Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Such occasions, poignant and intensely vivid, have a way, momentarily, of eradicating the
passage of time.
I do not propose to burden the general reader with a history of the Gothic Revival, but it
is necessary to have a little knowledge of it in order to enjoy it properly. It has a complex
history, but can be briefly stated as a part of the wider romantic movement which spread
over Europe in the nineteenth century, having its beginnings before the classically inspired
period of Wincklemann and Goethe had lost its momentum. Romantic art is at any time a
possibility in England; therefore one cannot say where the period ends; it is always latent!
Liverpool Cathedral, still under construction, is Gothic Revival, but the fire has gone out
of it; imposing at a distance, it is cold, hard, and formal. Like Esperanto, it betrays no en-
thusiasm, no accidents, no history. For size and general scale, Liverpool Cathedral might
be compared with the earliest large-scale use of revived Gothic, the Houses of Parliament.
(Lovers of London, especially Gothic London, can congratulate themselves that the Parlia-
ment buildings were built at this mid-way period of the revival; the later more correct but
academic Gothic of Sir Gilbert Scott would have been disastrous in Westminster.) Where
Liverpool is dry and calculating, the Palace of Westminster, every inch of which was de-
signed by Pugin (Barry was responsible for the plan and general arrangements), reflects
the fervour and enthusiasm of a Gothic fanatic, which is what Pugin was. This gives life
and authenticity to the carved work, overcoming to a large extent the lack of Gothic ex-
perience of the masons employed.
Earlier still, and one of the most successful buildings of the Gothic Revival, is St Luke's,
Chelsea, where Dickens was married. It is the very essence of the early revival, and was
designed by John Savage in 1819 and completed in 1824. It was one of a number built
by the Government under the Church Building Act for the rapidly growing districts. Since
Classic styles were still employed, particularly those of the Greek Revival, many of the
churches built under the act were at least Classic in intention. Several, such as St John's,
Waterloo Road, have distinct architectural qualities. But Gothic architecture, being little
understood, produced some weird churches in London and the provinces; 'Commission-
ers' Gothic' the style came to be called. Nearly all were so utilitarian as to be eminently
unromantic, but I have in general a liking for them, especially when, furred with soot in the
north of England, they tower over a manufacturing town, over the chip and tripe shops and
pigeon-haunted backyards. Such Gothic fancies deserve greater study than has been giv-
en to them. St Luke's, Chelsea, is a notable design and of unusually solid construction for
the period. It is an exciting design, and one much enhanced by the honey-coloured stone
employed which has weathered to exactly the right condition. The afternoon sun, picking
out the flying buttresses from a brown shadow, highlights the panelled tower all the way
up, creating an impression like that of a nineteenth-century steel engraving. This effect is
aided by the spacious setting with well grown trees in the wide churchyard garden. Savage
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