Examples of external and internal detailing designed by Pugin. Left: Detail of the Bridge Street façade. Right: Brass door grill for internal door [Click on these and the following images to enlarge them,and find out more about them, and their sources.]

As Charles Locke Eastlake noted long ago, the Battle of the Styles was long drawn out; but "the event which first raised the controversy into national importance was undoubtedly the decision that Gothic should be adopted for the Palace of Westminster" (185). However controversial, the decision was a momentous one. Pugin's part in securing the commission for Charles Barry, his subsequent assistance in the detailing of the palace, and the huge influence that this work had, have never been in debate among the cognoscenti. As early as 1844, Charles Voysey, father of the architect C. F. A. Voysey, said that it was "considered an acknowledged fact that Mr Pugin was the real Architect of the houses of Parliament (qtd. in Hill 323). A particularly telling example of Pugin's work seems to support Voysey's claim to the full:

Among the first things that Pugin designed were the vanes, the sparkling gilded shafts that give the outline of the Palace, especially in sunlight, a glamour and verticality. It was a device he had used at Salisbury and at Scarisbrick, the first flicker of his decorative genius to enhance Barry's design. Hardman made a prototype. [Hill 323]

Indeed, such were the rumours circulating about the relative parts being played by the two architects that Pugin felt obliged to produce a refutation which appeared in the Builder of 6 September 1845, to set the record straight:

A misconception prevails as to the nature of my employment in the works of the new palace of Westminster.... In fulfilling the duties of my office, I do not do anything whatever on my own responsibility; all models and working drawings being prepared from Mr Barry's designs and submitted to him for his approval or alterations prior to their being carried into effect. In fine, my occupation is simply to assist in carrying out practically Mr Barry's own designs and views in all respects. [qtd. in Shenton 160]

As Caroline Shenton says, in his embarrassment over the rumours, Pugin was probably being "overly modest" and had gone to the "opposite extreme" (160) by playing down his role. But it made no difference. The disclaimer held little weight with admirers of the Gothic, to whom Pugin was already a hero. Writing a few decades later, in the early 1870s, Eastlake himself said,

In the design of such details Pugin's aid was, at the time, invaluable. It was frankly sought and freely rendered. Hardman's painted windows and brass fittings, Minton's encaustic tiles, and Crace's mural decoration, bear evidence of his skill and industry. They may be rivalled and surpassed in design and execution at the present day; but to Pugin, and to the architect who had the good sense to secure his services, we shall ever be indebted for the rapid advance made in these several departments of Art during the first half of the present century. [185]

What is most puzzling now is Barry's reluctance to give credit where credit was undoubtedly due. Rosemary Hill, in her biography of Pugin, helps to explain this from a technical point of view. As an assistant, Pugin's participation was primarily through Barry, and when Barry did concern himself with the younger man's position, it was to secure for him the post of Superintendent of Woodcarving — a post created for him late in 1844 that carried an emolument of £200 a year. Barry may well have felt that he was doing his assistant a good turn by putting him in the way of this arrangement. However, as Hill suggests, it really gave no idea of the amount and variety of work that he did, and indeed would prove problematic for Barry as well. It would leave him open to the injurious and long-lasting charge of owing Pugin more than he allowed. Even Shenton has to admit that "Barry ... was behaving shabbily" (174) in this respect.

Plans for the new building. Left: The New Houses of Parliament: North Wing, Bays Between Wing Towers, River Front. Right: Details of Centre Portion, Central Oriels.

Shenton herself is the latest to consider the question of the relative roles of Barry and Pugin, and since her focus is on Barry and his various difficulties with this enormous project, her criticism of him here must hold a great deal of weight. In Mr Barry's War, having acknowledged that Barry was remiss, she ponders the reasons for his behaviour:

Did he deliberately suppress his name through jealousy? Or was it that overtly mentioning a co-designer might renew the assaults on his own position (and, indirectly, Pugin's) which had characterized debates since 1844? Barry's subsequent reputation among architectural historians has never really recovered from this fatal error of judgement and uncharacteristic lack of generosity, and his or his family’s destruction of personal letters and the 1835 drawings which might have given an insight into his motives have made things worse. [174]

Yet, Shenton points out, far from asking for recognition, Pugin himself showed little interest in it at the time. He was ailing. His career as an architect was in the doldrums, with other architects taking on the Catholic commissions that he would have got in his earlier years. At his friends' urging, he went to Italy to recuperate mentally and physically, and left just before the opening of the new House of Lords in 1847, missing the event itself and the acclaim that greeted it.

In the press reports about it, Hill says flatly, "Pugin's name appeared nowhere" (480). She has already raised the suspicion that Barry may have "deliberately suppressed it" (368). At any rate, he certainly did nothing to correct the omission. As both Hill and Shenton show, there were some extenuating circumstances. Barry was under as much pressure as Pugin, if not more. He had a raft of ongoing problems to deal with, and, ironically enough, they were exacerbated by this success. Redounding against him, it stirred up old rivalry and inspired new resentment: the Commons were, quite simply, angry at the lavishness of the Lords:

The public acclaim showered upon the Lords chamber served only to increase the envy and ire of the Commons. Now each time more money was required, the Commons debates became clogged with criticism. When it came to consider an additional £150,000 for the new Palace in May, the decoration of the Lords was declared variously as "gaudy," "unfortunate," "expensive," and "disfigured" by the "enormous quantity of painting and gilding." Mr Barry himself "cared nothing for the public purse; his only object was to glorify himself." [Shenton 175]

Moreover, Shenton points out, Peel's resignation after the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the return of a new Whig government in 1846, had now deprived Barry of his support in Westminster. He was left on his own to conduct the "arduous political, technical, and financial battles" that the building and decorating work entailed (Shenton 42).

Such pressures help to explain Barry's "fatal error of judgement," even if they do not excuse it; and he redeemed himself, to some extent, by ministering to Pugin in his darkest hour. Only three days after he received his knighthood in February 1852, Barry received a telegram about his colleague's breakdown. "Whatever suspicions may have attended Barry's behaviour to Pugin over the years, there seems little doubt that on this occasion he was the only person who understood what was needed in extremis, and had the good sense and compassion to take charge" (Shenton 217).

Still, it was a long time before that "error" of his was fully rectified. The two architects' sons engaged in a bitter pamphlet war after their fathers' deaths. Pugin's eldest son, Edward Pugin, who was almost continually involved in litigation with someone or other (see Blaker 50), was typically belligerent, while Barry's second son and biographer Alfred was "particularly pompous and defensive" (Shenton 219). The latter inserted an addendum to the preface of his biography, dismissing Edward's claims that Pugin had been wronged as "extraordinary" (viii). In the absence of the drawings and correspondence that might have settled the matter (the destruction of which was presented as normal procedure), he could only insist that his father had been in total control of the project, and that the two architects' friendship had been "unclouded by a single misunderstanding" (Barry 132). It was not until after World War II that Pugin's name belatedly appeared in the official guide to the Houses of Parliament (Shenton 219). In the current Pitkin Guide by Robert Wilson, a Principal Clerk of the House of Commons, his name appears alongside Barry's in the Foreword and often thereafter.

Then, how do we see the two men's collaboration now? Pugin is reported to have described the Palace of Westminster, in a passing and dismissive remark, as consisting of "Tudor details on a classic body" (Eastlake 183), and even his greatest admirers agree with his first biographer, Benjamin Ferrey, that Barry's plan was the basis of the finished building:

Although unquestionably Pugin's knowledge of mediaeval detail was superior to that of any other person of his day, and was absolutely necessary for the conception of much as well as the effective execution of the actual work — still those who were familiar with Sir C. Barry's facility of drawing and design, cannot doubt that he possessed skill of the very highest order, and that Pugin's assistance was based on the general plan provided by Barry. [248]

John Hardman Powell, Pugin's only pupil and a true devotee, perhaps described the two architects' roles most aptly and succintly: "Sir Charles Barry might justly be compared to a parallelogram, Augustus Welby Pugin to a spire; the work might be represented as a cube out of which a subject was to be carved, and Pugin carved it..."; while Powell's son Sebastian later gave the same comparison in a slightly different way: "What you see in the main is Pugin — pure Pugin, but behind it all is Barry in the plan and framework of the building pure Barry (both qtd. in Fisher, p. 163 and p. 245, n.32). The two men were, it would seem, perfect complements to each other. Still, it is terribly sad that Pugin did not, at the time, get credit for enlivening Barry's plan in the unique and glorious way that he did.

Related Material


Barry, Alfred (Rev.). The Life and Works of Sir Charles Barry, R.A., F.R.S., etc. etc.. London: John Murray, 1867. Internet Archve. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. May 12, 2017.

Blaker, Catriona. Edward Pugin and Kent: His Life and Work within the County. Ramsgate, Kent: The Pugin Society, 2012 [review].

Eastlake, Charles Locke. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1872. Google Books (free Ebook). Web. 12 May 2017.

Ferrey, Benjamin. Recollections of A. N. Welby Pugin, and his father, Augustus Pugin; with notices of their works. London: Edward Stanford, 1861. Internet Archive. Web. 12 May 2017.

Fisher, Michael. Guarding the Pugin Flame: John Hardman Powell, 1827-1895. Downton, Salisbury: Spire, 2017 [review].

Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain. Pbk ed. London: Penguin, 2008 [review].

Shenton, Caroline. Mr Barry's War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Wilson, Robert. The Houses of Parliament. 2nd rev. ed. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Pitkin, 2007.

Last modified 9 February 2020