My name is Edmund Harris and I am a heritage professional and architectural historian based in Suffolk.
Although I love historic buildings of all periods, Victorian and Edwardian architecture has always been a special passion. A formative experience was seeing St Michael and All Angels in Lyndhurst, Hampshire (Grade I, William White, 1858-1869) at the age of ten. Even in the drizzle of a murky afternoon in late autumn, its colourful, vivid, eccentric, highly inventive architecture made a huge impression. Though that was over 30 years ago, throughout all that time the architecture of the 19th century has never stopped yielding up new discoveries to delight and entertain me.
Between 2010 and 2012, I was churches conservation adviser for the Victorian Society and the job was in every sense a voyage of discovery. I travelled the length and breadth of England and Wales, discovering building after building and architect after architect whose work I had previously had no idea existed. Getting to know the numerous architectural historians involved with the Society made me better aware of the body of literature on the period, but also conscious of the numerous gaps that remain to be filled.
Several major figures – G.E. Street, S.S. Teulon, Sir G.G. Scott – still await a comprehensive critical study. So what hope for the numerous architects, who, though not household names, each made a distinctive, highly individual contribution to this rich legacy? While individual buildings may be celebrated by cognoscenti, anyone looking for more information about their designer quickly runs out of road.
For years now I’ve been saying ‘Oh so-and-so would be a really interesting practice to write up’, hoping one day to be able to indulge my interest as a gentleman scholar. But in the digital age, there’s no need to wait for an academic sinecure or a compliant publisher to get a monograph in print. There is some wonderful architecture out there that I feel strongly deserves to be brought to the attention of a wider audience. My hope, when you read this blog, is that you will think so too.
A few words about sources
While I am always concerned to ensure that information presented here is factually accurate, this blog doesn’t aim to present material with the sort of full critical apparatus that would accompany an academic publication, so there are no footnotes. Where I have drawn heavily on a particular publication for a blog post, I name it in the text on the first reference. This applies to studies of particular geographical areas and/or periods and/or architects. Where I refer to outside sources available on-line, I do so with a hyperlink. Writing about buildings involves referring to a very wide range of sources, from luminaries of architectural scholarship such as John Summerson, to work by local historians that, while not always of professional standard, may well contain information that can’t be found anywhere else. Nevertheless, there are a number of books and websites that I use on a regular basis and here they are, in no particular order.
- The volume dealing with the relevant county in The Buildings of England/Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland series: often referred to simply as ‘Pevsners’ after the founder of the series, these arealways good as a first port of call and for reliable, scholarly information. Where possible, I make use of the fruits of Yale University Press’s ongoing (and nearly completed project) to expand, revise and update them. The city guides from the same stable, a much more recent initiative, are an excellent complement to the series.
- Peter Howell and Ian Sutton (eds.), The Faber Guide to Victorian Churches (London: Faber and Faber, 1989): an illustrated gazetteer of 19th and early 20th century churches of all denominations throughout England, Scotland and Wales –a personal and subjective selection, and a very good one (it includes numerous little known and far-flung buildings) by leading specialists in the field.
- Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 4th edn (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008): an indispensable source of information about the biography, training and works list of architects active in the 19th century – admittedly mostly from a generation before those whose buildings are featured here, although many of them were their pupils.
- Mark Girouard, The Victorian Country House (London: Book Club Associates, 1979): the standard work on the subject.
- Roger Dixon and Stefan Muthesius, Victorian Architecture: a volume in Thames and Hudson’s ‘World of Art’ series, first published in 1978 and still an excellent overview of the period and major building types. The dictionary of architects at the back, which lists major works, is especially useful.
- Antonia Brodie and Jonathan Franklin, The Directory of British Architects, 1834-1914, Vols. 1 & 2 (London: RIBA, 2001): a vital source of biographical information about Victorian and Edwardian architects, although the entries are nothing like as detailed as those in Colvin. One can’t hold that against the authors – equalling his standard would be several lifetimes’ work, given the massive expansion of the profession during that period. Unfortunately, accessible only to those with very deep pockets (it is long out of print and consequently both volumes are prohibitively expensive) or with ready access to libraries that have a copy.
- The National Heritage List: Historic England’s database of all the sites with statutory protection in England. The newer entries are very detailed and informative, the older ones less so and dating can sometimes be rather approximate.
- British Listed Buildings: an independent project which harvests information from a number of sources, including the National Heritage List, but also covers Wales and Scotland.
- COFLEIN: the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW).
- The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Dictionary of Welsh Biography: self-explanatory and essential.
- Old-Maps.co.uk: on-line access (searchable by grid reference or postcode) to old Ordnance Survey maps, mostly 1:2,500 and 1:10,560, but with much larger scale maps for major cities. The earliest maps date from the 1850s, but generally records start with the first national survey in the late 1860s. Important not only for information about the physical changes to a building over time, which sometimes can’t easily be dated any other way, but also for the annotations (e.g. details of the use of a site).
- The Survey of London: one of the most extraordinary projects in all topographical and architectural scholarship, now well over a century old. It still only covers something in the region of a third of the old London County Council area, but the volumes produced from the 1970s onwards cover the capital’s history and heritage (both lost and surviving) in unparalleled detail.
- Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951: an excellent on-line dictionary of sculptors compiled by the University of Glasgow, many of whom are relevant here because of their work on architectural ornament.
- The Dictionary of Scottish Architects: another excellent on-line database, which covers architects who worked in Scotland between 1660 and 1980, not just those who trained and practised there, and so has an even wider scope than the name might suggest.
- On-line index to The Builder and the Building News: vital for information about two of the key periodicals covering architecture, construction, conservation, design and building technology in Victorian and Edwardian Britain and the British Empire. Much of the content has been digitalised, too.
- England’s Places: access to the digitalised ‘red boxes’ – the picture archive of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments for England.
- The on-line archives of the Incorporated Church Building Society: this was the body active throughout the 19th century that provided grants towards building new churches or restoring existing ones, aimed chiefly at maximising the number of free sittings in an age when pew rents were still commonplace. Though the grants were usually small relative to the cost of the works as a whole, applications were assessed by leading architects of the day and the Society was involved in a very large number of projects. Only plans and some drawings are available on-line – accompanying papers must be viewed at Lambeth Palace Library.
The excellent Discovery catalogue returns results from the National Archives in Kew and a large number of public repositories nationwide, including county record offices. Although files usually need to be viewed in person, the catalogue entry will often give on a fair idea of what an item contains. That said, the sites of individual county record offices are worth visiting, since some of the files can be found there in digitalised form. Quite a few of them have made their picture collections available on-line.
It goes without saying that I also use the standard on-line reference sources – Google Maps, Google Streetview, Flickr and Wikipedia. The last of these needs to be treated with a pinch of salt. If an article is well written and properly footnoted, I view it as probably trustworthy, but try to cross-refer information where I can. Sometimes the most useful content is the links at the bottom of the page or the images on Wikipedia Commons. Among the on-line photo libraries, Geograph.org.uk deserves special mention. It is an ongoing project to take images of every grid square of every Ordnance Survey map in the country. Both its geographical coverage and the quality of a lot of the photographs – which now include interior shots of buildings – are excellent.
All views expressed on this blog are my own.
Click here to view a Google map of all the buildings discussed in this blog: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1LwI34LG-s7J8YLAFcfEbgfXZoTAs1air&usp=sharing