To read the first part, please click here
Nicholas Furlong, the writer and historian, is a past pupil of St. Peter's College (1941-46). In 1990 he produced this excellent article on Augustus Welby Pugin's work at St. Peter's College for the College Magazine, a portion of which can be read by clicking read more.
Five years later, consolidated and flourishing in his role, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, called at Hull's furniture shop in London, where he saw, unattended, a portfolio of drawings. He examined them and instantly found them so attractive that they reputedly took his breath away. He enquired for the author and sought an introduction to him. He was the twenty one year old Augustus Welby Pugin, at that early age a grieving widower with an infant daughter. From the very start, a life-long association of actual friendship and patronage began between the Shrewsburys and Pugin, with the happiest consequences, one of which we celebrate here this year.
As Pugin's connections with the Shrewsburys grew in intimacy, so the connections of the Blackwater Talbots extended amongst the strong and rapidly growing Catholic mercantile and political families based in Co. Wexford and they became leaders in a national resurgence which embraced many fields. John Hyacinth Talbot of Blackwater, uncle of Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury, had married Anne Eliza Redmond, only daughter and heiress of Walter Redmond of Ballytrent house near Our Lady's Island. Their daughter, Jane Anne Eliza, married Sir James Power of Edermine House, entering the powerful, internationally famous family of whiskey distillers (Pugin later designed the exquisite oratory for the Powers at Edermine House). All these influential contacts were to have local, i.e. County Wexford, and National significance when Pugin was brought, as he frequently was, to the Countess of Shrewsbury's home in Blackwater. It can be assumed that as a guest in the homes of their family, he made significant mercantile and Church connections.
The year following the meeting between Lord Shrewsbury and Pugin, the architect married again. His new wife's name was Louisa Burton. They had six children, among whom were two sons, Edward and Peter Paul, who later successfully carried on his father's business. Pugin went to reside in Salisbury, where in 1834 he created a modest sensation by converting to Roman Catholicism. In reply to a sneer by Ruskin, Pugin wrote, "I learned the truths of the Catholic Religion in the crypts of the old cathedrals of Europe. I sought for these truths in the modern church in England and found that since her separation from the centre of Catholic unity she had little truth and no life, so, without being acquainted with a single priest, through God's mercy, I resolved to enter his church". Pugin's wife followed him into the Catholic Church in 1839.
From the outset of his career to the last years of his life, Pugin was never less than theatrical. He inherited the confidence and gestures of the aristocrat from his father. He was low sized with expressive eyes which he exploited to full effect at all times. With his long black hair and loud dress he created excitement wherever he went and, on occasion, antagonisms. He never engaged in conversation without wearing a hat, while outside of the house his clothes continued to be a sailor's jacket, loose pilot's trousers, jack-boots and wide awake hat. He once entered a railway carriage dressed in this manner, or perhaps more flamboyantly, bearing in his arms a portfolio of drawings. He was met with the frosty address of male passenger, presumably travelling first class, "I think you have mistaken your carriage, sir". Pugin responded at once: "By Jove you're right! I thought I was in the company of gentlemen!" It was said that he had a horror of formal occasions such as charity balls, receptions, dinners and ecclesiastical or pious entertainments. This undoubtedly true, but it did not prevent him from making the day of consecration of St. Peter's College Chapel one of unforgettable, technicoloured splendour.
The third and final part of this article will appear on this website soon.