When eventually the wallpaper is peeled from The Grange, beneath Pugin’s own ‘En Avant’ paper, dashed pencil sketches will be found that became known as ‘Evzy-CAD’, (Evetts’s ‘Computer Aided Design’). Rather like the butter for the royal slice of bread, the carpenter asked the foreman who went to ask the architect can we have the detail for this Pugin window frame. The architect said certainly I'll go consult the engineer, the draughtsman and so on. You can imagine the rest. When the drawing eventually materialised six weeks later the carpenter had moved on to another problem. So it was when the team from my HQ at Wormington arrived to drag a waterlogged project over the line that decisions had to be made on the spot, and it was the most enormous fun.
Everything had to be designed on the hoof; bookcases which opened with the doors, bell brackets, altars, boxed in WCs, firegrates, window shutter mechanisms and countless other fixtures and fittings for which only the shadows of builder George Myer’s interpretation of Pugin’s genius remained. Despite leaving Gloucestershire at 4.30am on Monday and not returning until gone 9pm on Friday night weekly for almost six months, the whole team was energised by the creativity, the camaraderie, the cliff-edge uncertainty of supply chains and deadlines and yes, even the Thai dinners eaten beneath the arched outcrops of Pulhamite Rockwork in a town park.
Mid-way through the restoration of the dining room.
We knew there had been a garden from a bird’s eye view by Pugin himself, but what we couldn’t imagine was that underneath the sixty 15-tonne lorry loads of rubble and topsoil the monks had used to make an unlikely playing field were the original chalk paths, even down to the outlines of the blue clay edging tiles re-used to embellish the perimeter walls, and a fish pond, a tiny dog’s grave, a well and a bottle-shaped hole whose purpose was never fathomed.
‘I miss revisiting a place into which one had poured so much that it had almost become one’s own.’
A late 19th-century image of the site.
Then we started to plant Ilex and apple trees, figs, medlar, Oleander hedges, mown lawns, and brought benches to sit and watch the Larkspur, Primrose and Euro Voyager plying in and out of the port at Ramsgate below. While they sail no longer, Pugin’s emblem the Martlet still flies from the Tower and that’s what I miss. I miss watching a landscape slowly developing into how it was imagined, I miss revisiting a place into which one had poured so much that it had almost become one’s own. But mostly I miss the craic of working with a gang with a common purpose, and the buzz of a job well done. Landmark’s co-founder Sir John Smith always used to ask '..are you having fun and do we pay you enough?' I was only allowed a one-word answer.
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