Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
London Gothic
As my concern in this topic is solely with the more neglected, less appreciated aspects of
London, 'Gothic' in this chapter is that of the nineteenth-century middle ages. Medieval
architecture proper, of which London has many examples, has been adequately dealt with
elsewhere. I have already discussed one or two Gothic Revival buildings, notably St Pan-
cras Station, one of the many surviving in all parts of London. Only in comparatively re-
cent years has the architecture of the Gothic Revival received the appreciation it merits, and
with it the Victorian age itself, a period hard to get into focus. The conflicting currents of
ideas, taste, and attitudes fundamental to the nature of the age give it a Proteus-like char-
acter not easy to identify with exactness. All ages are ages of transition, but the Victorian
era was more radical than most and much of its achievement was experimental or tentative.
This many-sided character is, of course, one of the secrets of its fascination. We are in turn
appalled by the social conditions (though at the present time we have become over-touchy
and solicitous in such matters), impressed by the work of the engineers and engineer ar-
chitects, and we wonder at the apparent contradictions between the romantic spirit of the
age and its utilitarianism, to say no more. It is not my intention to unravel all these varied
threads, as, to paraphrase Pater, we ought to be too busy seeing and touching to theorise on
what we see and touch: one thing is certain and that is the Victorian age, especially in the
1850s and '60s, was capable of the highest romantic art. The Pre-Raphaelite movement is
a sufficient proof of that. Their paintings - such as 'Autumn Leaves', 'April Love', and the
'English Autumn Afternoon' - certain poems by Morris and Patmore and the illustrations
of the '60s lead us into an enchanted world, possessing a curious half-melancholy power
over the mind. This was one aspect, and the most important, of nineteenth-century romanti-
cism; another was the Gothic Revival. It is odd that the Pre-Raphaelites had little interest in
contemporary Gothic; in general they considered it mere copyism or servility. But the Goth-
ic movement produced some highly original work in the hands of such men as Street and
Butterfield, and it is easier now at this distance in time to appreciate the genuine romant-
ic strains in nineteenth-century medievalism. Sometimes one can feel it in a sudden rush. I
have often felt it myself, looking deep into the period and experiencing its Gothic fervour,
when studying such churches as Butterfield's All Saints in Margaret Street near the BBC.
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