The Victorian era is certainly one of the greatest and most defined in the history of Britain. The Victorians achieved a lot in terms of technology, industry and innovation.
When we think of Victorian architecture, we think of eclectic nostalgia – an array of different styles which drew inspiration from the past, including the Renaissance Revival, Queen Anne Revival, Arts and Crafts, Gothic Revival, Italianate and Neoclassicism.
Victorian houses were built between 1837 and 1901, when Queen Victoria was on the throne – though the term Victorian is commonly applied for the periods immediately before and after her reign. During this time, Britain’s population doubled, resulting in the massive expansion of towns and housing that was very much delineated by class.
Typically, working class houses were rows of tightly packed terraces which were either built back-to-back so that the rooms had no rear windows, or as through houses, which usually had a two storey rear extension containing the kitchen and a small third bedroom and with a privy (or W.C.) in the back yard.
In contrast, the rich favoured large Victorian villas, which included bedrooms, dressing rooms, a W.C (though rarely a bathroom) and reception rooms. High ceilings were very much out of fashion, so horizontal lines (dado rails, picture rails, cornices above friezes) were used to give the impression of lower ceilings). Provision was made for servants in attic rooms and typically there would be a basement containing kitchen, scullery, pantry and larder. High ceilings, ornate plaster cornices and marble fireplaces were commonplace in these houses, which oozed respectability.
Inspired by different eras and styles, Victorian architects and builders began to apply elaborate, decorative features – quite the antithesis of the broad sweeps of carefully proportioned Georgian housing that went before. Although there was an array of styles, Victorian houses had a number of common characteristics:
- Made of brick with Flemish brick bonding
- Patterns in the brickwork made from coloured bricks
- Warm terracotta colours
- Roofs made of slate
- Bay or sash windows
- Stained glass in doorways and windows.
- Ornate porches
- Iron railings and decorative ironwork
- Gothic influences: spires, buttresses, pointed arch door surrounds and windows
- Medieval influences: fleurs de lys, heraldic motifs and quatrefoils
- Ornate marble, slate or cast-iron fireplaces, inset with patterned tiles
- Cornices above friezes
Windows are one of the most important, if not the most important, feature of a Victorian property. The Window Tax was halved in 1832 and then completely repealed in 1851, which encouraged the use of larger windows in Victorian homes. Sliding sash windows were still the norm, but the availability of cheap glass meant that larger individual panes were used with fewer glazing bars. Bay windows were also widely used – usually large and often incorporating Gothic and ecclesiastical motifs.
Victorian houses had painted external doors, unless they were made of hardwood. They usually had four panels but there sometimes two smaller glazed panels near the top. Later in the century, it was very popular to have stained and etched glass in these panels. Victorian front doors were often solidly made and not overly elaborate – a style which is still popular today.
With the expansion of the railways, materials could easily be transported around the country; towns comprised of buildings made from local materials were a thing of the past, and this development is one of the main reasons Victorian architecture is so consistent and identifiable across the country. Slate was the roofing material of choice, and is almost always found on a Victorian building. Another common feature of a Victorian roof is a finial, a small carved ornament found on the ridge (where two sides of a sloping or pitched roof meet) and gable ends.
Brickwork and pointing
To add interest to red brick walls, it was custom to use different coloured bricks in grey or beige to create patterns in the brick work, such as diamonds. Although ordinary cement had been invented by 1824, it was not in widespread use for another 100 years or so, meaning that lime mortar was often used on Victorian properties. If the building is rendered outside, it will be lime render. Interior plasters will be lime plasters.
Carpets featured elaborate, heavy patterns with colour schemes of dark green, red, pink and white, and often included motifs of birds or other animals. If your home was built during the earlier years of Victoria’s reign, consider parquet, which was very popular at this time. Encaustic tiles were also a staple of the era, as were black and white geometric designs. Some specialists stock reclaimed originals but there are plenty of modern options which replicate these traditional styles too so you’re sure to find the perfect option.
The first era where electricity became common in people’s houses, it’s not surprising that lighting played a big part in Victorian life and feature lighting was popular. Elegant brass and metal light fittings hanging from ceiling rosettes will draw the eye in any room. Ornate is the way to go, with chandeliers being a feature of the age.
Colours and Floral Prints
The Victorian era was very much an age of floral prints. Curtains and cushions were often in classic floral print designs, complementing the colour scheme. The more cushions you could have the better, with soft furnishings adding a feminine touch, indicating a time when women started to have more say in interior design and style. The Victorian era was known for its rich tones of paint, fabric and wallpaper. Dark greens, blues and reds will create the necessary rich and luxurious look and feel, especially when teamed with crisp white paintwork and ceilings.
Following on the heels of the Victorian period, came the Edwardian period.