Last edited 05 Jul 2021

English Perpendicular architecture


First constructed in 1140, Norwich Cathedral was damaged during a peasant revolt in 1278. It was damaged again by a structural failure of the Norman spire in 1362, at which point a significant portion of the building was rebuilt in the English Perpendicular style. The present spire was added in the late 15th century.


[edit] Introduction

Gothic is an architectural style applied mainly to religious buildings from the later middle ages, starting around the middle of the 12th century and lasting until the beginning of the 15th century. Originating in the Ile-de-France area of Paris, the Gothic period generally slots between the Romanesque and Renaissance periods.

The main built form of the Gothic period was the cathedral (but also the church). The Gothic cathedral is seen as a synthesis of architecture and structure, so much so that it is often very difficult to separate the two. This may be due to the fact that the designers were master craftsmen, skilled both in engineering and masonry.

[edit] Transforming the Romanesque style

The massive construction and ‘blockiness’ of the Romanesque (or Norman) period gave way to the lightness of Gothic. Where the Romanesque cathedral had a feeling of being a stronghold, encircled by thick, massive walls, the Gothic builders (often peripatetic and unknown) tried to achieve an etherealness by dissolving the wall until it became almost diaphanous. The Gothic wall transformed into a thin shell of stone and glass.

Large windows filled with stained glass provided a new way to filter light and affect the religious experience. Indeed, the Gothic is as much about structural prowess in masonry as it is about a new interpretation of light which was used to determine the character of the new construction. The mass of the building appears to dissolve, helped in part by large windows, the longitudinal plan and the vertical lines leading the eye up to the roof.

This early form of the French Gothic style is sometimes referred to as Decorated Gothic (or Second Pointed) style. The French Decorated Gothic style first appeared in England at Canterbury Cathedral after a fire in 1174 destroyed part of the building.


The Decorated Gothic style was fully incorporated into Wells Cathedral for the first time. Construction began in 1175.

[edit] Transforming Decorated Gothic to Perpendicular Gothic

The Decorated Gothic style continued to dominate architecture throughout Europe and England until the early 14th century, when the political climate promoted by Edward III prompted a break from this tradition. What resulted was English Perpendicular - a new, nationalistic interpretation of the Gothic style. Also referred to as Perpendicular Gothic, Rectilinear or Third Pointed Gothic, this style (mid-1300s until mid-1500s) was more simple than its French predecessor, but still visually dramatic. Gone were the fussy decorations, replaced by innovative engineering in an architectural experiment.


During the late 1300s, the Romanesque nave of Winchester Cathedral was remodelled in the Perpendicular style.

English Perpendicular was defined by clean, vertical lines that directed the viewer's gaze upward. Columns were primarily circular with solid bases, and capitals were sometimes topped with symbols from nature, the military or the monarchy.

Decorations and carvings were removed from walls and sometimes replaced with blind panels. Sculptures rarely appeared, and instead, tracery of thin vertical mullions adorned the walls (and sometimes stretched down to the floor).


Despite being destroyed by Cromwell's forces, the main stained glass window in Winchester Cathedral is an impressive collection of saved fragments pieced together in a beautiful, random collage.

Considered a stylistic revolution, Perpendicular Gothic architecture was defined by its horizontal and vertical divisions. In the windows, this grid allowed for a more expansive use of stained glass which subsequently brought in a greater amount of natural light. As with the French Gothic style, windows were still dramatic and expansive, but the depictions of figures were more human and set in relatable context.

In English Perpendicular, spires were often replaced with towers - supported by buttresses at the corners - that stretched to new heights. Ceilings - elaborately decorated with fan vaulting - were often supported by four-centred arches. Roofs were often made of lead and built with a slight slope, while interior roof timbers were sometimes exposed and decorated with carvings.


The tower of Ely Cathedral was built in the solid Perpendicular style.

Structurally, the buildings were more stable, and even small spaces appeared lofty, due to vertical lines that produced optical illusions and additional height. During this period, engineering and mathematics combined in a sense of faith in architecture.

[edit] Influences of the plague

In 1348, the plague arrived in England. Its impact was felt intellectually and spiritually, represented in darker artistic interpretations and more vulnerable attitudes. In terms of practical matters, fewer masons were available after the plague, which meant architecture became even more minimalistic.

With the reign of Henry VII (1485 - 1509), the country gradually began to move away from the English Perpendicular style to something more dramatic, realistic and fluid. This transition was influenced by the reintroduction of European craftsmanship and the Renaissance style.

The transition was accelerated by the crowning of Henry VIII (1509 - 1547), whose impact on the Catholic church was drastic in spiritual, organisational and aesthetic terms. During the Reformation, Gothic ornamentation was often removed, and the Renaissance style - with its sense of architectural classicism - became the predominant approach to English architecture.

It was not until the 18th century, and the Oxford Movement, that Gothic returned to England in the form of English Gothic Revival.

Palace of westminster.JPG

In 1840, the Gothic Revival style was incorporated into the Palace of Westminster, London (Architect: Augustus Pugin).

--Heidi Schwartz

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