Category Archives: Victorian architecture

The Victorians did the dead proud

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.49.45Dalrymple perambulates in the cemetery outside the town where he lives when in England. The cemetery was established, he writes, in the early 1850s

because the churchyards were full to bursting and the Victorians fretted about the unsanitary nature of burial in the middle of towns and cities, as we fret over the deleterious effects of pesticides.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.50.01It retains its character,

with a gothic entrance and two gothic chapels, and a winding path between the hills, the slopes of which are sown with sandstone or granite tombstones.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.51.32 Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.51.54 Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.53.32 Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.53.53 Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.54.33Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 18.52.40

Postcard from Scarborough

The Grand Hotel as it was. Dalrymple writes: 'The building is far from my favourite in the town, but it undoubtedly has  magnificence . Now the marble pillars of the portico are used mainly to support bronchitics, exiled from indoors, as they puff desperately at their fags. Criminally vulgar posters, advertising cheap meals and rooms, are posted on the dirty windows, surrounded by finely crafted architectural detail. Everywhere there are small, as well as large, signs of degeneration.  No greatness, no vastness of enterprise, no magnificence of appearance. We are barbarians living in the ruins of a civilisation.'

The Grand Hotel (1867) as it was. Dalrymple writes of the building today: ‘The marble pillars of the portico are used mainly to support bronchitics, exiled from indoors, as they puff desperately at their fags. Criminally vulgar posters, advertising cheap meals and rooms, are posted on the dirty windows, surrounded by finely crafted architectural detail. Everywhere there are small, as well as large, signs of degeneration. No greatness, no vastness of enterprise. We are barbarians living in the ruins of a civilisation.’

Birmingham’s giant pissoir

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 23.02.31

The much-loved Free Public Library (left): rebuilt superbly in 1882 after a fire, demolished in 1974

Dalrymple confesses that he finds it difficult to write temperately on the subject of the mass desecration of Britain’s architectural heritage, which often, he says, leaves him

trembling with rage. My wife tells me to calm down; as she rightly notes, I can do nothing about this disaster now.

No town or city in Britain, he writes,

has inherited so little in the way of beauty that officials did not think it worth destroying.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 23.13.37

Birmingham Central Library: opened 1974, demolished 2015, replaced with something just as bad if not worse

It was the hope, for instance, of Sir Herbert Manzoni, an energetic city engineer and surveyor of Birmingham with modish proclivities,

to pull down every non-modernist building in Birmingham’s city centre.

Fortunately Sir Herbert dropped dead before achieving his ambition,

but he got quite far, and his spirit sputtered on after him.

The magnificent Victorian library

was pulled down and replaced with an inverted concrete ziggurat of such ugliness and, before long, dilapidation, that it defied description, at least by me.

Paris 1865

Ordinary, human-sized pissoir. Paris, 1865

Rapists’ haven

The environs of the library served as

a giant pissoir and, at night, as a haven for drunks and rapists.

In this way

the Albert Speers of Britain converted the Victorian dream of municipal munificence into the nightmare of administered anomie.

Manzoni and Speer

Manzoni and Speer