According to Robert Furneaux Jordan, the last third of the nineteenth century saw two major shifts in architects and architecture, the first involving matters of art and design, the second matters of money and power. Beginning as early as Philip Speakman Webb's Red House, major buildings reveal that their designers have moved from imitating and interpreting historical styles, such as gothic, to investigating "basic questions about the nature of architecture" (219). They emphasized the relation of function to design, saw the potential of new materials and a Ruskinian emphasis upon craftsmanship. They also took new approaches to laying out a building's ground plan. In short, they had very new ideas about what constituted beauty in architecture.
The second great change involved the nature of patronage as wealthy industrialists increasingly replaced the great nobility as the clients of architects, such as Richard Norman Shaw, Eden Nesfield, C. F. A. Voysey, Baillie Scott, and Edwin Lutyens. Jordan contrasts the work of Sir Charles Barry to that of the architects who followed him:
Barry and his like loved a lord, and built for lords. But the cool, rational eighteenth-century mind — concerned with 'taste' but indifferent to what others thought — was no longer enough. Barry, through architecture, had to make, for his patrons, the last great gesture. These London palaces of the Victorian hostesses, these country mansions of the big house parties, were meant to express social grandeur. And this last self-assertion of a dying aristocracy was necessarily vulgar. The aristocratic principle could no longer be taken for granted; it had to draw attention to itself.
True, this shift did not happen all at once, and one can observe the new architects designing country houses for the old kind of clients, those whom Jordan calls "the aristocratic remnant."
The new kind of client might be ducal; he was more likely to be industrial. Norman Shaw still built occasionally for the aristocratic remnant ... for a Portman he built the vast pile of Bryanston on the hill above Blandford; but at Cragside in Northumberland, as early as 1870, he built a fantasia of gables and chimneys for Armstrong, the Newcastle steelmaster ... while Lutyens, in his earlier years, built fairly consistently for Sugar, Soap, Grocery and Textiles. These new patrons were not the philistine and illiterate bosses of the earlier railway boom; in denying their birth they asserted their education and, just a few of them — in London as in Chicago — were men of taste and patrons of the arts. [224-25]
Jordan, Robert Furneaux. Victorian Architecture. Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1966.
Last modified 15 June 2006