In the UK, our cities and countryside are blessed with a fabulous array of architectural styles, from ancient oak-framed cottages to soaring glass-and-steel skyscrapers.
There’s no better way to see how our ways of living have evolved over the centuries than by looking at the way the places we call home have changed. Some eras have very clear distinguishing features, but others may be harder to discern – particularly more recent styles where revival architecture has become popular.
Have you ever wondered what era your home was built in? We’ve written a blog to help you find the answer and to discover the features that make your home part of the UK’s architectural landscape.
There are a number of ways to find out how old your property is, from official channels such as listings – more of this at the end of the blog – to simply analysing the architectural detailing and the way the house was built.
Different building methods and materials are a key way of deciding a building’s age, for example granite and slate are characteristic of Dartmoor longhouses, while timber frames are seen in lovely Wealden properties, as oak trees were (and still are) native to vast areas of Kent and Sussex. Plus, who can forget the beautiful honey-coloured Cotswold stone of the charming villages of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire? These materials were used because they were widely available at the time, and though modern building methods have changed the traditional style of building, many of these characteristics can be seen in today’s new homes.
Internal period features are not only very popular with house buyers, they can also help to age a property, too. Character features like exposed beams can highlight a particularly old home, while decorative plasterwork such as coving or ceiling roses might signify a Georgian or Victorian home.
If you own a period home, which of the following eras does it fit into?
Tudor houses are wonderful: many have thatched roofs and exposed timber frames. In Tudor times, only the very wealthy would have had functioning windows, and they would be designed in a mullion style with lots of small lead light frames to support the glass which would have been very fragile at the time. Chimneys were a status symbol in the 16th century, and sometimes Tudors would add tall and elaborate chimneys when there was no fireplace inside – they were designed to be seen from miles around. The easiest way to date a Tudor home is through its half-timbered frame, which give them the ‘black and white’ effect. The darker hue of the wood was usually added at a later stage, with the natural wood colour being seen at the time.
Georgian architecture is wonderfully elegant. The houses are often built on wide avenues and are can be built with brick and stone or whitewashed with stucco plaster, making them appear very grand. Inside, Georgian houses have generous proportions, with high ceilings and tall sash windows letting in lots of natural light. The reason why they look so pleasing on the eye is that they are often symmetrical, with a row of Georgian houses arranged in an almost identical terrace; look at the elegant streets of Brighton and Cheltenham for the best examples. The classical style is also very decorative, with grand pediments and columns, and plasterwork such as ceiling roses on the interior. Buildings of the Regency period were even more ornate, with iron railings and bay windows. In recent years, the grand houses of this era have been divided into apartments, though many retain their period features such as large bay windows and crown mouldings.
Possibly the most popular period property in Great Britain, Victorian homes are often well preserved and, with their solid foundations and usually good proportions, they make excellent starter homes for couples or small families. Victorian properties are usually found in swathes of vast suburbs around large towns and cities, often developed along railway lines. Typically they are built of brick (but can be seen rendered, too) with slate roofs, perhaps a bay window to the lower front, and either open directly onto the street or have a small front garden enclosed by railings or a brick wall. The Victorian era also saw a resurgence in Tudor Revival features – sometimes known as Mock Tudor and characterised by timber frames which are much more symmetrical than their earlier counterparts. Internally, Victorian period features include patterned tile or cast iron fireplaces in most reception rooms and bedrooms and encaustic tile hallways and porches.
The Edwardian period was short – roughly 1901 to 1910 – though gave Great Britain a great number of new homes in this easily recognisable style. Following a housing boom, Edwardian homes were built further from towns and cities in suburbs where there was more space, meaning they are generally bigger and brighter than their Victorian predecessors. These areas, like Hampstead in London, St Albans and Guildford, were easily accessible to London and are still popular with commuters. Edwardian homes are usually set back from the pavement behind a front garden, though many have now been converted to driveways for modern use. Rear gardens are longer too, and roofs are steeply pitched and often with ornate gable ends. Edwardian homes had glazed front doors, timber-framed porches and inside, less ornate fireplaces, parquet wood flooring and picture rails.
The Post-War period actually ranges from the end of the First World War and interwar until the decade after the Second World War. This was a difficult time for Britain, which suffered great losses during the two wars and was feeling the pinch of inflation pushing up the costs of materials. The great drive to build ‘Homes for Heroes’ saw the influx of new materials such as Crittal windows, prefab and concrete. Homes built in this time were inspired by the previous two eras, with bay windows and arched doorways and window casements, gabled roofs, and interior features like dark wood beams and solid wood floors. The layout was usually similar across streets to save costs, with typically two reception rooms and a kitchen. The first bungalow developments were also built in this time to accommodate those who had returned from war and are seen widely in coastal areas.
The sixties and seventies were not known for fabulous architecture, but some of Great Britain’s most famous buildings were built during this time such as the Barbican Estate. This is due to a mass rebuilding project after the war, when many streets were destroyed in bombings. The new street designs were wider for the rising traffic and needed to accommodate more people, so the solutions were blocks of flats, Post-War suburbs and council estates, the latter usually made of cheap, quick to build prefabricated construction. The era also saw new towns being developed, such as Stevenage and Crawley, which were built under the New Towns Act to accommodate some two million people. The architecture from this period varies dramatically but is generally of a brick or concrete construction and boxy design, with internal features including coloured bathroom suites, thick carpeting and wooden wall panelling.
Since 2000, the architecture of the country has changed dramatically again to accommodate huge numbers of people trying to join the housing market, something which has become much harder and more expensive for the young. Because of this, new rules have meant that a proportion of new build developments have to be set aside for affordable housing, so the country is once again seeing widespread development. Many blocks of flats built in the 60s and 70s are being demolished and rebuilt or significantly altered – and gentrified – while housing developments are springing up like satellites in popular commuter areas. Many new build estates seek to emulate past eras, with traditional features like dormer windows, Tudor Revival timber framing and cottage design, made modern with double glazing and energy-efficient insulation. However, dwindling development space means plots are usually much smaller, with compact gardens and townhouse-style homes over three or four floors. Another sign of the times are garages (usually integral for space) and driveways, with space to accommodate larger family cars. However, emboldened developers, tired of the identikit housing stock, are adapting to create fresh designs which don’t impact the environment.