Pugin masterpiece saved thanks to Heritage grant

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The first phase of a major scheme of repair is due to commence at the magnificent St. Augustine’s abbey church in Ramsgate, Kent, thanks to a generous grant of £110,000 from Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

St. Augustine’s was begun in 1844 and was designed by the great Catholic architect, Augustus Welby Pugin. It is a masterpiece of Victorian design full of intricate carved detail in stone and wood, elaborate metalwork and glorious stained glass. Pugin planned the abbey church to be next to his own house, The Grange, which he also designed. The Grange has recently been rescued from near dereliction by the Landmark Trust and beautifully and authentically restored. The repair and restoration of St. Augustine’s will ensure that this outstanding complex of Grade I buildings has an assured future.

This time last year a large question mark hung over the future of St. Augustine’s. The Benedictine monks who had served the parish since 1850 indicated they could no longer maintain the church as they would be vacating their abbey buildings in due course. As there is already a thriving parish church in the centre of Ramsgate the issue for the Archdiocese of Southwark was whether it could justify maintaining a second and very much larger church in such close proximity to the already well used and loved parish church. This was a particularly challenging decision as it was clear that St. Augustine’s was in urgent need of repair with water leaking through the roof in certain places and a worrying outbreak of dry rot in a key valley gutter.

Recognising the national importance of St. Augustine’s not just as an architectural gem but as a key building of the Catholic revival in England in the C19th, its location so close to where St. Augustine landed in AD 597 gives St. Augustine’s today a significance every bit as vital and symbolic to Catholics as when Pugin himself chose this specific site over a hundred and fifty years ago. It was agreed that if St. Augustine’s was to continue to remain in use for Catholic worship, a major programme of repairs would need to be undertaken and that grant assistance from HLF and English Heritage would be essential if this was to succeed.

In September 2010 Fr Marcus Holden arrived as parish priest in Ramsgate. Fr Marcus and his parishioners are enthusiastic about what can be done to rejuvenate St. Augustine’s once it is repaired. Fr Marcus is planning to establish a Friends group to help raise further funding. Fr Marcus said, “I want to see St. Augustine’s becoming a place of modern pilgrimage. St Augustine landed nearby bringing with him a new message of faith and hope. His message resonates today.

St Augustine’s has huge significance not just for the people of Ramsgate but for Catholics far beyond. The grant will ensure that urgent repairs to the structure are carried out to halt deterioration. Further phases of repair will then be taken forward”.

The Archdiocese of Southwark would like to thank the Patrimony Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for its help and support over the past year and also Paul Sharrock of conservation architects Thomas Ford & Partners.