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1945 October: 'St. Marie's Grange' by John Piper

John Piper’s essay on the first home of A.W.N. Pugin

The first of the two houses that Pugin built for himself stands a couple of miles out of Salisbury on the road to Southampton. In 1835 he bought half an acre of ground between the Avon and this main road: a beautiful site on a southward-sloping bank, looking across water-meadows with willows and alders to the dark trees of Longford Park and to the rising chalk uplands with their crowning clump on the Hampshire border.

The famous remark that Pugin made before his death about having “crammed a hundred years work into forty” indicates his character as a man as well as suggesting what kind of a prophet he was: a prophet of ideas that were before those of his time and not-at any rate, not as a matter of course-a prophet of vision who saw where such ideas would lead. And this house was a house of ideas rather than of vivid imagination. It stands here, unnoticed by passersby, as it is unnoticed in any of the guidebooks to Salisbury or Wiltshire.

By 1835, when he built it, Pugin had already lived one life which on the whole had been a failure, and had, at twenty-three, begun another. He had married and had a child, which his wife had died bearing, leaving him miserable; he had been an unsuccessful business man and-in symbol and in fact-a shipwrecked mariner. And now, married again and lately converted to Roman Catholicism, he felt settled and mature and ready to devote himself with the “earnest zear of a convert” to proving by works that “everything grand, edifying, and noble in art is the result of feelings produced by the Catholic religion on the human mind,” ready to try and mitigate the disastrous effects of the “present decay of taste,” a prime result of which-so he saw it-stared him in the face whenever he went into Salisbury, where Wyatt had lately been so hard at work.

He had already unsuccessfully tried to persuade his father to guarantee, or consent to his buying, a piece of ground for a house “built on medieval principles” at Christ church in Hampshire, for which place he had conceived a passion ‘on account of its priory, its ruined sacristan’s house and its river, all of which he had included in a sketch done when he was thirteen, which Ferreyl reproduces. “There are only two things worth living for: Christian architecture and a boat.” Christchurch provided both. And it was there that he insisted on burying his young wife, though she had never lived there and had died in London. For St. Marie’s Grange he chose a site beside the same Avon.

Ferrey gives a wood-engraving of St. Marie’s Grange which bears but little resemblance to the house as it was built. “The structure,” he says, “was principally of brick,” and so it is. But his engraving shows a stone-built house with an outside staircase and other features which have, and had, no being in reality. Possibly it is founded on sketches that Pugin had done for his Christchurch proposals. Ferrey also says of the house: “It was quaint and odd, and much noticed by people of the neighbourhood who took an interest in such matters. It can scarcely be said that he was successful in this work; there was nothing very inviting in the exterior design, and a great absence of modern comfort in the interior arrangement. The building tended rather to show the eccentricity of its owner than his superior skill in design; still it was not without merit.” He adds later that the house cost “upwards of £2,000 on the building alone” and that when Pugin left it in 1841 it was sold to Mr. Staples, from whom he originally bought the ground, for £500.

To us today, as to the neighbours then, the house at first sight seems what is known as “more remarkable than beautiful”; but it is indeed remarkable, for the date. It is like a medley of suburban Gothic of the seventies and eighties, and there are plenty of villas outside London, Derby, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and Birmingham that bear strong resemblances to it and were built half a century later. It is of course in a sense the grandfather of all of them, though everything would have been done by Pugin had he lived to disown grandfather-hood of these. Just as everything was done by Ruskin later to disown fatherhood of them, as well as any debt he himself owed to Pugin.

The house is of brick with stone dressings, one projecting turret being tile-hung, and the whole slated. It is notable outside for its square tower (intended to support a water tank) with stone parapet and monograms (“I.H.S.,” “M.,” for St. Marie, “A.W.P.” and crosses) in purple brick built into the red; for its turrets and high-pitched gables, its chapel bellcote and the iron vanes and finials. The stable to the north-west, in simple brick and stone, is contemporary. Let into the outside north wall near the stables is a stone dedication slab, in Latin, and in Gothic characters. The composition from all points of view is eccentric and would be picturesque but for the hard colour and weather-resisting quality of the materials. It does not look its age. The garden below the house, separated from it by a path and a brick wall,. would be attractive in any case on account of its placing with the bank and trees above it and the Avon at its feet, and is not a little so in its present tangled and overgrown state.

Within, the house has been somewhat altered. Two rooms have been destroyed to make way for a conventional staircase inside the front door. The original winding staircase has been allowed to remain. The chapel on the first floor has had its open roof ceiled, and the general passage-less character of the house, with rooms opening one into another, ‘has been conventionalised. Several of the original Gothic overmantels remain, and there has been no-or very little-alteration of windows. Two windows, one above the present main staircase, the other in the chapel -now bedroom-are glazed with contemporary staned glass. This glass is pleasing. The staircase window shows Pugin’s arms (gules, a bend or) at the top of one light, and his well-known monogram, “A.W.P.,” at the top of the other, while below, and crossing a grisaille of small” A.W.P’s” are more bends with “En Avant,” the motto from the Pugin crest thathe placed ostentatiously on the title-pages of his books, and that Talbot Bury says he adopted owing to the success of his first book, Gothic Furniture.

From St. Marie’s Grange he published Contrasts, and here he prepared the separate parts of the Ornaments of the XVth and XVlth Centuries, published by Ackermann in 1836. He also did some designing locally, but hardly found enough of this to occupy him. He designed a lodge for. Sir F. H. Hervey Bathurst at neighbouring Clarendon Park, and made drawngs and plans- not used-for additions and alterations at Longford Castle for the Earl of Radnor, including a bridge over the Avon.

Ferrey says that the only works that were executed in or near Salisbury were the Clarendon Park Lodge and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Osmund (which still stands; it was built after Pugin left St. Marie’s Grange, in 1847); but neither Ferrey nor Mr. Trappes-Lomax mentions the elaborate tomb of 1844 at Bishopstone in the Vale of Chalke, a few miles away. This was illustrated in the following year in Some Account of Bishopstone Church, by Owen B. Carter (1845), an imposing ecclesiological monograph published by John Weale. The author says: “The window above this tomb has been carefully taken out and restored, and is now filled with stained glass representing the Resurrection. It is said that a portion of the glass is imitated from a church in the city of York, which has been lately lost or destroyed. The window is well executed by Wailes, of Newcastle. The design forms a portion of the memorial to the late lamented Rector, and is (together with the tomb) from the pencil of the celebrated Pugin. The effect is altogether rich and good, and much enhances the interest of this portion of the church.”

Glass and tomb are still there. This work was also done after Pugin left St. Marie’s, but while there he no doubt visited all the neighbouring churches and in doing so must have encountered the Rev. George Augustus Montgomery, Rector of Bishopstone, keen antiquary and high churchman who was responsible for much enlightened restoration work in his church, as well as for the introduction of elaborate fittings and glass. This rector was killed by the fall of the unfinished vaulting in the Norman-Revival church at East Grafton in the Vale of Pewsey while it was being built, and the designer of East Grafton church was none other than our friend, and Pugin’s friend, Benjamin Ferrey.

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