The Greatest Victorian Architecture in Britain

Mar 1, 2021 | Blog Posts

Dating from the mid-19th century until the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, the era of Victorian architecture has left a legacy of beautiful and iconic buildings across Britain.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the architect had multiple roles and usually acted as a surveyor and developer too, but by the early 19th century, the architect’s role had become more specialist, so they would be free to spend time designing different styles.

As we understand it today, the architectural profession is largely a Victorian creation. The profession’s identity was formalised by the launch of the Institute of British Architects in 1834 – soon to become the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1837.

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

Thomas Cubitt owned a building firm in the 19th century and employed a number of in-house architects. He was also a skilled architect himself, who was responsible for building large parts of Pimlico and Belgravia in London.

His masterpiece was Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, which he built for the royal family in 1845 in the Italianate architectural style. Prince Albert designed the property as a retreat where he could take Queen Victoria – Cubitt built it to his requirements. After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria often stayed there in her widowhood and she actually died there in 1901.

In 1954, Osborne House was opened to the public as a stately home. It has been owned by English Heritage since 1986 and much external and internal refurbishment has taken place. In 2014, English Heritage carried out a £1.65 million conservation project at the Swiss Cottage, turning it into a new exhibition about the royal children who had stayed there.

© Julian Gazzard / Adobe Stock

Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster is home to the Houses of Parliament (the House of Commons and the House of Lords) and is one of London’s most recognisable buildings.

The original Parliament buildings on the site dated back to the 11th century, but the medieval palace was gutted by a fire in 1834. It was reconstructed to the design of architect Charles Barry after the blaze. The Palace of Westminster was designated a Grade I listed building in 1970 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Palm House, Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens’ Palm House is one of the most famous Victorian structures, most notably because it is built from iron and glass. Designed by Decimus Burton, one of England’s most famous 19th century architects, it was built by Richard Turner, the Dublin-born iron founder and glasshouse manufacturer, in the 1840s.

Palm House was considered one of the most amazing feats of Victorian engineering. Built to house tropical plants, including palms, it was the first wrought iron building in the world to be built on such a grand scale, without the support of columns. It remains a tropical plant house to this day.

© bnoragitt / Adobe Stock

Victoria Building, Liverpool University

The Victoria Building was designed and built by architect Alfred Waterhouse between 1889 and 1892 as the headquarters of the University of Liverpool. Constructed from red pressed bricks, it inspired the term “red brick university” to describe civic universities. It was officially opened by university chancellor Lord Spencer in December 1892.

In 2008, the building was renovated and reopened as the Victoria Gallery and Museum when the City of Liverpool became the European Capital of Culture. Today, it houses an art collection and university artefacts dating back to the 19th century.

Balmoral Castle, Scotland

Balmoral Castle is another masterpiece of Victorian architecture, designed and built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They had bought the estate in the village of Crathie in Aberdeenshire in 1852. Architect William Smith was commissioned to design a new castle. His plans were considered to be among the best examples of the Scots Baronial revival.

Prince Albert made further modifications before construction began. Since its completion, Balmoral Castle has remained a private property belonging to the royal family since it was completed in 1856. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has often stayed there. However, during spring and summer, the palace gardens are open to the public.

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