A trip to Ramsgate on the Kent coast revealed some enormous people who no doubt staggered to the polling booth to vote Leave. Elsewhere there were the obligatory Polish delis catering for those who now listen for the stamp of Border Police boots looking for EU aliens.
But the potter and I were in the port to look at Pugin’s house,the Grange. August Pugin(1812-52) is most famous for the interior of the Houses of Parliament. Every now and then some profligate public servant orders another roll of the world’s most famous(and expensive) wall paper.
But Pugin was so much more. Churches, furniture, houses, theatre designs, there was no end to his creative industry. His passion for the Gothic led him to the Catholic church. He married three times,had eight children, was a keen sailor, contracted syphilis and died at 40. Way to go August.
But it is the house (see link)which is the eternal star. Its design, construction and fixtures became the template for all Victorian and arts and crafts inspired houses. That is a large number of people in Britain who have houses with wood panelling, tiles, stained glass have something to owe this human dynamo.
“He was our leader and our most able pioneer” said the more famous George Gilbert Scott.
Pugin’s father was a refugee from Revolutionary France. He was therefore a first generation immigrant from what is now the EU. As was that other giant of Victorian design, architecture and engineering. I talk of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Anyone travelling by rail to Bristol knows only too well the magnificence of Brunel’s “billiard table”. IK’s dad Marc also an engineer had used Pugin’s dad, an architectural draughtsman, for help with a cemetery design and with the Clifton Bridge.
There is a theory that one of the reasons Britain shot out of the industrial blocks way ahead of others was because the enterprising Protestant Huguenot minority left France in the 18th century for Britain. My own borough Wandsworth has the tears of those refugees in its coat of arms,for it was the Huguenots who created the successful village around the mechanical power of the local Wandle river.
So the fact that suddenly should they(Frogs and others) stay or should they go has become an issue in Brexit is profoundly depressing. Check migration certainly, but make a million families worry about their futures and their homes is not the way. The world owes a lot to Britain, certainly, but as Pugin and Brunel show, Britain owes a lot to the world. Especially those driven here by war and repression.