Guild guide to doing it old style

FOR those of us who remember anaglypta wallpaper painted in dark brown gloss and the damp, stuffy, front rooms of our grandparents, Victorian styling can be a turn-off.

Still, silent convents with lancet doorways and pitch pine joinery, creaky old hospitals in brown and cream were the first introduction to Victorian architecture for a vast majority.

However, these are just the institutional remnants of a long and interesting architectural period which saw the transition to mass production from individual craftsmanship. This was also the time when the concept of ‘home’, as in ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ was fleshed out and began to evolve into the modern perception of the phrase.

Now in its third edition, The Victorian House Book is not only a guide to the architecture of this period but also offers a broad sketch of the history and sociology of the era as a backdrop to explaining the exuberance of Victorian architectural styles.

It also acts as a practical guide to the repair and decoration of the many types of Victorian homes, and detailed technical drawings are offered side by side with luscious glossy pictures of exteriors and interiors.

Written by Robert Guild, a successful English interior designer and co-founder of the Designer’s Guild, the book differs from other coffee table productions in that it takes just one theme and runs with it.

As well as offering an introduction to the architecture of the period to browsers and owners of similar properties, it also has enough detail to satisfy the architect and builder.

Contributors include Vernon Gibberd, an architect whose private practice has overseen a number of restoration projects and who has written and illustrated booklets for the National Trust.

The consultant for the book is Charles McKean, Professor of Scottish Architectural History at Dundee, who has a number of published works on architectural topics under his belt and who was at one stage architectural correspondent of The Times.

The book is sensibly broken down into various headings, with suitable illustrations for each topic, but it is the informal, conversational style of Guild that lifts this book above the average.

When an author is so at ease with his topic, the reader is given an easy ride and finds he ends up knowing a lot more of the subject, even with just a casual perusal, than he did before.

Also, the various technical drawings are good with the flourishes and features of the style instantly recognizable.

While the emphasis is essentially on English architecture, the book also includes the American Victorian dwelling.

Built entirely of timber in a balloon frame that is unique to America, this style, called Carpenter’s Gothic, was a natural response to demand in the expanding mid-West in much the same way that the industrialisation of Britain saw the appearance of the large-scale development.

Guild places the evolution of Victorian architecture with the rapid economic growth of the mid-1800s. Saved from the revolutionary turmoil of the Continent, Britain surged ahead of her competitors, while at the same time the industrial revolution transformed a primarily rural population into an urban one.

The population of towns grew rapidly and the rise of the railways saw the beginning of the middle-class suburbs.

Hand in hand with this expansion went a hankering for a rural idyll, which, according to Guild, fused Walter Scott and a romantic notion of a ‘Merrie England’ in the middle and upper class imagination.

“The love for new technology, combined with a longing for a rosier past, a distrust of intellectuals, coupled with a reverence for cultural high priests, materialism welded to religious puritanism - all these are evident in any survey of their art and architecture.”

Queen Victoria’s reign was so long that changing architectural fashions can be confusing, but Guild divides them logically and broadly into three main periods.

The first is the Late Regency period between 1830 and 1840 when classicism still prevailed. High Victorian runs through 1850-1870 and it was here that the Gothic, Elizabethan and Jacobean styles came into fashion.

Finally, the Late Victorian period, from 1870 onwards, was where eclectic experimentation led to the Arts and Crafts movement and the Queen Anne revival.

First published in 1989 (at the beginning of the short, sharp Victorian revival) as the Complete Victorian House, this is a comprehensive tome where nothing is too small to mention, so details and descriptions of door furniture are given an equal footing with doors. Each particular part of the structure of a house is given a separate chapter and there are additional illustrations of interior styles and decoration, including garden design and furniture.

Priced at Stg £30.00, the book is published by Sheldrake Press.

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up