The materials used were more varied than ever. Improved transport made builders less dependent on local supplies; thus the railway train and, later, the motor lorry, helped to destroy the character of regional architecture. Materials were abundant; there were few restrictions about the way they could be used. In i 81 o the tax on bricks was repealed; the window tax was abolished the following year.
Streets were seldom designed as complete architectural units: Ruskin had said "do not think of unities of effect". So detached and semi-detached houses, each planned without any relation to its neighbours, became increasingly popular. When a street consisted of a continuous row of houses, any orderly effect was defeated by tiers of ill-shaped bay windows and by masses of meaningless, super-imposed ornament. A few terraces of large houses were built during the fifties; but they represented a dying fashion. Though designed as complete architectural compositions in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials, they were pompous and lumbering, marred by debased ornament, and wholly lacking in distinction.
In the countryside, the breakdown of all the old traditions of regional building was beginning: the houses of the well-to-do exhibited all the fussy elaboration of town houses, while cottages were built with the same lack of invention; the same disregard for human welfare that had given the factory workers 'their grim homes.
The middle-class householder was no longer satisfied by the simple and convenient plan of the eighteenth-century house, with its few. large and well-proportioned rooms. His sense of importance demanded a house with as many rooms as possible, and as the value of land was constantly increasing, these houses had to be crowded into the same amount of space as that occupied by the older houses, thus reducing the size of rooms. So houses grew taller, four storeys or even higher. Great new blocks of dwellings towered up six, seven or eight storeys. Once again, as in the days of Piers Plowman, "High houses were regarded as a good investment for money."' In these tall houses and in the blocks of dwellings, which were called tenements when they accommodated what the Victorians called "the lower orders" and flats when they were inhabited by the middle and upper classes, the staircases lost their breadth; rooms were no longer a pleasant shape, they were just assembled without much relationship to each other, and all sorts of wasted spaces and odd corners appeared. The Victorian house builders dealt with any awkward-shaped space that occurred in a passage or on a landing, by putting a wooden framework in front of it, hanging a door, and calling it a cupboard. Those connecting passages were dark and rambling, and down in the basement, the service quarters were even darker. Upstairs, more light than ever was available.
The window tax was repealed in 1851, the Victorians liked lots of windows, and improvements in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials manufacture accommodated this liking. Sash windows could now be glazed with single large panes of plate glass, so that the rectangular window opening, while still retaining the proportion of the double square, was divided into two parts only. These large panes of excellent glass let in more light, but windows lost the neat appearance which the white painted glazing bars had imparted to them in the Georgian age. To help in the diffusion of light, and also to secure additional privacy, these windows with their big plate glass panes were curtained with elaborate white lace. "It has been the fashion to laugh at the way the Victorians cluttered up their houses with all kinds of unnecessary frills, but the starched, white, lace curtain was a highly functional instrument for the diffusion of light. It has never been bettered for this purpose, because it provides absolute control over the diffusion of the light available, and, if drawn on a dull day, can give additional brightness to a room."
'The new, large-paned windows were often obstructed by elaborate developments of the window-box, so that the lower half of the sash opened upon a miniature green-house. "In the simplest form the window greenhouse was nothing more than an ornamental fern case placed upon the sill or hung from the window, but extensions of the idea gave the Victorian handyman a chance for those elaborations so dear to his heart. Complicated arrangements of plants and hanging baskets gave way, in households run by more daring souls, to combined ornamental plant cases and aquaria, and in larger London villas to the inclusion of a fountain."
Lectures on Architecture and Painting, by John Ruskin. 1854
In every room of the Victorian house there were ornamental patterns and decorative flourishes to arrest the eye; for householders had taken Ruskin's words to heart when he had written about "a general law, of singular importance in the present day, a law of simple common sense-not to decorate things belonging to purposes of active and occupied life. Wherever you can rest, there decorate; where rest is forbidden, so is beauty. You must not mix ornament with business, any more than you may mix play."' The home was the place for decoration, and builders, decorators and furnishers filled the homes of England with conflicting patterns, shapes and colours.
Though new and economical building materials were available, they were seldom allowed to display their real merits. In that age of sham they were used to ape traditional materials; elaborately figured wood was simulated by grained paintwork; great skill was lavished on producing the likeness of marble on plaster. Composition ornament could be pressed out by the mile, and all kinds of machine-made decoration was superimposed on every possible feature and article, for, like their Teutonic predecessors who conquered Roman Britain, the Victorians suffered from the "dread of blank space".3 The description of the furnishing of a cottage ornee in Handley Cross suggests the pride that people took in rich and massive furnishing. When Captain Doleful wrote to Mr. Jorrocks about that desirable residence, Diana Lodge, he gave a list of the contents of the drawing room, which included ten chairs "... of massive imitation-rosewood, with beaded and railed backs and round knobs along the tops, and richly carved legs. In the centre is a beautiful round imitation-rosewood table on square lion-clawed brass castors, and the edge of the table is deeply inlaid with a broad circle of richly-carved, highly-polished brass." He mentioned "a fine flowered pattern" carpet, "richer than anything I can describe..."
In that rollicking story of Oxford, Cuthbert Bede's Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, there is an account of the rooms of a wealthy undergraduate, who was supposed to be a man of taste. "The sitting room was large and lofty, and was panelled with oak throughout. At the further end was an elaborately carved book-case of walnut wood, filled with books gorgeously bound in every tint of morocco and vellum, with their backs richly tooled in gold." The walls, we are told, were thronged with water-colours; above them were groups of armour, and for the furniture, "there were couches of velvet, and lounging chairs of every variety and shape. There was a Broadwood's grand piano-forte.... There were round tables and square tables, and writing tables; and there were side tables with statuettes and Swiss carvings, and old china, and gold apostle spoons, and lava ware, and Etruscan vases, and a swarm of Spiers' elegant knick-knackeries. There were reading-stands of all sorts; Briarcan-armed brazen ones, that fastened on to the chair you sat in -sloping ones to rest on the table before you, elaborately carved in open work, and an upright one of severe Gothic, like a lectern, where you were to stand and read without contracting your chest. Then there were all kinds of stands to hold books; sliding ones, expanding ones, portable ones, heavy fixture ones, plain mahogany ones, and oak ones made glorious by Margetts with the arms of Oxford and St. John's, carved and emblazoned on the ends."
A Victorian Vignette, by Robert Harling. "The Garden"
Furniture was made in the darkest woods available-mahogany, rosewood, black walnut, bog oak and over the surface of sideboards and cupboards, on overmantels and chimney-pieces; carving in the highest possible relief was used to depict flowers, fruit, animals and human figures. A sideboard shown at the Great Exhibition of 783T was decorated with carved panels of scenes from Scott's Kenilworth. Suchfurniture was monumental in effect; most of it was well made, and nearly all of it was ill-proportioned and ungainly. Cheaper variations of it were produced in factories, and the machine was always used to imitate hand-made furniture. The term "machine-made" was used with contempt. Nobody thought of designing furniture which could be well made by machinery.
There were patterned carpets of violent colour; windows were draped with patterned damask, velvet or serge, trimmed with ball fringes, cords and tassels. Heavily patterned wallpapers were partly hidden by innumerable pictures in wide gilt frames. Heavily fringed tablecloths draped all the tables; fringed and bobbled runners drooped from the mantelshelves. Ornamental vases and knickknacks filled every available space-ruby and gold Bohemian glass; turquoise, pink or apple green alabaster glass; garishly painted china; wax or wool flowers protected by large glass domes. Many of these ornaments had individual merit, but surrounded as they were by conflicting patterns, they merely added to the discords in a room. Papier macho furniture was very popular. This was lacquered black, inlaid with small chips of mother-of-pearl, and painted with bunches of flowers in realistic colours, and arabesques of gilt.
In the sitting and dining rooms, wallpapers were usually of heavy flock, deep red, green or blue, and patterned with greatly enlarged damask designs. In the passages and bedrooms, wallpapers had large floral designs-roses, lilies and violets being the favourites. Such flower patterns appeared again in the printed chintzes with which the windows were draped, but they seldom harmonised with the wallpaper. The carpets also displayed brightly-hued floral patterns.
The staircase and stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials while not as massive as that in the downstairs rooms, was heavy enough. Huge wardrobes dominated the room. The dressing-table was draped with stiffly starched muslin petticoats, mounted over pink or blue silk, and the drapery continued over the mirror. In the middle of the century four-poster beds, or beds with a draped canopy were usual. These were followed by brass or iron bedsteads of repellent appearance. Towards the end of the century the old stuffy habit of drawing bed curtains at night had almost disappeared.
The warming pan, which previous generations of housewives had used for airing the sheets, was replaced by the stone hot water bottle. Every bedroom had a marble-topped wash-hand-stand with china basins and ewers. Flat shallow baths, or hip baths, were also part of bedroom equipment. They were of metal, painted on the outside to resemble grained wood, and were filled from large metal cans, painted and grained to match the baths.
In the fifties and sixties, bathrooms with a direct hot and cold water supply were rare. Surtees, describing a bedroom with "every imaginable luxury" at Hanby House in Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour, includes "hip-baths, and foot-baths, a shower-bath, and hot and cold baths adjoining .. ," In the pages of Punch, the bathroom and the troubles of plumbing were occasionally subjects for the pencil of John Leech, A gentleman is depicted in one of the early oblong metal baths, framed in a wooden case, frantically pulling a bell cord amid clouds of steam, and shouting: "Hollo! Hi! Here! Somebody! I've turned on the hot water, and I can't turn it off again!" A swell with long, curly hair is advised by a short-haired old gentleman to use a conical oil-skin cap when taking a shower bath: a gentleman wearing such a cap is interrupted during his shower by the maid hammering on the bathroom door, and saving: "If you please, sir, here's the butcher, and missus says, what will you have for dinner to-day_ ?" A grubby schoolboy disgusts his sisters by exclaiming: "Do you know, all the pipes are froze, and we shan't be able to have any of that horrid washing these cold mornings! Ain't it prime!" Under the title of "A trifle the matter with the kitchen boiler", another of Leech's drawings shows a tophatted plumber and his mates removing the kitchen range and piling brickwork and rubble on the floor, while the master of the house looks on in despair. But before the end of the century, bathrooms were common though many people considered it was wrong and quite ridiculous to suggest that the houses of "the lower orders" should have such conveniences.
Bedrooms were still lit by oil lamps and candles, but in the town the principal living rooms were gas-lit. Cast iron and brass were fashioned into great branched gaseliers, suspended from the middle of the ceiling. The gas jets were protected from draught, at first by glass shades, made in the shape of an o p chimney; these gave place to glass globes which were sometimes plain, but often coloured rose pink or amber and decorated with painted sprays of flowers. Wall gas-brackets were of the same style as the pendant gaseliers.
Below servant stairs, the servants a basic staircase with plain but serviceable stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials had to cope with immense and draughty basements, ill-lit and in need of constant scrubbing. All. food had to be carried up a steep flight of stairs to the dining room, coals too had to be carried upstairs.
In the kitchen, the "patent kitchener" had become a vast cooking range on which the ample and elaborate Victorian meals could, with great waste of fuel, be efficiently cooked. In addition to a large table, the kitchen was generally furnished with an armchair for the cook and a few Windsor or rush-seated chairs for the other servants. A vast dresser occupied one wall. There were iron and copper pots and pans, and a variety of fancy decorated moulds for making puddings, aspics, mousses and shaped sweets.
During the second half of the century, a few artistic people rebelled against the stuffiness and elaboration of houses and furnishing and interior design like stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials. Of these rebels, by far the most influential was the poet and master-craftsman, \William Morris. He had originally started life with the idea of becoming an architect; but he realised that architecture as it was practised in the middle years of the century, was something artificial, and that architects were too intent on waging "the battle of the styles" to be concerned with the welfare and practice of the crafts that served building. He regarded the architect as an intruder, a man who dictated from his drawing board how men should use their skill in woodwork and masonry, and with growing enthusiasm, he looked back to the Middle Ages, to the days when craftsmen were a band of brothers, working together; and building, unregulated by the Roman orders, was guided by the experience of the guilds and the laws made by their master-craftsmen. So he turned back to the past, and attempted to revive in a commercial machine age the handicrafts that had served an entirely different form of civilisation and a much smaller population. At Uptown, in Kent, a house was built for him by an architect named Philip Webb. It was called the Red House, and it was the ancestor of a new romantic movement in domestic building. It had walls of warm red brick, a high-pitched red-tiled roof, and a cheerfully English air of having grown comfortably from the ground: it might have been built any time between 148o and i 68e instead of in 18 5 g. It has been copied and adapted with variations and additions, cheapened and vulgarised, by speculative builders for years; but its possibilities as a model were not recognised immediately, and Morris and his friends, who ignored the machine and who formed a company for the designing and making of furniture, wallpapers and fabrics, were regarded as cranks. One of the characters in News from Nowhere, which Morris described as "A Utopian romance", says: "England was once a country of clearings amongst the woods and wastes, with a few towns interspersed, which were fortresses for the feudal army, markets for the folk, gathering places for the craftsmen. It then became a country of huge and foul workshops, and fouler gambling-dens, surrounded by an ill-kept, poverty-stricken farm, pillaged by the masters of the workshops. It is now a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds, and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty. For, indeed, we should be too much ashamed of ourselves if we allowed the making of goods, even on a large scale, to carry with it the appearance, even, of desolation and misery."