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Gothic Revival Style Guide

The Gothic Revival was a conscious movement that began in England to revive medieval Gothic forms, from the second half of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. The 18th century examples were often domestic, with highly decorative interiors, seen at Strawberry Hill, making the style fashionable. By the early 1800s though, scholarship on medieval Gothic was growing, and a more archaeological approach emerges. This includes an increasing interest in preserving and restoring older buildings, with a need to understand the different styles of Gothic architecture. In 1817, the architect Thomas Rickman is one of the first to label the different styles of medieval architecture. He produces a chronology, entitled; ’An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England from the Norman Conquest to the Reformation’. In his account he divides the period into four parts; Norman style (1066-c.1190); Early English style (c.1190-c.1300): Decorated English (c.1300-c.1390): Perpendicular English (c.1390-c.1540).

These definitions were soon adopted and became the basic conceptual categories of the Gothic Revival for the rest of the 19th century.

But the key protagonist for the Gothic Revival by much of Victorian England was the architect, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852). After helping his father to survey and record medieval buildings he became convinced that Gothic architecture was not only superior aesthetically, but also morally to Classical architecture. In 1836 he published ‘Contrasts’, in which he compares different types of contemporary buildings with similar ones from the Middle Ages. For example, under ‘Contrasted Residences for the Poor’, a gracious medieval almshouse is contrasted with a contemporary prison. The book was a best seller, with many architects taking up the cause. The building of the Houses of Parliament cemented it as a national style, with many public buildings following suit and there was an ambitious programme of church building, including restoration. The revival lasted until the 1870s, when other historical revivals emerged.

What to look for in a Gothic Revival/Neo-Gothic building:

  • Pointed forms
  • irregular appearance
  • Variety of materials
  • Rich colours and decoration

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Gothic Revival / Neo-Gothic Architecture

For further reading on the Gothic Revival below is a selection of books from the British Architectural Library on the subject:

  • Gothic revival architecture by Trevor Yorke. Library Reference: 72.036.4(42) // YOR
  • Gothic Revival worldwide: A. W. N. Pugin's global influence, edited by Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Jan de Maeyer, Martin Bressaini. Library Reference: 72.036.4 // GOT
  • Contrasts: and, The true principles of pointed or Christian architecture / A.W.N. Pugin; with introduction by Timothy Brittain-Catlin. Library Reference: 72.036.4 // PUG
  • George Frederick Bodley and the later Gothic Revival in Britain and America by Michael Hall. Library Reference: 72.036.4(42):92B // HAL
  • William Burges and the High Victorian dream by J. Mourdant Crook. Library Reference: 72.036.4(42):92B // CRO
  • The Gothic Revival by Chris Brooks. Library Reference: 72.036.4 // BRO
  • A.W.N. Pugin master of Gothic Revival by Megan Aldrich [et al.]. Library Reference: 72.036/4(42):92P // AWN
  • Pugin a Gothic passion, ed. Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright. Library Reference: 72.036.4(42):92P // PUG
  • The origins of the Gothic Revival, by Michael McCarthy. Library Reference: 72.034(42).8 // MAC

Style Guide written by Suzanne Waters

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Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, London

RIBA102809
Bentley, Richard (1708-1782)
NOTES: Horace Walpole purchased Strawberry Hill, a follly, in 1747 and spent until 1776 expanding and redecorating it to his own specifications. He was assisted by two friends, the amateur architect, John Chute, and the draughtsman, Richard Bentley. William Robinson of the Royal Office of Works oversaw the construction. The stained glass seen here is a mixture of English and Flemish glass.

All Saints Church, Hawkhurst, Kent

RIBA104033
Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1811-1878)

Hafod House, near Pontarfynach: the south front

RIBA111150
Baldwin, Thomas (1750-1820)
NOTES: The house was built originally by Baldwin (begun 1786) for the owner Thomas Johnes (1748-1816). A library and conservatory were added by John Nash 1793-1794. A disastrous fire in 1807 destroyed all of NashÔÇÖs work, but the house was rebuilt by Baldwin (1807-1810) retaining NashÔÇÖs library. A large extension was added by Anthony Salvin in 1846-1851 and the house was altered again from 1872. The estate declined in the early 20th century and the house was abandoned in 1942. It was demolished in 1956.

Laverstoke Parsonage, Whitchurch, Hampshire

RIBA111582
Street, George Edmund (1824-1881)
NOTES: Also known as the Old Rectory.

St James-the-Less church, Pimlico, London

RIBA118058
Street, George Edmund (1824-1881)

Design for a chancel

RIBA125715
Bentley, John Francis (1839-1902)
NOTES: This drawing was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1861 ('Study for a Chancel', number 671).

Perspective of the entrance and Library Wing of Eaton Hall, Cheshire, seen from the north-west

RIBA127651
Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)
NOTES: This partial view of Eaton Hall shows the new porte cochère, grand stair and Library Wing that Waterhouse added to the Burn/Porden mansion. The date makes it clear that this is a presentation drawing prepared to show the client the appearance of what was being proposed.

St Pancras Hotel and Chambers, Euston Road, London: the main staircase

RIBA2468-6
Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1811-1878)
NOTES: St Pancras Station opened in 1868 while the hotel, also known as the Midland Grand Hotel, opened in 1874. The latter was built for the eponymous railway company to receive travellers through the adjacent St Pancras Station. It was converted into offices in 1935.

St Pancras Hotel and Chambers, Euston Road, London

RIBA2899-26
Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1811-1878)
NOTES: St Pancras Station opened in 1868 while the hotel, also known as the Midland Grand Hotel, opened in 1874. The latter was built for the eponymous railway company to receive travellers through the adjacent St Pancras Station. It was converted into offices in 1935.

St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London

RIBA2911-27
Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)

Church of St Mary, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire: the ornately decorated vaulted chancel and choir

RIBA4011
Burges, William (1827-1881)
NOTES: This church was built for the 1st Marchioness of Ripon.

Gothic saloon

RIBA6212
Landi, Gaetano
SOURCE: Gaetano Landi. Architectural decorations (London, 1810), pl. 13

Manchester Town Hall: the main front

RIBA7000
Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)

Church of St John, Shenstone, Staffordshire

RIBA7160
Gibson, John (1817-1892)

Tower House, Melbury Road, Kensington, London: street front

RIBA7220
Burges, William (1827-1881)
SOURCE: The House of William Burges ARA, edited by R. P. Pullan (London, 1875-1885), portfolio plate no. 6

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire: the Gothick Great Hall on the west front

RIBA9192
Miller, Sanderson (1716-1780)
NOTES: This abbey for Augustinian canonesses was founded in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. It was dissolved in 1539 and sold to Sir William Sharrington who converted it into a family home. The Gothick Great Hall was built for John Ivory Talbot by Sanderson Miller in 1753-1755.

Abbotsford House

RIBA10730
Atkinson, William (ca. 1773-1839)
NOTES: Located near Melrose in the Scottish Borders, on the south bank of the River Tweed, this residence was built for the novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London

RIBA11181
Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)

Design for Scotney Castle, Kent

RIBA12430
Salvin, Anthony (1799-1881)
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