Buying a Victorian house means living in a property that was built at the very apex of the British Empire - a time when comfort and style were of paramount importance to the wealthy individual. The eclectic mix of Victorian building styles that emerged in this iconic era can make any such purchase today an exciting and tricky affair.
It is a chance to buy a property with unique features, superior in many ways to today's modern housing. In this article we will take a look at Victorian architecture´s main influences, the differing styles that resulted, how to spot an authentic Victorian property and how to maintain or improve upon that unique Victorian look.
The Victorian Era in Britain
The Victorian era in Britain lasted some 64 years, covering the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. In terms of change and modernisation, it was perhaps the most radical period in British history to date. When Queen Victoria came to power, Britain was an agrarian, rural society. By the time she died, Britain was a highly industrialised world power connected internally by an extensive railway network and overseas by a seaborne empire.
Emerging Victorian philosophical concepts converged to produce a number of contradictory building styles which reflected any one or a combination of new values and aspirations. The vast amount of money flowing into Britain from the colonies abroad and that being generated by emergent industrialisation saw massive amounts of building work undertaken and much of this was excess to demand.
Spare money was often poured into frivolous ornamentation - its is from here that the phrase a man´s home is his castle harks. The result for Victorian house styles? More religious influences and an array of architectural philosophies such as Mock Tudor, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Tudorbeathen and the all famous Arts and Crafts Movement.
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Differing Victorian House Styles
The Victorian era saw the emergence of a great of variety of building styles. Such diversity can lead to some confusion over what exactly is classed as a Victorian property. A Victorian property, officially speaking, is anything built during the reign of Queen Victoria, although often we use the term to refer to many houses built in the same style as a house dating from that period. Such historical details are of little use when home hunting, however, so lets take a look at the main types of Victorian architecture and how to visually identify them.The Arts and Crafts Movement
The Arts and Crafts Movement came about late in the Victorian era as a reaction against the soulless industrialisation of the British workforce. It sought to replace the mundane and evil machine with an idealised past via the endorsement of specialised craftsmen, hand painted ornamentation and human personality in design, espousing quality over quantity. The resulting Victorian houses emphasised natural materials and recalled medieval cottages with sloping roofs, small windows and expansive gardens. Red House in Bexleyheath London is a perfect example.The Gothic Revival
Victorian Gothic revival sought again to establish a link with the past, setting itself firmly against the emerging classical styles coming from post revolutionary France. Gothic means medieval - espousing large inclusive spaces with strong ecclesiastical influence. Thus, Victorian homes would be ornamented like churches with pointed arches housing stained glass windows, heraldic, biblical emblems and cusping - projections of gargoyles heads or elements of nature. Upon the successful commissioning of the new Houses of Parliament in the Gothic style, it became a national trend and Gothic style Victorian houses still abound in the UK today.Jacobeathan
A very popular style of Victorian house characterised by flattened arches, intricate brickwork, steep sloping gables and lighter patterned brickwork around windows. Victorian houses were further ornamented with pillars, balustrades and fortifications reminiscent of a castle dwelling. Later on, the style was further corrupted into 'Tudorbeathan', which saw a distinct softening of the style with thatched rooves and mandatory half-timbering, reminiscent of a medieval cottage - a style is commonly known as Tudor today.
Exterior features of a Victorian Property
Now you have had your history lesson in Victorian architecture, lets take a point by point look the defining features of a Victorian home. There is a lot that can be done to preserve or restore an original Victorian property.Windows
Windows are a defining point in any style of architecture - never replace or attempt to replace (most likely your Victorian property will be listed) original Victorian windows. If you find they have been replaced already, you may want to look into restoring them to their former glory. In the same way, try to keep any original glass. Victorian rolled glass was full of imperfections and produces a beautiful interplay of light as it passes through. Plate glass came into production in 1832, just five years before Victoria took the throne. Thus the small pane windows of the Georgian Period were soon replaced by four and six pane vertical sliding sash windows.Brickwork and pointing
Ordinary cement known as Portland Cement first came into use in 1824. However, it was not widely used in domestic building until after WWII. If the Victorian property in question is in brick or stone, it should use a lime mortar for pointing. Likewise, the internal plastering should be of lime plaster unless this has been substituted with a modern gypsum plaster at any stage. Victorian houses relied upon the porous nature of their building materials to allow condensation to evaporate through the walls. Modern houses meanwhile rely on several layers with an internal space to remove moisture and this is another reason to stick to original building materials whenever possible.Roofing
Victorian houses generally used high quality Welsh slates in roofing. If these need to be replaced, Welsh slates are expensive but imported ones coming from as far away as China can be matched well. If the roof is to be stripped, salvage as many slates as you can during the process - unless they are delaminating or cracked, they can be used again. Ornate Victorian fixtures can be much trickier to replace and, for that, you need to head down to your nearest salvage yard. Check out the listings on The National Directory of Reclaimed Building Materials for help.
Interior features of a Victorian Property
The Victorian moral code dictated a particular way of living that was reflected in the internal layout of their houses. If you want to keep things in your Victorian home authentic, think about the following points:Bathrooms
The Victorians saw bathrooms as strictly functional places so, for authenticity's sake, decoration should be kept to a minimum - keep it simple and plain. This does not negate the classic roll-top bath with claw feet however! Make sure that original WCs couple with modern pipe fittings, otherwise you may be better off going for a reproduction.Kitchens
Again, kitchens were designed to be functional and the main centrepiece here was a large wooden table upon which food was prepared, chairs were likewise kept plain. A fully fitted kitchen simply is not Victorian. Instead, an authentic Victorian home should retain a scullery and walk-in larder.Flooring
Carpets should be of rich, dark colours, heavily patterned with large three dimensional designs celebrating elements of nature - birds, flowers or geometric patterns. A perimeter of highly polished wood about two feet wide should be left around the edges the room. Tiles again should be highly patterned. Kiln-fired (encaustic) tiles were made to be durable for use in areas of heavy traffic, such as corridors and entrances.Fireplaces
Victorian fireplaces were ostentatious, elaborate pieces made of cast-iron. In direct contradiction to any notion of fire-safety, material was often draped from the mantle-piece. If you need to replace or re-instate any fireplaces, head down to you local salvage yards to see what is on offer.Paintwork
Awaiting developments in chemical processing, the Victorian colour pallete was limited to strong colours such as ruby reds and deep forest greens - blue and purple came in midway through the century. The good news for the Victorian property investor is that many paint companies today can re-produce such ranges accurately.Staircases
Authentic Victorian staircases are hard to come by so always opt to repair rather than to replace where possible. Elaborate, twisting balustrades carved from a single piece of wood were fashionable at the beginning of the Victoria era, these were later replaced by simpler designs.Front Doors
Front doors made of hardwood were left to a natural finish while any other type of other wood considered inferior was painted. Four panels was the norm except where there were two panels of glass at the top. Later on in the Victorian era, these panels were filled with stained or etched glass. Stained glass was also very popular in internal doors.Furniture
Any Victorian house of repute was crammed with overstuffed, ornate arm-chairs complemented by the odd chaise-longe. Luxury of the most ostentatious variety is the key idea here - so don't be afraid to really overdo things.Artwork
The Victorian approach to wall hangings was put it all up and let each picture fight for itself. Strong notions of national identity and imperialism were reflected in regal portraits and romantic countryside scenes.Wallpaper
Wallpaper came into mass production in the 1840s and is perhaps the single most important feature in the interior of a Victorian property. Quality varied considerably from mass produced designs on wood-pulp paper to elaborate hand printed motifs on rag paper. Elements of nature featured heavily as ever, with birds and flowers in grand elaborate designs. Excellent reproduction Victorian wallpaper is available today.%Hints, tips and advice%
Hints and tips on buying a Victorian Property
Buying a Victorian property means investing in a property that has stood for many years and may have developed its own fair share of problems. When it comes to the legalities, here are a few tips to make your purchase trouble free:
- Check if your mortgage lender offers mortgages on Victorian properties in particular.
- If your mortgage lender intends to appoint the valuer, request a guarantee that the valuer will be a specialist, qualified to advise on Victorian properties. If this cannot be provided, ask whether they would accept a valuation by an independent professional of your own choosing.
- Check whether the mortgage is tied to a specific insurance policy, or whether an insurance valuation by an independent professional would be acceptable.
- In the case of a Victorian property, it is not advisable to rely on a mortgage valuation only. A detailed building survey is likely necessary to fully understand the nature of the house you plan to buy, its existing defects, plus any defects and problems that could arise after.
Help and advice
With the sheer amount of Victorian properties on the UK market today, specialised help and advice is widely available. Here are a few sites you will find invaluable in your search for that authentic Victorian house:
- The Victorian Society
- The National Directory of Reclaimed Building Materials
- The Listed Property Owners Club
- Historic Scotland
- English Heritage
- The Architectural Heritage Webpages
- The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)
- Planning Portal
- Building Conservation.com
- Department for Culture, Media, and Sport