As Sir George Gilbert Scott was visiting his rather pedestrian effort at Hulme in 1842, he must have seen another church which was nearing completion. This church would have shown him how stringent economy could help, rather than hinder good design. It is built of brick, but has been described as ‘impressive, well composed, and in a significant way original’ . St. Wilfred’s, Hulme, was an early masterpiece of the young A. W. N. Pugin and its significance is that it showed architects like Scott, that by using the essence of the Gothic style, a way could be found out of the straight-jacket of the Commissioners’ style. Pugin’s experience and deep knowledge of Gothic, led him to produce a remarkably self-confident design. When Scott saw this building designed by a younger man than himself, albeit a Roman Catholic, he must have taken another step towards an understanding of the true nature of Gothic. He, no doubt, felt that with his own knowledge of old Gothic buildings, if only he had the confidence, he too could produce something equally exciting. Pugin was pointing the way forward for architects, but they needed the support of the Church of England clergy, and this is when the Cambridge Camden Society suddenly appeared.
Scott had read Pugin’s articles in The Dublin Review. These appeared in May 1841 and February 1842, and although they were published anonymously, it is clear from their uncompromising style and content, that they were the work of the younger Pugin. In 1878 Scott recalled that:
I was awakened from my Slumber by the thunder of Pugins writings I well remember the enthusiasm to which one of them excited me one night when travelling by railway in the first years of their existence. I was from that moment a new man. Old Things (in My practice) had passed away and behold all things had become new or rather modernism had passed away from me & every aspiration of My heart had become mediaevil [sic]. What had for 15 years been a labour of love only now became the one business the one aim the overmastering object of my life. I cared for nothing as regards My Art but the revival of Gothic architecture. I did not know Pugin but his image in My imagination was like my Guardian Angel & I often dreamed that I knew him.
He was introduced to Pugin’s Contrasts, subtitled, A Parallel between the noble edifices of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, and similar buildings of the present day; shewing the present decay of taste, published in 1836. Although Contrasts had a text, the main message was powerfully conveyed in a series of devastating plates, contrasting what he conceived to be the buildings of medieval England, with buildings, serving similar purposes, in Regency England. He ridicules the work of revered architects such as Sir Robert Taylor, George Dance, but particularly upsetting was his vitriolic attacks on living architects including Sir Robert Smirke, William Wilkins and the Inwoods. Even the highly respected Soane did not escape.
A meeting finally took place between Scott and Pugin, in about 1842. Having seen and sketched the ruins of St Stephen’s Chapel in January in 1835, Scott was very upset that this ‘Gothic ruin of unrivalled beauty’, should be demolished to make way for Barry’s St Stephen’s Hall as an approach route to the new Central Lobby of the Houses Parliament, particularly as the fire had revealed it to be a fine example of the early Decorated style.
I made my crusade in favour of St. Stephens an excuse for writing to Pugin and to my almost tremulous delight I was invited to call. He was tremendously jolly & shewed almost too much bon-homie to accord with my romantic expectations & I very rarely saw him again though I became a devoted reader of his written, & visitor of his erected works and a greedy recipient of every tale about him, & report of what he said or did – A new phase had come over me, thoroughly en rapport with my early taste, but in utter discord with the ‘fitful fever’ of my Poor Law activity. I was in fact a new man, Though that man was, according to the trite saying, the true son of my boyhood.
In fact, there would have been no point in discussing the retention of St Stephen’s by that time as most of the chapel had already been demolished by the Office of Works for safety reasons, although work did not start on the new approach road until 1845. Perhaps it was a useful pretext to contact Pugin though. As Scott says after that meeting, ‘I very rarely saw him again, though I became a devoted reader of his written and a visitor of his erected works’, and he used extensive quotations from Pugin’s True Principles in his Remarks which he published in 1857. He remained Scott’s architectural hero throughout his life.