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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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Templeton's carpet factory (Albert Mills), Glasgow: the main facade

Leiper, William (1839-1916)
NOTES: James Templeton engaged William Leiper to design the facade of his new factory called Albert Mills after previous designs had been refused planning permission by the City Council on the premise that they were not prestigious enough for the neighbourhood. The factory, completed in 1889-92, produced carpets for two British coronations, a carpet for the White House, Washington DC, and carpets for luxury liners. They also produced army blankets during the First World War. It closed in 1982 and after restoration re-opened as theTempleton Business Centre.

Bressingham Rectory, Norfolk: perspective view

Teulon, Samuel Sanders (1812-1873)

Lincoln's Inn Library, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London: view from Newman's Row of the east end with the Benchers' rooms on the right

Hardwick, Philip (1792-1870)
NOTES: The present library building stands at the north end of the Great Hall built at the same time in 1843-45 by Philip and Philip Charles Hardwick.The library was extended eastwards in 1872, to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Design for the church of St Paul, Camden Square, London

Ordish, Frederick Webster (1821-1885)
NOTES: This image is a photograph of an original drawing.

Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Butterfield, William (1814-1900)

Oxford University Museum, Parks Road, Oxford: corner of the main court

Deane & Woodward
NOTES: Deane & Woodward of Dublin were responsible for the design of the museum. The carvings of the stonemasonry were the work of the Irish brothers, John and James O'Shea, and their nephew John Whelan.

Wilkins Hall, King's College, Cambridge, seen after redecoration

James Cubitt & Partners
NOTES: This college dining hall was designed by William Wilkins and built in 1823-1828. Its redecoration was undertaken by James Cubitt & Partners and completed in 1968.

Eastern Road gateway, Brighton College: detail of the upper part

Jackson, Sir Thomas Graham (1835-1924)

Town Hall, St Giles's Square, Northampton

Godwin, Edward William (1833-1886)

Gothic Temple, Stowe, Buckinghamshire

Gibbs, James (1682-1754)

Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, London: the bay window in the Round Room

Chute, John (1701-1776)
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 in the Round Room was inserted in the 1860s.

St Luke's, Warren Hill, Torquay, Devon

Blomfield, Sir Arthur William (1829-1899)

Keble College Chapel seen from Liddon Quad, Oxford

Butterfield, William (1814-1900)

Royal Freemasons' School for Girls, Wandsworth Common, London

Hardwick, Philip Charles (1822-1892)

John Rylands Library, Deansgate, Manchester, restoration and extension

Austin-Smith Lord
NOTES: The library designed by Champneys opened in 1899. 2007 saw the completion of the restoration (Lloyd Evans Prichard) and extension (Austin-Smith Lord) of the building.

St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London

Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)