decorated initial height=rchitecture was widely written about as well as the Victorian period. At the most scholarly level, it became a subject for research, systematization and debate, attracting some of the ablest minds of the time — including leading practitioners. The rise of antiquarianism, the Gothic Revival, the spread of empire, and the development of architecture and civil engineering as professions, all contributed to this development..

Antiquarianism goes back at least to John Leland (c.1503-1552), already at work in the libraries of religious houses before their dissolution, and Nicholas Brigham (d.1558), who erected Chaucer's tomb in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. Other landmarks in its history are William Camden's Annales (1615 onwards); Sir William Dugdale's tour de force, the Monasticon Anglicanum (3 volumes, 1655-73), a direct response to the destruction of that "stupendious number of Monastick Foundations ... the continued work of many Ages, by which the greatest Kings, Princes,and Noblemen of this Island were once thought to have eternized their names" (Letter to William Bromley, Esq.); and John Aubrey's Chronologia Architectona (1671) in Part IV of his Monumenta Britannica (see Fox). By 1751 there was enough interest in the subject for a Royal Charter to be granted to the already well-established Society of Antiquaries.

A typical page from John Collingwood Bruce's book on Hadrian's Wall, The Roman Wall: A Description of the Mural Barrier of the North of England, 10.

From around the turn of the eighteenth century, the term "antiquarianism" appears regularly, to denote a popular gentleman's pursuit: the Newcastle Antiquarian Society, the first such society in the provinces, was founded in 1813. John Collingwood Bruce (1805-1892), with his special interest in Hadrian's Wall, became first a fellow of the London society, then the secretary and vice-president of the Newcastle one. By 1833, the third item in the Gentleman's Magazine's classification of its contents, after the more wide-ranging categories of reviews and "dissertations," is "The Antiquities and Architecture of Great Britain and Ireland, including Topography and Family History; with original documents illustrative of these several subjects" (last page). Notice the coupling of "antiquities" and "architecture" here, as in the title of the "Architectural and Historical Society of Oxford," founded in 1839 — although here architecture takes precedence.

The Gothic Revival, with its roots in the pre-Romantic and Romantic period, encompassed religious feeling as well a sense of history, and was later motivated by it. The Cambridge Camden Society, called after William Camden, and also founded in 1839, was impelled more by dissatisfaction with the current state of the church than by an interest in the Gothic for its own sake. Its fundamental aim, and that of the Ecclesiological Society that succeeded it, was to revive older forms of worship in the Church of England. Nevertheless, it had a direct and enormous impact on the study of architecture, by sending people out to look at churches and record their features, and prescribing the way in which old Anglican churches and cathedrals should be restored, and new ones built. Tellingly, the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, set up in 1840, was a quite separate group.

The Taj Mahal (from a photograph). One of the illustrations in James Fergusson's extraordinarily comprehensive A History of Architecture in All Countries, VII: 596.

Interest in different forms of Gothic led many to explore Europe: one of the influences behind the Cambridge Camden Society, for instance, was William Whewell (1794-1866), the Master of Trinity College, whose Architectural Notes on German Churches, with Remarks on the Origin of Gothic Architecture, had been published in 1830, and came out in a much enlarged edition in 1842. Robert Willis (1800-1878), often thought of tas the "father" of architectural historians, published his Remarks on the Architecture of the Middle Ages, especially of Italy in 1835. Others were soon exploring the furthest reaches of empire with the same fascination. The prime example here is James Fergusson (1808-1886), who, having gone out to Calcutta as a partner in his brother's indigo firm, published his Rock-Cut Temples of India in 1845, and went on to write the first history of world architecture, published from 1865 onwards. David Watkin describes him as covering "an astonishingly wide variety of periods and countries" (82), while Nikolaus Pevsner calls him "the leading English architectural historian of these years" (237).

Those for whom architecture was a vocation or a trade also had energetic and passionate spokesmen, none more fervent than Augustus Welby Pugin, whose highly influential Contrasts (1836) has been described as the "first architectural manifesto" (Hill). Other prominent architects like Sir George Gilbert Scott also spared time to express their views, engaging in "The Battle of the Styles" verbally as well as through competitions and in their draughtsmanship. Architectural pundits like Alexander Beresford Hope emerged and took leading roles at the now "Royal" Institute of British Architects. Famous figures in the closely allied world of civil engineering were raising its profile by their feats as well: without actually reading or publishing any papers, Brunel received an honorary degree from Oxford in 1857. The specialised outlets for discussions of their works were thriving. Apart from RIBA's Transactions there were the Architectural Magazine, founded by J. C. Loudon as early as 1834, the Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, first published in 1837, and The Builder in 1843. The Architectural Association, founded in 1847, not only provided training for young architects, but a forum for talks by notables like Ruskin and Scott.

With the appointment of Banister Fletcher as Professor of Architecture and Building Structure at King's College, London, in 1890, architecture came of age as an academic subject. The professor fitted out a display room wiht his photographs of world architecture and other study materials, and set about compiling a new architectural history. Written with his son, Sir Banister Flight Fletcher, this late Victorian tome is regularly updated and has never been out of print. In the preface to the fifth edition, Banister Flight Fletcher (who was later knighted) wrote: "Architecture has been described very truly as the printing press of all ages, and it appears possible that in these days of enlightenment the study of Architectural History will soon take its proper place as part of a liberal education" (viii). It is no fault of the nineteenth century that this optimism has only proved partly justified.

Architectural Historians/ Theorists of the Victorian Period (Selected and Annotated)

Organised by birth year; click on their names to find out more about them, where available.

Links to related material


Bruce, John Collingwood. The Roman Wall: A Description of the Mural Barrier of the North of England 3rd ed. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867.

Clark, Kenneth. The Gothic Revival. Harmondsworth: Penguin (Pelican), 1964.

Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1980. Print.

Fergusson, James. A History of Architecture in All Countries. London: Murray, 1876. Internet Archive. 14 February 2012

Fletcher, Banister F. Preface to the Fifth Edition. A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur. By Banister Fletcher and Banister F. Fletcher 5th ed., revised and enlarged. London: Batsford, 1905. vii-viii. Internet Archive. Web. 14 February 2012.

Fox, Adam. "Aubrey, John (1626-1697)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 14 February 2012.

Gentleman's Magazine. Vol. 1 (1834), New Series. Hathi Trust (from the Princeton Library). Web. 14 February 2012.

Hill, Rosemary. "Greek Temples in Crowded Lanes: Pugin in the Strand." Talk at King's College, London. 13 February 2012.

Letter to William Bromley, Esq. (initialled J. W.), prefacing Monasticon Anglcanum, or the Histories of Ancient Abbeys, and Monastries, Hospitals, Cathedral and Collegiate Churches in England and Wales, with Divers French, Irish, and Scotch Monastries formerly belonging to England. English ed. London: Sam Keble, 1893. Internet Archive. Web. 14 February 2012.

Pevsner, Nikolaus. Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972. Print.

Pugin, A. W. N. The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England. "Republished from the Dublin Review." London: Charles Dolman, 1843. Print.

The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne: History of the Society. The Society's website. Web. 13 February 2012.

Steegmann, John. A Study of the Arts and Architecture from 1830 to 1870. Paperback ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971. Print.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950. Print.

Watkin, David. The Rise of Architectural History. London: Architectural Press, 1990. Print.

Created 1 December 2014
Last modified 9 April 2022