Pugin in Lichfield

Michael Fisher's talk at the A.G.M. on Pugin's contribution to the development of Nineteenth Century Gothic architecture and design was an expert combination of erudition at a great depth, leavened with wit and delivered with a great fluency and illustrated with outstanding slides.

He placed Pugin firmly at the very centre of what was to become an all enveloping movement for at least 60 years - indeed its very genesis. This sprung not only from Pugin's own new found Catholic faith but also from a powerful impulse to design that had been highly precocious from childhood. This was wedded to strong intellectual need to analyse and thus get to the roots of his ideas which found expression in books that were to lead his generation of architects. These contrasted the purity of the 'Middle Gothic' with its truth to faith and truth to materials with their destruction not only by the industrial age but also by the 'pagan' neo-classicism of both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Both had erred from what he saw as truth; thus the only way forward would be to revert to the better past.

Pugin was lucky in finding a dream patron in the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, who was to sponsor such remarkable buildings as St.Giles' Cheadle and Alton Towers; this was to include more commissioning by others, including six cathedrals, such as St.Chad's Birmingham; plus another hundred churches where he could test out his theories. The results were often stunning; almost overwhelming. His secular buildings were no less ambitious and extraordinary; the pinnacle might well have been at Alton Towers, his patron's Gothic fantasy of a noble seat, today a semi-ruin. Possibly this accolade must go to his interiors in the Palace of Westminster designed in his mid twenties; surely the best example of his ability to design everything contained within any structure regardless of its use. This was an engrossing talk that must lead members to further study an architect so well represented in Staffordshire. Later in the week we saw Michael Fisher in Channel 4's Timeteam 'Pugin Special' which brought it all to life for us - particularly Pugin's intensely decorated house in Ramsgate. Whether any of us could live in it or with Mr. Pugin and his eight children without being exhausted in a day is a matter of taste. No wonder he died at 40! A fine talk that only scratched the surface. Michael Fisher's books, which are highly recommended, include 'Pugin-land' and 'Staffordshire and the Gothic Revival'.

Alan Thompson
February 2007