As with any country, the architecture of England tells a convoluted tale of its history and heritage. This country is particularly noteworthy in terms of its architecture because it had the outside influence of so many other nations, including the Celts, the ancient Germanic tribes, the Romans, and so on. All of these cultures contributed to the overall ambience and aesthetic appeal of England in their own unique way.
Pre-Roman and Roman Architecture
Stonehenge and Cadbury Castle are the perfect examples of pre-Roman architecture, which was characterised by bulky structures, usually with a defensive purpose (i.e. of protecting those on the other side from intruders). Roman architecture dates back to between 43 and 406 CE (Common Era) and includes structures such as the Roman Baths and the London Wall. After Rome withdrew from England, the architecture actually degenerated significantly.
Saxon churches like Stewkley and Wing are examples of the Anglo-Saxon architecture that graced England after about 500 CE. These were simple structures made of wood and thatch, with the exception of some churches, which were constructed using stone.
When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought with them a style of architecture that soon became known as “English Romanesque”. These were quickly-built structures, usually made of wood with the intention of defending their inhabitants. The Tower of London is one such structure. Walls were built around cities and many stone cathedrals were erected during this era. Some of the better known cathedrals that have maintained the Norman-style architecture include Winchester, Durham and St Alban’s cathedrals.
This style of architecture was rooted in the religious society of England, who used the dramatic, almost eerie, Gothic look to build some of the most notable and impressive places of worship that appear in the annals of history.
Also originating in the medieval period, houses of the Vernacular style were characterised by a large, high hall with bays on each end. These bays were split into two storeys. Some remaining examples include Ightham Mote and Alfriston Clergy House.
Part of the Baroque period, this architecture is known for its sheer scale and many embellishments. These buildings make for impressive pieces, attracting the attention of passers-by for their dramatic nature. Examples include Castle Howard.
This period, which spanned the 18th and 19th centuries, was also known as Neoclassical Architecture. The focus shifted from dramatics to a combination of elegance and comfort. Homes became warmer and more inviting, changing the entire approach to and attitude towards architecture and construction.
The beginning of the 1800’s saw the advent and development of a massive amount of new technology. This meant the ability to incorporate steel into buildings and, with this new material, to design completely different shapes and styles. This was also a time of financial wealth amongst the English, so the homes that were built were beautiful and grand. In addition, people were moving around more, seeing more of the world, so influences from different cultures infiltrated the English style of architecture.
The beginning of the 20th century meant a far more decorative approach to design and architecture. Houses and buildings were embellished with lattice work, pretty chimney features, gables, and so on. However, since then, the architecture in England and, indeed, all over the world, has gone through rapid phases and fads. Geometric shapes, colours, ornate embellishments and the extensive use of space and light have all seen popularity at various times. Architecture, like any art, is a dynamic and personal form of expression. So, while certain elements will remain unchanged, perhaps for centuries, the overall look and feel of structures will continue to evolve, creating an ever-changing heritage.
Andrew Keet has been intrigued by all things that come form England all his long life and especially English architecture.