Early English Gothic architecture (1150-1300)

The early medieval Gothic style

Identifiable Gothic features

  • Pointed arches. The most significant development of the Gothic era was the discovery that pointed arches could carry far more weight than the rounded ones of the Norman Romanesque.
  • Dogtooth molding. Bands of a repeated decoration of four triangle shaped petals around a raised center; especially seen here in Early English style.
  • Lancet windows. Tall, thin pointy windows, often in pairs or multiples all set into a larger, elliptical pointy arch. Tracery would be added inside and between the points in later periods.
  • Ribbed vaulting. An extension of pointy arches. Ceilings weren't flat; they rose to a point. The square patch of ceiling between four columns would also arch up to a point in the center, creating four sail shapes, sort of like the underside of a pyramid with bulging faces. This is called a cross-vault. The "X" separating these four sails was often reinforced with ridges called ribbing. As the Gothic progressed, four-sided cross-vaults would become fan vaults (see below), and the spaces between the structural ribbing spanned with lierne ribs and tracery (see below).
  • Flying buttresses. Free-standing exterior pillars connected by graceful, thin arms of stone that help channel the weight of the building and its roof out and down into the ground. Not every Gothic church has evident buttresses.
  • Plate tracery. The tip of a window, or the inverted concave-triangular shape between the tips of two side-by-side windows, would often be filled with a flat plate of stone pierced by a light (tiny window), which was either simply round or in a trefoil (three round petals, like a clover) or quatrefoil (four petals) motif.
  • Stained glass. The multitude and size of Gothic windows allowed them to be filled with Bible stories and symbolism writ in the colorful patterns of stained glass. Not all Early English churches had stained glass, but many were later retrofitted with it as it came more into style. 
  • Rose windows. Huge circular windows filled with elegant tracery whose "petals" are filled with stained glass, often appearing as the centerpieces of facades.
  • Spires. Pinnacles of masonry seeming to defy gravity and reach toward Heaven itself.
  • Gargoyles. Drain spouts disguised as wide-mouthed creatures or human heads.
  • Choir screen. The inner wall of the ambulatory/outer wall of the choir section, often decorated with carvings or tombs.

Best examples of Gothic buildings in England

  • Salisbury Cathedral is almost unique in Europe for the speed with which it was built (1220-65) and the uniformity of its architecture (even if the spire was added 100 years later, they kept it Early English).
  • Lincoln Cathedral is another fine example, though all but a few scraps of the stained glass is a Victorian replacement.
  • Wells Cathedral was the first church in Britain to use the Gothic pointy arches, plus it sports 300 statues on the original façade and some early stained glass.