Victorian Gothic Revival architecture (1750-1900)

Why so many British landmarks look medieval but are really about 150 years old

While Neoclassicists were sticking to their guns in Bath, the early Romantic movement swept up many others with rosy visions of the past.

This imaginary perfect fairytale of the Middle Ages led to such creative developments as the Pre-Raphaelite painters and Gothic revival architects, who really got a head of steam under their movement during the eclectic Victorian era.

Identifiable features of the Victorian Gothic Revival style

  • Mishmosh of Gothic features. Look at the features described under Gothic, then imagine going on a shopping spree through them at random. How to tell the copycats from original Gothic? Well, Victorian buildings are several hundred years younger so tend to be in considerably better shape.
  • Eclectic and oversized. Few Victorians bothered with the exact details of a particular Gothic era. They just wanted the overall effect to be pointy, busily decorated, and terribly medieval. And very, very large (usually accomplished by putting a Gothic veneer atop Industrial Age engineering).

Best examples of the Victorian Gothic Revival style

  • Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), London. Charles Barry designed the wonderful British seat of government in a Gothic idiom that, more than most, sticks pretty faithfully to the old Perpendicular period's style. His clock tower, usually called "Big Ben" after its biggest bell, has become an icon of London itself.
  • St. Pancras Station, London. George Gilbert Scott's massive pinnacled and redbrick Victorian mansion makes for a quirky entrance to the Industrial Age phenomenon of rail travel (and, while purely Industrial and not Gothic, the steel-and-glass train shed itself was an engineering marvel, widest in the world at its time).
  • Albert Memorial, London. Queen Victoria commissioned George Gilbert Scott to build this massive Gothic canopy of a memorial to her beloved husband in 1861.
  • Natural History Museum, London. Like St. Pancras, another delightful marriage of imposing neo-Gothic clothing hiding an Industrial Age steel-and-iron framework, courtesy of architect Alfred Waterhouse.
  • Anglican cathedral, Liverpool. Last gasp of the Gothic, a red sandstone monster (fifth largest church in the world) devised by young Giles Gilbert Scoot (George's grandson) in 1902 and not finished until 1978.