SOLID AND ESSENTIALLY RATIONAL, REFLECTING PUGIN'S BUILDERLY APPROACH TO DESIGN
'A most substantial Catholic house, not very large but convenient and solid.' This was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin's vision (set out in a letter to a friend in September 1843) of the house he was planning to build on a cliff-top site at Ramsgate, Kent, a place he had known from childhood holidays.
Pugin was 31, a fervent Catholic convert, the author of Contrasts, architect of many churches and Sir Charles Barry's collaborator on the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster. He was the father of seven children and happily married for the second time; his first wife had died giving birth to his first child.
The Grange was to be a practical family house as well as Pugin's workplace - he loved the sea and ships - and part of a complex of Gothic buildings that included the church of St Augustine, which he founded and endowed and in which he was buried, and a community of Benedictine monks.
It was completed in little more than a year but the architect's young wife Louisa did not live to see it and Pugin himself died nine years later, insane, at the age of 40. The house remained in the possession of the family until 1928. A few years earlier, John Summerson had found Pugin's youngest son Cuthbert, then well into his 80s, living alone in part of the adjacent monastery, surrounded by his father's furniture, books and works of art. 'Rarely have I felt so vividly the illusion of slipping back in time, ' Summerson recalled.
Following Cuthbert Pugin's death, the family's connection with Ramsgate was severed. The Grange became a school, run by the monks of St Augustine's Abbey. After many vicissitudes, but now listed Grade I, it was acquired by the Landmark Trust, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), in 1997. Nearly a decade later, with over £2 million invested in its restoration, the house has become a holiday home available for rent, the 183rd historic property taken on by the trust.
Was there ever a practical alternative? Extraordinarily, a treasure trove of furniture and fittings from The Grange, including Minton plates, was discovered in the 1980s in a Catholic presbytery in Oxfordshire. The entire collection was acquired by the government and placed in the Speaker's House at the Palace of Westminster. In theory, it might have been possible to borrow some of these items, along with others from public and private collections, and refurnish the house as a museum piece, assuming that the National Trust or another such organisation could be persuaded to take it on. But the practical chances of this happening were always slight.
The issues facing Landmark were as much philosophical as practical. Built of brick with dressings of Caen stone, The Grange was a solid and essentially rational building that reected Pugin's practical, builderly approach to design. Small wonder that it inspired later Goths like Butterfield and Street and was an exemplar for much Victorian domestic architecture. But the effects of the sea air on the stonework were all too obvious (though the Whitby stone used for the adjacent church has hardly weathered at all) and the house had been poorly maintained for some decades.
The philosophical issues of the project related to the additions and alterations made after Pugin's death, chiey by his eccentric bachelor son Edward Welby Pugin. An architect of distinction in his own right, working extensively in Britain, Ireland and Belgium, E W Pugin also fancied his chances as a developer - which led to his eventual bankruptcy. (He died, aged 41, drugged and mad, in 1875. ) Edward Pugin's genuine attachment to The Grange, which had been let after his father's death and was in a 'dull and miserable' state, drove him to take up residence there in 1861, installing his stepmother, Jane (who died as late as 1909), and siblings, and adapting the house in tune with his own lifestyle.
In two principal phases of work, Edward greatly extended the kitchen, adding further bedrooms above; created more bathrooms; built a conservatory along the west wall of his father's library (where he stripped out the shelving); extended the sitting room into the garden; and completely reorganised the entrance sequence to the house, with imposing gates to the main road - The Grange was originally entered unobtrusively from a side lane - and a timber-and-glass covered way extending out from the front door. (By the 1860s, Roman Catholics were no longer the social pariahs they had been 20 or 30 years earlier and external display had become a safe enough option. ) Internally, Edward's alterations reected his aspirations for a relatively conventional and expansive domestic life: door openings, for example, were widened and Pugin the elder's ecclesiastical chimneypieces elaborated with fruity ornament.
Much of A W N Pugin's furniture was dispersed. Further alterations made by Cuthbert Pugin, a mediocre designer - including a billiard room in the kitchen court and a clumsy reconstruction of the roof, done after a lightning strike in 1904 set it alight - were entirely detrimental in effect.
Landmark's instinct from the start was to return The Grange to its pre-1861 condition, before later Pugins 'diluted' its quality - the expression used by the trust's historian, Caroline Stanford. This implied that all of E W Pugin's work should be stripped away in line with recommendations made by SPAB architect John Macgregor as long ago as 1947 - Macgregor advised demolishing the 'badly constructed, untidy additions which will always be giving trouble with upkeep'. The natural reaction of English Heritage (EH), the HLF and the Victorian Society was to resist this approach, arguing that the later alterations were part of the history of the building and of value in their own right.
The practical arguments for cutting the building back were, however, obvious. The additions had created, in places, awkward junctions that were hard to maintain, encouraging the decay of the structure. The conservatory had been dismantled many years before. For Stanford, the simple lifestyle of A W N Pugin, who tolerated 'not a bit of lumber or useless furniture', was more in tune with that lived by 21st-century Landmarkers than the bourgeois pretensions of his eldest son. The huge kitchen, for instance, added by the latter, was a gloomy space, she says, awkwardly joined to the adjacent Catholic presbytery.
The debate over the treatment of E W Pugin's work continued even after work had started on site, initially with Donald Insall Associates as architect (succeeded in 2005 by Thomas Ford & Partners). The case for returning The Grange substantially to its pre-1861 state was underpinned by an exhaustive historical analysis by consultant Paul Drury, backed up by detailed archaeological investigations that extended into the gardens. EH, the HLF and the local authority backed Landmark's proposals and even the Victorian Society compromised on its initial opposition.
E W Pugin's covered entrance way has been retained, along with his swaggering gateposts, and one bedroom has been maintained in his style. Otherwise, he has been largely expunged from the history of The Grange.
The clean-cut look of The Grange, as restored, is a result of extensive reconstruction and replacement of stonework.
The parapet of the tower had to be entirely rebuilt, as did the chimneystacks. Other stonework was retained and repaired wherever possible, but much was beyond repair. As Thomas Ford partner Paul Sharrock explains, the sudden availability of quantities of high quality Caen stone brought a change of plans; it had been proposed to substitute Bath stone. Sourced from mines reopened with EU subventions, the hard Caen stone is already being used on other historic building projects in Britain.
As part of the project, the roof was returned to its original, double-ridged profile (lost in 1904), with bargeboards firmly attached by reinstated 'tusk tenons' in the Pugin manner. The repointing of the brickwork reects the efforts made by main contractor R J Barwick to match the quality of the original workmanship. Barwick's work, and that of specialist contractors, is well up to the usual Landmark standard.
Inside the house, of course, many compromises had to be made if it was to be made habitable for people accustomed to power showers, central heating, effective lighting and other modern conveniences. Furniture of suitable character was assembled by Landmark's furnishing team - only a massive kitchen dresser survives from Pugin's time. Internal decor has been reinstated, using machine-printed wallpaper featuring Pugin's motto, 'En Avant', and black martlet emblem - the cost of hand-blocked paper was prohibitive.
Doors have been replicated to the original pattern by John Hardman Studios, which manufactured the long-lost originals. The library shelving has been reinstated - the outline of the shelves was found behind later paper. The painted ceiling in this room had survived and was restored, serving as a model for the restoration of the damaged ceilings to the sitting room and dining room. Pugin's private chapel has been maintained as a 'quiet space'. The altar was removed to the Pugin Chantry in St Augustine's in 1930 and a timber replica is being made. One of the few unexpected crises affecting the interior was the poor condition of the main staircase, where the discovery of dry rot led to its being dismantled and rebuilt using as much of the original timber as possible.
'It was a seminal work by a great architect and the right course was to restore it to its original form, ' says Caroline Stanford, and this is the course that the Landmark Trust has pursued at The Grange with visually stunning results. The fact that the house will be lived in - it is already heavily booked - rather than fossilised by the National Trust is surely to be welcomed.
E W Pugin enthusiasts - too few in number - may still find the basic proviso of the project objectionable, and it certainly raises continuing questions about the correct approach to the restoration of historic buildings. A fundamental problem with E W Pugin's work at The Grange was its marked discontinuity with that of his father. According to critic Jonathan Glancey - who once tried to buy the house - Edward turned the Grange into 'a richly foliated backwater'. Where the father's work was rational, hardedged and lean, the son's was effusive, decorative and (if one dare use the adjective) rather effeminate.
It is not surprising that it is Pugin the elder, who singlehandedly redirected the course of English architecture, who remains a figure with a strong appeal for architects and designers.
Perhaps some of them will stay in his beloved house, that combines 'the delight of the sea with Catholic architecture and a library', and find inspiration in its romantic rationalism.
The principal rooms of The Grange are open to the public on Wednesday afternoons by appointment through the Landmark Trust: telephone 01628 825920. For rental bookings telephone 01628 825925 or visit www. landmarktrust. org. uk
Credits Architects Donald Insall Associates, Thomas Ford & Partners Building analysis Paul Drury Partnership: Paul Drury Archaeology Canterbury Archaeological Trust Project manager Robertson & Dawson: Ron Dawson Quantity surveyor Bare Leaning & Bare: Adrian Stenning Structural engineer The Morton Partnership Main contractor R J Barwick Construction Services Stonework PAYE Stonework Mechanical services Mechelec Electrical contractor E Saunders Cartoon room Town Brothers Paint analysis Catherine Hassall Paint conservation The Wall Paintings Workshop Decorator Mackays Decorators Specialist paint finishes Tomfoolery: Trish Murray Stained glass The Stained Glass Workshop: Keith Hill Wallpapers Cole & Son ('En Avant' and 'Strapwork') Watts of Westminster (Jane's Room) Carpets Ulster Carpets Door furniture, brass shields John Hardman Studios Landscaping & furnishing Landmark Furnishing Team