Through the keyhole
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Would you like to stay in the house built by one of the most prolific, influential and controversial architects of the 19th century? The Grange, a Grade I listed building at Ramsgate, was Augustus Pugin’s creation, and he lived and worked there.
It has been restored to its original glory and is available for holiday bookings now, courtesy of a charity, The Landmark Trust, who have restored this splendid example of Gothic Revival Architecture to its former glory. The house occupies a wonderful clifftop site with sensational sea views. It is an extraordinarily welcoming, vibrant place, the perfect spot for an artist stuck for inspiration or a novelist in search of the muse. Landmark let out their restored buildings to the public as holiday homes, the income covering the costs of ongoing maintenance.
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin – who designed the interior of the Houses of Parliament, built countless churches, schools and country manors, and spearheaded the Gothic Revival style in Britain – completed the house in 1844, planning to add a monastery and a church to the site (these buildings were subsequently completed by his son Edward). In 1928 the building became a school run by the monks of neigbouring St Augustine’s monastery, after which is was sold in the early 90s, sadly deteriorating until its acquisition by Landmark.
“Pugin was the Norman Foster or Richard Rogers of his day,” says Caroline Stanford, Historian for the Landmark Trust, enthusiastically. “His work was shocking and outrageous to many contemporaries, yet his brand of Gothic Revivalism – a return to medieval quirks and whimsicality – soon became the zeitgeist of the time. Augustus Pugin hated the ubiquitous bland symmetry of classical Georgian architecture, where external evenness was supreme. He wanted the outside to follow on from the internal room arrangements rather than vice versa: hence the lovely gables, imaginative stained glass windows and the sheer lack of predictability that’s so captivating. The Grange may not look revolutionary to us, for the very reason that it set the trend for the typically English Victorian style of detached, quirky, ‘spiky’ houses with individuality that became so popular, and still are today.”
The house had been extended and altered by Pugin’s talented architect son Edward, whose work can be seen in the town of Ramsgate. “It’s been very difficult to unpick the various strands of change,” says Caroline. “There were a myriad of tiny decisions that overlay each other. We found there was the most information relating to Pugin senior’s design, so we worked to that, reluctantly removing Edward's additions.” However, Edward’s excellent alterations to the large Cartoon Room remain, as does the fine covered walkway and entrance gates he constructed.
Fireplaces have been restored to their 1840s appearance, with many shield and heraldry themes replacing the more recent colourful paintwork. The carpets were made by Ulster Carpets, following selections from the great man’s original designs at the V & A museum. Wallpaper choices were traced back from his letters and drawings and scraps of original paper found under later decorative changes, and these were made by Cole and Son. Recurrent themes for wallpaper are The Pugins’ family motto ‘en avant’ (forward) in various coloured backgrounds, plus a simpler strapwork design for less high-profile walls; other motifs for decorating ceilings and floor tiles are also associated with his family’s heraldic crests: a black martlet (a bird) and his monogram AWP. Stained glass windows adorn many of the downstairs rooms, mostly depicting saints.
The drawing room, library and dining room are grouped around a square entrance hall, with a corridor leading to a kitchen, a square tower and a private chapel. The double-height hallway is the centre of the house, an intimate space with matchboard panelling on walls, the stairwell papered in a red/green ‘en avant’ design. The banister shape is along the lines of Northern French woodwork, and the floor still has the original Herbert Minton tiles with heraldic motifs. There is a ‘strong room’, originally used for valuables, now a bathroom. The sitting room has a panelled ceiling and red/green ‘en avant’ paper, and the adjacent library was Pugin’s studio. This is a lovely wooden-wall-panelled, bay-windowed room with breathtaking sea views. There is stained glass in the upper lights, while the lower windows have plate glass, which was an expensive luxury at the time, but vital for admitting maximum daylight. “The library wasn’t a stuffy wall-to-wall books area,” explains Caroline. “It was his working room, there’d be lumps of stone, references, rolls of drawings and plans spread around. It has a very masculine, almost nautical feel. The main cornice is inscribed with the names of his favourite people, saints, friends, clients and places, because he loved to be surrounded by these reassuring reminders.”
The grand dining room has bright pink/red/white ‘en avant’ paper, and the ceiling joists have original painted decoration, stencilled between with AWP monogram designs. In the beautiful atmospheric chapel there are original ceiling decorations and particularly inspired stained glass windows, one of which shows Pugin kneeling beneath St Augustine, plus his second wife Louisa and Ann, his eldest daughter. Another features Pugin’s children Cuthbert and Edward beneath their saints. The homely kitchen commands wonderful views of the church and there’s an original bread oven, plus a large dresser, which is the only surviving piece of original furniture.
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, including Jane Knill’s (Pugin’s third wife) room, refurbished to reflect the way Edward left it, a guest room, Pugin senior’s room and a nursery. The tiny room at the apex of the tower was once the bedroom of John Hardman Powell, Pugin’s friend and assistant who married his daughter.
Pugin was a keen sailor and obviously relished the Grange’s proximity to the sea, often rescuing shipwrecked sailors from the Goodwin Sands. He was passionately Catholic at a time when this was unfashionable and unpopular. Professionally he courted controversy, but reaped the ultimate reward of posthumous acclaim. He was also very much a family man who loved his children, and he worked frenetically, so much so that his eyes suffered terrible strain. The treatment for this, mercury, ultimately killed him at the age of 40. He spent his last days with his beloved wife Jane at the Grange and was interred next door in the church.
But his spirit lives on at The Grange, in the finely proportioned rooms, the colourful stained glass and in the bright compulsive optimism that emanates from every brick. Penny Perrott is one of The Grange’s team of local housekeepers, who looks after the building with the care and dedication of a museum curator. “I love my work,” she says cheerfully. “I adore the surprising oddities of the place, such as the strange miniature window halfway up the stairs to the room where they used to keep valuables – I always imagine Pugin peeping through to keep an eye on his treasures as he passed! It’s a very happy house. My favourite room is the one right at the top of the tower – John Hardman Powell’s bedroom. It has a very special atmosphere of peace and serenity.”
For bookings contact: The Landmark Trust, 01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk