Pugin’s American Legacy

Though he died around age 40, his architecture had global influence -- Part 2

The first few decades of Gothic Revival master Augustus Pugin’s life were filled with activity and strain, and there would be more obstacles and tribulations. Pugin had periods of blindness. His second wife died. (He remarried. His third wife not only cared for his six children by his two previous wives but bore two more.) He had some sort of mental breakdown, was hospitalized for several months, and died at age 40 soon thereafter. After his death, he would be given no credit for the designs he did for the Houses of Parliament. All the credit would go to Charles Barry, who was knighted for his work.

As demonstrated in my introduction, however, many good things happened during his life. The demand for his services became huge.

What other good things happened? One is that Pugin and a neighbor made many successful rescues of foreign sailors, and their cargo, on distressed ships off the coast of their Ramsgate homes. Pugin paid for their shelter, nursing care, clothes, and food, until they could return to their home countries.

Another good thing is that, like his father, Pugin had apprentices, one of whom married his eldest daughter. Another was his eldest son. His two other sons also became architects. (Their works are listed here: https://web.archive.org/web/20060624192820/http://www.pugin-society.1to1.org/LL-EWandPP-churches.html) Pugin’s widow would live to 1909, keeping his memory and his family intact. The church in Ramsgate that Pugin built with his own money would be named a Shrine in 2012, the bicentennial of his birth. (See augustine-pugin.org.uk) His home in Ramsgate was purchased by UK’s Landmark Trust, and you can stay overnight there (Holiday at The Grange in Ramsgate, Kent | The Landmark Trust).

Now let’s turn to his legacy in America, although it is a country to which he never traveled and for which he designed no buildings. A conference at the University of Kent in 2012 on Pugin’s global influence has been captured in Gothic Revival Worldwide: A.W.N. Pugin’s Global Influence by Timothy Brittain-Catlin, et al., ed., (2016). In the United States, the public became so enamored of Gothic architecture that there is a Gothic chapel (1889) near Jefferson’s 1826 classical Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

Hundreds of Gothic churches, of all denominations, and synagogues were built throughout the United States. Just a small sampling includes:

  • New York City: St. Patrick’s (built 1858-1878), St. Thomas More Catholic (built in 1870 as Episcopal Church of the Beloved Disciple), Riverside Church (1930)
  • Philadelphia: Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church (1887)
  • San Francisco: St. Francis of Assisi (1874), St. Dominic Catholic (1928), Grace Episcopal (1934)
  • Los Angeles: Immanuel Presbyterian (1929), First Congregational (1932)
  • Savannah: St. John the Baptist Cathedral (1876, rebuilt 1900), Congregation Mickve Israel (1878)
  • Baton Rouge: St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral (1853)

Gothic buildings other than churches include:

  • Theatres: Paramount Theatre, Denver (1930)
  • Office buildings: Tribune Tower, Chicago (1925)
  • Hotels: Hotel Del Monte, Monterey (1880)

“Collegiate gothic” became the rage, as at Princeton and Duke. The Notre Dame campus includes the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (1871-1888), the South Dining Hall (1927), the law school (1930), St. Liam Hall (the infirmary, 1936), and Cushing Hall (engineering, 1936). Two American architects pre-eminent in Gothic design were Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896) and Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942).

Pugin also has a familial legacy in America. One of his grandsons, James Augustus Thunder, descended from Pugin’s third wife, was a high school and college classmate of James Joyce, emigrated to America, and married a native of San Francisco who was descended from a father-and-son pair who had fought 125 years earlier with the Continental Army during the Revolution. All three of their sons served during World War II. Ivan landed on Iwo Jima (as recounted in The Pacific War and Battle of Iwo Jima: Recollections & Essays: by a Seabee Lieutenant: Thunder, Ivan D.) and died in 2010 (see also A California Redwood – The American Spectator | USA News and Politics). I tell my audiences that Pugin was my grandfather’s grandfather.

The Pugin-designed, Minton-made dinner plate and silver serving spoon held by the Snite Museum of Art of the University of Notre Dame, soon to become the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, is one of only a few Pugin artifacts on display outside the United Kingdom, Ireland, or Australia. It was donated by Ivan.


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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