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Book reviews >

“DEAREST AUGUSTUS & I”: The journal of Jane Pugin


by Caroline Stanford, editor

Spire Books £19.95 (0-9543615-8-X)

 "I HAVE got a first-rate Gothic woman at last, who perfectly understands and delights in spires, chancels, screens, stained glass, brasses, vestments, etc." This was Augustus Pugin announcing his engagement to his third wife, Jane Knill. This book is based on Jane Pugin’s edited diaries covering her four-year marriage. Caroline Stanford has added an introduction and extensive notes, which make up for Jane’s lack of punctuation and occasional brevity.

Pugin met his 23-year-old wife through a commission for a new St George’s in Southwark, which he made so large and glorious that it is now the Roman Catholic cathedral. Their wedding in 1848 was the first in the church, and was held so early that the wedding breakfast was a real breakfast. The honeymoon was a five-week tour of cathedral cities and remnants of pre-Reformation Britain such as Glastonbury Abbey and Roslin Chapel.

The diary has insights into life at the Grange in Ramsgate. This was a complex designed by Pugin to include both his home and a church that he believed was his "single fine ecclesiastical building". There is a description of Christmas midnight mass in the church full of holly and tapers.

As early as 1848 there was a Christmas tree in the house. On Twelfth Night Jane was elected queen, but at 10.30 p.m. all decorations had to come down so that nothing would be visible in the morning. In summer, it was an idyllic seaside home, with children running back from the beach for Benediction.

When away on tour in May, Pugin writes home to make sure that the month of Mary is being observed properly at home, "with lights & flowers before the image". During his absences Jane appears as a prisoner of servants; and his last illness made her a prisoner of his men friends, who prevented her from seeing him for five months. When she called on him at Bedlam Hospital, she was allowed just three minutes with the husband she hardly recognised.

Caroline Stanford came across the diary during research on the Grange, which is being restored by the Landmark Trust. Missing today from the adjoining church is Pugin’s extravagant tabernacle. It can be found in Southwark, in the Anglican rather than the Roman Catholic cathedral.

The book is available from Spire Books, P. O. Box 2336, Reading RG4 5WJ, with £1 per copy p. & p. (UK only).

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