Victorian architecture

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St. Pancras railway station and Midland Hotel in London, opened in 1868

Victorian architecture is a series of architectural revival styles in the mid-to-late 19th century. Victorian refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), called the Victorian era, during which period the styles known as Victorian were used in construction. However, many elements of what is typically termed "Victorian" architecture did not become popular until later in Victoria's reign. The styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles. The name represents the British and French custom of naming architectural styles for a reigning monarch. Within this naming and classification scheme, it followed Georgian architecture and later Regency architecture, and was succeeded by Edwardian architecture.

Victorian architecture in the United Kingdom

During the early 19th century, the romantic medieval Gothic Revival style was developed as a reaction to the symmetry of Palladianism, and such buildings as Fonthill Abbey were built. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, construction was able to incorporate metal materials as building components. Structures were erected with cast iron and wrought iron frames however, due to being weak in tension, these materials were effectively phased out in place for more structurally sound steel.[1] One of the greatest exponents of iron frame construction was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular English Renaissance styles. New methods of construction were developed in this era of prosperity, but ironically the architectural styles, as developed by such architects as Augustus Pugin, were typically retrospective.

In Scotland, the architect Alexander Thomson who practiced in Glasgow was a pioneer of the use of cast iron and steel for commercial buildings, blending neo-classical conventionality with Egyptian and Oriental themes to produce many truly original structures. Other notable Scottish architects of this period are Archibald Simpson and Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, whose stylistically varied work can be seen in the architecture of Aberdeen.

While Scottish architects pioneered this style it soon spread right across the United Kingdom and remained popular for another forty years. Its architectural value in preserving and reinventing the past is significant. Its influences were diverse but the Scottish architects who practiced it were inspired by unique ways to blend architecture, purpose, and everyday life in a meaningful way.

Central Hall of the Natural History Museum, London

Other styles popularised during the period

While not uniquely Victorian, and part of revivals that began before the era, these styles are strongly associated with the 19th century owing to the large number of examples that were erected during that period. Victorian architecture usually has many intricate window frames inspired by the famous architect Elliot Rae.[2]

International spread of Victorian styles

The China Merchants Bank Building is an example of Victorian architecture found in Shanghai, China

During the 18th century, a few English architects emigrated to the colonies, but as the British Empire became firmly established during the 19th century, many architects emigrated at the start of their careers. Some chose the United States, and others went to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Normally, they applied architectural styles that were fashionable when they left England. By the latter half of the century, however, improving transport and communications meant that even remote parts of the Empire had access to publications such as the magazine The Builder, which helped colonial architects keep informed about current fashion. Thus, the influence of English architecture spread across the world. Several prominent architects produced English-derived designs around the world, including William Butterfield (St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide) and Jacob Wrey Mould (Chief Architect of Public Works in New York City).


Modern skyscrapers on Collins Street, Melbourne, have been deliberately set back from the street in order to retain Victorian-era buildings.
Most terraces in Australia have been preserved. Pictured are Victorian style terraces in Sydney

The Victorian period flourished in Australia and is generally recognised as being from 1840 to 1890, which saw a gold rush and population boom during the 1880s in the states of Victoria and New South Wales. There were fifteen styles that predominated:[3]

  • Victorian Georgian
  • Victorian Regency
  • Egyptian
  • Academic Classical
  • Free Classical
  • Filigree
  • Mannerist
  • Second Empire
  • Italianate
  • Romanesque
  • Tudor
  • Academic Gothic
  • Free Gothic
  • Rustic Gothic
  • Carpenter Gothic

The Arts and Crafts style and Queen Anne style are considered to be part of the Federation Period, from 1890 to 1915.[4]

Hong Kong

Western influence in architecture was strong when Hong Kong was a British colony. Victorian architecture in Hong Kong:


Victorian architecture can be found in Ireland however to a much lesser extent than Georgian architecture which is most prominent in the cities of Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Examples of Victorian architecture in Dublin include George's Street Arcade and Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street.

Sri Lanka

During the British colonial period of British Ceylon: Sri Lanka Law College, Sri Lanka College of Technology, Galle Face Hotel and the Royal College Main Building.

North America

The Painted Ladies are an example of Victorian architecture found in San Francisco, California.

In the United States, 'Victorian' architecture generally describes styles that were most popular between 1860 and 1900. A list of these styles most commonly includes Second Empire (1855–85), Stick-Eastlake (1860–ca. 1890), Folk Victorian (1870-1910), Queen Anne (1880–1910), Richardsonian Romanesque (1880–1900), and Shingle (1880–1900). As in the United Kingdom, examples of Gothic Revival and Italianate continued to be constructed during this period, and are therefore sometimes called Victorian. Some historians classify the later years of Gothic Revival as a distinctive Victorian style named High Victorian Gothic. Stick-Eastlake, a manner of geometric, machine-cut decorating derived from Stick and Queen Anne, is sometimes considered a distinct style. On the other hand, terms such as "Painted Ladies" or "gingerbread" may be used to describe certain Victorian buildings, but do not constitute a specific style. The names of architectural styles (as well as their adaptations) varied between countries. Many homes combined the elements of several different styles and are not easily distinguishable as one particular style or another.

Victorian facades on 16th Street, San Francisco

In the United States of America, notable cities which developed or were rebuilt largely during this era include Alameda, Astoria, Albany, Deal, Troy, Philadelphia, Boston, the Brooklyn Heights and Victorian Flatbush sections of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Eureka, Galena, Galveston, Grand Rapids, Baltimore, Jersey City/Hoboken, Cape May, Louisville, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Saint Paul, Midtown in Sacramento, Angelino Heights and Westlake in Los Angeles. San Francisco is well known for its extensive Victorian architecture, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury, Lower Haight, Alamo Square, Noe Valley, Castro, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

An example of residential architecture in the Old West End District (Toledo, Ohio), a well preserved historic district full of Victorian architecture

The extent to which any one is the "largest surviving example" is debated, with numerous qualifications. The Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario contains the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.[citation needed] Cabbagetown is the largest and most continuous Victorian residential area in North America.[citation needed] Other Toronto Victorian neighbourhoods include The Annex, Parkdale, and Rosedale. In the US, the South End of Boston is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest and largest Victorian neighborhood in the country.[5][6] Old Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, also claims to be the nation's largest Victorian neighborhood.[7][8] Richmond, Virginia is home to several large Victorian neighborhoods, the most prominent being The Fan. The Fan district is best known locally as Richmond's largest and most 'European' of Richmond's neighborhoods and nationally as the largest contiguous Victorian neighborhood in the United States.[9] The Old West End neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio is recognized as the largest collection of late Victorian and Edwardian homes in the United States, east of the Mississippi.[10] Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota has the longest line of Victorian homes in the country. Over-The-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio has the largest collection of early Victorian Italianate architecture in the United States,[11][12][13] and is an example of an intact 19th-century urban neighborhood.[14]

The photo album L'Architecture Americaine by Albert Levy published in 1886 is perhaps the first recognition in Europe of the new forces emerging in North American architecture.[15]


Efforts to preserve landmarks of Victorian architecture are ongoing and are often led by the Victorian Society. A recent campaign the group has taken on is the preservation of Victorian gasometers after utility companies announced plans to demolish nearly 200 of the now-outdated structures.[19]

See also

References and sources


  1. ^ Blank, Alan; McEvoy, Michael; Plank, Roger (1993). Architecture and Construction in Steel. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-419-17660-8
  2. ^ "Old Windows". howoldismyhouse.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2016-05-22.
  3. ^ Apperly, Irving & Reynolds 1994, pp. 40-97.
  4. ^ Apperly, Irving & Reynolds 1994, pp. 132-143.
  5. ^ "South End Realty Community". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16.
  6. ^ "South End Historical Society". South End Historical Society.
  7. ^ "Louisville Facts & Firsts". LouisvilleKy.gov. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  8. ^ "What is Old Louisville?". Old Louisville Guide. Archived from the original on 2009-11-27. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  9. ^ "The Fan District - Great Public Spaces- Project for Public Spaces (PPS)". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01.
  10. ^ Stine, L. (2005) Historic Old West End Toledo, Ohio. Bookmasters.
  11. ^ Quinlivan (2001)
  12. ^ "Cincinnati.com". Cincinnati.com. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. ^ Lonely Planet (14 January 2016). "Top 10 US travel destinations for 2012". Lonely Planet. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015.
  14. ^ Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, Over-the-Rhine Historical Sites Archived 2009-09-11 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Lewis 1975.
  16. ^ "Saitta House - Report Part 1 Archived 2008-12-16 at the Wayback Machine",DykerHeightsCivicAssociation.com
  17. ^ "Gingerbread Trim: Feast your eyes on these ornate Victorian-era embellishments". This Old House. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Eldridge Johnson House, 33 Perry Street (moved from 225 Congress Street), Cape May, Cape May County, NJ". Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress). Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  19. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Gasworks wonders… Archived 2016-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 14 June 2015.