Friday, December 30, 2011

Brick Victorian Gothic

click photo to enlarge
The building in today's photograph, the former Christian Association & Literary Institute at Spalding, Lincolnshire, was built in 1874, the end of the Mid-Victorian period in English architecture, when the "battle of the styles" between Classical and Gothic had been won by the Gothicists, and when common brick had been widely accepted as a suitable material in which to build even the grandest, most noble of structures. This particular building isn't grand, nor is it noble, but it does exhibit a feature that was rampant at the time, and which in later years would cause architectural historians to look down their noses at much that the Victorians built in England, namely exuberance!

That denigratory attitude continues in some quarters today. For example, this former institute has not been awarded Listed Building status despite the fact that it remains very much as it was built, is a fine regional and local example of a building style that was once common, and is, to my mind, one of the most interesting Victorian exteriors in the town. If it was the work of a major architect - a Scott, Butterfield, Pearson or Burges - it would have a better overall form, more refined details, and would usually feature cut stone or sculpture that was specifically commissioned for the building. As far as I can see this uses ready-made bricks and stonework that many architectural and building suppliers of the period would furnish. Possibly the datestone over the door was cut to order, but even that was probably part of the ready made piece that surrounds it with the central panel awaiting the final chisel. It seems to me that this building is too "common" - in both senses of that word - to warrant the honour and recognition of  Listing at even Grade II. Pity.

My photograph and the Google Street View image show some of the characteristic and not so common features of this style of brick building. The dressed stone is reserved for the doorways, windows, platbands and gable shoulders. Blue-black brick is used to outline openings and for decorative strips. Projecting, stepped brickwork features on the gable and, curiously, on the side elevation. At the top of the tower and above the central first floor window it suggests machicolations. This building isn't especially well proportioned, it doesn't exhibit qualities that can't be seen elsewhere, it has no special historical significance of which I'm aware, nor is it an integral part of a larger scheme in this area of the town. But it is of greater than usual interest in this location, possesses an exterior that remains much as it was when first erected, and it exemplifies that under-rated quality of Victorian exuberance. For those reasons I think it warrants greater recognition.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On