Mental Heath & History: Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin


Photograph of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin 1812-1852

Following on from my last post I thought I would write about another amazing character from history who also suffered from mental health problems. We all know someone who is a workaholic, a bit of a control freak and is a perfectionist. Well Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was all of the above and more; and he achieved more in his short 40 years than many of us achieve in a whole life time.


Pugin was the son of a French Draftsman and a Lancashire lady; Auguste Pugin and Catherine Welby. His father came to Britain to avoid the French Revolution.  He was born in his parents Bloomsbury home on 1st of March 1812. He received his education at Christ’s Hospital in Sussex near Horsham. It was a charitable school dating back from the 16th century and still going today. It was set up by the Greyfriars to offer education to children from deprived and poorer backgrounds. Also s a child he learnt to draw from his father.


He was 19 years old when he married for the first time. Her name was Anne Garnet. The couple had one child together; a daughter named after her mother and it was while giving birth to that child that Anne died.


Aged 22, Augustus Pugin converted to Catholicism. This religious conversion

The Grange, in Ramsgate Kent Home to Pugin

was thought to have been prompted by the catholic churches he saw in Europe and the great cathedrals of UK that dated back to a time when Britain was Catholic. The styles of these building were to influence his style of design and the gothic revival style that he engineered and developed.


In his 20’s Pugin struggled financially but was greatly help by a legacy from his Aunt Selina Welby and it was this aunt that he and his family went to live with in Ramsgate, Kent. During this period of his life he did suffer from depression. Augustus did remarry. His second wife was Louisa Burton and they married in 1833. Louis gives Pugin 4 children, his first son, Edward Welby Pugin in 1834, Agnes Pugin in 1836, Cuthbert Pugin in 1840 and Catherine Pugin in 1841. Louisa dies in 1844.


As well as having a large family Pugin was also a very busy man. In 1837 he started work at Alton Towers and Scarisbrick Hall. Alton Towers was the family seat of the Talbolt family; a notable Catholic family.



The clock tower of the new houses of Parliment designed by Pugin and home to Big Ben the Bell

In 1834, Sir Charles Barry won the commission to rebuild the houses of parliament. He commissioned Pugin to design the interiors. His wall papers The royal throne, and the chairs with portcullis design are still visible in both houses. In fact the lords looks like a church and the throne like its on a the focal point or raised alter. Pugin also designed the tower that houses the Bell Big Ben.


As well as working in Britain, Pugin also worked in Ireland, working on at least 18 buildings including restorations of churches and homes. He helped restore and build no less than 37 churches in the UK including Southwark cathedral and Birmingham’s Catholic cathedral; and 19 institutions such as these include hospitals almshouses and convents and 27 houses from restoration, design and building. This would be a staggering CV in anyone’s career but in such a short career of 20 years that is an enormous achievement. We can also thank Pugin for the way we lay out our homes today. This was largely based on the footprint of the plan of his house The Grange in Ramsgate, in Kent.


Pugin did remarry again for a third and final time to Jane Knill in 1848 in one of his own churches Southwark cathedral. With Jane he had 2 more children a daughter Margret Pugin in 1848 and Peter Paul Pugin in 1951.


We have already seen that Pugin suffered from depression in his 20s, but his mental health was to break don fully near the end of his life. During a train journey with his son Edward, Augustus Pugin suffered a total mental breakdown and was unable to recognise his family or speak articulately or coherently. He was treated at a private retreat in Kensington House but in June of that year he was moved to Bedlam; situated opposite Southwark cathedral the place of his marriage to his current wife Jane and one of his biggest commissions. They moved him from Bedlam in to a private house in Hammersmith and he under went therapy which helped him to recognise his Jane. She must of really loved him. Jane brought her husband back to Ramsgate and on 14th September 1852 he died. His death certificate says he died of convulsions followed by a coma, he was just 40 years old.


There have been suggestions that he also suffered from Hyperthyroidism where his thyroid produces too much of the thyroid hormone. Some of the symptoms he suffered with were restlessness, increased appetite, sweating and problems with his eyes since his 20’s. There have also been suggestions that he may have suffered from Syphilis and that his may also have added to his physical illness near the time of his death.


Pugin for me has produced some of the most beautiful landmark building in our nation. He inspired countless other architects and pioneered the gothic revival style. He was a man who never wasted a minute and worked hard and lived his short life to the full. He is in my opinion a truly inspirational man.

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One Response to Mental Heath & History: Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin

  1. Pingback: Review of the McQueen retrospective at the V&A: Savage Beauty | Laura Brennan, A Historian

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