HLF PROJECT: THE NEW PUGIN AND SAINT AUGUSTINE EDUCATION, RESEARCH, AND VISITOR CENTRE

The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted St Augustine’s an initial Round 1 grant and our Round 2 application has been submitted. Since November 2013 we have been in our Development Phase, working on plans to transform Pugin’s “own child” into a centre of excellence as an Education, Research, and Visitor Centre.

Creating this new Centre will open up for all, as never before, the two intertwined heritage stories of AWN Pugin, the architect who designed much of Parliament, and Saint Augustine, who brought Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. Uncovering these often hidden histories of the famous Architect, who lived and is buried in Ramsgate, and the Saint, who landed nearby, this project brings heritage alive.

It will allow Pugin’s ‘ideal’ church to be open every day for everyone, providing new activities, spaces with new facilities and displays to interpret Pugin’s work and Augustine’s landing. It restores key physical elements to Pugin’s original vision and opens up research possibilities for students and scholars.

St Augustine’s inspires a vast number of friends and supporters. Its growing team of committed, skilled volunteers works to involve more local people from diverse backgrounds. This home-grown initiative contributes to Thanet’s economic regeneration by attracting more visitors locally and beyond.

The bid can be divided into Restoration and Physical Changes and Our Activity Plan.

The Project’s Focus

There are two principal foci of this plan: Augustus Pugin and St Augustine.

St Augustine’s is the nearest church to the landing site of the ‘Apostle of England’ and was dedicated to him by Pugin. Pugin had great affinity to St Augustine partly because he shared the saint’s name, but also that Pugin was keenly aware that St Augustine had brought the faith for which Pugin lived.

St Augustine was successful in his mission to bring Christianity to the English, and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. His influence has been felt throughout English history and lies at the roots of England’s historical culture. He brought written laws to England, and has had enduring legacies in music, writing, religious events, poetry, art, and other aspects. He brought Gregorian chant to England, along with a new tradition of architecture (his monastery continued to be architecturally innovative throughout the medieval period), art, and works of charity. Bede writes of his landing on the Isle of Thanet, and his subsequent life in England. This project will present and explain this story as part of our national history. It will fill a gap in the knowledge of many people about England’s cultural, religious, and historical roots.

Pugin was the great leader of the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival. He believed in the virtues and values of the medieval period, and believed they are expressed through architecture and design – a cause to which he dedicated his life. He believed, as no other, in the careful study and living the life of the medieval period because of what it represented in terms of community, society, and worship. He understood the ideas and language of design of the Middle Ages and put them in to practice, being able to design in a modern way that responded to this medieval way of life.

The Houses of Parliament bear his imprint, from the Elizabeth Tower (“Big Ben”) to the sumptuous interiors, as he poured his energy into the project with the other architect Charles Barry. This site’s connection to Parliament continues with several events at Parliament having been held to support the Friends of St Augustine, and the gift of original Pugin tiles lifted as part of the restoration project at the Palace. These original tiles will be on display in the new Centre. St Augustine’s Church was being built as the New Palaces of Westminster were being developed and Pugin used the proceeds of his work on the Parliament project to fund his ’ideal church’, adjacent to his house, The Grange, from which he worked. Pugin is buried in this church with his family. St Augustine’s was the church Pugin designed without having to compromise a single one of his ‘Principles’. He called the church his ‘child’ and considered it to be the only consistent example of his ‘true thing’. This is an immensely important story to tell.

Restoration and Physical Changes

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The project is based in the eastern, and oldest, part of the site. Much of this area is currently unused, and all of it is not open to the public. This project will open up these historic areas and give them real, active, and community-focussed uses.

 

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The Schoolroom will be transformed into a brand new Visitor Centre, and become the main visitor entrance to the site. The historic door, which has been closed since the 1930s, will be re-opened and once again welcome many visitors.

Inside, there will be exhibitions that will be changed on a planned basis to continue interest and variety for our visitors. There will also be permanent displays of items and information about St Augustine’s. Temporary exhibitions are planned and will be set up to create more insight into the many stories and histories encapsulated by this site. Extra space will be created by re-establishing access via the original door to the East Cloister and blocking the larger twentieth-century doors.

There will be audio-visual facilities, enabling explanatory films to be displayed throughout the day. It will also be possible to display films in a sit-down environment, so that film and documentary showings can be put on especially for groups.

Because this area of the site will be able to be isolated from the rest of the site, it will be possible to run events in the Schoolroom at times when the rest of the site is closed. Alternatively separate events will be able to run concurrently on the site without interfering with each other.

Of course no Centre is complete without a little shop, and the plans include space for this. We already have a range of goods on sale in the West Cloister, but this Centre will enable this to be expanded and made into a proper revenue stream for the project. It will sell items of interest about St Augustine, Pugin, and exhibitions, so there should be interesting items for every visitor.

The Schoolroom is the oldest part of the site, completed in 1846, and was the first part to be completed and used. It was used as a church until the church itself was fit for use. As such, it witnessed the first public Mass to be celebrated in Ramsgate since St Lawrence church was expropriated into Anglicanism during the sixteenth century at Christmas 1846. The building was principally built as a Schoolroom and functioned as such for a while – at Pugin’s own expense – until Pugin found the children had been stealing his coal. He closed the school after that, though St Augustine’s was home to the monastic school for more than a century after Pugin’s death. In the 1930s the Schoolroom was converted into a sacristy, and the door to the street was shut. From then, until now, the room has been off limits to the public. This project will give it a new public life.

 

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The East Cloister

Next to the Schoolroom is the East Cloister. This area will be home to more valuable display items focussed around St Augustine, Pugin, and their legacies. Here, for example, will be displayed items designed by Pugin and made for this site, as well as tiles that were on the floor of the Houses of Parliament for a century and a half.

This will also be a space for temporary exhibitions, including of items currently housed elsewhere but of immense importance and connection with Pugin and with St Augustine’s. There will be permanent displays with ‘unlocking the glass cabinet’ experiences that will allow visitors to really understand and get to grips with the items on show.

Towards the southern end of the cloister there is an arch, leading down steps to the sacristy entrance. A gate will be reinstated across this arch to maintain the security and privacy necessary for this part of the site, but it will be possible to see through the gate. This means that this part of the church – a working church – will be visible to visitors who will be able to see items in use on a daily basis. There will also be glass cabinets behind the gate with additional items, allowing even more displays to be created without obstructing movement.

This space will remain part of the processional route around the site envisaged by Pugin. The site continues to be a working church, and so liturgical processions and movements will still be possible through this space.

The Yard

This area to the south of the Schoolroom has been used as a storage area with a poor-quality roof for many years. Under Phase 3 (2014) the roof has been replaced, and this HLF Project will create three WCs and a kitchenette. The kitchenette and one WC will be connected to the Schoolroom, enabling the Schoolroom to be entirely self-enclosed with full visitor facilities. Two WCs will be accessible from the East Cloister. As WC and food provision on the site is currently very difficult or non-existent, this is all very important and highly beneficial.

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The Link

This low-quality construction joins St Augustine’s with St Edward’s (the presbytery Pugin built next door) at the north west part of the site, next to the current main entrance. It will be extended south to create a brand new disabled WC, and will also provide additional storage space.

The Upper Sacristy

Above the sacristy is a room currently used for storage. This will become the first room of the new Research Centre. It will continue to be used for storage, though it will house part of the collection of books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, microfilms and other documents which form our growing collection of St Augustine and Augustus Pugin material.

The Library

This will form the main user part and reading room of the new Research Centre. With its west-facing windows and view across The Grange and Pegwell Bay, where St Augustine landed and a Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, this will be a wonderful room in which to work. Access to this room, because of its location and contents, will be open to the public by appointment. This room will be suitable for small meetings and study days, as well as accessing the research collections.

Once known as the Abbot’s Chapel, it is unclear what this room was originally made for. In his “True Prospect” bird’s eye view of St Augustine’s, Pugin designed both the east and west cloisters to have first floors, but only this side was completed. During the twentieth century this room was used as a private chapel by the abbot of the monastery across the road, but it has been an unused space for some time. It will be excellent to turn it into a proper useful space where Pugin can be studied in the very building about which he cared most.

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The Chancel

Pugin called the chancel ‘the place of sacrifice, the most sacred part of the edifice.’ This area, containing the high altar at the east end of the church, is the most important part of the church. Pugin had specific ideas of how this part of the building should look, but many items were moved or destroyed in 1970. This project will restore those elements.

The altar will be replaced in its original position. The present altar was made in the 1970s and is located at the western end of the chancel; it is actually smaller than the Lady Altar. Its location, construction, and design go entirely against the design cohesion that Pugin created for this church, and so the present modern altar will be removed and a new altar built at the eastern end of the chancel.

The choir stalls and rood screen will be put back to their original positions. The choir stalls currently line up along the eastern wall, where the altar once was. They will be put back at the western end of the chancel, forming a ‘U’ shape facing the altar, with a gap in the middle. One of Pugin’s great beliefs was that a church should have a rood screen, writing that, “From the earliest ages there has been a separation between priest and people, between the sacrifice and the worshippers, in every church.” In 1970 Pugin’s rood screen was moved into the Lady Chapel, and the parclose screens separating the Lady Chapel from the Chancel were placed behind it either side of the Lady Altar. Fortunately they were moved in such a way that they can easily be put back, and that is the intention, to restore the Gothic dignity that this building once had. The crucifix (the ‘rood’) will be replaced in its original position on top of the screen, rather than its current position hanging from the ceiling.

The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel has very important windows which are currently obscured by the misplaced screens. The Lady Altar has previously been moved west so that the organ console can be placed behind it. None of this is satisfactory, so the Chapel will be restored to its original appearance.

The South Porch

This entrance to the church faces the churchyard and the sea. It provides a picturesque view, through a pointed arch, of the English Channel and, on a clear day, you can see France from inside the church. This entrance was Pugin’s family entrance.

As the main entrance from the street has numerous steps to get into the main part of the church, the south porch also forms the disabled entrance to the church. At the moment this is by a temporary ramp, but the project will provide a long permanent ramp along the south of the church to make disabled access to the site easy.

Security and safety issues require a new gate to be installed across the entrance to the south porch, which will be done sympathetically to the building and churchyard.

Our Activity Plan

With these new facilities we will be able to do so much. We have can do more of what we do already – to a higher standard – and we can do new and exciting things too. This will bring many new people to St Augustine’s, and expand the benefit of people who come already.

In addition to the physical changes, we will expand our resources. Proper visitor guides, new children’s leaflets, family learning booklets, and – perhaps most accessible of all – audio guides will be created to really make a visit to St Augustine’s as worthwhile as possible for all people. These will also become revenue streams for the site, fulfilling our forecast that the site will become entirely self-funding.

Exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, will be accommodated with the new Centre. We have been able to run pilot displays in the West Cloister, but this project will open the East Cloister and Schoolroom to give more space and more professional displays to the exhibitions. In particular we are working with partners to exhibit items of especial interest to this site.

We will be able to run new educational and social programmes with local schools, colleges, and universities. We already host groups coming for curricular visits – art, history, design, religious studies, and more – but the new Centre will augment the benefits available to them. They will be able to access proper interpretation. We will have teachers’ packs and student sheets. Our collaboration and consultation with local schools will continue and expand.

Events for education will also form a key part of the Centre. We will run study days on Pugin and St Augustine, and especially on particular aspects of interest. Language schools and international visitors will also benefit from new material in multiple languages, enabling them to access the site and its heritage much more.

Groups will be accommodated well with space for items to be left during their visit, and facilities to enable light catering for groups. Group visits include a diverse range of people. Many art and architecture groups visit each year from across the country; we have religious pilgrims too, leisure groups, special interest groups, social groups, and many more: their different interests and needs will be catered well by the new Centre.

We are developing partnerships that will expand the number of activities at St Augustine’s. There will be a new walking route linking St Augustine’s with Canterbury Cathedral – meaning St Augustine’s will form the most easterly point of the famous walking route of the Canterbury Pilgrims. Just as many pilgrims to Santiago make the extra journey to Finisterre (the coastal point on the west of Spain), so pilgrims to Canterbury will make the extra journey to Ramsgate (the coastal point on the east of England). Links with local horticulture groups, university departments, researchers, and historical sites (such as The Grange) next door will all be developed and expanded to make the most of the new Centre’s capabilities.

The existing programmes of music, lectures, and displays will all be continued and expanded. We have concerts from our own artists-in-residence as well as visiting choirs, with the new Centre we will be able to provide proper hospitality to both the singers and to the audience. Lectures, too, will be able to be run according to a proper programme, and we will be able to provide proper audio-visual accompaniment for the many speakers who give illustrated talks. St Augustine’s is an important place for Pugin-related authors to launch their books (they often donate copies to our growing library!), and this new Centre will make such events particularly good.

Religious groups make up an important sector of visitors, as this is a working shrine to St Augustine of England. Devotion to the saint – the Apostle of England – is strong and growing, which attracts many people to this site. St Augustine’s has also become a centre for Extraordinary Form liturgy, which is the traditional manner of worship, conducted in Latin and everyone (including the priest) facing eastwards. The Ordinary Form, which most Catholics are used to, is also celebrated here frequently. We work closely with the Divine Retreat Centre, based in the monastery buildings across the road, who use the church many times each year. Therefore we have many religious pilgrimages here, and the new Centre will provide proper facilities for them.

The new Centre will enable us to enact our full activity plan. Already we are open every day, and we are running pilot projects of various activities. This Centre will make St Augustine’s truly accessible with full interpretative and visitor facilities.

 What Next?

We submitted our Round 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund on 2nd March 2015 – the day after Pugin’s 203rd birthday – and we await their decision in June 2015. Before then we need to complete our fundraising of approximately £90,000 in match funding: please donate, as anything you give will help.

Please consider GETTING INVOLVED – there are many voluntary positions, including assisting and guiding to keep the site open, cleaning, catering, helping at events, and more. Or please get in touch if you would like to help us fundraise.

St Augustine’s continues to be open every day, and is running various events and activities. Please check out the rest of this website to see more!

For further information, or to make suggestions or enquiries, please contact office@augustineshrine.co.uk

 

 

 

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