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Victorian Free Gothic

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  07 The Great Synagogue 29 Reussdale and The Abbey 10 Toxteth Lodge
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  11 Rookwood Mortuary Chapel 02 Redfern Mortuary Terminal 03 Witches’ Houses, Annandale
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  07 The Abbey, Annandale 01 St. Patrick’s Seminary Manly 38 Gatekeeper's Lodge
At the start of Queen Victoria’s long reign, the Gothic Revival in Britain was gathering momentum, with Barry and Pugin showing the way as their Houses of Parliament arose beside the Thames at the very heart of the British Empire. This was a time when architects made it their business to journey to the great cathedrals, the monasteries, the parish churches, the castles and the manor houses of the Middle Ages and to record them in measured drawings and freehand sketches. With inexpensive architectural periodicals providing professionals with a wealth of up-to-the-minute information, dedicated architects were able to ac— quire a wealth of knowledge about medieval buildings. It is thus not surprising that a high degree of scholarship is evident in the design of many Victorian buildings which adopted a Gothic style.
But there were good reasons why the designers of many buildings in the Gothic idiom were not especially concerned with archaeological correctness. Most nineteenth-century buildings had requirements vastly different from those of the Middle Ages; some, like railway stations, had no precedent. Many architects saw ‘modern Gothic’ as a style of the present, not the past. And there were those who lacked the expertise, and perhaps the desire, to take a scholarly approach to the re-use of elements of medieval architecture.
The writings of Ruskin, full of moral fervour and glowing descriptions of that most ‘impure’ of styles, Venetian Gothic, also tended to lead architects away from a drily academic regurgitation of medieval details to experiment with picturesque silhouettes and polychromatic surfaces. The rich, complex rhythms and textures of William Pitt’s late nineteenth-century commercial façades which line the city streets of Melbourne show how exuberantly Free Gothic designers departed from academic correctness as they expressed something of the euphoria generated by the city’s financiers in the years before the crash of the early 1890s.
In Australia, Victorian Free Gothic was a flexible and versatile idiom. While the established Protestant Church tended to favour Academic Gothic, the nonconformist denominations often chose Free Gothic. But the style was certainly not confined to churches and buildings with religious associations. At its best, it was used to create memorable buildings of vigorous and original design. Richard Roach Jewell’s Town Hall in Perth and John Young’s Abbey in Annandale, Sydney, are among that special breed of Free Gothic landmark buildings which once seen are not easily forgotten.

Oldefleet Building, Collins Street, Melbourne, Vic. William Pitt, architect, 1889-90. A flamboyant façade incorporating excellent brick, tile and cement work.
Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. NSW, Thomas Rowe, architect, completed 1878. A composite building of Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine motifs.
  Perth Town Hall. Completed 1870
  Former Metropolitan Gas Company Buildings; Flinders Street, Melbourne. Completed 1892; Venetian Gothic applied to a tall building
  Ormond College, Melbourne University. Completed 1881.
  Former Stock Exchange. Collins Street, Melbourne. Completed 1888.
  Former Safe Deposit Building. Collins Street, Melbourne. Completed 1890.
  ANZ Bank, Collins Street Melbourne. Completed 1883
  Old Rialto. Collins Street, Melbourne. Completed 1888
  Olderfleet Buildings. Collins Street, Melbourne. Completed 1888
  St George's Presbyterian Church. East St Kilda. Completed 1880
  Quoted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.