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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, Baldersby, North Yorkshire

Butterfield, William (1814-1900)

St Barnabas Church and parsonage, Homerton High Street, Hackney, London

Ashpitel, Arthur (1807-1869)
NOTES: The church of St Barnabas was consecrated in 1847, but in 1852 a north aisle and vestry were added and the parsonage was built.

St Olave's Grammar School, Bermondsey Street, Southwark, London

Field, James (fl. 1819-1842)
NOTES: The school was demolished around 1850 when the land it was built on was needed for the railway.

Lincoln's Inn New Hall and Library, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London

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.

St Giles Church, Camberwell, London

Scott & Moffatt

Easneye Park, Stanstead Abbots, Hertfordshire, for Thomas Fowell Buxton Esq.: perspective

Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)
NOTES: This lithograph was prepared for John Edward Cussans, History of Hertfordshire, vol. 1 (1870-1873).

St George's Church, Ramsgate: perspective from the south-west

Hemsley, Henry (1791 or 2-1825)
NOTES: Henry Hemsley designed the church but died a year into its construction. Kendall completed the church with some alterations to its design.

Alton Abbey (later Alton Towers), Staffordshire: perspective

Allason, Thomas (1790-1852)
NOTES: The architects working on the existing house during the period 1811-1820 were Thomas Hopper, who was responsible for the conservatory, William Hollins of Birmingham, who was responsible for changes to the old hall in 1817 and some ornamental work, and, most significantly, Thomas Allason, commissioned by the 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in 1819-20, who designed the north Entrance Hall, Chapel, great Drawing Room, Long Gallery and dining room. The house was later to be altered by A.W.N. Pugin and its name changed to Alton Towers.

Templeton's carpet factory (Albert Mills), Glasgow

Charles Robertson Partnership
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 by the Charles Robertson Partnership, re-opened as the Templeton Business Centre.

Contract drawings of All Saints Church, corner Grange Road and Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough: west front

Street, George Edmund (1824-1881)
NOTES: The tower was never built.

Christ Church, College Green, Clifton, Bristol

Bassett-Smith, William (1830-1901)

Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, Queen's Road, Bristol: the entrance hall

Oatley, Sir George Herbert (1863-1950)
NOTES: The Wills Memorial Building was designed in 1912 to be a landmark for the new university. Built in the Perpendicular Gothic style, it was begun in 1915 and, after being delayed through World War I, it was finally completed in 1925. George Herbert Oatley was knighted the same year in recognition of his work.

Designs for St Peter's, Vauxhall, London: exterior decoration of the narthex

Pearson, John Loughborough (1817-1897)
NOTES: These decorations were not carried out. The executed design was somewhat modified to reduce costs. The set of drawings in the RIBA are for the original, unmodified designs.

Church of St John the Evangelist, Cowley, Oxford: interior perspective looking east

Bodley, George Frederick (1827-1907)
NOTES: The church was built 1894-1896; its tower was completed in 1902. This is possibly the drawing exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1899 ('Interior of St John's Church, Cowley, Oxford, number 1625).

Competition design for the Wealdstone Baptist Church, High Street, Harrow, London: perspective

Taperell & Haase
NOTES: This design for church, church hall and school was unsuccessful. The church was built in 1905 to the designs of other architects.

Tower House, Melbury Road, Kensington, London: perspective of the library

Burges, William (1827-1881)
NOTES: This watercolour was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1880 (number 1178) as 'A library in Kensington'.

Designs for Saint Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne: north elevation towards Swanston Street

Butterfield, William (1814-1900)
NOTES: Butterfield was appointed architect for the new Anglican cathedral in Melbourne in 1877; the foundation stone was laid in 1880; and the cathedral was consecrated in 1891. Butterfield had resigned in 1886 and the cathedral was finished under the direction of a local architect, J. Reed. Neither the fittings nor the exterior were completed to Butterfield's designs. It was only in 1926 that construction of the three spires began to a design by John Barr of Sydney which replaced Butterfield's planned but unbuilt octagonal central tower and gable west end towers.

New Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster, London: perspective from the south-east

Barry, Sir Charles (1795-1860)
NOTES: This painting is a copy of Allom's orignal perspective that came to William Brakspear after having worked in Sir Charles Barry's office. The original watercolour, one of two of the new Houses of Parliament, was commissioned by Barry and gifted to Tsar Nicholas I following his visit to London in 1844.

Designs for stained glass windows for the Church of Saint Matthias, Preston, Brighton: lower lights at west end

Lonsdale, Horatio Walter (1843-1919)
NOTES: The lower lights of the west end of the church (Nos.1-4) depict angels with the Virgin and Child, guardian angels with children and a mother teaching her child.

Contract drawing for St Paul's School for Boys, Hammersmith, London: perspective from the south-east

Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)
NOTES: This is possibly the drawing exhibited by Waterhouse at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1880 (St Paul's School at Kensington [sic], number 1177).

All Saints, Leek, Staffordshire: the altar and reredos

Jackson, Frederick Hamilton (1848-1923)
NOTES: The reredos is by Lethaby and the painting is by Frederick Hamilton Jackson.

All Saints Church, Hawkhurst, Kent

Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1811-1878)

Hafod House, near Pontarfynach: the south front

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.