Norman Architecture also known as the English Romanesque or Twelfth-Century style, comprises the reigns of William I (1066-87), William II (1087-1100), Henry I (1100-35), Stephen (1135-54), Henry II (1154-89). The general appearance is bold and massive, and presents many similarities with the architecture of Normandy, from whence it was introduced during the reign of William I. It is well described by Sir Walter Scott:

In Norman strength, that abbey frown'd
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate row on row
On ponderous columns, short and low ;

Built ere the art was known,
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk
The arcades of an alley'd walk
To emulate in stone ". ..


Iffley Church, near Oxford. [Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.]

The nave was considerably lengthened from the Saxon period, and transepts were employed, with usually a tower at the crossing. Most of the cathedrals date from this period, and the general type of plan laid down was developed rather than changed, great length being aimed at, as at Norwich, Durham, Ely, S. Albans, and Winchester. The chapel of the Tower of London is a type of a small chapel in the style. The towers are square and massive, as at S. Alban's Abbey and Iffley Church. In Norfolk and Suffolk are some fifty churches, having at their west end round towers supposed to be due to Scandinavian influence, but probably owing to these being more readily con- structed, in the absence of suitable stone to form square angles. Castles, owing to the recent conquest, were numerous and important, commanding fords on the rivers, high roads, and other strategic points. The Tower of London gives a good idea of the system of defence adopted.


Walls are very thick, and frequently arcaded in later work, but are often constructed with defective masonry, the core being imperfectly bonded with the facing. The interiors have nearly an equal height assigned to nave arcade, triforium, and clerestory, and a passage was often formed between the clerestory window and the triple arch carrying the inside of the wall, a method also adopted in the churches at Caen. Buttresses are broad and flat, with little projection, and often flush with the corbel table, which supports a plain parapet.


These were frequently formed with square recesses, known as "orders," to their jambs. The windows are usually small, narrow and deeply splayed, with semicircular heads. They are in single lights, but double windows divided by a shaft frequently occur in towers. Three openings, of which the centre one is largest, are sometimes grouped together. Doorways are deeply recessed and richly ornamented with the zigzag ornament and beak-head, as at Iffley Church, Oxon, or elaborately carved with sculptural subjects, as at Barfreston, Kent.


The vaulting was waggon-headed, or intersecting with plain groins. The roof-trusses were of open timber, chiefly of king-post form, and having an inclination of forty-five degrees, the covering being of lead or shingles. The simple framing is either left exposed, or has a flat ceiling boarded and decorated. In fact, all the existing cathedrals or abbeys of this period had originally wooden ceilings, but were vaulted later, as at Gloucester, Exeter, and Durham.


These are low, massive, and either polygonal or circular, as at Gloucester, Bristol, and Exeter, while at Durham fluting and zigzag channellings were worked on the columns, without regard to the courses. Clustered piers, as at Peterborough, with rectangular recesses, were also used, often in conjunction with round piers, as at Durham and Waltham. The small shafts occurring in the recessed orders of doorways and windows were sometimes richly ornamented. Capitals, are usually of the cushion form, being sometimes carved and scolloped, but occasionally forms reminiscent of Roman architecture occur, as the Ionic example, in the White Tower, London. The Corinthian type frequently met with in France is rare.


The ornamented mouldings, as the chevron or zigzag, billet, beak-head, nail-head, bowtel, or roll moulding, form a most important decorative element in the style. Corbel tables, supported by corbels or grotesques, constitute crowning features on walls and towers.


The plain treatment of the earlier period was succeeded by the highly decorated work of the late period, which was richly carved with nail-head, corbel, billet, and other ornamented mouldings. Wall arcades of intersecting arches, along the lower part of the aisle walls, constituted an effective dado decoration. It is probable that hangings were employed in interiors. Rudimentary decoration, consisting of black and white, or simple colors in stripes, forming lozenge-shaped and other figures roughly executed in distemper, produced a bold and not un- pleasing effect, as in the roof at Peterborough. Late in the period stained glass began to be employed, the glass, in small pieces, being chiefly white, leaded together to form patterns, with the addition of brown lines. The Norman style also appears in fonts, piscinas and sedilias.


Fletcher, Banister, and Banister F. Fletcher. A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur. 5th ed. London: B. T. Batsford, 1905. Pp. 335-41.

Last modified 30 August 2007