Pollen, John Hungerford (1820–1902), architect, artist, and author, was born 19 November 1820 in London, second son of Richard Pollen, barrister, and his wife Anne, daughter of Samuel Pepys Cockerell. Educated at Durham House (1829–33) and Eton (1833–8), in May 1838 he matriculated for Christ Church, Oxford, graduating BA (1842). Elected a fellow of Merton College (1842–52), he graduated MA (1844) and held the appointments of dean and bursar (1844) and senior proctor (1851–2). His time at Oxford coincided with the debates surrounding the activities of the Tractarians, and Pollen (who had taken holy orders) was an early member of the Oxford Movement, associating with Charles Marriott and Philip Edward Pusey. He held the curacy of St Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford but resigned (1846) and travelled to Paris for further study. On his return to England he was appointed curate at St Saviour's in Leeds, a church that had been founded by Pusey as a centre for ritualistic worship within the Church of England.
During his time at Leeds there was an outbreak of cholera and he worked in the city's hospitals, comforting the sick and dying. He published Narrative of five years at St Saviour's, Leeds (1851) and Letter to the parishioners of St Saviour's, Leeds (1851). In 1852 he was prohibited from acting as an anglican clergyman by Bishop Longley of Ripon, owing to his ritualistic views, and was received into the Roman catholic church.
Deciding to devote the rest of his life to the study of art and architecture, Pollen had previously acted as an amateur architect, designing the ceilings of St Peter-le-Bailey (1844) and also Merton College Chapel (1850). In 1855 John Henry Newman (qv) offered him the chair of fine arts at the new Catholic University in Dublin and also asked him to design a new university chapel, which was to be built on a small vacant lot adjacent to the university. He doubted his own ability to act either as a lecturer or as architect of this new church, but in a series of meetings Newman persuaded him to accept the professorship and begin the church project. Pollen obtained a residence at 62 Rathmines Road and began a series of undergraduate lectures on ‘The principles of criticism’ and ‘The development of the Byzantine style of architecture’. In an effort to promote the work of the university, he also gave a series of public lectures on ‘Taste’. He was a talented artist and accomplished watercolourist and also provided anatomical drawings for the medical school.
By May 1855 he had delivered his designs for the university church to the building contractor, Beardwood & Co. of Westland Row. Despite the limited space at his disposal he created one of Dublin's most stunningly flamboyant and beautiful churches, incorporating Romanesque and Byzantine designs while also copying some aspects of the church of San Clemente in Rome. Influenced by Ruskin's writings on Venetian churches, he carried out the decorations of the sanctuary area and altar himself, and also incorporated copies of Raphael cartoons. One of the most impressive features is a depiction of ‘Our Lady as the seat of wisdom’, which dominates the roof of the apse and was also completed by Pollen himself. University Church opened for worship in May 1856.
He returned to London in 1857 and was soon in demand as an architect, reintroducing fresco decoration and stained glass to English interior design. His most memorable project was the decoration of Alton Towers for Lord Shrewsbury, where he decorated the walls with paintings of scenes of the hundred years' war, creating a mock-tapestry effect. He later served on the fine art committees for the international exhibitions held in London (1862), Dublin (1865), and Paris (1867). In 1863 he was appointed as editor of the art and industry department at the South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria & Albert Museum. He resigned from this position in 1876 to take up appointment as private secretary to Lord Ripon, who became viceroy of India in 1880. He visited India in 1884, publishing An Indian farewell to the marquis of Ripon (1885). For the remainder of his life he continued to exhibit drawings and watercolours at the Royal Academy and in Paris and was a founding member of the United Arts and Crafts Guild. A Liberal in his politics, he was a friend of W. E. Gladstone and remained interested in Irish affairs, being a firm advocate of both land reform and home rule. He died on 2 December 1902 at his London residence, 11 Pembridge Crescent, North Kensington, and was buried in the family vault in Kensal Green cemetery.
Throughout his career he published articles on a vast number of topics. A regular contributor to the Tablet, he also wrote entries for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Articles for the Catholic University's journal, Atlantis, included ‘The structural characteristics of basilicas’ (1858) and ‘International exhibitions’ (1870). In 1878 he published ‘The new science and art museum, Dublin’ in the Irish Builder. While working for the South Kensington Museum he produced A universal catalogue of books on art (2 vols, 1870; supplementary vol., 1877). This was perhaps his most important work. Other monographs for the South Kensington Museum include Ancient and modern furniture and woodwork (1873), Catalogue of special loan exhibitions of enamels and metals (1874), and Ancient and modern gold and silversmith's work (1878). There is a large collection of his letters in the John Henry Newman papers in the Oratory of St Philip Neri, Birmingham.
He married (September 1855) Maria Margaret, daughter of the Rev. John Charles Le Primaudaye of St John's College, Oxford; they had eight sons and three daughters. Maria Margaret Pollen was also interested in the arts and published Seven centuries of lace (1908). She was the subject of a drawing by Rossetti.