In Great Buildings of England Part 2, Globe Trekker Presenter, JUDITH JONES journeys into the next 200 years of English architectural history – visiting the Georgians of the 18th century and the Victorians of the 19th.
We explore the evolution of the staircase, the hallway, the front door, the landing, the bathroom, the four bedroom house and the rumblings of the modern day English garden. Judith makes her way to Greenwich in East London, to investigate the construction of Inigo Jones’s “most curiose devise” – a sugar-cubed villa that became the Queen’s House in 1638. It confused the baroque-loving artisans of James I’s England, but in the eyes of the great thinkers of the time (who were in thrall to the great Greek and Roman buildings), Queen’s House really was a building where geometry and proportion met in perfect harmony and it represented that ancient, classical ideal of, well, beauty.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 followed and this calamitous disaster led to the most significant change in the English building landscape: a nation built of timber-framed houses became one built of stone. This overhaul was engineered in London by arguably England’s greatest architect, Christopher Wren. Judith examines Wren’s Church of ‘Magnus the Martyr’ in London’s new masonry city and his rather more famous basilica, a rebuilt Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where she rightly celebrates Christopher Wren’s enduring genius. We enter the 18th century, and England experiences the birth of the town house. It’s a development which sends Judith to the city of Bath. Here, she explores the holiday home of the Georgian gentleman who has come to Bath to taste its soothing mineral waters and to enjoy the comforts of his new urban home. But the home has now become a 3 storey terraced house fitted out with a hallway and classically arranged reception rooms, hidden servant quarters and views to a park land reminding the convalescing gent of his plump country seat.
Judith meets architectural historian, Dr. Amy Frost, and learns how the public square grew from the gentry’s vain desire to be ‘seen and noticed’.
With the country house now yanked into the city, our curious Globe Trekker Presenter wonders what has become of the gentleman’s rural retreat. So, she heads to Middlesex and Osterley house where she beholds a fantastic country mansion designed by the architect of the day, the Scot Robert Adam. It was built for the sole purpose of grand entertainments, with appointed rooms lavishly decorated to impress the awe-struck house-guests making their way to dinner, while the actual family resided in more modest quarters upstairs! At Osterley, we really do enter the world of a Jane Austen novel, complete with country balls and haughty propriety.
The late eighteenth century witnessed a mechanical revolution in the countryside and a peoples revolution in France made the Englishman have a rethink about how best to live. Judith heads to East Sussex and explores Hammerwood lodge – built by Benjamin Latrobe who went on to design Capitol Hill in Washington. In Hammerwood’s picturesque interiors, Judith reveals that the monumental country house has been replaced by a more modestly sized one and its landing has replaced the room of entertainment with a bathroom. As Hammerwood house owner, David Pinnegar tells Judith, function’ seems to be the goal in Regency England; a virtue given greater importance by the industrial revolution steam-rolling its way into the 19th century. Industry gave birth to the factory which in turn spawned the semi-detached house to board its thousands of workers.
Judith travels to Saltaire in Bradford, Yorkshire, where an alpaca wool merchant by the name of Titus Salt built a state-of-the-art textile mill with a nearby housing estate clever enough accommodate his workers – complete with shops, schools, hospitals, a wash room, running water and electricity. Before getting too carried away by the 19th century we take a break to familiarise ourselves with the creation of England’s building landmarks. Judith sails back to London, and to its heart, where a re-planning took place in 1811 and the capital of the nation claimed its iconic monuments: Trafalgar square, Nelson’s column, the National Portrait gallery, Regent’s park, Regent Street, All Soul’s church and Buckingham Palace. They were built to facilitate the Prince Regent’s journey to his private residence in St James’s park but it was equally an attempt to regularise London’s streets – to create the kind of order that Napoleon III achieved so diligently in Paris 37 years later.
By this time, the invention of wrought iron brought the science of engineering into the English building, especially in regards to the architecture of transport – the railway, foremost, and the bridge. Judith travels to Bristol to admire Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s revolutionary Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans a mile across the Avon gorge. Her guide – and the bridge’s guardian – David Anderson, proves to her how this extraordinary suspension bridge effortlessly supports today’s imposing motor traffic.
Judith ends her epic journey forecasting the return of the Gothic style started by the Normans in Durham (see Part I) and now revisited in the many public buildings funded by an imperial and mighty England, when Britannia consolidated her many colonies and ruled the waves. Standing on a hill and overlooking Inigo Jones’s Queen’s house, our tireless Globe trekker hints at the development of the Englishman’s house at the tail end of the 19th century which was built to satisfy the needs of the individual.
The advent of the arts and crafts house and the utopian town planning followed in the 20th century and then England entered two world wars and the mechanical age, both of which gave rise to a multinational world where the English building became subject to its influence. But that’s another story!
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