Monday 14 October 2019

Pugin's 'gem' gets just five lines in biography!


AT LAST! Found it! Here on page 392 of 'God's Architect' is reference to Enniscorthy and what was going on in the town during 1848. Readers learn that work on St. Aidan's Cathedral was continuing slowly and that the green-white-orange tricolour was flown there for the first time. The Enniscorthy section of Rosemary Hill's hefty tome amounts to about three lines.

Hold on, though. There's more. Move on to page 418 to read: 'At Enniscorthy the bishop had boarded up the choir of St. Aidan's and allowed the building to fill up with rubbish.' That downbeat episode occurred in the early summer of 1849 and, though you may scour the text from there to the end (on page 498), there are no further observations on Wexford. A grand total of five lines.

These days, the approach to Enniscorthy is enlivened by signs tempting visitors to come and admire 'Pugin's cathedral' – and a splendid piece of 19th-century building it is too. The rubbish that so depressed its designer has long since been cleared and the choir gallery is back in regular use.

However, do not turn to 'God's Architect' for the full chapter and verse on the Irish adventures of the man responsible for this and other significant ecclesiastical landmarks around County Wexford. The author prefers instead to devote screeds to Alton Towers, now famous for its theme park rollercoasters, but once the Staffordshire home of Pugin's patron the Earl of Shrewsbury. Ironically, while St. Aidan's continues to feature proudly on the skyline of Enniscorthy, the original buildings at Alton were allowed to rot before eventually making way for the white-knuckle 'Corkscrew' ride and the likes.

Augustus Welby Pugin. There's a name to conjure with, as Alice Hill does at such considerable length. London-born, with some French blood, he was profoundly influential on the course of architecture on these islands. If his Enniscorthy effort does not feature highly on his CV then perhaps it is because it was just one commission among many. The satirical magazine 'Punch' observed of the energetic designer: 'designs for cathedrals made in five and 40 minutes'.

That was certainly a caricature. There was no question of languidly tossing off drawings. The man responsible for much of the elaborate interior work of the Houses of Parliament and the tower that houses Big Ben at Westminster in fact worked very hard at his craft, frequently putting in 17-hour shifts. Such devotion was despite the fact that, as Ms. Hill informs us, the father-of-eight and husband-of-three had both worms and piles.

She further speculates that Pugin suffered from syphilis, a condition that was apparently rife on the toilet seats of Covent Garden at the time when he worked there as a young man designing stage sets. In the end, however, it was probably a thyroid deficiency that carried him off in 1852 at the age of just 40.

Before he shuffled off the mortal coil, Pugin made his mark not only on England but also on Ireland. Rosemary Hill lists 18 projects around the Republic with which the subject of her biography was associated. While, the most significant was St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, no fewer than eight of the 18 were in the Model County.

According to the author, the Enniscorthy venture stretched from 1843 to 1850, suggesting that it was embarked upon before Famine and completed afterwards. Also on the list were St. Alphonsus's Church in Barntown (1844-8); The Church of the Assumption in Bree (183740); St. Michael's Church and the convent in Gorey (both 1839); St Mary's Church in Tagoat (1843-8); The chapel at St. Peter's College in Wexford town; and St. James's Church in Ramsgrange (1835-48).

Ms. Hill is somewhat sniffy about having God's Architect associated with the Ramsgrange building, commenting that whatever he contributed has since been masked by later additions and alterations. None of Wexford structures is included in the illustrations contained in the book. Of the Irish output, only the banqueting hall at Lismore in County Waterford make that particular cut.

However, help is at hand in the form of the glorious 'Churches of the Diocese of Ferns – Symbols of a Living Faith'. Aside from carrying superb photos of every Catholic church in the area, it also reminds us that the tradition of Augustus Welby Pugin was carried on by his son Edward in association with George Coppinger Ashlin.

According to the authors, churches produced by the firm of Pugin & Ashlin included those at Lady's Island (1864) and Kilanerin (1865), while Ashlin flying solo took the credit for Ballyoughter Church (1876). The notion that the twin churches of Bride and Rowe Streets were Pugin creations is also explained.

Apparently, Richard Pearce, who was the man responsible for the priceless pair, was a colleague of the famous architect and was responsible for overseeing work for him, not only on St. Aidan's Cathedral but also on the cathedral in Killarney.

'God's Architect – Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain' by Rosemary Hill (Allen Lane 2007); 'Churches of the Diocese of Ferns – Symbols of a Living Faith' (Booklink 2004) IT IS NOT the policy of this newspaper to encourage anonymous letter writers, while the author of this column has already filed an apology for exercise in poor taste that prompted the following piece of correspondence. Having made a rod for my back, however, I may as well take the full beating for my ill-judged critique of Mark Browne and Andrew Byrne on their recent television appearance:

'I protest in the strongest possible terms at the offensive and unresearched article that you wrote and published in the 'Guardian' newspaper of March 3 regarding 'Greenflame's' presentation on the programme 'Dragons' Den'. Your lack of admiration at the courage of those two gentlemen goes beyond belief. They had to stand before a panel of ultra-successful businessmen and a lady trying to explain this brand new venture, the production of which – 1. Protects the environment by counteracting greenhouse gases; 2. Produces a low-cost, long-burning fuel which gives maximum heat with minimum ash; 3. Gives much-needed employment and enables farmers to recoup some of the diminution of their income over the past few years.

Shame on you – and your article wasn't even amusing.' It was signed 'Furious Granny'. Anyone else want to have a cut?