Gothic Revival architecture characteristics

May 10, 2016
Screaming gargoyle, Munich

In the midst of the Georgian passion for Palladianism, a few architects and patrons began to pillage the more recent past for inspiration. Gothic castles and cathedrals spoke of a power and authority closer to home than Ancient Rome.

The Gothic style had never completely died out, for additions to medieval buildings might be made to blend in with the older work. William Kent, who would have preferred to create a classical building, was induced to design a gatehouse (1723) at Hampton Court Palace in imitation of the Tudor work around it. Here and in other such exercises, Kent selected decorative Gothic features and arranged them to suit his classically-trained taste. The 'modern Gothick' was popular enough for Batty Langley to publish pattern books of it in the 1740s (see sources below).

When the author and dilettanti Horace Walpole acquired a humble home in Twickenham in 1747, it suited his fancy to transform it into a mock-Gothic castle. He remodelled Strawberry Hill over two decades. Although begun with Kentian symmetry, the final result was deliberately irregular - a novelty that encouraged the architecture of the Picturesque.

Still Classicism dominated British architecture until the mid-19th century, when a more scholarly approach to Gothic gave it equal stature. The Catholic Augustus W.N. Pugin (1812-52) was passionate about the glories of Catholic architecture of the past - which for him meant the Decorated style. His study in 1841 demonstrated a new grasp of the relationship between Gothic style and structure. A few years later John Ruskin's influential books praised Venetian Gothic as well as English Decorated (see sources below). The outcome was Gothic of a more accurate, but ponderous type.

The Gothic Revival was in its heyday between 1855 and 1885. It was the standard style for the wave of Catholic churches built in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation and for the many new Anglican churches. It vied with Classical as the choice for public buildings. The selection of Gothic for the Houses of Parliament in London (1836-65) had a huge impact on public buildings across Britain and the Commonwealth. The Gothic influence made itself felt in domestic architecture too, though few patrons took it as far as the Marquis of Bute. His fantasy castles - Cardiff Castle and Castel Coch - designed by William Burges, sprang from a romantic medievalism.

Typical features of High Victorian Gothic are exuberant forms and decoration, turrets, polychrome brickwork, steeply pitched roofs, gables, pointed arches, bay windows, elaborate porches, medieval details such as decorative corbels and gargoyles, stained glass and patterned floor tiles. You can see examples of a number of these features in the slideshow below by Andy Marshall of Saint Mary The Virgin, Bury, designed by J. S. Crowther.


  • Hall, M. (ed.), Gothic Architecture and its Meaning (2002). Essays examining the interpretation of Gothic from the Elizabethan to Georgian periods.
  • Langley, Batty, Ancient Architecture, Restored and improved by a great variety of grand and usefull designs, entirely new, in the Gothick mode, etc. (1742).
  • Langley, Batty, Gothic Architecture, Improved by rules and proportions, in many grand designs of columns, doors, windows .. etc. (1747).
  • Lewis, M., The Gothic Revival (2002).
  • McCarthy, M., Origins of the Gothic Revival (1987).
  • De Maeyer, Jan and Verpoest, Luc (eds.), Gothic Revival: Religion, architecture and style in Western Europe 1815-1914, proceedings of the Leuven Colloquium 7-10 November 1997 (University of Leuven 200).
  • Pugin, A.W.N., Contrasts or a Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages and Corresponding Buildings of the Present Day; shewing the Present Decay of Taste (1836, 2nd edn. 1841; Pugin Society edition 2003).
  • Pugin, A.W.N., The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841). Reprinted together with other writings by Pugin in Volume 4 of Gavin Budge (ed.), Aesthetics and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 6 vols. (2003). Also reprinted in Pugin, A.W.N., Contrasts and True Principles (Pugin Society 2003).
  • Ruskin, John, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).
  • Ruskin, John, The Stones of Venice (1851-3), which includes The nature of Gothic.
Share this Post
latest post
follow us