Urban Adventures

Gothic morality - 1836

An imaginary town in 1440 and 1840, from Pugin’s book 'Contrasts'

Composite image from 'Contrasts': 'a Catholic town in 1440' (top) and 'a town in 1840' (bottom), 1836
Artist: Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection


Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin promoted the Gothic style and medieval ideals in architecture, decorative arts and morality. In 1836 at just 24, Pugin published 'Contrasts', a book championing architecture as a religious and social force. In a series of detailed perspectives he highlighted how changing technologies and ideals had altered Britain's towns and society since the medieval period. In 'before' and 'after' images, Pugin showed the beautiful simplicity of the medieval city relative to the industrial squalor and fractured society of the 19th century.

This print shows an imaginary town in 1840, replete with a jail, gas works and lunatic asylum, with the chimneys of factories in the background. The paired drawing, of the same settlement in 1440, portrays an idyllic environment of small homes and shops dominated by noble church spires. To Pugin, the ideal city was human scale, Gothic and rooted in Catholicism. While he did not realise any city plans himself, he was instrumental to the Gothic Revival that transformed the architecture of cities across Britain.


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