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The development and design of the city 1660–1720

This book is about the making of London in the period 1660-1720. This period saw the beginnings of a new understanding of built form and a transitional stage in the transmission and articulation of that form in design procedures. The book discusses the processes and methods by which the development of the city was financed and organized. It considers the leading developers and questions to what extent the traditional model which attributes responsibility for the development of London to aristocratic landlords is a viable one. The book looks at the structure of the building industry and assesses how it was adapted to meet the demands of the production of speculative housing on a scale and at a pace never previously experienced. It outlines how concepts concerning the form of the new terraces were communicated and transmitted through the building chain and finally realized in the built product. The book focuses on the discipline of architectural history and is primarily concerned with architectural and urban design issues. It talks about drawings as the sum of an architect's oeuvre, rather than the buildings, or the drawings and the buildings together. The book provides information on the style and layout of the new developments and explores the extent to which they can be categorized as a 'modernizing' phenomenon.

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Honest artisans and crafty contractors
Elizabeth McKellar

Dan Cruickshank has characterized the constructor of the Georgian speculative house as a builder rather than a craftsman. This chapter investigates who the craftsman was and the ways in which he operated in speculative development, an area in which architects were not involved as designers, although sometimes as developers and investors. It necessarily concentrates upon practice among the higher ranks of the building trades, although more information about the divisions and structures within those trades is needed for a fuller picture. Linda Clarke insists, as the result of a rigidly deterministic Marxist mode of analysis, that the building tradesman remained an artisan; full capitalism, based in her view. The master builder or building contractor is usually seen as a nineteenth century phenomenon, with Thomas Cubbitt in the early nineteenth century being seen as the first of a new breed.

in The birth of modern London
Design through drawing
Elizabeth McKellar

This chapter outlines what is meant by the term 'design'. The central question for design practice in early modern England, as for building practice, is the extent to which there was a separation of design and production. Very little attempt has been made to understand drawings in terms of the contemporary approach to design, or to consider in a broader sense what their purpose might have been. John Harris utilized the techniques of the drawings specialist to catalogue the collection there and established architectural drawing studies as a unique subject area. John Harris's Introduction to the Inigo Jones catalogue contains some interesting and perceptive notes on the direction that drawing studies have taken. Even at the highest levels of architecture it is possible that drawing skills were neither necessary nor common.

in The birth of modern London
Books and alternative design methods
Elizabeth McKellar

In the introductory remarks to his translation of Vignola, Joseph Moxon said that the purpose of the book was to make the use of the orders comprehensible so that, 'any that can but read and understand English, may Readily learn the Proportion that all Members in a Building have one unto an other'. The distinction Eileen Harris makes between books on the orders, and books of designs and pattern books, is of use in this context. By the time Campbell was writing his London Tradesman in 1747 he takes it for granted that all the masters of the major building trades will be able to read English, draw and design their own work and be acquainted with the architectural trends of the time. Design even for mass production was still a collaborative activity.

in The birth of modern London
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Elizabeth McKellar

The image of late seventeenth-century London as a phoenix rising reinvigorated from the ashes of the Great Fire has been a powerful and persuasive one. As far as architectural and building practice is concerned this book has argued that many features which were thought to have occurred in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries actually originated much earlier. The London house was a new kind of object. It was perfectly suited in both structure and form to fulfil the demands of an increasingly commercialized, mass-consumption housing market arranged around the continual renewal and replacement of products. The late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century London house is then a regional dialect or a vernacular variant of the classical language.

in The birth of modern London
The standardization of production
Elizabeth McKellar

As John Styles has argued in his article 'Manufacturing, Consumption and Design in Eighteenth-Century England', standardization and the large-scale manufacture of products was a process that was established long before the advent of mechanized factory production in the nineteenth century. The central roles of the carpenter and bricklayer in the production of the London house were to the detriment of the stone masons, once the most powerful of the building trades, and the ones who have received most attention from historians. This chapter shows a picture of a building industry in a state of flux. On the one hand the technology and labour skills required were different only in the quantity and speed of output which were demanded. On the other hand employment patterns and operating procedures were changing rapidly.

in The birth of modern London
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The ‘mad intemperance ... of building’
Elizabeth McKellar

The system by which developers improved the value of their land through building is well known. The advantages of the building lease system were many. For a start, as J.R. Ward has observed in a study of late eighteenth-century Bristol, it was a system which allowed finance to operate within a fragmented industrial structure. The building lease system was perfectly adapted to both the labour and the financial conditions of the period. The building of sewage and drainage systems seems generally to have been undertaken by developers, while the matter of water supply was the responsibility of each individual household. Some figures are available from the cases of how much a house cost to build. The prices given for houses in the City are very high. James Burkin's house, which was commissioned by him and described as a mansion house, cost the princely sum of £1,601.

in The birth of modern London
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Noble landlords and greedy speculators
Elizabeth McKellar

In Georgian London John Summerson outlined what he saw to be the classic development process in the late seventeenth century. He described the prime developer of the time as being 'the noble landlord with a greedy purse' and he gave as his two examples, the fourth Earl of Southampton and the first Earl of St Albans. This chapter sets out to discover whether Summerson's analysis is still sustainable or whether the new wealth of the City played a significant role in the reshaping of the capital. It looks at the types of landholdings upon which development is known to have occurred, the extent to which this took place upon noblemen's estates and the role they played within the development process. The land market was more fluid and hence smaller plots of land were developed, usually by speculators, sometimes with the involvement of the landowner but more often without it.

in The birth of modern London
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Tradition and innovation in the urban terrace
Elizabeth McKellar

This chapter seeks to identify the characteristics of the house, to assess how novel it was, and to place it within the existing context of housing in the capital. John Summerson's approach typifies the problems of accommodating the late seventeenth century within a traditional architectural chronology. Summerson's elevation in Georgian London gives an over-regularized view of the house using almost eighteenth-century proportions and including a basement which was not always standard at the time, so that the house truly looks like a less sophisticated version of the Georgian house. Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises discussed the problems of incorporating the traditional central position of the staircase within the essentially linear plan of the urban terrace house, which deprived it of light, and offered top-lighting as a solution.

in The birth of modern London
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Constructing Classicism: architecture in an age of commerce
Elizabeth McKellar

The desire to smooth out and explain away the inconsistencies in British classicism was evident more recently in Giles Worsley's book, Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age, of 1995, in which the late seventeenth century becomes an 'interlude' in his version of British classicism. Besides the search for respectable precedents to validate 'native' architecture many historians have gone one step further and attempted to create a coherent classical tradition within England. With regard to architectural practice the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in Britain has traditionally been seen as a transitional period between the medieval and the modern. It was the time at which the building process changed from being a locally organized craft-based activity into a commercial industry. This introduction aims to outline the main themes in the text and the historiography which it addresses.

in The birth of modern London