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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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St James-the-Less church, Pimlico, London

Street, George Edmund (1824-1881)

Design for a chancel

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

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

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

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

Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)

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

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

Gothic saloon

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

Manchester Town Hall: the main front

Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)

Church of St John, Shenstone, Staffordshire

Gibson, John (1817-1892)

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

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

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

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).

All Saints Church, Boyn Hill Road, Maidenhead

Street, George Edmund (1824-1881)

St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London

Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)

Design for Scotney Castle, Kent

Salvin, Anthony (1799-1881)

Old Duke of Bedford school, Thorney, Cambridgeshire

Teulon, Samuel Sanders (1812-1873)
NOTES: In 1846-1849 the seventh Duke of Bedford initiated the rebuilding of the village as a 'model village'. The new buildings, designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon, included this school with three schoolrooms, for boys, girls, and infants, a post office, shops, a relieving office for the poor and infirm, and many cottages. These premises ceased to be used as a school in 1925.

Carlton House, Pall Mall, London: the Gothic Dining Room

Nash, John (1752-1835)
SOURCE: William Henry Pyne. The History of the royal residences (London, 1819), vol. 3, Carlton House, facing p. 63 NOTES: The house was demolished in 1825 and replaced by Carlton House Terrace, designed by John Nash.

Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire: the garden front

Hanbury-Tracy, Charles (1777-1858)
NOTES: The house was designed and built for himself by Charles Hanbury-Tracy, 1st Lord Sudeley.