A brief his­tory of houses – but ap­pear­ances can be de­cep­tive

Ed­ward Stoyle, who heads the res­i­den­tial team at Carter Jonas’s York of­fice, ex­plains how to date a pe­riod prop­erty.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

IF it’s half tim­bered, it’s prob­a­bly me­dieval. If it’s clas­si­cal, it’s prob­a­bly Ge­or­gian and if it’s gothic, it must be Vic­to­rian. Well, not quite. Let’s start again.

Do­mes­tic build­ings that pre­date the 14th cen­tury are a great rar­ity. Even in a city as an­cient as York, the ear­li­est cot­tages (Our Lady’s Row in Goodram­gate) only date from about 1316. The ma­te­ri­als to hand were oak, mud and straw, so that’s what they used. If you couldn’t find them new, you went to the Cor­po­ra­tion’s re­cy­cling de­pot in Jub­ber­gate and bought some re­claimed ma­te­ri­als. As a re­sult, you may find el­e­ments of a build­ing that are far older than the build­ing it­self. Ex­pos­ing the tim­bers was a Vic­to­rian fad; they were nearly al­ways cov­ered with lime plas­ter.

Peo­ple built with tim­ber frames for cen­turies but they had one par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. They caught fire. One only has to look at the Great Fire of London to see that. Post 1666, all new houses in London had to be built of brick with tile roofs.

One re­sult of that was a change in styles and it was the clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture of the an­cient world that in­spired the Ge­or­gians. The el­e­gance of it all – we all love those col­umns, the ped­i­ments, the pi­lasters.

This was the era of the great coun­try house and those el­e­gant city ter­races. Tak­ing their cue from the Greeks and Ro­mans, the builders of these houses cre­ated al­most per­fect pro­por­tions, with light flood­ing in as never be­fore. Lit­tle won­der their pop­u­lar­ity is en­dur­ing and that the scale is widely copied to this day.

The Vic­to­ri­ans begged to dif­fer and saw the de­tails copied from an­cient tem­ples as hea­then and vul­gar. The gothic style, they felt, was far purer and more Chris­tian.

The Goths beat the Clas­si­cists for the de­sign of the Palace of West­min­ster and there­after had a clear run. Even the most mod­est houses mim­icked the style, with steeply pitched roofs and pointed dec­o­ra­tion.

Only at the end of the 19th cen­tury was there a back­lash, as the Arts and Crafts move­ment came to the fore. Its em­pha­sis was on sim­ple lines and nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. De­signs by the likes of Lu­tyens and crafts­man­ship by the likes of Wil­liam Mor­ris made what some would re­gard as Bri­tain’s great­est sin­gle con­tri­bu­tion to Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture.

Most of us have no prob­lem dat­ing build­ings from the 20th cen­tury. The most iconic must be the stream­lined Art Deco that swept into this coun­try from Europe and Amer­ica be­tween the wars. You will see ex­am­ples on the Leeds Ring Road, sym­bols of taste and wealth of their own­ers. They sport flat roofs, painted walls and those dis­tinc­tive critall win­dows with the hor­i­zon­tal glaz­ing bars. This was a big con­trast to the ubiq­ui­tous semi which tended to fol­low its own con­ser­va­tive route, right through to the 1960s.

Af­ter that, de­sign went pear shaped and it has taken a new gen­er­a­tion to form a more sym­pa­thetic view, 50 years on.

Fi­nally, a word of warn­ing to watch out for the snares. Some build­ings are al­most im­pos­si­ble to date.

The Ge­or­gians loved to be fash­ion­able by slap­ping an up to date front on a me­dieval build­ing. In the 20th cen­tury, one govern­ment min­is­ter even had his brand new gates listed by his own ex­perts.

The next time you stand out­side Bootham Bar in York, glance across to the Head­mas­ter’s House next to the City Art Gallery. Could it re­ally have been built in 1900?

Pic­ture: Mike Cowl­ing.

TRICKY QUES­TION: The Head­mas­ter’s House near the City Art Gallery in York. Can you guess when it was built?

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