The Gothic revival in England before and after 1820 was very different in many ways. Before the start of the Gothic revival the mediaeval style, since the last Gothic structure in 1509 of Henry VII ’s chapel, was seen as irrational and illogical and as one man described it as barbaric. This was one of the main causes that the mediaeval buildings of the 18th century fell into disrepair. During the Cromwellian period many Gothic building were classical in the interior and church interiors in the 17th century became increasingly boring and plain. Many statues, altars and windows were destroyed.
Some attempts at gothic architecture were made in 17th century but many were a mix-match of ideas. Even though in the early1600’s there was an early flowering of mediaeval architecture with the Kings College in Cambridge.
This carried on in to the 18th century where more and more people dabbled in the gothic style with out a full understanding of how gothic architecture worked as a structural system. They confused stages of the gothic period, which were later defined by Thomas Rickman in is writing, and also used Classical forms such as pilaster and venetian windows. Many interiors were of a classical form a layout and some times other style were thrown in. Some gothic forms were even used on the exterior of building where they didn’t perform the function they were meant to. This shows how little the architects of the 18th century studied the mediaeval and how little they understood it.
The interest of Gothic grew more and more as gothic was seen to stimulate the imagination. It was seen as part of English romantic tradition, which sparked off an interest in artificial ruins in landscape design of the 18th century. Which was used as a means of heightening the atmosphere of the garden. An example of some artificial ruins is that of Wimpole hall designed by James Essex in 1768.
Another inspirational architect in this time was William Kent. His designs using ogee pointed arches with a classical cornice inspired Batty Langley to produce a study in which he analyzed Gothic in terms of classical orders. A comparison with true mediaeval and Gothic architecture at this time shows that at this time all Gothic architecture was a decorative style to be applied as ornament to regular structures and showed no structural or stylistic understanding. Many buildings possessed classical plans and interiors and many other classical forms.
James Wyatt who was mainly famous for his destructive restoration tactics also built Fonthill Abbey a great Gothic mansion but due to the size of the tower it fell down in 1812.
The most famous and first real serious attempt at gothic architecture was Strawberry Hill (1750-54) designed by Horace Walpole it took in account some considerations, using mediaeval sources, such as tombs in cathedrals and fan vaulting at Westminster. But it still used sham materials such as plaster and paper mache, which was common practice in the 18th century.
In the 19th century concern for the increasing number of mediaeval building falling into disrepair grew for a number of different reasons and scholarly studies were performed on the mediaeval period and many topographical studies were done. These studies were done to assist in understanding the stylistic and structural properties of the different stages of the mediaeval.
A small group of preservationists started up at the end of 18th century who also wanted promote ideas of preserving mediaeval architecture.
Also the Napoleaonic wars started which force British people to stay at home and look at their own architecture and gave people a sense of nationalism.
Another way Gothic acquired more interest was the romanticism of mediaeval antiquarianism with novels from the likes of Sir Walter Scott.
James Wyatt’s extreme tactics of restoration were criticized as it caused much destruction, which was seen as acceptable in the 18th century. He said he was improving the buildings and returning them to the original purity of the past. Pugin also objected to the Abbey style like at Fonthill.
Work that educated architects to the mediaeval architecture were those of Thomas Rickman who’s work on the‘ Attempt to discriminate the styles of English architecture’ and the work of L N Cottingham who published many structural analyses which were intended to educate architects who many be restoring mediaeval building.
These works were taught to A W N Pugin who was probably the most influential person in the gothic revival he took all these and more developments and publishes a number of books. His influences were profound.
‘He announced 2 main principles of which he believed architecture should depend ;
-that there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety
-that ornament should not just be applied but express the essential structure of the building .’
(Story of architecture, Patrick Nuggins)
Pugin despised the classical and Greek revival he said the beauty of Gothic architecture arises from the structure and that the materials used should be true. In Gothic architecture ‘Inventive imitation’ was the ideal and ‘copyism’ was frowned upon. This theory allowed architects to create irregular and functional ground plans. His work rounded up keen interest in the gothic and he was commissioned to build a number of churches and cathedrals due to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. After the houses of parliament burnt down the chosen style was Gothic not Classical. Pugin undertook all of the interior work. Another example was Scarisbirck Hall in Southport built in 1837 the great hall was with a timber framed roof with no classical plaster ceilings and it was all based on knowledge of the mediaeval architecture and all materials used were true.
Pugin’s own house in St. Marie’s Grange built in1835 is based mediaeval vernacular forms it is stone built simplified Gothic and it used the theory of fitness for purpose. With regard to his house and his other works he said ‘a picturesque that arises out of strict utility’.
John Ruskin(1819-1900) was very influential, his writings ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture’ influenced many people he had many similar view to Pugin apart from the fact he was Anglican and he led the way it their Gothic Revival. He also had a hope that there may be an acceptable style of iron architecture which may be developed so that Gothic could get a new lease of life.
The Story of Architecture, Patrick Nuggins ,1996
History of Architecture Settings & Rituals, Spiro Kosof, 1985
Gothic Revival, Georg Germann, 1972