Victorian architecture is a series of architectural revival styles in the mid-to-late 19th century. Victorian refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), called the Victorian era, during which period the styles known as Victorian were used in construction. However, many elements of what is typically termed "Victorian" architecture did not become popular until later in Victoria's reign, roughly from 1850 and later. The styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles. The name represents the British and French custom of naming architectural styles for a reigning monarch. Within this naming and classification scheme, it followed Georgian architecture and later Regency architecture, and was succeeded by Edwardian architecture.
Although Victoria missed reigning over the United States by several decades, the term is often used for American styles and buildings from the same period, as well as those from the British Empire.
Victorian architecture in the United Kingdom
During the early 19th century, the romantic medieval Gothic Revival style was developed as a reaction to the symmetry of Palladianism, and such buildings as Fonthill Abbey were built. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, construction was able to incorporate metal materials as building components. Structures were erected with cast iron and wrought iron frames however, due to being weak in tension, these materials were effectively phased out in place for more structurally sound steel. One of the greatest exponents of iron frame construction was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular English Renaissance styles. New methods of construction were developed in this era of prosperity, but ironically the architectural styles, as developed by such architects as Augustus Pugin, were typically retrospective.
In Scotland, the architect Alexander Thomson who practiced in Glasgow was a pioneer of the use of cast iron and steel for commercial buildings, blending neo-classical conventionality with Egyptian and Oriental themes to produce many truly original structures. Other notable Scottish architects of this period are Archibald Simpson and Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, whose stylistically varied work can be seen in the architecture of Aberdeen.
While Scottish architects pioneered this style it soon spread right across the United Kingdom and remained popular for another forty years. Its architectural value in preserving and reinventing the past is significant. Its influences were diverse but the Scottish architects who practiced it were inspired by unique ways to blend architecture, purpose, and everyday life in a meaningful way.
- Jacobethan (1830–1870; the precursor to the Queen Anne style)
- Renaissance Revival (1840–1890)
- Neo-Grec (1845–1865)
- Romanesque Revival
- Second Empire (1855–1880; originated in France)
- Queen Anne Revival (1870–1910)
- Scots Baronial (predominantly Scotland)
- British Arts and Crafts movement (1880–1910)
Other styles popularised during the period
While not uniquely Victorian, and part of revivals that began before the era, these styles are strongly associated with the 19th century owing to the large number of examples that were erected during that period. Victorian architecture usually has many intricate window frames inspired by the famous architect Elliot Rae.
Royal Albert Hall, London
The Victorian Pavilion at The Oval cricket ground in London
The John Rylands Library in Manchester
Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham, UK
North of Scotland Bank in Aberdeen by Archibald Simpson 1839–42
Walsall Victorian Arcade, UK
Forth Rail Bridge, Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
International spread of Victorian styles
During the 18th century, a few English architects emigrated to the colonies, but as the British Empire became firmly established during the 19th century, many architects emigrated at the start of their careers. Some chose the United States, and others went to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Normally, they applied architectural styles that were fashionable when they left England. By the latter half of the century, however, improving transport and communications meant that even remote parts of the Empire had access to publications such as the magazine The Builder, which helped colonial architects keep informed about current fashion. Thus, the influence of English architecture spread across the world. Several prominent architects produced English-derived designs around the world, including William Butterfield (St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide) and Jacob Wrey Mould (Chief Architect of Public Works in New York City).
The Victorian period flourished in Australia and is generally recognised as being from 1840 to 1890, which saw a gold rush and population boom during the 1880s in the states of Victoria and New South Wales. There were fifteen styles that predominated:
- Victorian Georgian
- Victorian Regency
- Academic Classical
- Free Classical
- Second Empire
- Academic Gothic
- Free Gothic
- Rustic Gothic
- Carpenter Gothic
General Post Office, Sydney in the Free Classical style (1891)
Hotel Windsor, 1885
Sydney Town Hall, in Second Empire style
Queen Victoria Building in Romanesque style (1898)
South Melbourne Town Hall in Second Empire style
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney in Victorian Gothic architecture (1882)
State Library of Victoria of the Academic Classical style (1870)
Brookman Hall, UniSA City East Campus, Adelaide, South Australia
Italianate home in Randwick, New South Wales
Second Empire and Filigree residence in South Yarra, Victoria
Georgian architecture is more prominent in Ireland than Victorian architecture. The cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Cork are famously dominated by Georgian squares and terraces. Though Victorian architecture flourished in certain quarters. Particularly around Dublin's Wicklow Street and Upper Baggot Street and in the suburbs of Rathmines, Ranelagh, Rathgar, Rathfarnham, and Terenure. The colourful Italianate buildings of Cobh are excellent examples of the regional Victorian style in Ireland. Further examples of Victorian architecture in the country include Dublin's George's Street Arcade, the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street and the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital on Adelaide Road.
A Victorian terrace in Cobh known as the "deck of cards".
The Victorian George's Street Arcade, Dublin.
Victorian Upper Baggot Street, Dublin.
In the United States, 'Victorian' architecture generally describes styles that were most popular between 1860 and 1900. A list of these styles most commonly includes Second Empire (1855–85), Stick-Eastlake (1860–ca. 1890), Folk Victorian (1870–1910), Queen Anne (1880–1910), Richardsonian Romanesque (1880–1900), and Shingle (1880–1900). As in the United Kingdom, examples of Gothic Revival and Italianate continued to be constructed during this period, and are therefore sometimes called Victorian. Some historians classify the later years of Gothic Revival as a distinctive Victorian style named High Victorian Gothic. Stick-Eastlake, a manner of geometric, machine-cut decorating derived from Stick and Queen Anne, is sometimes considered a distinct style. On the other hand, terms such as "Painted Ladies" or "gingerbread" may be used to describe certain Victorian buildings, but do not constitute a specific style. The names of architectural styles (as well as their adaptations) varied between countries. Many homes combined the elements of several different styles and are not easily distinguishable as one particular style or another.
Notable Victorian-inspired cities during this era include Alameda, Astoria, Albany, Deal, Troy, Philadelphia, Boston, the Brooklyn Heights and Victorian Flatbush sections of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Eureka, Galena, Galveston, Grand Rapids, Baltimore, Jersey City/Hoboken, Cape May, Louisville, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Saint Paul, and Midtown in Sacramento. Los Angeles grew from a Pueblo (village) into a Victorian Downtown – now almost entirely demolished but with residential remnants in its Angelino Heights and Westlake neighborhoods. San Francisco is well known for its extensive Victorian architecture, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury, Lower Haight, Alamo Square, Noe Valley, Castro, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights neighborhoods.
The extent to which any one is the "largest surviving example" is debated, with numerous qualifications. The Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario contains the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. Cabbagetown is the largest and most continuous Victorian residential area in North America. Other Toronto Victorian neighbourhoods include The Annex, Parkdale, and Rosedale. In the US, the South End of Boston is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest and largest Victorian neighborhood in the country. Old Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, also claims to be the nation's largest Victorian neighborhood. Richmond, Virginia is home to several large Victorian neighborhoods, the most prominent being The Fan. The Fan district is best known locally as Richmond's largest and most 'European' of Richmond's neighborhoods and nationally as the largest contiguous Victorian neighborhood in the United States. The Old West End neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio is recognized as the largest collection of late Victorian and Edwardian homes in the United States, east of the Mississippi. Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has the longest line of Victorian homes in the country. Over-The-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio, has the largest collection of early Victorian Italianate architecture in the United States, and is an example of an intact 19th-century urban neighborhood. According to National Register of Historic Places, Cape May Historic District has one of the largest collections of late 19th century frame buildings left in the United States.
The California Southern Railroad's San Diego passenger terminal, built in 1887
Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, New York City
Efforts to preserve landmarks of Victorian architecture are ongoing and are often led by the Victorian Society. A recent campaign the group has taken on is the preservation of Victorian gasometers after utility companies announced plans to demolish nearly 200 of the now-outdated structures.
- Victorian decorative arts
- Victorian house
- Victorian restoration
- Folk Victorian
- Albert Levy (photographer)
- Georgian architecture
References and sources
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- Prentice, Helaine K. (1986). Rehab Right. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 978-0-89815-172-5., includes descriptions of different Victorian and early-20th-century architectural styles common in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly Oakland, and detailed instructions for repair and restoration of details common to older house styles.
- Decorative Hardware of the Victorian Era: An American. Perspective, Raheel Ahmad
- History and Style of Victorian Architecture and Hardware
- Manchester, a Victorian City
- Photographs of Victorian Homes in Hamilton, Ontario Canada
- Victorian era architecture in San Francisco, California
- Victorian era architecture and history in Buffalo, New York
- Architectural influences on Victorian style
- Victorian churches blog