The Renaissance in England

Recognition of Architectural Form

We have already seen the rise of Classical Architecture in Rome and the birth of the pure basic form in Greece at an earlier period and have noted how the influence of the Christian Religion watered down the monumental form that Romanesque period and eventually gave birth to the Renaissance Classic.

We also saw hoe the advent of the pointed Arch and the almost romantic development of architecture produced the gothic form which through its various aspects persisted in Europe until the 16th century.

This however is through the History of religious Architecture had died at the end of the Roman Empire.

It is true that great Castles were built for the security of the Barons and nobility generally but the serfs huddled at the foot of the castle or between and the church and served both for little or not return and even up to the 14th century commonly lived with their animals and stock.

However as the demands of the Barons and the Church increased trade had to be stimulated and in the general “rake off” the common people gradually improved their lot.

I have set out in line drawings some of the earliest forms of houses which in the 15th and 16th century developed into properly framed timber dwelling which naturally measure up to the period of perpendicular Gothic – the last of the gothic forms.

Settlements became villages – villages Towns and Towns Cities. Prosperity and intercourse with other European Countries produced new ideas in Architecture and Culture. Brick and stone became the chief forms of building materials for domestic use and this form of building gradually overshadowed church Architecture which for 100 years practically died out; added to this Italy had been rediscovered and Classic Architecture swept away all the gothic forms, which were not to be reintroduced until the 19th century.

The transition to classic forms took about 50 years and of course started earlier in Europe than it did in England.

At this stage it would be as well to look at some of these early ecclesiastical and domestic buildings at the opening of the Renaissance period because of course no immediate transition took place, but Gothic forms were wedded to classic and some notable buildings appeared.

This transition was to completely revolutionize the future culture of the country and the Architect who did more thank any other to shape the future building in England was Indigo Jones, born in 1573, died 1652.

He started life as a painter and to his Architecture he bought a certain simplicity and restraint which is sadly lacking in most Architects. You all know the Queen House, Greenwich and the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall – the magnificent and restrained designs that in English Architecture of all ages probably has no equal. The Portico of Covent Garden Church also has this restrained simplicity. But the classical form of the English Country House was established and the great Palladian Architects of the 18th Century always reckoned Indigo Jones to be their master and their inspiration.

At the some time he has a contemporary is John Webb who was known as “Indigo Jones Man,” and Thorpe Hall and Ashburton House are his best-known works. I can only feel that Webb simply adapted Indigo Jones general plans and facades.

This revival of Classicism was given full rein after the fire of London. In 1666. True Indigo Jones was dead, but the seeds had been well and truly sown and a worth follower was waiting to take over. In England 50 years later Christopher Wren shaped the future form of building for the succeeding 200 years and the great fire of London was his opportunity and inspiration. He planned as many others have planned but vested interests as now dictated the limitations.

He became a member of the commission to rebuild London in 1666, but St. Paul’s is one of the few lasting examples of his outstanding work. His details and even his design was coarse, but others were to come afterwards who, working on the same Classical pattern, trimmed the coarseness, simplified the detail and plan and produced buildings that were essentially British.

He started life well endowed and as a scientist and Astronomer, but Architecture soon “took over” from Science and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society. I sometimes think that today the Society tends to exclude the Architecture – not without reason possibly. In Architecture Wren followed Pierrault and more baroque versions of Classicism, but St Paul’s and 52 London churches bear witness to his genius, but above all stands Greenwich Hospital. St Paul’s, St. Mary le Bow, St Brides, Fleet Street, and many others testify to his lead in church Architecture after a lapse of nearly 100 years during which the hold on the people by the Clergy has been reduced to very small proportions.

After the fire religion gained new strength but fear which had rules for many centuries has disappeared and it was the people who built the churches now and not the Clergy. The impact of Wren as an Architect was spectacular and almost all that has followed in this art up to the Contemporary era has been done by his inspiration, but how low we have sunk can be assessed by a walk up Regent Street and a stroll around the City. Before we leave Wren however his greatest secular work must be mentioned. This is the East front on Hampton Court Palace – known to you all.

Of this great work only the centre portion is illustrated was it is the only part that appeals to me, but all of it is essentially English and unrepeatable. True Sir Robert Atkinson built Waring and Gillows from the same source but I think a bit out of Character and filled with hidden steel support.

With few differences the century developed its approach to the Twon and country House and turned its attention to honouring the great and the rich; to which end the Earl of Buckingham gathered round him a coterie of Architects, Sculptors, Artists and Gardeners and in the Palladian style produced the momenental homes that today cost the earth to maintain, and gradually become Schools and Institutions heavily subsidised by the government.

Blenheim jumps to the eye but to this add Stowe, Basildon Park, Kedleston, Holkam Hall, Moor Park, Mereworth Castle, Deaton Devavel and many others. Architecture is not only a good façade – it is also concerned with planning, but the form of plan did not vary very much in the 18th century.

Curiously Bedrooms were often found on the ground floor and whilst the staff lived and worked in the basement during the day and in the attic during the night the dining room was commonly on the 1st floor – how cold the food must have been. Of course the major projects, such as Blenheim, were not made to be lived in, but only to be viewed as a skyline.

I do not believe that this house has never been filled as an occupied residence even with staff engaged to serve staffs. However John Wood who designed the Queen’s Square and the Circus in bath and the Adams Brothers, whose work you all know, kept Architecture on the rails, and sir William chambers who gave us Somerset House.I personally would add James Stuart who working prior to the Adams Brothers produced the charming Chapel at Greenwich Hospital.

It was Stuart who gave inspiration to Robert Adam, but who never attained the latter’s eminence. The Century is now proceeding to its close graced by the finest Architecture in the History of this land. Fine design mellow brick and fine wrot stone and carving. The quintessence of art in its joinery and furniture, grace in living and the spread of London crafts to the small towns, hamlets, and the great estates.I am possibly a specialist and to me the arts and crafts in the 18th century register ‘Perfection’.

We make no joinery or wrot iron today like it and never will again, for whereas the craftsmen used to design, today he requires a drawing and that is the end of craftsmanship. The traditional use of materials, the solidity of the structure and the quality all set the seal on the 18th century, for never again will this country see all these Arts and Crafts assembled together to produce a single building. In the early part of the 19th century the decadent foppishness of the well-to-do produced for their divertisment some of the charming forms and designs in houses, but more especially in furniture, textiles and silver.

These forms existed during the Regency period of George III and in the last 20 years of his reign – that is from the 1800 to 1820 but the impact of the first empire period in France, based on the same form carried this period on until the iron hand of Queen Victoria, who despite the fact that she had all the advantages of 18th elegance around her, sadly lacked lightness in handling the Arts and in the general depression of mind and the exploitations of the people in the Industrial ear all original thoughts on Architecture disappeared.

I have no inclination to shew you the heavy, ugly badly designed structures, furniture and textiles that defaced the life and outlook of the Victorians. In themselves they were a dour lot and steeped in the making of money. A heavy gold watch chain meant more to the Victorian father than the acquisition of a Ming dish, so what could you expect from their Architecture?

In the early part of the Century we have to be thankful for Nash, though his work could not be compared to the earlier masters and his structures were neither so sound nor so honest in the use of natural materials and stucco covered and still does a cover a multitude of faults in construction.

Carlton House Terrace and the Regents Park Terraces were his contributions to Architecture; Regent Street was a bit of a mess I fear, though preferable to the hotch potch we have here today. Three outstanding architects of the 19th century were Barry, who produced the Houses of Parliament after the fire in 1835, Pugin, Gilbert Scott and Sir John Soane. Pugin, in the first half of the century built the Southwark R.C. Cathedral and Gilbert Scott both accepted the fact that a Gothic revival was, in their view, overdue, and the country had to suffer accordingly. Pugin alone stood firm in restraint as the southward Cathedral indicates and n his domestic work produced buildings such as Scotland Yard.

It was however the advent of the Engineer that was to alter entirely the conception of Architecture all over the world. No longer had building materials to support themselves – Iron did it for them and men like Telford were prepared to let Iron read for itself.

I think that the 19th century must consider its achievements are relegated to steel and cast iron. In this respect it is outstanding and demands an appreciation, as quite apart from Architecture as we are discussing it now, Iron and Steel as used in structures are Architectural and the following slides testify to this. They are a structural use of material designed to fit a Public requirement, just as much as a stone arch or a splayed brick lintel.

Unfortunately Architects were quick to see how steel could give them multiple storey structure and that meant money for the promoters but in doing so forgot to think in honest terms about the buildings they erected. They still wanted the stone and brick to read as structure and from this we received the welter of 20th century buildings from which the contemporary architects and engineers of today are combining to revive pure thought in structure in combination of steel and concrete. However it would not be fair to say that there were no early 20th Century architects of note who possessed contemporary thought. Vosney, Norman Shaw, Bailee Scott and Charles Macintosh all produced original thought in design and all but Shaw probably received their inspiration from William Morris.

Here I must stop, and probably you will be only too thankful. I would however like to say in apology that I have not touched on European Architecture or mentioned all the well-known ones in this country.

The 18th century and the latter part of the 17th were essentially the great period of domestic architecture in this country during which our stature, by common consent, overshadowed European development.