Pugin was an astonishing figure, and the most astonishing thing about him, considering the scale of his achievement, was the shortness of his life. By the time he was twenty-one he had been shipwrecked, bankrupted and widowed. He then became an architect, using his youthful training as draughtsman and stage designer to recreate the Middle Ages. In the next nineteen years, he transformed British architecture, became a Catholic, designed twenty-two churches, three cathedrals, numerous houses, a Cistercian monastery and the interior of the Palace of Westminster – down to inkwells and coat stands.
Even by the standards of Victorian achievers, his was a barely credible story. Then he died insane, thrice married, disillusioned, and aged only forty. Nobody was more disappointed by Pugin than Pugin himself. ‘Those who have found themselves at his churches in Dudley or Stockton on a winter afternoon will