A journey back in time to the birthplace of English Christianity

A journey back in time, courtesy of the "Javelin" train that I had last used going to and from the Olympic Park last year.

My 'legacy' journey today was to Ramsgate where I attended St Augustine's Abbey School.

I arrived half a century ago. Yesterday, I was there in high-speed time.

A very minor Roman Catholic public school it had, however, a magic secret.

St Augustine brought christianity to England in the Sixth Century - 597 to be pedantic - having landing near Ramsgate. A Monastery was founded in the Kent port which, until relatively recently, flourished. It spawned a school - the clue is in the name.

The magic secret? A church, designed by that giant of the Gothic renaissance, Augustus Welby Pugin.

St Augstine's Abbey School. Credit: Alaistar Stewardt

The school followed in the sad path of the monastery - both now gone.

But the church endures - albeit with its Whitby sandstone a little tarnished and crumbling.

It still boasts a relic of St Augustine - we Catholics like that sort of thing; but, rather like chips of the Berlin Wall, if they, and all the relics, were put together you'd have an inconceivably long wall and a giant of a saint.

Alastair Stewart with his classmates at St Augustine's School. Credit: Al Stewart

We received an £80,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an education centre at the church.

English Heritage and the National Lottery have already helped us rebuild and refurbish much of the fabric of the church andthe splendid 'Grange', next door.

It had been Pugin's home and it had also been my prep' school. I was honoured to have been invited to be part of the "hurrah and thank-you'" team.

The crowning glory for me was that they had invited my history teacher to attend: Mr J.R.G.Edwards MA (Oxon) - Robin, as I am permitted to call him in adult life.

He taught me a passion forknowledge, learning, history and, yes, heritage. It was apt in every conceivable respect. I doted on him - then, and now.

Al Stewart with history teacher J.R.G.Edwards MA (Oxon) - or Robin. Credit: Al Stewart

But it also a reminded of another man I loved and "doted on" - in years gone by, and still today: Sir Alastair Burnet.

One of the first things I inherited from him was presentation of ITN's coverage of "The State Opening of Parliament."

He had made it his own with such gems as describing the heralds and pursuivants as a "deck of picture cards", walking before their Monarch.

Alastair was a slave to history and heritage, and loaned me wonderful, thumbed volumes, with spidery notes in the margins, that I might know all there was to know about the Crown and Parliament.

The big stuff like Bagehot's treatise on the relationship between the two, and bits of colour like the fact the boys of Westminster College yell "Vivat Regina" on HM's arrival. One day it will be "Vivat Rex."

But he was also deeply fond of a Catholic architect who had seen the fire that destroyed the old Parliament buildings in 1834 as he journeyed back to London from Brighton and how he had resolved, there and then, that it was his calling to create a grand, Gothic structure to replace the old Palace.

He was thwarted by the protestant Charles Barry and was left, in his mind, with just the "fixtures and fittings" to do. In truth his was a much greater contribution (see here for more detail) for but vanity robbed him of that circumspection.

He died a broken man but his contribution - from stunning, bold panelling, via magnificent terracotta floor-tiles, to finickity ink-wells and coat-hooks - remain for all to enjoy in the edifice Barry created.

That architect was Augustus Welby Pugin. He retired to Ramsgate.

School days weren't, for me 'the happiest of my life; but my time, working check by jowl, with Alastair probably were.