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Architecture - English Gothic

( Originally Published 1915 )

The story of English Gothic may be briefly told apart from the general story of Gothic as a whole. English Gothic succeeded the Norman style in England and some of the earliest pure Gothic buildings in the world are in England.


" An arch never sleeps " is a French proverb French cathedrals, owing to their height, double aisles, side chapels, and the resulting complicated arrangement of buttress, flying-buttress, and pinnacle, produce in some a feeling of unrest which displeases them. The churches seem to give one a sense of movement, the feeling that stone is always grinding against stone.

" English cathedrals are quieter; more soothing, less daring; more peaceful," says Simpson.

Norman Architecture was not Gothic, but Romanesque. But the Gothic grew out of it.

Norman windows are in general long, and rather narrow, round-headed openings, but sometimes of two lights divided by a shaft included under one arch. There were also circular windows. Rich doorways form one of the most important features of Norman work. They are generally round-headed and very deeply recessed. The tympanum is frequently filled with rich sculpture and moldings are numerous. Zigzag molding is characteristic. The pointed arch occurs as early as 1150.

Arches pointed and round appear to have been used indiscriminately for a long time; but arch alone will not determine style the moldings and general character of the edifice are the best guides. The Norman buttress was plain and flat, and small arcades were frequently used. The piers were plain, square or round, and solid, but often with capitals. The capitals, themselves, were plain, a sort of rude cushion-shape, but later scalloped. The bases, too, were very simple. Moldings were extremely abundant, particularly in doorways.


We may give the periods of English medieval architecture approximately as follows :

Early Norman in England 1060-1090

Norman Period 1090-1160

Transition 1160-1195

Early English 1189-1272

Transition 1272-1300

Decorated 1300-1377

Transition 1360-1399

Perpendicular 1377-1547

Debased Gothic. Elizabeth to the seventeenth century

In the transition period to Gothic called Early English, we see the moldings becoming elaborated, the arch pointed, and the flying-buttress introduced and becoming a prominent feature. The tower becomes more lofty and the spire is often a fine feature. Salisbury is the type of Early English.

With the incoming of the Decorated, we find sculptures of the human figure. Such features as this often tell the experienced the year of the work. The doorways are often large and richly sculptured and have a rich canopy over them. The Decorated style is distinguished by its large windows, divided by mullions and tracery, which was flowing and flamboyant. Circular windows are also a fine feature together with clustered columns, pinnacles, false-timbered roofs, and fine spires. York nave is the finest example.

The Perpendicular is never seen except in England. Its feature is the form of tracery at the heads of windows no longer flowing, but divided by perpendicular mullions, especially used in palaces and houses at first. " Perpendicular " buildings often contain splendid open-timber roofs.

Westminster Abbey was once, for ten years, a cathedral, and was then called " St. Peter's." When the bishop and estates were transferred to St. Paul's, the by-word arose of "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Though it no longer has a bishop it is often regarded as a cathedral on account of its dignity and imposing size. Here the imperial island keeps its mighty dead. More than twenty-five Kings and Queens are buried in the Abbey, including Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth; such statesmen as Pitt, Fox, Canning, Wilberforce, and Gladstone; such writers as Chaucer, Spencer, Ben Jonson, Dryden, Dickens, and Grote ; and such other great men as Sir Isaac Newton and David Garrick.

Even though a purer type of English Gothic may exist than Westminster Abbey, no other building in the world has as much general and historical interest for every reader.

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