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English Mediaeval Architecture - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—England, as an island in the North Sea, opposite the rich and populous continent of Europe, owed her national development both to her insular position and to her maritime intercourse with other countries. Her geographical position has thus given rise to a dual influence in the formation of national characteristics, the operation of which has varied at different periods. Thus, isolation by the sea continuously promoted the development of definite national characteristics, while intercourse with the Continent across the sea resulted from time to time in a marked importation of foreign ideas in architecture. England's splendid isolation cannot be described more trenchantly than in the verses of England's greatest poet :

" England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege. * * * *

This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war ;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat, defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands."


It is very different in these later and maturer times when England's inextricable connection with European affairs cannot be more forcibly exemplified than by the part she played in the Great War (A.D. 1914–19).

II. Geological.--The varied geological formation of Great Britain was responsible for the variety of materials employed in building (p. 311). A band of oolitic freestone, including the well-known Bath stone, stretches diagonally across the island from Somersetshire to Lincolnshire, and supplies such excellent natural materials for all types of buildings in its vicinity that this geological influence is seen in the cathedrals along its course and in the fine manor houses of Wiltshire and Northamptonshire. The granites of Cornwall in the south-west and the sandstone of Yorkshire in the north were both so hard in texture as to admit of little sculptured ornament, and this gives severity to the architecture of these districts. It is natural that in early times the material at hand should have been employed, and this in itself gave local character, but as methods of transport improved there has been a tendency for local distinctions to disappear. In the Middle Ages transport by road was a difficult, slow, and costly undertaking when, in the absence of good roads and of wheeled vehicles, stone had to be carried on pack-horses, so water-carriage, by sea or river, was often preferred for economy ; thus our island stone was easily supplemented by Caen stone from Normandy, as at Canterbury Cathedral and the Tower of London. A limited supply of marble from the Isle of Purbeck and elsewhere was also used, chiefly for clustered piers in churches, during the Early English period. The flint work of Norfolk, Suffolk, and part of the south coast gives pronounced local character to the churches of these districts, especially when, as in the Tudor period, the flints were " knapped " or split and shaped to form chequer work and traceried panels in walls. The fine oak forests of old England, especially in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Shropshire, provided another beautiful building material. Timber was specially serviceable for posts, beams, and braces of roofs, and for the fretted barge boards of gables, and it gives an intimate and attractive character to the half-timber houses which were such a marked development in the domestic architecture of later English Gothic (p. 386). Brickwork, which was an inevitable product of the clay in river valleys, had been made use of by the eminently practical Romans in their settlements in Britain ; but this material fell into disuse till it was again requisitioned in the latter part of the thirteenth century, chiefly in low-lying districts around London and in the eastern counties. Little Wenham Hall, Suffolk (end of 13th cent.), is probably the earliest existing brick building of this period, and Hampton Court is a world-famous pile of sixteenth-century brickwork. Terra - cotta ornament, . introduced by Italian craftsmen in the reign of Henry VIII, was employed by Giovanni da Majano for the medallion bas-reliefs at Hampton Court (p. 38o) and by Torrigiano for the celebrated tomb in the Rolls Chapel, London ; it also entered largely into the building of such houses as Layer Marney Towers, Essex (c. A.D. 1500–25), and Sutton Place, Guildford (A.D. 1523–25) (p. 385).

III. Climatic.—The temperate and humid English climate, with its searching winds and driving rain," has had its effect -upon the plan and certain features of buildings. Thus, whereas great western portals, opening direct into nave and aisles, are marked features of French cathedrals, porches in England are generally planned in the side aisles and are deep and narrow, so as to act as screens against the direct blast of the wind. The general dullness of the climate and the absence of strong sunlight contributed to the increased size of traceried windows which in late Gothic often stretch, as in S. George's Chapel, Windsor, across the whole width of the nave. The high-pitched roof to throw off snow and rain was another result of climatic conditions, and gave full scope internally for these elaborate timber roofs which are essentially English, while externally it accentuated the aspiring character of Gothic design.

IV. Religious.—Christianity had first made its way into Britain during the Roman occupation, and henceforth religion ranks as a paramount influence in the development of the architecture of this country. The following events indicate the status and development of Christianity in Britain which influenced architecture along ecclesiastical lines.

A.D. 304. The Martyrdom of S. Alban, the first British martyr.

A.D. 314. The Bishops of York and London are recorded as attending the Council of Arles.

A.D. 449-607. Christianity was blotted out and churches destroyed during these years of the Anglo-Saxon settlements.

A.D. 597. S. Augustine landed in England, converted the Kentish King Ethelbert and other kings of the Heptarchy and their people, and introduced the Benedictine Order of monks into England.

A.D. 603. The See of London was revived and the See of Rochester founded.

A.D. 656. The Benedictine Monastery of Peterborough was founded. A.D. 668-69o. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, divided England into bishoprics.

A.D. 674-684. Wilfred, Bishop of York, aided by Benedict Biscop, built churches of which remains still exist.

A.D. 700. Aldhelm of Sherborne built churches in the south, as at Bradford-on-Avon.

A.D. 790. The Benedictine Monastery of S. Albans was founded by Offa.

A.D. 871-899. King Alfred rebuilt monasteries destroyed during the Danish incursions.

A.D. 959-978. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, after directing the secular affairs of the kingdom, devoted himself to church government and the monastic revival.

A.D. 1017-35. King Canute founded the Monastery of Bury S. Edmunds.

A.D. 1061. Harold's collegiate church at Waltham consecrated.

A.D. 1042-66. Edward the Confessor's religious enthusiasm resulted in the building of Westminster Abbey.

A.D. 1066. William the Conqueror appointed Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury, and the newly imported bishops built magnificent cathedrals on the Norman model, though most English cathedrals formed part of monastic foundations (p. 244).

A.D. 1095. The First Crusade, preached by Peter the Hermit, followed by others, mark an era of religious zeal (p. 244).

A.D. 1129. The Knights Templars and the Knights of S. John were military religious orders—set up as a result of the Crusades—and they built a special type of round church (p. 245). The Cistercians built their first English monastery at Waverley, afterwards followed by Fountains and Kirkstall in Yorkshire.

A.D. 1174. William of Sens built the choir of Canterbury Cathedral. A.D. 1181. The Carthusians built their first English monastery at Witham A.D. 1217. The Dominicans (Blackfriars) came to England and were followed in A.D. 1224 by the Franciscans (Greyfriars) and in A.D. 1229 by the Carmelites (Whitefriars) and all built spacious churches for preaching.

A.D. 1376. John Wycliffe asserted the freedom of religious thought, protested against the dogmas of the papacy, and proclaimed the English Bible, instead of the Catholic Church, as the spiritual guide of the laity.

A.D. 1371-1404. William of Wykeham, the originator of the Perpendicular style, carried on building at Winchester Cathedral and College, New College, Oxford, and elsewhere.

A.D. 1536-4o.-Dissolution of the Monasteries, after which Henry VIII handed over many monastic estates to nobles and merchant princes, and this resulted in the erection of mansions and manor houses throughout England.

V. Social.

Pre-Roman period.

The earliest evidence of the existence of man on this island seems to be contained in the discovery of rudely shaped flint implements of the palolithic age. Then in the neolithic age came the so-called Iberians with polished stone arrowheads, scrapers, and knives ; and they built large stone, earth-covered " barrows " as sepulchral chambers. The great Celtic invasion followed in two successive waves, viz. Gaelic in the bronze age, and British in the iron age, and both in turn occupied the fertile southern parts of the island. The Celts, a branch of the Aryan family, were an enterprising race, sufficiently civilised to wear clothes with ornaments of gold, and to use metal weapons, besides being agriculturists, miners of tin and lead, and traders with other peoples. The megalithic circles of Avebury and Stonehenge (p. 3), often considered as monuments to the dead or as temples of the Druids, belong to this period.

Roman period (B.C. 55-A.D. 420).

B.C. 55. Julius Caesar landed in Britain, and his expeditions recorded in his " Commentaries " were introductory to the subsequent Roman occupation.

A.D. 43. Britain finally became a Roman colony, and progress was made in developing her natural resources such as tin, iron, and lead mines, and the mineral waters of Bath and elsewhere were exploited. Agriculture received an impetus, due to improved methods and to the settled government maintained by the Roman legions, while Roman dress and language were adopted by those in contact with the new rulers. Where the Romans planted their standards, there they erected buildings to maintain their system of civil administration and social life : and in Britain, as in other Roman colonies, their building enterprise has been demonstrated by the excavation of fora, basilicas, baths, temples, and villas, as at Bignor (Sussex), Darenth (Kent), Corstopitum (Northumberland), Fifehead-Neville (Dorset), Silchester (Hants), Chedworth (Gloucester), and Bath. On the military side there are vestiges of fortifications in the city walls of London, York, Lincoln, and Colchester, and the affix " chester " (Latin, castra = camp) signifies a Roman military settlement, as Winchester, Leicester, Gloucester, and Exeter. Roman roads were not only important for military purposes, but also for promoting civilisation by opening communications between different parts of the country.

The four. great roads in England were : (a) Watling Street from London to Wroxeter and northwards, via York to the Firth of Forth ; (b) Ermine Street from London, via Colchester to Lincoln and York ; (c) Fosse Way from Exeter, via Bath to Lincoln ; (d) Icknield Street from Bury S. Edmunds to Southampton.

A.D. 75-85. Agricola, Governor of Britain, built forts from the Clyde to the Forth.

A.D. 120. Hadrian built his stone wall, 70 miles long, from the Tyne to the Solway Firth.

A.D. 143. The wall of Antoninus Pius was rebuilt on the line of the forts of Agricola.

A.D. 208-211. The Emperor Septimius Severus, during his four years in Britain, strengthened Agricola's forts as the northern limit of Britain, but on his death at Eboracum (York) Hadrian's wall again became the boundary.

A.D. 420. After the departure of the Romans much of their work was destroyed by the invading barbarians, and the chief record of this period is in the writings of the Venerable Bede (A.D. 731).

Anglo-Saxon period (A.D. 449-1066).

A.D. 449-607. The Jutes settled in Kent, and Saxon kingdoms were formed in Sussex, Wessex, Essex, and Middlesex, while the Angles established themselves in East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The Britons, especially under King Arthur, offered strenuous resistance to the advance of these heathen invaders, but by A.D. 607 the latter had subdued the country as far west as the Severn and the Mersey.

A.D. 607-800. England became more settled under the " Heptarchy," of which Wessex, Mercia, and Northnmbria were the chief kingdoms. The conversion to Christianity of Saxon kings and their people (p. 313) is evidenced by the numerous churches, towers, and crosses of this period, many of which remain.

A.D. 802-827. Egbert, King of the West Saxons, and a friend of Charlemagne, subdued the other English kingdoms and the Welsh.

A.D. 871-899. Alfred the Great founded schools, encouraged trade, established a navy, and started the " English Chronicle."

A.D. 900-978. Edward the Elder utilised the " burhs " or fortified towns against the invading Danes and was the first to describe himself as King of the English.

A.D. 978-1017. The people were impoverished by the raising of " Danegeld."

A.D. 1042-66. Edward the Confessor, who was Norman by association and education, introduced Norman architecture and appointed the Abbot of Jumieges to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus Norman influence began before the Conquest.

Norman period (A.D. 1066-1154).

The Norman Conquest linked England to the Continent and introduced the feudal system, and feudal castles were built to strengthen the position of the Normans. Towns, which grew up round abbeys and castles, became trading centres, and through their merchant guilds laid the foundations of local government ; but villages continued to be mere collections of wooden huts. Settled government promoted the pursuit of learning which resulted in organised schools or universities, like that of Oxford under Henry II. French was the language of the Court till the thirteenth century, when, owing to the resentment created by the introduction of strangers by the Angevin kings, English began to supplant it, and the final fusion of the English and Normans took place. The Magna Charta (A.D. 1215) gave freedom to the Church, limited the king's power, and founded English liberty.

Plantagenet period (A.D. 1154—1399).

The framework of government by representatives of nobles, clergy, and commons was evolved, and the Privy Council formed, and in A.D. 1265 burgesses were first summoned to Leicester's Parliament.

A.D. 1265—84. The conquest of Wales led to further development in the planning and design of border castles.

A.D. 1272—1307. Edward I gave up the struggle for his foreign dominions in order to consolidate his position at home. Law was codified and administered by the Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, and Chancery ; while lawyers and schools of law rose in importance.

A.D. 1337. The export of wool was prohibited and foreign cloth workers were allowed to settle in England. This increased the prosperity of the country, as seen in the development of manor houses.

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were more fully organised under different faculties. Matthew Paris, a monk of S. Albans Abbey, wrote a Latin history of England up to A.D. 1258. Froissart (A.D. 1338—1410), the Frenchman at the English Court, chronicled incidents of the " Hundred Years' War " ; while Chaucer (A.D. 1340—1400) in his " Canter-bury Tales " supplies by far the most valuable materials possessed by any European country elucidating the manners, customs, and modes of life and thought of people during the Middle Ages. The English Bible translated by Wycliffe (A.D. 1320—84), which was largely circulated as the spiritual authority for the laity, also aided in standardising the English language.

A.D. 1362. The English language was used instead of French in parliamentary proceedings and in the law courts.

A.D. 1349—1381. The rise of the farmer class and of the free labourer after the " Black Death" (A.D. 1349), which had swept away one-third of the population, resulted in the Peasants' Revolt (A.D. 1381), and this produced social unrest in country places so that towns increased in importance.

Armour was varied under the Plantagenets by the introduction of solid plates which supplemented chain mail, and the use of knights' arms or devices called into existence the new science of heraldry which was to influence ornament in architecture.

Lancastrian period (A.D. 1399—1485).

Development in national life was continued, and even during the " Wars of the Roses " (A.D. 1455—85) Englishmen cultivated the land and lived the free life described in the contemporary "Paston letters." The demand for wool in the Netherlands encouraged sheep-farming in England, and the consequent prosperity led to the erection of large parish churches in sheep-rearing counties. Increase in home trade, development of foreign commerce, and the change from villeinage to free labour gave importance to the guilds which controlled craftsmanship. All this industrial activity promoted the building of moot halls, market halls, guildhalls, inns, and bridges, besides houses for successful yeomen and traders. The adoption of printing after its introduction by Caxton in A.D. 1477 gave new facilities for study and an impetus to the building of schools, like Winchester and Eton, and of colleges in the universities.

Tudor period (A.D. 1485—1558).

The accession of Henry VII united the Houses of York and Lancaster and gave a great impulse to the development of political institutions. A notable social feature was the decline of the clergy, as the one great Medieval profession, and the rise of successful lawyers, medical men, wealthy merchants, and yeomen, who were gradually absorbed into the landed gentry. This was accompanied by the establishment of Justices of the Peace who administered the law from their country houses and in Quarter Sessions. This upward movement, which was aided not only by the suppression of the monasteries and the distribution of their wealth amongst the new classes, but also by the spread of education and facilities for foreign travel, produced a national type of domestic architecture for houses of country squires which now display a new standard of comfort. The old nobility declined in importance, and thus the position of the monarchy was strengthened, especially through the Privy Council, which later, as the " Star Chamber," exercised wide judicial authority ; while the House of Commons was strengthened by representatives from new boroughs—changes which indicate a movement towards modern methods of life and government. Henry VIII introduced foreign artists, such as Da Trevigi, who was appointed Court architect ; Torrigiano, the sculptor, and Holbein, the painter and designer in wood and metal.

A.D. 1515—30. Cardinal Wolsey, who was also Lord Chancellor, built palaces, founded colleges, and patronised art. The writings of Colet and More reflect that breaking away from Mediaeval ideals which coincided with the last yet brilliant phase of English Gothic, known as Tudor architecture.

VI. Historical.

The varying history which influenced English architecture is here traced by salient dates and events which, though they may not be directly connected with architectural changes, help us to keep our touch on the pulse of that living art which is the outcome and expression of national fortunes.

B.C. 55. Julius Caesar's first expedition into Britain opened the way for that Roman influence which was to exercise such power in moulding English civil, judicial, literary, and artistic life.

A.D. 43. Expedition of the Emperor Claudius into Britain.

A.D. 84. Final conquest of Britain by Agricola, the General of Domitian.

A.D. 420. The Roman troops withdrew from Britain.

A.D. 449—607. The English (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) conquest of Britain was carried out amidst much internal strife.

A.D. 800-900. The Danish invasions mark a lapse into barbarism, when the country was a prey to constant invasion and ruthless pillage by hordes of heathen Danes, who plundered and destroyed churches and monasteries till defeated by Alfred the Great (A.D. 871—899), who laid the foundation of English unity.

A.D. 978-1042. A second series of Danish invasions resulted in the election in A.D. 1017 of Canute the Dane, as King, and his line lasted till A.D. 1042.

A.D. 1042. The accession of Edward the Confessor, son of the English King Ethelred, paved the way for the introduction of Norman architecture.

A.D. 1066. The Norman Conquest not only brought England into contact with Continental civilisation, but also inaugurated a great new era for England ; for whereas the Romans came and went, the Normans came and stayed, and their ultimate fusion with the old inhabitants produced a hardy, enterprising race which was no longer Anglo-Saxon or Norman, but English, and the same process took place in architectural development.

A.D. 1095-1254. The eight Crusades, which brought about inter-course between East and West, involved England in international movements, especially in the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion (A.D. 1189-99), who, during the third Crusade, was absent in the East for five years. The influence of the Crusades is seen in the type and fortification of castles ; in the impetus given to learning and to the universities, and in the foundation of the militant religious orders.

A.D. 1338-1453. The war with France, known as the " Hundred Years' War," was signalised by the campaigns of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, and the siege of Orleans, and finally resulted in the loss of the English possessions with the exception of Calais (A.D. 1453). Edward the Black Prince ruled in A.D. 1360 at Bordeaux as Prince of Aquitaine, and Henry VI of England was crowned King of France at Paris in A.D. 1431. The intercourse between the countries, which was inevitable when one king held his court both in London and Paris, could not fail to affect English architecture.

A.D. 1500. By the beginning of the sixteenth century new social conditions had already rendered the old feudal castle obsolete as an institution in national life, even before the general use of gunpowder, and new military methods made it further useless as a defensive fortress. Houses were now built not as castles, but as residences, such as Sutton Place, near Guildford (A.D. 1523-25), which is one of the earliest examples of a non-castellated domestic residence (p. 376).

A.D. 1520. Henry VIII and his courtiers visited the French King Francis I on the " Field of the Cloth of Gold," and on their return to England introduced the Renaissance style, which had recently been imported into France from Italy.

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