Alton Towers - A Journey Into Puginland


20120416The Gothic ruin of Alton Towers now stands surrounded by a famous theme park. Hordes of families shriek past on rides like The Hex, perhaps oblivious to the fact that it was once one of the architect Pugin's finest creations.

His magnificent interiors were a high point in the Nineteenth Century Gothic movement and a landmark of the English Catholic Revival. Built for his patron the Earl of Shrewsbury- one of the country's most important grandees- in its day the turreted towers and medieval interiors were more spectacular than anything Disney could have invented.

In the year of Pugin's bicentennial, Martin Ellis explores the ruins to discover fragments of the rich interiors which suggest its former greatness -sumptuous ceilings, huge stained glass windows and Gothic sculpture. He uncovers the story of the decline of a noble house, the loss of the dream of a return to Catholic England and the wholesale fall from fashion of the Gothic style. It's a sorry tale of legal wrangles, neglect and greed which led to the house being stripped of everything of value, including its roofs, and being left to the elements.

For generations the house has stood as an enigmatic and romantic ruin in the midst of the expanding theme park. It's been largely overlooked by cultural historians who have charted the return to fashion of Pugin as the eminent figure in the Gothic Revival. Yet now the building might be undergoing something of a renaissance at the hands of the theme park owners. Work is underway to stabilise and restore some key elements of Pugin's work.

The programme looks at the restoration Work In Progress and examines how Pugin's original vision can sit alongside the fantasies created for a theme park run by a commercial organisation. Does it offer a different model for conserving our heritage or do commerce and culture collide? And we explore more widely into Pugin Land for examples of his work from his brief but spectacular career, such as the church of St Giles in Cheadle and the Palace of Westminster which offer hints of the glory that was once Alton Towers.

Presenter: Martin Ellis.

Martin Ellis explores the rise, fall and rebirth of Pugin's Gothic masterpiece.