If any architectural style defines the Victorian era it is the Queen Anne style, so much so that we often refer to Queen Anne style houses as Victorian. However, the term Victorian refers not to a particular style but to the era of the reign (1837-1901) of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria.
During Queen Victoria’s long reign, England experienced changes brought by industrialization and a growing middle class. In response, mid-nineteenth century English architects turned to the comfort of vernacular domestic architecture emphasizing home and pre-industrial times. This Old English style imitated Tudor manor houses with half-timbering, tile-hung walls, leaded glass windows, and steep roofs. Richard Norman Shaw also created a related style called Queen Anne, which he rendered in red brick with white woodwork. Though called the Queen Anne style, Shaw and other architects drew from sources earlier than Queen Anne’s reign (1702-14).
Likewise in America, rapid changes were taking place. A growing middle class was developing taste and means; balloon framing replaced heavy timber framing, enabling complex building forms; and building components were mass produced and shipped quickly on expanding train routes, encouraging generous ornament and variety. In the face of the changes of industrialization and growth, and with the American centennial approaching, Americans were equally nostalgic for a simpler past.
It is then perhaps no surprise that the half-timbered, multi-gabled British buildings designed by Thomas Harris for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, were an instant hit, as were the works of Shaw published in architectural journals. H. H. Richardson first translated this style to American taste with the Watts-Sherman House (1874) in Newport, Rhode Island. Soon thereafter, the Queen Anne style was born in America.
Queen Anne houses generally have a central block with a steep hipped roof, and projections from the front and sides forming cross gables. Bay windows, one storey porches, and towers create complex massing. Brick, clapboard, shingles, and terracotta used in the same building add to the picturesque quality of these houses. Wooden ornament in the Eastlake style, such as spindles, scrolled brackets, and turned posts decorate eaves, friezes, gables and porches.
Queen Anne style houses vary from the Old English style with half-timbering, to spindlework and Eastlake ornament, to Free Classic houses with classical motifs, to patterned masonry buildings directly evocative of the English Queen Anne style. It is a style of infinite variety, color, joy, visual delight, inventiveness, and adaptability. And while drawing from the past, Queen Anne style houses were a fitting modern expression of the close of the nineteenth century. Sweetness and Light: The “Queen Anne” Movement, by Mark Girouard, is an excellent history and The Queen Anne House: America’s Victorian Vernacular by Janet Foster shows these houses in all their splendor. The above books and more on America’s domestic traditional and classical architecture may be found at my online bookshop.
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