Augustus Welby Pugin, Designer of the British Houses of Parliament

Author: Powell, Christabel
Over recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the life and work of the nineteenth-century architect, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. By far the greatest part of this interest has been focused on his architecture and design. Yet some scholars are beginning to realize that there is a great deal to this fascinating character that remains unexplored.

Pugin himself believed that his strongest influence lay, not in his architecture or design, but in his writing. While his books are initially easy to read, the reader who looks at them in more depth finds that a puzzling picture emerges due to Pugin’s many references to religious, historical and liturgical terms. Clearly his books are not solely about architecture; neither are the sources and authorities he used for these books merely architectural.

In the first half of this monograph, Christabel Powell sets out to analyse and explore the reasons behind his particular style of writing. This leads her to the conclusion that he did not see himself as simply an architect, but as a liturgical architect. Indeed, the author argues that he was exceptionally knowledgeable about liturgical matters and had thoroughly researched his subject.

In the second half of this study, the author argues that Pugin’s vision of liturgical architecture clashed violently with the ideas of a particular group of converts to the Roman Catholic Church, led by John Henry Newman. As Anglicans, they had supported Pugin’s views and enthusiastically embraced the Gothic Revival. As converts and Oratorians, they completely rejected those views. A bitter quarrel concerning liturgical architecture and the form and arrangement of churches thus broke out between Pugin and Newman and his followers. The periodicals of that time, including the Tablet and The Rambler, took up their dispute.

The author concludes that Pugin’s role in the nineteenth century religious revival was important because of his views as a liturgical architect, but also because he was a close associate of Newman and his circle while they were Tractarians, while they were moving to the Roman Catholic Church and while they were neophytes in that Church. The study brings to light the development of ideas concerning liturgy that accompanied these stages.


“Pugin was a great architect and designer, and so has principally been of concern to artists and architectural historians, who may, like Kenneth Clark, have noted the pungency of his writings, but have done little to probe the non-architectural sources of his inspiration. It is the great merit of this work by Dr. Christabel Powell to have done so, by investigating his interests in theology, history and liturgy, from the principle that his was essentially a liturgical imagination. It was the old western rite of the Latin Mass which lay at the heart of his conception of church building, and indeed of his whole idea of a Christian civilization and culture, and the Gothic or ‘Christian Pointed’ style itself was only the supreme setting and expression of a type of worship which may, at other times and places, have found its embodiment in other architectural and artistic forms ... By situating Pugin so firmly in his period, Dr. Powell has put other Pugin scholars in her debt, and provided a fuller picture of one of the most fascinating and complex figures of the Victorian age.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Sheridan Gilley, University of Durham

“This book has been meticulously researched, well written, and is a major contribution to the study of the theology and architecture of the nineteenth century. Pugin is a giant in the history of architecture, and his contribution to the nineteenth century was enormous. What Dr. Powell does so successfully is to show how his architectural concerns come out of his theological beliefs and understanding. He was the epitome of the nineteenth century movement which found a new world in the old world, and idealized the Middle Ages ...” – Revd. Dr. Ralph Waller, Harris Manchester College

“There is no shortage of literature on Augustus Welby Pugin, but much of it tends to focus on his architectural achievements and aspirations. Pugin’s differences with Newman and other Tractarian converts on architectural matters are well known, but they have been rarely fully explained. Dr. Powell is able to do so by putting Pugin’s architectural notions into a broader intellectual and spiritual context, drawing out the extent of overlap and affinity between the Oxford Movement and the so-called ‘Gothic Revival.’ Dr. Powell shows how the often hostile Catholic convert response to Pugin’s critique of a Roman and Grecian style may have played a part in his final mental breakdown and even inspired suspicions that he was backsliding toward Anglicanism ...” – Professor Peter Nockles, University of Manchester

"A refreshingly new approach to the great nineteenth-century architect." - True Principles, the Journal of the Pugin Society

Table of Contents

Foreword by Sheridan Gilley
1. Introduction
2. Conversion
3. Three Books Expressing Strong Views
4. A New Version of Contrasts
5. Pugin’s Views Laid Bare
6. Two New Treatises on Liturgical Architecture and Design
7. Pugin Forced to Defend His Views
8. Conclusion