Drawings of Balliol by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852)
AWN Pugin and Balliol
The controversial architect of the Gothic revival, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852, see ODNB), became embroiled in proposals to rebuild part of the College in the 1840s, a matter so contentious that it became known as the ‘Civil War of 1843’.
At this time parts of the college, including the Master’s Lodgings, were falling into disrepair – indeed there had been concern about them as early as the 1790s, when the architect James Wyatt had undertaken some repairs and alterations to the College. The architect George Basevi, who had built a residential block for the College in 1826, produced some proposals for alterations, including some for the rebuilding of the Broad Street frontage. Fund-raising began.
However, despite the enthusiasm and confidence of the Master, Robert Jenkyns, who had, with his relatives, subscribed a proportion of the money for the proposed rebuilding by Basevi, the Fellows were not enthusiastic, and rejected Basevi’s ideas. One of the Fellows, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880, see the ODNB), offered to obtain the opinion of his friend Pugin. However this news did not please all observers. Pugin was a Roman Catholic convert and had also, for example, attacked the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford. His notorious religious opinions had an inflammatory effect in Oxford’s atmosphere of religious controversy during this period of heated debate over Tractarianism.
Pugin was invited to submit his designs officially, but the following compromise was reached: even in his designs were accepted, building should take place under someone including a design for the chapel, but Jenkyns and his relations withdrew their subscriptions. This resulted in a contentious College meeting (fuller accounts of the controversy are given in the Jones references cited below). The whole affair constituted, in fact, a crisis in relations between the Master and the Fellows: two pages of the English Register, which records College business, for this period have been torn out. The immediate outcome of the matter was that plans to rebuild were set aside, and only essential repairs were carried out at that time.
The temperature of the debate may be gauged by the fact that two of the Fellows involved in it (Oakeley and WG Ward) were prominent in the Tractarian movement, and converted to Roman Catholicism during the 1840s. One (Ward, 1812-82, see ODNB) was condemned by Convocation and deprived of his degrees by the University for the publication of The Ideal of a Christian Church Considered in Comparison with Existing Practice (1844), deemed inconsistent with the Church of England’s articles of religion, to which members of the university had to subscribe at that time.
Parts of the College were eventually rebuilt later in the nineteenth century: Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to produce designs for the Broad Street buildings, the reconstruction of which a benefactor, Hannah Brackenbury, paid for, and work began in 1867. Waterhouse borrowed Pugin’s designs and incorporated some of their features into his own work. The buildings were executed under his own supervision. Waterhouse was also responsible for the building of the new Hall and other additions to the College in the 1870s.
The new chapel, built in 1856-7 with William Butterfield as architect, is also not dissimilar to Pugin’s design.
Bibliography & further reading
See also College Archives, e.g. D.21. Copies of some relevant documents from the Jenkyns collection and the College Archives are stored with the Pugin material in the Library
John Bryson, ‘The Balliol that might have been: Pugin’s rejected designs’ Country Life June 27, 1963, pp.1558-1561. Copies stored with the Pugin material.
John Jones, Balliol College: a history 1263-1939 (1988)
John Jones ‘The Civil War of 1843,’ Balliol College Record 1978, pp. 60-68
LB Litvack, ‘The Balliol that might have been: Pugin’s crushing Oxford defeat’ J.Soc. Architectural Historians 45 (1986), pp.358-373 (copy in Balliol Pamphlets section).
List of Pugin's drawings of Balliol
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