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Setting the Trend

Nearly all the major Victorian architects found time to design at least a few private residences. Some devoted much of their energy to country houses, paying attention to their smallest details, from window mouldings to finials, from inglenooks to floor tiles: "no good building was ever seen, in which the exterior only was thought of, and the internal decoration and design neglected," wrote G. E. Street (408). The rewards, not only in financial terms but also in scope for self-expression, could be considerable. As a result, these grand houses were for several decades important exemplars of Victorian style. But as the demand for smaller properties grew, detached and semi-detached suburban houses of a somewhat humbler kind, also designed with much thought by important architects, proved more influential. After all, such houses were easier to imitate. Speculative builders either employed one of the new breed of professionalized local architects or consulted pattern books and trade journals to produce similar styles for their own expanding and often discriminating clientele. These developments had an impact on other kinds of housing as well, from urban terraces, villas and mansion blocks to model housing for the working-class.

Neo-Classical or Greek Revival

Early in the reign, houses were built in the classical style, which had strong roots in British architecture, going back as it did to Inigo Jones in the early seventeenth century. Kenneth Clark, taking his clue from the opening chapter of Charles Locke Eastlake's History of the Gothic Revival, sees the beginning of Jones's repair work on the old St. Paul's Cathedral in 1633 as "an important date in the decline of the Gothic" (3). Yet by then Jones had already designed London's first truly Renaissance building, the Banqueting House in Whitehall (1622) with its Ionic and Corinthian columns and pilasters. He was also now completing St. Paul's, Covent Garden (1633; see image at right), the first English church to have a strictly classical portico (in this case, with Tuscan columns). And he had been working for some years on the beautiful Palladian-style Queen's House in Greenwich, completed around 1638. All this marked the beginning of a long and enduring classical tradition, to which a great deal of nineteenth-century architecture, including domestic architecture, continued to belong.

According to Stefan Muthesius, as far as terraced housing was concerned, the main classical design element was simply "the overall orderly and symmetrical layout, which everybody strived so hard to achieve" — even until late into the reign. Muthesius does note some differences, though. He suggests that because neo-Classicism during the Regency period was based more specifically on particular precedents, there was more "variety, of Orders and of decoration," along with "a tendency towards greater massiveness, towards greater plastic accentuation of the facade" (231). These points are all illustrated by houses built by Thomas Cubitt from the 1820s onwards, such as:

Neoclassical deomestic architecture built by Thomas Cubitt. Left: Houses in Albion Road, Stoke Newington. Right: Terraces in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.

Polesden Lacey in Surrey by Thomas Cubitt.

Newer influences boosted the popularity of the neo-classical style as well. The architect Charles Parker (1799-1881), for instance, spent several years travelling in Italy. His Villa Rustica was published in monthly parts from 1832-41 with a second edition in 1848, and Thomas Cubitt himself owned a copy of it. Features like Parker's Italianate tower were "eagerly copied by villa builders" at every level (Long 32). Even twenty years later some houses, like those near Parker's own St Raphael's Church in Kingston-upon-Thames, were adorned with such towers. Other speculative builders' work in fashionable developments like Chalcot Square and Palace Gardens Terrace, both from the later 1850s, also have classical features; but note the increase in decorative details in these terraces, for example the elegant iron balconies, window-guards, railings and finials on the Chalcot Crescent houses. One commentator explains, "the plainness of the classical style did not attract the Victorians; they had money to spend and associated plainness with meanness" (Durant 157).

Fine examples of neo-Classical architecture abound in the public buildings of all our cities. Among the best-known are three Greek Revival ones: William Wilkins's National Gallery (1832-38), Robert Smirke's British Museum (1823-47) and George Basevi's Fitzwilliam Museum (1837 onwards) — the latter in particular also sporting many decorative elements. Indeed, whole town centres, like Newcastle-upon-Tyne's in the 1830s, were rebuilt in this style. Yet as far as domestic architecture was concerned this was not, in the end, to be the most fruitful trend.

The Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival

A house in Holly Village, by H. A. Darbishire.

Looking back to Inigo Jones's time, we see the diarist John Evelyn defending the new classical style staunchly and decrying the "barbarous Goths" (1: 221) — yet still falling under the spell of old cathedrals or enthusing over "curiously wrought and gilt plate" (1:5). After all, the atmosphere of the middle ages, with its religious ideals and decorative intricacy, had no less tenacious a hold on the English imagination than the classical ideals of symmetry, proportion, harmony and restraint. The term "Gothic Survival" is often used to remind us that builders and craftsmen alike continued to practice in the old style without particularly intending to preserve or promote it in opposition to neo-classical architecture.

In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, the Gothic novel, and Romanticism in general — especially Sir Walter Scott's long and hugely popular Waverley series, which A. W. N. Pugin himself read avidly — gave this old style a new value (see Eastlake's discussion of Scott's importance). Classical elements such as columns and porticos would never disappear. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the Victorian era, Gothic forms of architecture were already coming strongly into fashion again. Pugin's own fiery and controversial Contrasts (1836) gave what was, in effect, "a violent push at an open door" (Hill 169), and endowed the Gothic Revival with a strong purpose: to re-establish what were felt to be the true Christian piety and values of those far-off days. With all the zeal of a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, and driven by his own strong impulses, Pugin took on the entire architectural establishment of his time, proposing a wholesale return to the medieval approach to architecture. He satirised Smirke in his frontispiece as "the author of the 'new square style'" (Hill 159), and attacked Wilkins and Basevi too. The Battle of the Styles had begun.

There was to be no outright winner. Away from the "intellectual and religious triangle formed in the south of England by Oxford, Cambridge and London" (Watkin 153), classical influence still flourished. Consider, for example, young Harvey Lonsdale Elmes's widely admired St George's Hall, Liverpool, not completed until 1854. And as far as domestic architecture was concerned, even in the south, most blocks of terraced homes would continue for decades to be basically "Georgian Classical," with only superficially "Gothic dress" (Muthesius 232). Yet one type of housing quickly followed the new trend. The landed gentry all over the country soon saw the advantages of doing away with porticos and so on, and spreading their homes out in a picturesque way; naturally, the nouveaux riches followed suit. Thus "manorial Gothic" became the style of choice for country houses. A good example is Anthony Salvin's Scotney Castle (1837), now inside the Kent border, which "realizes many of the features of a Tudor manor house" (Eastlake 129-30).

Such hugely impressive buildings were bound to be influential, the more so because their owners often built Gothic lodges and other cottages on their estates, and even in the outlying villages. The heiress and philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, for instance, engaged H. A. Darbishire to build Holly Village (1865), a cluster of unmistakably neo-Gothic middle-class homes, near her family home in Highgate, then on the outskirts of London. Other suburban houses too were soon being graced with some kind of pointing above the windows, if not actually pointed windows, as well as oriels, gables, turrets, towers and battlements, joined and featured chimney stacks and so forth. A prominent example is Frederick Codd's Gunfield (1877) in Norham Gardens, North Oxford — one of the most fashionable of all Victorian suburbs. This house, which is close to many fine Gothic and neo-Gothic collegiate buildings, abounds in "Gothic influences" (Curl 200): it has several pointed windows, steep gables, tall chimney stacks and a pyramidal tower.

Left to right: (a) Gunfield in Norham Gardens, Oxford. (b) A terrace in Chesterton Road, Cambridge. (c) Ruskinian cottage in Trumpington.

Like Oxford, and no doubt because of its own abundance of ancient colleges and chapels, Cambridge has some good examples of residential neo-Gothic architecture as well. A particularly imposing terrace in Chesterton Road, for instance, also has steep gables, with pyramidal towers at each end, and is much more than just superficially Gothic. Note that houses did not have to have pointed windows to look Gothic: Ruskin himself said, "a house is far more Gothic which has square windows, and a boldly gabled roof, than one which has pointed arches for the windows, and a domed or flat roof" (211).

By now, of course, Italian Gothic had been popularised by Ruskin's The Stones of Venice (1853). As a result, another element of the neo-Gothic had assumed importance and been widely adopted: the adornment of the wall. G. E. Street, in Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages (1855), particularly castigated the British for eschewing colour: "Our buildings are, in nine cases out of ten, cold, colourless, insipid, academical studies, and our people have no conception of the necessity of obtaining rich colour, and no sufficient love for it when successfully obtained," he complained (399-400).

The Audsley brothers issued a stark warning in their Cottage Lodge and Villa Architecture(1868), "If we build our houses of one colour of stone, a painfully monotonous effect is certain to be the result" (qtd. in Long 56).Banded, diapered and variously patterned brickwork, circular, cloverleaf and other carvings in the façade, a family crest perhaps, decoratively carved wooden bargeboards round the gables and iron cresting on top of steep roofs — all these can be found even on the humblest of houses in the second half of the century. A cottage in Trumpington on the other side of Cambridge, dating from 1865, shows how "even in an ordinary dwelling-house there might, under a proper condition of things, be found for the carver's handwork and limner's cunning" (Eastlake 264-65; excerpted here).

Varieties of the Neo-Gothic

Clearly, a whole range of styles come under the neo-Gothic umbrella. In domestic architecture, the categories are less defined than in church architecture, which gave more scope for building upwards and for all kinds of elaboration, and which could therefore be modelled more specifically on the different stages of the medieval Gothic. But some distinctions can still be made, especially between the styles of the large country houses:

Country houses showing the variety of gothic revival styles. Left to right: (a) Previctorian Eaton Hall, Cheshire by W. Purden. (b) Tyntesfield by John Norton. (c) Humewood, County Wicklow, N. Ireland by William White.

Sooner or later, those looking for stronger forms of the Gothic were drawn to its origins: "the clue, if it was to lead to excellence, could only lead in one direction, and that was backwards," explains Eastlake (170); and, since the Gothic was not as home-grown as Pugin suggested, this inevitably provoked an interest in Continental forms. Other factors that encouraged such an interest were:

Eastlake complains that the Revival was not "methodically progressive — or, more strictly speaking, retrogressive in regard to the chronological order of styles" (394). But, broadly speaking, French Gothic seems to have flourished most in the late fifties and sixties, with Italianate details becoming steadily more ubiquitous throughout the period — as ubiquitous, in fact, in neo-Gothic houses as in neo-classical houses. As suggested in the previous section, these details were mainly in the brickwork and carved ornamentation rather than in structural features like pilasters, porticos and so on; but larger design elements like loggias, parapets and windows might also be derived from Italian models. Some of the many houses with new/old Continental aspects were:

Scarisbrick Hall Quar Wood Tower House

Country and urban houses showing the variety of contnental gothic influences. Left to right: The French gothic of Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire by the Pugins. (b) Quar Wood, Gloucestershire by J. L. Pearson. (c) Tower House, Kensington by William Burges.

The Scottish Baronial Style

Examples of the Scottish Baronial style: Salisbury Green, Edinburgh; Chartwell, Kent; and the Viceregal Lodge at Shimla, India.

An important variant of the neo-Gothic was the Scottish Baronial style, "the style of preferance for public buildings" in rural Scotland (Glendinning and MacKechnie 114). This became highly fashionable for large private houses as well, especially after Prince Albert and William Smith remodelled Balmoral Castle in this way in the early 1850s. John Lessels remodelled Salisbury Green in a similar style for the Scottish publisher William Nelson in 1860-1867. Like Humewood, mentioned above, these were very grand houses indeed, but in 1868 we find the Audsley brothers recommending the style to a much wider public "in both baronial and small crow-stepped gable house form, as both flexible and effective" (Long 65). The brothers disapproved of the fad for the "castellated or battlemented tower," but still felt that "in a villa a well-designed entrance tower or angle turret is a feature which never fails to give value and interest to the composition" (qtd. in Long 65). Not surprisingly then, Scottish Baronial features can be found far away from their country of origin, in Ireland for example, and even in the home counties: Chartwell in Kent, originally just a farmhouse, acquired its large stepped gables in the second half of the century. This style also proved popular in the colonies: there is more than a hint of it in the Irish-born Henry Irwin's Viceregal Lodge at Shimla, in the Himalayan foothills.

Eclecticism in Domestic Architecture

Writing in 1872, Eastlake says it is "difficult and dangerous" to attempt categories of the neo-Gothic, yet he himself suggests "three general divisions" which follow a chronological course:

Perhaps the most important point of all about the Gothic Revival was that it allowed architects to experiment. In housing as in church-building: "Architectural design, freed from the tyrannies of symmetry demanded by Neoclassicism, could blossom in the altogether more free climate of Gothic" (Curl 17-18). Thus, by the time Eastlake was writing this, builders' pattern books were offering a positive mélange of house styles. In Suburban and Rural Architecture: English and Foreign (1867, rpt 1869), for example, Edward Lushington Blackburne suggestions include "'Anglo-Italian,' 'Italianized Gothic,' 'Tudor-Gothic,' and 'German'" (Long 52). Still popular too were French models, including the picturesque quasi-rural "cottage ornée," and, outside the mainstream and appealing to those with artistic tastes, Swiss chalets and certain Middle and Far Eastern elements — the latter mostly in interior design. Such styles are represented in the Victorian Web by the very differnt ornamental Garden Cottage (1854) at Polesden Lacey, Dickens's Swiss Chalet at Gadshill, and Leighton House, Holland Park Road (1884-86), Lord Leighton's home in London:

Left to right: (a) Ornamental Garden Cottage, Polesden Lacey (1854). (b) Dickens's Swiss Chalet at Gadshill. (c) Leighton House, Holland Park Road, London.

The Queen Anne Style, Arts and Crafts and Domestic Revival houses

Domestic architecture continued to draw on a variety of sources at home and abroad. But out of all this experimentation grew a trend, equally eclectic in its way, towards a softer (no longer pointed) look, both less fanciful and more mellow than the neo-Gothic. Clark describes the change poetically: "Once more taste has swung back from the vertical to the horizontal, from the shrill, assertive music of the pointed arch to the comfortable melodies of the shallow curve; from the prickly, irregular thistle to the swag of smooth and luscious fruits" (197). All this took its impetus more from Tudor and Jacobean times, and its Continental influence primarily from the Dutch and Flemish, and also northern Germany. But the point was not to copy or adapt some other style, but rather to develop a convenient, well-crafted home in an organic way, whilst being true to the building materials involved, and not hiding them. This last principle was clearly derived from the neo-Gothic; as James Stevens Curl explains, "the Domestic Revival grew out of the Gothic Revival, and a continuous thread can be traced all the way through the Arts-and-Crafts work of the next decades" (199).

But from now on the concern with brick patterning and banding began to disappear. Curved gables, together with the use of red-brick, hung-tiled dormers, partial rough-cast finishes and joinery sometimes gave whole neighbourhoods their chief character. Window styles changed too, with sash windows and mullioned and transomed panes becoming more common. New motifs on the façade became fashionable as well, like the terracotta swags of fruit which Clark mentions, or the characteristic Arts and Crafts sunflower motif in terracotta or (as at Richard Norman Shaw's Cragside, 1871 onwards), carved into a stone marker. The new style was, in fact, chiefly promoted by the versatile Norman Shaw himself. His pioneering garden suburb at Bedford Park in London illustrates all the points mentioned above, and was extremely influential in middle-class housing developments all over the country. It has remained so to this day. Another helpfully descriptive term given to this style is the "Picturesque Vernacular."

Right: Philip Webb's Red House. Left: W. E. Nesfield's Cloverly Hall

Buildings which helped to establish the new style were:

But terminology here is not clear-cut, and nor (as with the neo-Gothic) is the accompanying chronology. This is partly because Morris led the Arts and Crafts movement and also promoted the Domestic Revival (also dubbed, variously, Victorian Picturesque, Vernacular Picturesque, and Old English). David Durant agrees that the Arts and Crafts movement began in the 1860s, sees the Queen Anne style as prevalent in the 1870s to 1890s (when Cragside and Bedford Park were built), but then dates the Domestic Revival from the 1890s to 1910, after an interim period of baroque and Adam revivals (177). Here Domestic Revival seems to be used specifically of the spate of mock-Tudor or so-called Tudorbethan half-timbered developments which date from the early twentieth-century, including, for example, the Holly Lodge estate at West Hill, Highgate, built on the old estate of Angela Burdett-Coutts, and often dubbed "London's loveliest garden colony" (Weinreb and Hibbert 400). Yet some Tudor features can be seen at Cragside (the beams over the main entrance) and Bedford Park (the tall chimneystacks). Probably it is best to see the Domestic Revival as Stefan Muthesius does — as a "companion movement" of the Queen Anne style (234), which found its most popular expression in the Tudor Revival of the 1910-20s.

Left to right: (a) and (b) Homes on Cadogan Square by Richard Norman Shaw. (c) Homes on Cadogan Square by J. J. Stevenson and others. (d) 52 Cadogan Square by Harold Ainsworth Peto and Sir Ernest George.

Again, there are variants. A highly individualistic variety of the red-brick, transomed windowed, Dutch-gabled style was adopted by Norman Shaw for tall townhouses in Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge. These blended with similar works in this neighbourhood by other architects like J. J. Stevenson and Ernest George and Harold Peto under the common label Pont Street Dutch. Interestingly, in this neighbourhood too stands a half-timbered Tudor mansion, again an argument for seeing Queen Anne and Domestic Revival as "companion" styles.

These are very grand houses, but the new trends filtered through even to philanthropic ventures for working class Londoners: see the early Peabody housing blocks in Lawrence Street, Chelsea (1870) by Darbishire, where arched windows, stone bandings and curly gables suggest a particularly eclectic mix of Italian Gothic and Queen Anne Dutch.

The End of an Era (and the beginning of another)

By the turn of the century, the new large mansion blocks in London might still be relieved by stone dressings, but no one in our own age would expect to see a recently-erected red-brick building with this streaky bacon look. On the other hand, people still seem to favour mock-Tudor features, like the ones that sprang up around a century ago in the wake of the Domestic Revival. This is especially so in times of depression: the style seems to be comforting to the British psyche. The conventional English house is, in fact, still likely to include at least some of the revivalist features popularised by Norrman Shaw in Bedford Park.

Looking to the future. Left: C. F. A. Voysey's 14 South Parade, Bedford Park. Right: Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill House.

What else pointed forward to the future? One promising house was C. F. A. Voysey's, also in Bedford Park. Though this too was an Arts and Crafts house (indeed, neighbours at the time actually thought it old-fashioned), it is almost ascetic in its lines, and much more sparing in its decorative touches than its neighbours. There is, in fact, just the faintest touch of Art Nouveau about the fine curved iron brackets beneath the projecting eaves. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is often said to have developed Voysey's ideas further, and to have provided "the link between Morris and 'Art Nouveau' on the one hand, and the modern international movement on the other" (Turnor 110). Amongst other promising architects at the turn of the century was Sir Edwin Lutyens, a pupil of Ernest George, well known in his native Surrey for his picturesque houses complemented by — and complementing — beautifully landscaped gardens, the result of his collaboration with the landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll. Of course, Lutyens would be better known internationally for his development of New Delhi in an utterly different style. His work demonstrates vividly the widening gulf between public and private space, now that the era of the grand country house was finally over.

Related Material


Clark, Kenneth. The Gothic Revival. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1990.

Durant, David N. The Handbook of British Architectural Styles. London: Barry & Jenkins, 1992.

Eastlake, Charles Locke. A History of the Gothic Revival. 1872. Rpt., edited by J. Mordaunt Crook. Leicester: Leicester University Press/New York: Humanities Press, 1970.

Girouard, Mark. The Victorian Country House: A Social and Architectural History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, rev. ed. 1979.

Glendinning, Miles, and Aonghus MacKenchie. Scottish Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004.

Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Making of Romantic Britain. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2008.

Jenkins, Simon. England's 1000 Best Houses. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004.

Long, Helen. Victorian Houses and Their Details: The Role of Publications in Their Building and Decoration. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2002.

Muthesius, Stefan. The English Terraced House. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.

Ruskin, John. The Stones of Venice.Vol. II. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1853. Available here.

Street, G. E. Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages. London: John Murray, 1874. Available in the internet archives, here.

Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert. The London Encyclopaedia. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992.

Last modified 12 August 2015