Gothic Style in Britain

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Gothic style has been enduring father of architectural design in Britain. Its development was complex and contradictive as it offers extraordinary vision of forms, shapes and angles. Nevertheless, the style has found its recognition. Usually, on distinguishes four major developmental stages of gothic style: Norman Gothic dated 1066-1200; Early English Gothic dated 1200-1275; Decorated Gothic dated 1275-1375; and, finally, Perpendicular Gothic dated 1375-1530. The term ‘gothic’ originated in France and was often referred to as the philosophy of architecture.

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Speaking about characteristics of gothic style, it is necessary to admit strong vertical lines, minimal wall spaces, high vaulted ceilings, buttressed walls and pointed door openings(Ross 2005). For the first time British architects became interested in gothic style during the Norman Gothic period or, in other words, during the Norman Conquest. That period brought Gothic style to life. Nevertheless, during that period British style was similar tot hat of the rest in the Europe and it hasn’t yet found distinguishing character.

Designs of buildings were transitional as many of them were still provided with thick piers and rounded windows which were inherent to Romanesque style. Decoration and vaulting were simple and little sign of elaborate stonework was observed. Nevertheless, that period was the foundation of original British gothic style being so popular even today. Famous examples of that period are Wells Cathedral, Durham Cathedral and Ely Cathedral(Mahoney 1995). During the Early English period English architects had managed to truly adapt peculiarities of gothic style.

Actually, that period was called ‘Lancet’ due to pointed lancet windows. Proportions were still magnificently simple, as well as the forms were still austere. The main points of early gothic style were lancet windows, slender towers, narrow shafts, and quadripartite ribbings in vaults. The best known example of early gothic style can be seen at Salisbury Cathedral(Frankl 1962). The third stage of gothic development was Decorated Gothic period being characterized by fanciful tracery and window ornamentation. New feature was that windows became wider than lancet ones.

Invention of flying buttress contributed significantly development of gothic style as it became possible to provide widening or lessening in wall areas naturally. Furthermore, vaulting techniques improved and was much of help in supporting weight off the walls. The wall became little more than sells with decorated window openings. During that period architects became interested in stone decoration which was varied and rich. Moreover, window glass became more colorful and vivid. Designs were marked by stone carvings and paintings.

One of the famous examples of Decorated Period is Exeter Cathedral(Harvey 1990). Finally, Perpendicular period was characterized by strong vertical lines in wall paneling and window tracery. The style became more functional. Flying buttress was provided with decorative features and vaults were elaborate fan shapes. British towers became decorated elaborately – they became massive and ‘traceried spider-webs of stone like lace’. Distinguishing features of that period were minimum wall space which entailed the viewer with the feeling of spaciousness and light.

King’s College Chape and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey were built in Perpendicular style(Ross 2005). It is necessary to underline that gothic style never really died in Britain after the medieval period. During 17th and 18th centuries gothic styles was still present despite popularity of classical themes which were ruled only by fashion. For example, gothic elements were added to Christopher Wren’s London churches to make them look older. In the end of the 18th century Batty Langley opened school of romanticized Gothic architecture which became popular design of domestic buildings.

Finally, in the beginning of the 19th century gothic style was proclaimed to be more suitable to university buildings and churches: King’s College and Bridge of Sighs at John’s college(Frankl 1962).


Frankl, Paul. (1962) Gothic Architecture. Baltimore, Penquin Books. Harvey, John. (1950) The Gothic World, 1100-1600: A Survey of Architecture and Art. London, B. T. Batsford. Mahoney, Kathleen. (1995) Gothic Style. UK, Harry N. Abrams. Ross, David. (2005) Gothic Architecture in England [Internet]. Available from: <http://www. britainexpress. com/History/Gothic-architecture. htm> [Accessed 14 February 2008].