An ideal of medieval life
Pugin’s vision for Ramsgate was to create a perfect community here: a home for his own large family - The Grange; a magnificent new Catholic church - St Augustines; and between the two, a house for the priest who would mediate between the divine and secular worlds - St Edward’s Presbytery.
The boldness of this enterprise, when Catholicism had been illegal in England for centuries, and the process of Catholic emancipation was still underway, was remarkable. With anti-Catholic riots in Ramsgate and many other towns in the early 1850s, Pugin's priest’s house had no ground floor windows on the street and a sturdy front door, for good reason. Building a presbytery on an English town street was brave as well as ambitious.
St Edward’s Presbytery was bound up closely in the tragedy of Pugin’s last years. From his beginnings as a stage carpenter at Covent Garden, his career had been a whirlwind. He married his third wife Jane in his mid-30s, and for the following three years was simultaneously finishing the House of Commons, designing the Gothic Court for the Great Exhibition and building St Edward’s Presbytery. The pressure bore down on him and in 1852 he was declared insane and confined in Bethlehem Hospital - Bedlam. Jane brought him back to Ramsgate, tired and troubled, and here he died, aged just 40.
Jane lived on at Ramsgate, moving into St Edward’s Presbytery herself, from where her step-son Edward Pugin continued his father’s architectural practice. When The Grange suffered a serious fire in 1904, newspaper reports reveal that Jane, by now in her late 70s, was fortuitously resident in The Presbytery. We believe the datestones 1827 and 1909 at the rear entrance record her lifespan, lived mostly at this site. Her son, Cuthbert also lived out his life here, dying in 1928.
Boarding school accommodation
In 1928, both The Presbytery and The Grange were bought by the Benedictine monks, as ancillary classrooms and accommodation for their flourishing boys’ boarding school. When the Landmark Trust acquired The Grange from private owners in 1997, St Edward’s Presbytery still belonged to the Benedictine monks of St Augustine’s Monastery. It was sheltering a dwindling community of elderly nuns, while the former classrooms added in the 20th century, one known as the Parish Room, were used for church meetings.
When the monks put The Presbytery up for sale in 2010, Landmark decided it was so integral to the site that the trust could not risk it passing into other ownership, and took the rare step of purchasing the Presbytery. Restored and with later inferior additions removed, this pretty gabled house by the sea now has a new lease of life.