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Architecture of the United Kingdom

British Architecture - Stonehenge
Stonehenge

The United Kingdom is home to one of the world's oldest structures in Stonehenge, which was built in about 3100 BC and makes an easy day trip from London. The next lasting influence came from the Romans, but little remains from their rule other than pieces of Hadrian's Wall (c. 100 AD).

Great Britain again came to power in the 1000s after the Norman Invasion of 1066. Just a decade later the Tower of London was being constructed and this Romanesque castle is still a symbol of power, based around the White Tower (1078), although later additions have been added multiple times. Another Romanesque castle from this time is Durham Castle (1000s), which was built to protect the northern border, while nearby Durham Cathedral (1093–1133) is a great example of a Romanesque church in the United Kingdom.

British Architecture - Detail on Westminster Abbey in London
Westminster Abbey

Despite initial Norman power, their kingdom didn't secure power and begin massive building until about a century later when their expanding kingdom was more stable. The many buildings constructed in the mid-1000s and into the 1200s were generally a combination of Romanesque and Gothic or were older Romanesque buildings with Gothic decorations added. Many of the most impressive of these structures were cathedrals, including the famous Westminster Abbey (actually built before the Normans in 1050–65, but many of its gothic features were added in the 1200s) and Canterbury Cathedral (1070), which is again a Romanesque construction with Gothic decorations. Outside churches, there were a number of military fortifications from this time, perhaps the best are the castles and walls (1272–1307) in Gwynedd, Wales.

British Architecture - Tower of London
Tower of London

Also during the Gothic time period, there are a couple sub-styles, including the English Decorative and the Perpendicular styles. The Perpendicular style is best represented in the choir at Gloucester Cathedral (1089–1499) which is a Romanesque-Gothic building. The Decorative style can be seen in the choirs at both Lincoln Cathedral (1185-1311) and at Exeter Cathedral (1112-1400).

In the 1500s the Renaissance arrived to England, but the Gothic style still dominated the country through the next couple centuries. This was, in part, due to the fact that in 1534 English King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church (located in Italy, the home to the Renaissance). Of the buildings that were influenced by the Renaissance, most were built during Queen Elizabeth I's rule (1558–1603) and hence are called Elizabethan, not Renaissance. Among these are Kirby Hall (began in 1570) near Gretton, Wollaton Hall (1580-1588), Hardwick Hall (1590-1597) in Derbyshire, and Montacute House (c. 1598) in South Somerset.

British Architecture - Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Baroque made only a slightly greater impact than the Renaissance did in the United Kingdom. Castle Howard (1699-1712) in North Yorkshire is truly more of a palace than a castle and Blenheim Palace (1705-1722) near Oxford are both fine English country homes in this style. Other constructions were also primarily built in the Baroque style, including churches, such as St. Paul's Cathedral (1675–1711) in London and public buildings, including Greenwich Hospital (now known as the Old Royal Naval College within the Maritime Greenwich complex; 1696-1712).

As already mentioned, the Gothic style continued throughout the United Kingdom in the 1500s up until the 1800s and the Gothic buildings constructed during this time are often considered neo-Gothic, Gothic Revival, or Gothic Survival. This style became so popular that it is nearly impossible to go anywhere in England, Scotland, or Wales without seeing multiple examples in the style from this time period; in fact some of England's most famous buildings are from this time. London's Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (technically called the Palaces of Westminster; re-built 1840-1870) are in this style as is much of Windsor Castle (re-modeled in 1824).

British Architecture - Ironbridge Gorge
Ironbridge Gorge

There are numerous university buildings in the Gothic Revival style, including King's College (1824-1827) at Cambridge, much of Glasgow University (1866–1871), and Balliol College (1867–69) at Oxford. A few houses and castles are also in the style, including Strawberry Hill (1747) in Twickenham, Port Eliot (1804-1806) in Cornwall, Ravensworth Castle (1808) in Durham, Eastnor Castle (1810-1815) in Herefordshire, and Cardiff Castle (1865) in Wales. Finally, there are numerous religious building in the style, but some of the most impressive were original Gothic structures that were renovated in the neo-Gothic style, the most impressive of these being Lacock Abbey (1200s; renovated in the 1750s) in Wiltshire.

British Architecture - Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

Much like the Gothic style, the United Kingdom is also riddled with buildings in the neo-Classical style, which flourished in the late 1700s and the early 1800s. Again, some of these monuments are rather well known, including London's British Museum (1824-1847) and aspects of Buckingham Palace (1825–30). Scotland also became a center for the movement, most notably Edinburgh, whose New Town is almost entirely in this style. Additionally, many other buildings in the style had neo-Classical facades added to already constructed buildings and, like the neo-Gothic style, it is difficult to visit any city in the United Kingdom without seeing at least a couple neo-Classical buildings.

The final great architectural movement in the United Kingdom came with the Industrial Revolution and that revolution's gift of providing new materials and techniques for the construction of new buildings. The Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s in the United Kingdom so many buildings, including some of the neo-Gothic and neo-Classical buildings mentioned above were built using these new materials and constructions.

British Architecture - Country home
Country home

More than being used to re-construct historic styles, the movement made glass, steel, and concrete common building materials and there is no shortage of examples in the United Kingdom. This begins with the Bridge over Ironbridge Gorge (1775-1779) in Shropshire, which was the world's first cast iron bridge and the symbol of the Industrial Revolution. Other structures, which may be more symbolic of the style rather than ideal examples, include Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (1805) in Wales and the towns of Saltaire (1851) in West Yorkshire and New Lanark (thrive in the early 1800s) in South Lanarkshire.

In addition to these symbolic constructions, modern day United Kingdom has dozens of modern buildings and skyscrapers in every city, which were possible due to the Industrial Revolution. Due to the bombings in London during World War II, much of London is modern, although in many areas historic looks trumped modern design.

This page was last updated: May, 2014