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What influence did the Middle Ages have on the rebuilding and decoration of the Palace of Westminster?


The Palace of Westminster is home to the Great British parliament. The grounds of the palace of Westminster date back to the early Saxon times which later became a home to William the conqueror after the Norman conquest of England. Originally The Palace of Westminster was the monarch's primary residence in the late Medieval period. The precursor of Parliament, the Curia Regis (Royal Council), met in Westminster Hall (although it followed the King when he moved to other palaces). The Model Parliament, which was the first official parliament, this met in 1295.

The Palace of Westminster was destroyed was destroyed by a fire after a stove that was used to destroy exchequer's stockpile of Talley sticks that ignited in the lords chamber. This resulted in both houses of parliament complex being destroyed On 16October 1834. From this date the palaces of parliament when rebuilt became known as the houses of parliament.

The Palace of Westminster its known for its Gothic and classic architecture to the 19th century architect Sir Charles Barry. The 19th century seen a rebirth in fashion in all aspects a more Gothic style which derived from the middle ages which is evidently seen on the one of most recognised buildings of the world, the palaces of Westminster. Yet what can one say about influence the middles ages had on the palace of parliament. The main focus of this essay is to look at the architects and their backgrounds and how their taste in the classic and Gothic styles if they had them, reflected on the palaces of Westminster.

In this building by 19thcentury one of the major architects was Sir Charles Barry one can clearly see the similarity's between his masterly entry, widely spoken of beforehand with admiration, was declared the winner by the royal commissioners appointed to judge (Cust, Charles Hanbury Tracy, Thomas Liddell, and George Vivian). Despite savage contemporary criticisms of the competition, the designated styles, and the judges' award, alleging improper practices, there can be no doubt that the judgement was an honest one and that Barry's was the outstanding entry. Yet from an here that Barry had clear influence from the middle ages had reflected on him. His designs were outstanding which is why he won and one will notice that with the renaissance of this period there was a clear interest in the past.

Another point to mention about the influence on the Palaces of parliament is the early life of barry, one must realise that barry had a strong interest in the middles ages and past throughout his life.From 1812 he was exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy: he started with A View of the Interior of Westminster Hall, followed by original designs (A Church, 1813; A Museum and Library, with an Observatory, 1814; and A Design for a Group of Buildings for a Nobleman's Park, 1815) that nicely encapsulate themes of his subsequent practice1 Which shows us that there was a clear influence of the middle ages in the new palaces of parliament from Sir Charles Barry.

The Other major architect of the palaces of Westminster was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pugin also had a strong influence in the past and classical architecture, he said Let us go on a bold track, some one must do this soon, why should not we do it together? We will go carefully and not without the teaching of our fathers: it is simply fuller nature that we want. Revivalism, whether it be of classic or mediaevalism, is a seeking after dry bones. Read, my dear fellow, the address of Oceanus in Keats'Hyperion2. This contempory account made by welby suggests that he did have a clear interest in the past but also suggests to one that it was more of a way of seeking dry bones in other words doing something that has been forgotten in the past such as a revival of the classic past hence the reason one can see a clear influence this period is known as the Gothic revival.

Another point to consider is Pugins past in which was reflected on the palaces of parliament . It was winter of 1834, just after the burning of the houses of parliament, and in the room was the artist's half-finished painting of the event. This fascinated the seven- year- old that he begged to be allowed to stay and watch the painter at work. Once back at home, he immediately set out to reproduce as much he could of the picture from memory3 . Pugin gained his Gothic interest from his father who was a French Draughtsman helping him draw Gothic buildings and illustrations.

Pugins father augustus charles pugin was also a major influence to him, he trained him to draw Gothic buildings for his books. Which clearly became the key reason behind his work and as the leader of the Gothic Revival movement in architecture and with Sir Charles Barry interest in cloassical designs it was clearly then influenced on the creation of the palaces of parliament. Although my brief servey has encompased a number of disparate modern writers, there appears to be an acceptance of several suppositions. Firstly, that pugins main concern was the revival of a particular architectural style to the denigration of others and that he was an antiquarian reconstructionist guilty of archaeologism; secondly, that he was a fanatic; thirdly, that he was an archtect with merely an interest in religion rather than as an outstanding liturgist; fourthly, that he worked in relative isolation from the main stream of religious thought of the time and did not make any contribution in this area; lastly, that he was a romantic.4In this extact historian Christabel Powell comments on the behavior of pugin. We are begin to under stand that it was the clear influence of past and the architecture is what is shown on the palaces of parliament.

Pugin was the advocate of the Gothic Architecture, which he believed to be the most trueful form of architecture to the christian faith

Pugins first gothic church which was completed in 1839, was the St Mary's Church in Derby. Another example of his work is the Roman Catholic church of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire. We can see that the middle ages had much more of a gothic influence over Pugin which was why the Palaces of Parliament may have been designed by Barry as a whole but he could only achieve the real gothic look with pugins interiors, wallpapers and furnishings. Also pugin had the idea of the Clock tower which in which the bell that is big ben has. This was also represented in earlier designs of pugins like Scarisbrick Hall. In an extract from his biography i never worked so hard in my life [as] for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower and it is beautiful."5... Pugin believed he had acheieved something magnificent which he had which had the influence of the middle ages.

One has seen the influence the middle ages had over the two main architects. However one might notice that the houses of parliam

Pugin as well being influenced by the middle ages he was also much influenced by religion. Pugin was a strong christian supporter yet much of pugins vison of liturgical arch

Finally we associate the Gothic Revival with the 19th century yet it did continue into the 20th century especially noticeable on buildings like Liverpool Cathedral, the cathedral of Saint John the divine in New York and the So Paulo Cathedral in Brazil. The gothic style iron can also been seen on many skyscrapers especially buildings like the Cass Gilberts Woolworth building in New York and Raymond Hoods Tribune Tower. One might not think of the Gothic revival as a Revival but more as an evololution from the middle ages and the Houses of Parliament is the best collaberation of modern and middle age ideas creating a gothic masterpiece.

The two great rules of designs are these: that there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety; 2nd, that all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building. The neglect of these two rules is the cause of all the bad architecture of the present time. 6y

yet pugin lifetime working of about twenty- five years, it is fair to say that he achieved a degree of success: there were to be Gothic railway viaducts, arches and gas brackets, as well as churches and houses.

Barry is claimed to be influenced by the Tudors which is noticeable on the exteriors especially with the stonework walls. There are also many towers which can be seen from a distance of london which are all evident from the middle age period. The main tower is known as the square tower which is the tallest of the tower at 323ft named after the Queen of the period Queen Victoria. One might question here that the Palaces of Westminster appears more Victorian influenced than like the middle ages and that the the middle ages has been clearly suppressed and was really just the stepping stones in the creation of the palaces of parliament. There are also various gardens, which surround the Palace. One in particular is the Victoria Tower gardens which again shows us of the modern influence. The clock tower which we know of the to hold Big Ben also contains a light called the Ayrton Light. It was installed after the request of Queen Victoria, another example of modern influence.

Yet in this period the influence of the middle ages was reflected acnoligised by designers but one might think that they used the ideas from the past and made them better. The houses of parliament one might see as a collaboration of all Pugin and Barrys work with the Gothic and Classic look. One has seen Barrys interest in towers, raised chancels, spires reflected on his other work such as new the parish church he built in Hurstpierpoint, sussex in 1843, the Manchester all striking new buildings, needed time to become a settled and accepted feature of the townscape and rise above the controversy and ill-will that had surrounded its conception and construction. In particular, the building was for a long time taken too much for granted by those who occupied it, and was subjected to insensitive decoration, alteration and additions. Even twenty years ago it was still fashionable in some quarters to regard it as an architectural hybrid and therefore an aesthetic failure in comparison with purer examples of high Victorian style. The wheel of fashion had turned again; and now the building is the subject of loving (and expensive) restoration and refurbishment. The houses of parliament was reborn as a work of art7

On the other hand people did not recognise the past but more a modern masterpiece which stood out from all the other designs. The designers may have a history of buildings which are very gothic and middle ages however the houses of parliament is a building which was a gothic structure yet the modern influence was more noticed that the past influence

Yet pugin commented in his own words on the opinion of copying ancient style is absurd. It was the faith, not the style that needed to be conserved and revived: for we do not wish to produce mere servile imitators of former excellence of any kind, but men imbued with the consistent spirit of the ancient architects, who would work on their principles, and carry them out as the old men would have done, had they been placed in similar circumstances, and with similar wants to ourselves.8

In 1834 a parliamentary committee prescribed the national styles of gothic or elizabethian which was in a open comptition in order to be the architect of the new palaces of westminster. There was a taste for the past styles and with Barry and Pugin teaming to design they won the competition. Barry and Pugins interest in middle ages was also evident here, they lacked in studying english models instead they toured Belgium and studied the more famous town halls there to have a bank of ideas to then be represented in his competition and also be used in the future design of the palaces of parliament.

The actual orthography of Barry's competition drawings (now lost) was Pugin's, but the determining mind was Barry's. Unmistakably his were both the concept, essentially classical despite the Picturesque and characteristic vertical accents of the towers at either enddemanded by the lowness of the site, particularly seen from Westminster Bridge, if for no other reasonand the practical plan of the vast Gothic building; his experience in the Birmingham school of providing circulation space for large numbers, as well as his familiarity with the requirements of a gentlemen's club, proved invaluable

To further support the influence of the gothic rivial on the 19th century one only has to look across Britain at some of the finest examples such as Abbey of Saint-Denis and famously at Notre Dame, Gothic" gargoyles are Viollet-le-Duc's Gothic Revival facade by Emilio De Fabris florence catherdral.

To conclude one must notice that the middle ages did have a clear influence of the creation of the new houses of parliament, as mentioned it is a very gothic building and is rather tudor like. Yet despite this the architects have taken the middle ages designs and completely modernised them making them more Victorian or with the period. If one were to look at the Houses of parliament one would see the clear evolution of fashion and the development of the renaissance in architecture.The influence of the middle ages architecture has been adapted to suit the 19th century and that even though gothic revival was a of a contributing factor in the creation of the Palaces of westminster; the building is not,and rather more modern and magnificent creation of the century in Britain. One might want to consider the gothic look on the palaces of westmister as part of the gothic revival a more suited description would be Victorian Gothic.