European Architectural Design
English Gothic Architecture

History, Characteristics of Decorated & Perpendicular Styles.

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Salisbury Cathedral, West Facade
This English cathedral is one of the
leading examples of Early English
architecture, and a fine illustration
of medieval art of the 13th century.
Most of it was built in a mere
38 years, from 1220 to 1258.

English Gothic Architecture (c.1180-1520)
Includes 19th Century Gothic Revival


History and Characteristics
Early English Gothic (1180-1250)
Decorated Gothic (1250-1350)
Perpendicular Gothic (1350-1520)
More Articles on Medieval Art

For more about the development of construction design,
see: History of Architecture (3,000 BCE - present).

York Minster, West Facade.
An excellent example of English
Decorated Gothic architecture.
Note the elaborate tracery on the
main window.

Gloucester Cathedral - a typical example
of Perpendicular Gothic architecture.


For a guide, see:
Architecture Glossary.


In England during late 12th century, the old style of Romanesque architecture (known as "Norman architecture") was gradually replaced with a new style known as Gothic architecture, emanating from France. This new Gothic style flourished in England from about 1180 until about 1520, and evolved in a similar way to its French counterpart. There are three main periods of English Gothic: (1) "Early English Gothic" (1180-1250). (2) "Decorated Gothic" (1250-1350), separated into the "Geometric" style (1250–90) and the "Curvilinear" style (1290–1350). (3) "Perpendicular Gothic" (1350-1520). Like Continental Gothic, the English variety is characterized by its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, flying buttresses, enlarged windows, and spires. Introduced from France, where it first came together in the choir of Abbot Suger's Saint-Denis Basilica north of Paris, dedicated in June 1144. In England, the first large-scale application of English Gothic architecture occurred at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, while a good example of how it evolved naturally from Norman architecture can be seen at Durham Cathedral which has the earliest-known pointed rib vault. Gothic art took root in England some 50 years later than it did in France, but it endured for longer. In fact it continued to flourish in England for a century after Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) designed the dome of Florence Cathedral (1420-36) thus formulating the principles of Renaissance architecture that kickstarted the cultural revolution of the quattrocento. Many of England's medieval cathedrals were built in the Gothic style, but so were numerous castles, palaces, universities and great houses. Although it declined in the sixteenth century, English Gothic reappeared three centuries later during the Gothic Revival, one of the most popular movements of 19th century architecture (1820-1900). Promoted by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), the Gothic Revival style was exemplified in England by the Houses of Parliament (1840), designed by Charles Barry and AWN Pugin.

History and Characteristics

Early English Gothic (1180-1250)

As mentioned above, Early English Gothic architecture began to replace Norman architecture from about 1180, and lasted until about 1250 when it gave way to "Decorated Gothic". Like the early forms of Gothic on the Continent, the English variety arose out of the efforts of cathedral architects and masons to redistribute the downward and outward thrust of the vault, so as to build higher without the danger of collapse.

However, in some respects Early English Gothic cathedrals were significantly "less Gothic" than their French counterparts. For example, they had heavier, thicker walls - not terribly different from the style of Romanesque art of the late 11th century. But the style was characterized above all by the pointed arch (or "lancet"). Pointed arches were employed not merely in wide-span arches such as those covering the nave arcade, but also for doors and windows. One of the best examples of Early English Gothic is Salisbury Cathedral, as it was built over a fairly short period (largely between 1220 to 1258), and (except for its 14th century facade, tower and spire) is relatively uncontaminated by other styles. Other examples include the nave and transept of Wells Cathedral (1225—1240); the Galilee porch at Ely Cathedral; the transept of Rochester Cathedral, and the south transept at York.

For a comparison with French Gothic, see: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (1163-1345) and Chartres Cathedral (1194-1250).

Decorated Gothic (1250-1350)

The Decorated Period in English Gothic architecture (comprising the Geometric style 1250–90, followed by the Curvilinear style 1290–1350) is characterised above all by its window tracery. Increasingly elaborate windows began to appear, subdivided by narrowly spaced parallel mullions (vertical bars of stone), typically up to the point at which the arched top of the window starts. The mullions then spread out and intersect to cover the top part of the window with an intricate mesh of patterns, usually including trefoils and quatrefoils. The two phases of Decorated Gothic (Geometric and Curvilinear) are named after the type of tracery pattern (geometrical or flowing) which dominated at the time. (See also: English Gothic Sculpture of the period.)

In addition to tracery, Decorated Gothic interiors characteristically featured tall columns with a more slender and elegant appearance than in previous periods. Vaults became more elaborate, and employed an increasing number of ribs. Initially this was for structural reasons, but then it became a matter of aesthetics. Furthermore, arches become equilateral, and dog-tooth motifs are replaced by the ballflower and a four-leaved flower. Detailed carving reached its peak during the Curvilinear period, with intricately carved windows and capitals, and tracery based on floral patterns as well as the ogee, or S-shaped curve, with its flowing, flamelike shapes.

Note: the Decorated style of English Gothic broadly corresponds to Rayonnant Gothic architecture in France. See Sainte Chapelle, Paris (1241-1248). For a comparison with German Gothic, see: Cologne Cathedral (1248-1880).

An excellent example of of English Gothic Decorated architecture is the nave and west front of York Minster: see, in particular, the tracery on the main window. Other outstanding examples include: sections of the cloister of Westminster Abbey; the east ends of Carlisle and Lincoln Cathedrals; and the west front of Lichfield Cathedral. A good deal of Exeter Cathedral is also built in this style, as is the crossing of Ely Cathedral.

Perpendicular Gothic (1350-1520)

The Perpendicular Period in English Gothic architecture is characterised by a predominance of vertical lines, especially in the stone tracery of windows. It first emerged around 1350 in works by the royal architects John Sponlee (d.1386) and William Ramsey (active 1323-1349), and reached its mature form in the building designs of master masons Henry Yevele (c.1320-1400) and William Wynford (active 1360–1405). Its verticality is especially noticeable in the design of its enlarged windows, with slimmer stone mullions than in previous periods, allowing greater opportunity and scope for stained glass craftsmen. The mullions are aligned vertically up into the arch moulding of the windows, while the upper section is subdivided into rectangular compartments by additional mullions and transoms, known as panel tracery. Buttresses and wall surfaces are similarly partitioned into vertical panels. The structural and aesthetic development of the vault reached its pinnacle during the era of Perpendicular Gothic, in the form of elaborate star-shaped lierne vaults, culminating ultimately in the appearance of the fan vault - see, for instance, the chapel of King's College, Cambridge (1446–1515), which contains the largest fan vault in the world.

Note: the Perpendicular style of English Gothic broadly corresponds to Flamboyant Gothic architecture in France.

Several of the earliest examples of English Perpendicular Gothic architecture, dating back to 1360, can be seen at Gloucester Cathedral, whose cloisters' fan-vaulting is particularly striking. Other examples include: the nave, west transepts and crossing tower of Canterbury Cathedral (1378–1411); the choir and tower of York Minster (1389–1407); Manchester Cathedral (1422); the transept and tower of Merton College, Oxford (1424–50); and Eton College Chapel, (1448–1482). During the 19th century Gothic Revival, the Perpendicular style was used in the design of the rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and Wills Memorial Building, Bristol University (1915–25).

More Articles on Medieval Art

Medieval Sculpture (300-1000) From Late Antiquity to Romanesque.

Medieval Christian Art (600-1200) Illuminated texts, sculpture.

Carolingian Art (c.750-900) Architecture, sculpture, book-painting.

Ottonian Art (900-1050) Architecture, ivory carvings, illuminations.

Gothic Illuminated Manuscripts (c.1150-1350) Throughout Europe.

German Gothic Art (c.1200-1450) Architecture, wood-carving, glass art.

International Gothic Art (c.1375-1450) Courtly style of arts & crafts.

Gothic Revival (c.1800-1900)

The Gothic style of architecture staged a comeback in both England and the United States during the 19th century. This was partly a response to the severity of Neoclassical architecture; partly because the influential art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) championed medieval craftsmanship in his books Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and Stones of Venice (1853); partly because of the inspirational writings of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79); and partly a reflection of the Anglo-Saxon appreciation for Romanticism (as in the novels of Sir Walter Scott) and decorative art in interior and exterior designs. In any event, the style gained no traction on the Continent. English Gothic Revival architecture is exemplified by buildings like: the Houses of Parliament) (1840), designed by Charles Barry and AWN Pugin; and the country house Fonthill Abbey, designed by James Wyatt. In North America, the style is exemplified by New York's Trinity Church (1840), designed by Richard Upjohn (1802-78); St Patrick's Cathedral (1859-79), designed by James Renwick (1818-95); St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church (1872) in Charlestown SC, designed by John Henry Devereux; Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, designed by architect Bertram Goodhue (1918-24); and Parliament Hill government buildings, Ottowa, designed in 1858 by two teams of architects who included Thomas Fuller, Chilion Jones, Thomas Stent, and Augustus Laver. For the effects of the Gothic style on modern structures in England and America, see: Nineteenth Century Architecture (1800-1900).


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