Just down the road from the British Museum can be found the former home of Augustus Charles Pugin and his architect son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin – best known for decorating the Houses of Parliament.
Pugin senior moved to London after fleeing the French Revolution and became an architectural draughtsman with the architect John Nash, but later changed direction and became a successful commercial artist and watercolourist.
Sufficiently successful that the family was able to move to respectable Great Russell Street in 1823, when Augustus was around 11 years old.
Here, the father ran a drawing school, with students including W. Lake Price, James Pennethorne, Talbot Bury, J. D’Egville, B. Ferrey, and the architect Francis Dollman. This wasn’t to last long though, as Pugin senior died a decade after moving in, on 19th December 1832, and Augustus Pugin was to sell up the following year, settling in Salisbury in 1833.
He later moved to back to London, for a short time while he bought the property in Ramsgate which is today considered his main home.
The home in London which he lived in as a young man for just over a decade was given a commemorative plaque in 1908. However, Pugin lived at 105 Great Russell Street, so why does the plaque appear to be next door? That’s because, in the 19th century, the houses were renumbered, and what was 105 became 106, so while the numbers are “wrong”, the building is correct. In fact, the building was for a while known as Pugin House, if possibly informally by the publishing house that occupied it in the 1860s.
At the time, this was a respectable residential street, and you can see there were large gardens at the back and mews for stables behind that. Today the mews is a road, the stables is a row of houses and between them, seemingly squashed onto the old gardens is a block of flats.
Today the building is much as the Pugin’s would have remembered it, with a shop on the ground floor — albeit with a 19th-century frontage — and a side entrance to the flats above.
The plaque is made from kupron bronze and commissioned by Charles Fitzroy Doll, Bedford Estate surveyor, from a model by C Langlois.
The plaque shows two cherubs holding a wreath and reads: “Here lived the architect Augustus Charles Pugin Born 1762. Died 1832. Augustus Welby N Pugin Born 1812. Died 1852.”
The surround for the plaque looks as if it has lost something, but it’s looked like that since at least the mid-1970s, as seen here.
So here on a side street in London is the building where the young Augustus was to fall in love with the gothic, and lead to the sumptuous decoration of the Houses of Parliament.