For almost two hundred years prior to the dawn of the Victorian era, English architecture primarily reflected the classical Greek and Roman styles. It was the philosophy of the culturally enlightened Renaissance period that only classical styles were considered worthy of study. The Gothic style of the medieval period was abandoned as “barbaric”. Over time, architectural guidelines became so rigid as to dictate decorative details in accordance with the strict elements of the period building design.
Early 19th century Homes
The early 19th century, considered to be the beginning of the Victorian era, found architects weary with the constraints of classical style and yearning to add their signature to design. Thus began the period of architecture referred to as the Gothic Revival. Artisans were once again free to create unique stone and glassworks. The thick stoned walls and pitched roof were more practical choice for the colder climate and contributed to the success of the movement.
Mid 19th century Homes
Mid-century saw the beginning of the first industrial revolution. Advances in mechanization spawned a time of prosperity and created a new class of wealth. Leisure time was more available than ever before, which shifted thinking toward a more aesthetic focus. Mechanization coupled with improvement in the quality of materials allowed for less expensive, mass production of architectural details formerly resigned to skilled artisans. When all of the factors were combined, a style emerged that was at best, hard to define, and at worst, vulgar and ugly.
The simpler lines of the early century gothic style remained popular. But, a school of thought, referred to as eclectic or free, emerged that asserted architectural styles should not be so strictly dictated. One should be “free” to choose and combine classical architectural elements. This led to exaggerated representations of past architectural styles. Readily available, cheap imitations of decorative elements mean that design was often overdone and led to the fussy, elaborate, and often cluttered style associated with Victorian housing styles.
Later 19th century Homes
Toward the end of the century, a movement began in opposition to the over industrialization of Britain. The contention was that the explosion of cheap imitations was destroying the design and quality produced by skilled artisans. There was a shift to classic materials that were not as easily adapted to mechanization. The skilled craftsmen experienced resurgence. The entire movement is better known as the Arts and Crafts design period. It signaled an end to the Victorian excess and a new era of architectural design.