his footsteps.
One of these, George Gilbert Scott,
claimed he was a new man after Pugin had awaken him
to how architecture could give dignity to the human condition.
Such as the mill-workers' houses Scott designed at Akroydon, near Halifax.
Scott also restored and repaired what is now Halifax Minster,
returning the ancient church of St John The Baptist,
whose feast we celebrate today,
to what was as near as possible to its former medieval splendour.
He learned to draw from his father,
who was an architect and an architectural draftsman,
but he never learned architecture per se.
I mean, he learned on the job, and he learned by trial and error.
-And there were some quite big errors.
At the Church of St Anne's in Keighley,
there is a little note in his diary which says, "Belfry fell down."
He practised architecture like a romantic artist.
His own favourite church while he was building it was St Giles, Cheadle,
which was paid for by his great patron, the Earl of Shrewsbury.
The money wasn't too short there for once.
It is a romantic work of art because every single surface,
and every medium - the glass, the metalwork, the ceramics on the floor,
the painted wall, carved stone, is all to his design.
He influenced everybody in the 19th century whether they liked him or not,
whether they knew it or not.
All Saints Church in Cheltenham has Gothic, Pre-Raphaelite
and also Arts And Crafts interiors -
all revealing elements of how Pugin's principles influenced later designers.
All Saints was begun by local architect John Middleton back in 1865,
the very same year that Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote and published
his poem, The Dream Of Gerontius,
the origin of one of our best-loved hymns.
People in Ramsgate and Thanet are very proud that the Gospel
first landed here.
Pugin moved to Ramsgate because, as he writes,
"blessed Austen" had "landed nearby".
This captivated his romantic imagination
and he was fascinated by the figure of Augustine.
In 596 AD, Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission to England.
40 monks arrived and landed on the Isle of Thanet.
Augustine was their leader.
The meeting between St Augustine
and King Ethelbert who was the leading king
amongst the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the time is, in a sense,
the birth of English Christianity,
and, to some extent, the birth of the English nation.
It began a whole history of civilisation, art, architecture, literature, law -
all represented in that meeting.
It seems fitting that there is another church
dedicated to King Ethelbert in Ramsgate.
It is also fitting that this was created by a Pugin,
this time not Augustus Welby,
but his youngest son Peter Paul Pugin
who, in his own right, is a great architect.
In 1538, the shrine of St Augustine in Canterbury,
which drew pilgrims from all over the country and beyond was sadly destroyed.
It got caught up in the political turmoil of the age,
but now that has been rectified.
This year, on 1st March,
the Archbishop of Southwark declared the Church of St Augustine in Ramsgate, Pugin's church,
dedicated to the saint as a new shrine
to honour the beginnings of Christian England, the coming of the Gospel to our land.
It's a great responsibility to be custodian of such church with such a legacy,
and, in a sense, continuing Pugin's dream with honouring the English saints
who captivated his own imagination.
It's the worship of Jesus
by saints of all nations which is the subject of her next hymn,
from Edward Pugin's monastery at Gorton.
My great-great-grandparents were Augustus Welby Pugin
and his third wife Jane Knill.
They had a daughter called Margaret, Matty.
She, in turn, had my grandfather Charles.
Charles was the last architect in the Pugin & Pugin business.
He was a man who loved his family.
He loved having the children around him
and that was one of the reasons he designed the grange so well,
so it was surrounding the family
and became an example for future housing.
He was married three times.
Unfortunately, he lost his first two wives and was desolate by that.
He needed company and Jean Knill became his third wife.
He regarded her as the true Gothic woman.
He was warm, he was ebullient.
He wasn't particularly refined in his manners.
He wasn't particularly deferential.
He was a very driven man.
He had a great attention to detail.
Perhaps, sometimes people would say he was a perfectionist.
During his very short life,
he produced an incredible amount of work.
He worked very fast. He had done three cathedrals by the time he was 30.
It must be said that he relied very heavily indeed
on a good builder, George Myers.
He understood the structure of medieval buildings
so he could put in the right kind of foundations
so that things didn't fall down.
For Pugin, there was no difference between professional relationships and personal relationships.
Everyone was a friend as well as a colleague - he certainly was not a snob.
Also, it is much more practical once you have got a team together -
a builder, a metal-worker, a decorator,
Minton up in Stoke doing the tiles.
You all know each other very well.
Our next hymn comes from a church
built by another of his contemporaries, Joseph Hansom.
Pugin often complained that Hansom stole his ideas,
and the design of St Walburge's in Preston
is certainly impressive,
topped, as it is, by the tallest spire
of any parish church in England.
What you think his greatest legacy is?
I think it is the idea
that architecture is a social and moral force.
It's not just about putting up a building.
It's not just about function.
It has a role to play in the way that we live our lives.
And if we feel there's something wrong with our cities,
there's probably something wrong with ourselves,
and you can't separate these things out.
'He believed in Christianity in an active way,'
affecting the whole community,
enhancing the whole community,
blessing the whole community.
'I think we all feel very privileged for the life that we've had.
'And I think that, in return for that,
'it's fundamental that people are able to offer something'
to enable others to reach their potential.
I think Pugin had the same through the buildings that he built,
insofar as, if people could belong in these churches,
if they felt safe and secure, the likelihood is
that they would then be able to contribute
and in the end, through their prayer, through the combined use
of the community within the church, to thrive.
That Christians should follow Jesus's example
in actively supporting justice and peace
is at the heart of our next hymn.
The words are by Catholic convert,
writer, and social commentator, GK Chesterton,
and are sung to an old English folk tune,
adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The hymn was first published in English Hymnal,
founded at the Gothic Revival Anglican church
of St Mary the Virgin, in London's Primrose Hill.
He'd always loved the sea. He was a keen and very skilled sailor.
He also had a lugger, a boat that took tourists out in the summer,
and went out salvaging for wrecks in the winter.
And he had a very affectionate and enduring admiration for sailors.
There were frequent shipwrecks here on Goodwin Sands.
Occasionally he would bring sailors, if they had drowned,
he would arrange for them to have a Catholic funeral here.
Pugin himself left this storm-tossed life
for his eternal rest on September 14th, 1852.
His doctor said that he'd done the work of 100 years in just 40.
Among Catholics and Protestants, Pugin's legacy helped
to revive a renewed respect for our shared Christian heritage
and holy sites like Wolsingham, once a place of English pilgrimage,
second in importance only to Canterbury,
and now home to both Anglican and Catholic shrines to the Virgin Mary.
The Gothic architecture popularised by Augustus Pugin
captured the imagination of Christians of all denominations,
and although stone, bricks and mortar may decay,
Pugin's legacy and the faith that inspired him lives on.
Deep down, what inspires me most is that this will be a shrine,
a place of pilgrimage, a monument to Christianity,
and it's wonderful to be able to welcome people from all over the country and beyond
and to be able to tell our story, our English story,
about Christianity and about Pugin.
I think sometimes it's very difficult to verbalise your own faith,
but I believe that God is our creator,
that, hopefully, he's our teacher and our friend,
but, ultimately, he's our saviour,
and that the work we do, we need to strive
to be able to use the talents effectively that we have.
Our final hymn comes from Arundel Cathedral,
built by Pugin's contemporary and rival, Joseph Hansom.
Whatever their professional differences,
their shared mission was to bring Christian architecture to the world.
Next week, Sally Magnusson is in Dunblane in central Scotland,
home of the UK's only boarding school
for the children of the military.
And Dunblane's cathedral is the wonderful setting for our hymns.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd