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The Georgian Era (1714-1830)
Why did Georgian domestic architecture flourish?

2014 marks the 300th anniversary of George I’s accession to the throne and the start of what has become the most desirable period in English architecture, the Georgian era.  The beautiful elegant light symmetrical town and county houses were not just pleasing to the eye they also demonstrated the status of the owner.

It is perhaps wrong to attribute the change in architectural style to the influence of the House of Hanover as there were already clear indications of a change in domestic architecture during the reign of Queen Anne.  However, there were a number of events at this time which were to influence the building of houses for over a century.

The Fire of London in 1666 had bought about the first of a succession of Building Acts.  Not surprisingly the first act passed in 1667 related particularly to London properties and stipulated they had to be built of stone and brick rather than timber which had proved to be so inflammable.   As the legislation developed the influence spread beyond London and the quality of building improved significantly which accounts for the fact that so many Georgian houses still stand

The Grand Tour of Europe undertaken by the aristocracy and landed gentry almost as a final part of a young man’s education had enormous influence.  Both land owners and architects were keen to embrace the classical elements of scale and design and demonstrate a breadth of knowledge and culture.

Publishing and printing on a large scale had become far easier and this resulted in the very latest designs and fashions being readily available, not just to architects and craftsmen in London and the other major cities but right across the country.  In 1738 Palladio’s book on architecture was republished.  This was followed by a number of ‘pattern books’ of which those produced by “Batty” Langley were the most prolific and potentially the ones produced by the Adam brothers the most recognised today.  These pattern books enabled local skilled craftsmen to reproduce in detail not just the basic layout of the most fashionable town houses but scaled down versions of the grand country houses of the time.  It also enabled them to copy the exact designs of fireplaces, ceilings and staircases right down to the smallest detail.

The contribution made by local skilled craftsmen could well be regarded as being just as significant as the works of the great architects of the period.  The amazing houses designed by Kent, Vanbrugh, Nash, Soane, Adam and other leading architects of the period highlight the pinnacle of a golden era.  However, the fact that a vast number of Georgian houses were built right across the country on a far more modest scale without compromising the basic classical principals has had a lasting impact on English domestic architecture.

Finally there was the impact of the Treaty of Utrecht which was signed in 1713.  After decades of being at war, either with France or Spain, England was at long last at peace.  The rise of the merchant class, the ability to trade more easily across the world and the prospect of increased wealth resulted in what in today’s terms would have been considered a building boom.  The 1720s saw a remarkable increase in housing, not just in London but in a number of cities and in the countryside.  Importantly, because there was greater awareness of the need to build higher quality houses, a significant number of vicarages, country houses, terraces and crescents have survived to be enjoyed today.

Dawn Carritt
Director
Jackson-Stops & Staff
020 7664 6646