Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Making HistoryEdward Augustus Freeman and Victorian Cultural Politics$

G.A. Bremner and Jonathan Conlin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265871

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265871.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 01 June 2020

E. A. Freeman and the Culture of the Gothic Revival

E. A. Freeman and the Culture of the Gothic Revival

(p.139) 8 E. A. Freeman and the Culture of the Gothic Revival
Making History

Chris Miele

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This essay looks at E. A. Freeman’s involvement in the Oxford Architectural Society, which provided him with the platform to develop as an architectural historian and writer. The varied interests of the OAS influenced Freeman’s approach to the history of medieval architecture alongside Thomas Arnold’s new philosophy of history. This contribution is set against the backdrop of Oxford in the 1840s and the rapid changes the City and University were experiencing. The OAS also provided Freeman with the opportunity to meet architects and even to act as a client in the restoration of Dorchester Abbey, which the OAS promoted from 1846, eventually using William Butterfield as architect. This experience encouraged Freeman to write about the theory of monument care, which is perhaps his most enduring contribution to the culture of the Gothic Revival.

Keywords:   Gothic Revival, architectural societies, Oxford Architectural Society, OAS, restoration, architectural history, architectural nomenclature, George Gilbert Scott, William Butterfield

E. A. FREEMAN’S INVOLVEMENT in the Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture (hereafter OAS) enabled him to contribute to the culture of the Gothic Revival at exactly the time when it was developing into a vital new school of architecture, one sustained by critics and historians.1 He made significant interventions in the theory of that movement, but until fairly recently that contribution has been marginalised.2 This may simply be because he was no literary stylist in the manner of Pugin or Ruskin. Or, it may be owing to how he was presented in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century (1972), which remains a standard source-book. Here, in the space of about 300 words, at the end of a chapter on the Ecclesiologists, Freeman is dismissed as no more than one of the ‘medievalist school’.3

Perhaps his close association with the OAS has something to do with that judgement. Freeman was one of many, appearing as something of a follower not a leader, and it is true that the OAS supported his development as an architectural writer. It provided an outlet for research on topics outside the standard curriculum. Through the Society Freeman developed contacts with practising architects, in particular with George Gilbert Scott with whom he (p.140) would correspond for many years.4 The OAS also provided the infrastructure to study architectural history: a library, a large collection of study drawings, casts of medieval ornament. Critically, it provided him with colleagues who fostered a sense of shared endeavour and access to a national network of affiliated societies, most notably the Cambridge Camden Society (CCS).5

Freeman’s achievement, we now understand, was not simply a function of that network. His was a real achievement, an innovation in the practice of architectural history. He was the first to apply concepts of history he learned from Thomas Arnold, installed as Regius professor of history at Oxford in 1840. Arnold’s work encouraged Freeman to define a new way of writing about past architecture. In this approach, style and its development over time were studied and analysed for what they recorded about the customs, religion, and politics of a particular time and place as mediated through its climate and geography. The essence of this proposition he put in a paper delivered to the OAS in November 1843. He returned to it again in 1846 and then, finally, in 1849, after he had left Oxford and resigned from the committee of the society, in his ambitious book, A History of Architecture, a milestone in architectural scholarship in Britain. It was not just the first world history of architecture attempted in English. It was the first piece of architectural writing that systematically, and in one continuous narrative, sought to explain stylistic development as a function of underlying historical change. Architecture is treated as evidence of wider forces. Freeman described this condition as ‘moral’ but not in the ethical sense. He meant that word in its larger aesthetic terms, as something having an identity that is recognisable and representative. Later cultural historians writing in German would call that moral identity the Zeitgeist, or ‘spirit of the age’.

To this point, writing about historic architecture had tended, broadly, in two directions. On the one hand was the antiquarian tradition that developed into the archaeological approach Robert Willis perfected at exactly the same time Freeman was writing. It was scientific but hermetic, making no attempt to interact with larger historical ideas or narratives. The other broad school was deterministic, using past architecture to illustrate theology or theory, often in some combination. This was the approach of Pugin and the Ecclesiologists. Freeman was very aware of the novelty of what he was trying to achieve and how it differed from his contemporaries. Indeed, he trumpets it in the introduction to this 1849 work where it sounds like boasting. That claim was, however, fair comment.

(p.141) Oxford as an illustration of historical change and continuity

The other influence on Freeman’s development as an architectural historian would have been Oxford itself. Here was ample evidence showing how the man-made environment could change in response to historical forces. The city Freeman saw in 1841 was in the middle of a great transformation, one begun with the opening of the Oxford and Coventry Canal in 1790. The new infrastructure connected the ancient market town to the industrial Midlands, and beside the new canal were new industries on the low-lying meadows west of the city. New working-class suburbs soon followed. In Walton Street, on the edge of this new quarter, the university built its own industrial premises, the University Press building that opened in 1827, designed by Daniel Robertson. It is a large shed fronted by a classical screen recalling Roman triumphal architecture. That year marked the start of the redevelopment of land formerly part of Beaumont Palace: new terraced houses for the middle classes on straight streets (Beaumont Place and St John’s Street) running up into the area between the railway and St Giles, the main northern entrance to the city. In 1844 the railway arrived on land near the canal. There was a passenger station but also a large goods yard, which is now gone.

Within the university, student numbers increased steadily from 1800. The colleges embarked on a great rebuilding programme to house them. Alongside this natural forces were quietly at work. The many college and university building projects of the 16th and 17th centuries used stone from quarries at Headington, an inferior material that weathered very badly. By the late 18th century buildings scarcely a century old were in need of repair. There followed several very extensive refacings: Lincoln College in 1824, All Souls in 1826, Pembroke in 1829, Exeter in 1833, and Merton in 1836. Instead of ancient buildings mellowed with age, Freeman saw sharp new work set in amongst more stable, ancient masonry formed from harder building stone. Ruskin remarked on the effect when he matriculated at Christ Church in 1839, and that contrast stimulated his own thinking on aesthetics and conservation. He was one of the OAS’s first members.6 At about this time, alongside this necessary work, a handful of more or less archaeologically correct restorations of college chapels were undertaken, notably L. N. Cottingham’s work at Magdalen College Chapel (1829–33), one the most ambitious restoration projects of the day and notable for its careful approach.7

(p.142) Here in Freeman’s Oxford the so-called ‘Battle of the Styles’ was underway, Classical versus Gothic, Greek versus Italianate. What was the correct style to express the modern age and serve its new requirements? On the Gothic side were Underwood’s designs for the pavilion at the Botanic Gardens in 1835 and the church of St Paul of a year later. More interesting was the earlier neo-Romanesque St Clement’s, completed in 1828 by Robertson, who designed the University Press building. Replacing a smaller, ancient church, St Paul’s was the first new Anglican church in Oxford since the Reformation. It commands greater interest in the context of Freeman’s life because of the building’s brief association with John Henry Newman, who was working in the parish as a curate ministering to the poor during the rebuilding. St Paul’s may appear crude and naive now but it would very probably have been the first attempt at ‘Norman revival’ that Freeman ever saw.8 Freeman admired Newman, and so it may be wondered whether his unusual interest in the Romanesque began here, with this building. In any event the OAS that Freeman joined shortly after matriculation took a strong interest in the architecture of the Saxon and Norman periods.9

On the Classical side, apart from the University Press building on Walton Street, was C. R. Cockerell’s masterpiece, the Ashmolean Museum, whose period of construction (1841–5) corresponded with Freeman’s time at Trinity. It occupies a prominent position, at the junction of Beaumont Street and St Giles, which had itself just been widened and where, close by, George Gilbert Scott’s splendid Martyrs’ Memorial, in a pure medieval style, was rising.

What Freeman saw when he arrived at Oxford, then, were ancient buildings being restored and modernised, new infrastructure (canals, railways, roads), and modern buildings of many types and styles, all available within less than a 15-minute walk up from the railway station or by coach from the north into the ancient city via St Giles. Arguably, there was no better place to see architecture as the residue of social, economic, and political processes or to understand the role of the architect as the vehicle for expressing the spirit of the age in monumental form. One of the striking anachronisms of Freeman’s History of Architecture was his imagining that architects had played the same role in the ancient and medieval periods as they were playing in his own time. Ruskin’s concept of craft production and workshops did not occur to Freeman.

(p.143) The infrastructure for architectural history

How did joining the OAS in March 1842 help Freeman to define a new kind of architectural history? From the beginning the Society kept a library of modern publications on architectural history in several languages. Publishers and members made regular donations. Members could borrow volumes and in the same room were casts, models, and a large collection of brass rubbings. Most important of all, perhaps, was the bequest that the OAS received very shortly after Freeman joined. This was the large study collection compiled over many years by the architect and antiquary Thomas Rickman (1776—1841).10 This collection comprised thousands of sheets covering all periods of English medieval architecture, organised by his familiar style categories (Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular) and by building element (mouldings, capitals, shafts, piers, window tracery, towers, etc.). Freeman was wealthy enough to compile a library equal to that of the OAS, but the Rickman collection was unique in the British Isles and we know he made great use of it. Indeed, the collection provided the model for Freeman’s own parallel collection of window tracery designs. Here, in the Rickman collection, was represented the whole of English architecture before the Reformation, demonstrating its unity across counties and particular styles, each element permeated by the characteristics of its larger stylistic entity. Rickman had done the work of a taxonomer, providing the raw material to synthesise new ideas. The very fact of the collection would have suggested new narrative possibilities.

The other characteristic of the OAS was the great range of subject matter its membership covered, far wider than the topics presented at its sister society at Cambridge.11 Freeman’s interests were clearly structured around the subject matter that formed the basis of the OAS’s proceedings in its early years. Between 1839 and 1841, it heard papers on Saxon and Romanesque architecture and local styles of ancient architecture along with papers on medieval bridges and houses, topics which Freeman never attempted.12 The OAS also debated the symbolic content of architecture, a theme which would come to define Freeman’s work. In December 1840 one member, an R. Simpson from Oriel, read a paper on Rationale divinorum officiorum.13 Written by the 13th-century bishop of Mende, Guillaume Durandus, it presented a comprehensive symbolic code for church buildings. The ancient text would shortly be (p.144) taken up by two leading lights of the Camden Society, John Mason Neale and Benjamin Webb, as the basis for their theory of ‘sacramentality’, an interpretation of church ornament and arrangement which eventually led to charges that the Ecclesiologists were using architecture to broker a reconciliation with the Church of Rome. In those early years Freeman avoided this approach and it is worth noting that in response to the crisis prompted by the Camdenians’ restoration of the Round Church, he formally distanced himself and the OAS from it. On 3 June 1845, Freeman rejected the idea that church architecture should be ‘an engine of polemical Theology’. The society at Oxford would, he continued, ‘be the handmaid of the Church, not of any party in the Church’.14

Early in its history the OAS took an interest in the design of new churches for the colonies, particularly in regions that had no tradition of monumental stone building or indeed any architectural tradition.15 The Saxon and Norman styles, it was thought, reflected the emerging state of the church in late medieval Europe and so were, by analogy, best suited to places where Christianity had to compete on similar terms with other religions or local traditions hostile to it.16 Freeman saw the two as essentially one phase in the development of the Gothic overall, and one that he admired particularly as a complete and valid aesthetic system. The interaction of architecture with climate and geography also featured in his conception of architectural development.17 The Camdenians, by contrast, admired the Decorated, or ‘Middle Pointed’, style above others, as did Pugin (and those who thought it was easily adaptable and most beautiful) because it united construction with ornament. Accordingly, the OAS looked more favourably on new churches in earlier styles than their counterparts at Cambridge. Indeed, at the very first meeting Freeman attended, there was a favourable review of two new churches by Benjamin (p.145) Ferrey in the Norman style, one at Bedwin in Wiltshire and the other, grander design for St Nicholas, East Grafton, in the same county.18

Style and taste

Freeman’s exploration of the Romanesque appears, then, to have been encouraged by his exposure to the OAS. Aesthetically, however, he came to prefer the late Gothic or Perpendicular, which he understood as the English variant of the French Flamboyant style, and which he identified by a new term, the ‘Continuous Gothic’, to cover the style as it evolved across Europe. Here again the OAS had prepared the ground. In February 1842, shortly before Freeman joined, William Grey of Magdalen read a paper on local medieval style in Devonshire where the Perpendicular found a distinctive and particularly fine expression.19 The defining traits of the county’s medieval architecture included the relative lack of spires; ‘plain and bald’ towers (mostly in hilly districts); long, narrow naves (with no chancel arches); a continuous roof over the nave and chancel; and a great deal of fine timber furnishings (benches, roods, screens, etc.). Grey’s attempt was precocious. It would take a long time for scholars to categorise local style, which is surprising considering the rapid expansion of amateur county societies in the mid-1840s. Freeman, though, took to the idea. It suited his interest in fieldwork and played to the strong affection he had for his childhood home in Northamptonshire and associated parts of Leicestershire. Significantly, and again looking forward to A History of Architecture, the former boasts the most complete record of English church styles in the country, from the remarkable 7th-century nave at Brixworth and the splendid Saxon tower at Earls Barton to a string of fine 14th-century churches with dramatically beautiful spires.20

Brixworth was for Freeman the bridge from Roman architecture, whose primary achievement was the arch, to Romanesque architecture, which realised the decorative possibilities of the arch and so set in motion the process that concluded with the elaborately decorative architecture of the Continuous Gothic. The views put by Pugin and the Camden Society were based more on ideas of historical discontinuity, of growth and senescence. This perception led them, intellectually at least, to favour the Decorated style because it held structure and ornament in perfect tension and realised most perfectly what was commonly called the ‘vertical principle’, the defining trait of medieval form. Freeman considered all medieval styles were equally perfect as expressions of (p.146) the underlying traits of their time and place, even though he accepted one might be more or less suited to modern adaptation and taste. In this way, Freeman separated architectural history from the Battle of the Styles, approaching the matter in the critically detached way that provided the basis for his cultural–historical work.

There is a subtle difference at play here. In Cambridge the Ecclesiologists understood beauty in architecture as deriving from the expression of Christian truths. Thus, a perfect church was one that was in all respects symbolic—the ‘sacramentality’ referred to earlier. In this critical system, history is there to demonstrate reasons why one style is better than another. Freeman’s aesthetics were not exclusive. They were founded, as he explains in the introduction to A History of Architecture, on the work of Thomas Hope and, in particular, his posthumously published Historical Essay on Architecture (1835). The other salient influence Freeman acknowledged was J. L. Petit. His Remarks on Church Architecture of 1841 would have been one of the most comprehensive histories of medieval architecture available to Freeman when he joined the OAS. Petit, too, admired the Romanesque and Perpendicular styles on the basis they produced a more beautiful outline in silhouette than other styles.

Freeman was not influenced, however, by two other leading authorities working at this time in Cambridge outside the Ecclesiological fold. First was William Whewell (1794–1866), who wrote on the medieval architecture of Germany, the birthplace, he thought, of the Gothic style.21 Whewell’s understanding of medieval architecture was structural. He concluded that the pointed arch, a defining feature of medieval style, had emerged in Germany for functional and technical reasons having to do with the construction of stone vaulting. Freeman also sought to distance himself from Robert Willis (1800–78), who would make extensive contributions to the understanding of medieval architecture but through an approach that was essentially archaeological, though producing results which in many respects remain unchallenged.22

When it came to concepts of utility, all of which figured in some way in this debate, Freeman was sceptical, even agnostic. The ‘Beauty of an object was independent of its Utility’, he said in one address to the OAS: ‘Salisbury Cathedral … was no less beautiful because its Western Front had a false Façade.’ Nevertheless, he accepted, ornamenting construction was ‘the only honest and legitimate mode of obtaining beauty, especially in Churches, (p.147) where every thing should be real, even more than in other buildings’.23 Beauty in architecture did not occur necessarily at the point where construction and ornament coalesce.

Freeman working through the OAS

Freeman delivered his first paper at the October 1842 meeting of the OAS, a study of the ancient churches of Northampton, St Giles, St Peter, and St Sepulchre, of interest to him because all presented significant remains of a very early date.24 Over the winter of 1842–3 he made more extensive studies of the county’s architecture. A diary begun in 1843 (now lost) showed the considerable amount of time he devoted to studying architecture. Most holidays were spent walking and sketching churches in the Midlands, particularly Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.25 Then he delivered a paper on ornamental medieval brasses, a pastime popular amongst Oxbridge students. On 22 March 1843, Freeman delivered his first critical work on historiography, ‘On the Progressive Development of the Several Styles of Architecture, and the Connection of Each with the Spirit of the Age in Which It Arose’, illustrated with his own sketches.26 Only the published précis survives but it is enough to show his debt to Arnold. From this date he played an increasingly important role not just in the intellectual life of the OAS but in its administration too.

Freeman’s essay was novel because it portrayed architectural history as a continuous process over two millennia, beginning in Classical Greece. He was perhaps unique amongst Revivalists not just for admiring this tradition but for seeing it as part of a single story read across European architecture. That preference may be explained by his love of Ancient Greek literature. In this short paper, Freeman described how cultural forms evolved out of historical conflict and change. What we might call canonical monuments were those that held conflicting forces in balance and expressed that tension aesthetically. Those forces were, he considered, both natural (topography, geography, climate) and the product of human activity (history, custom, politics, economics, religion). Underlying this is a second narrative, one in which the vigour of northern races triumphs.

(p.148) At this very time, spring 1843, Freeman decided to enter into a debate with Pugin himself, who had recently written to the OAS to set out his theory that the most perfect styles of medieval architecture were those that fully expressed the resurrection in the form of a spire, and that meant buildings of the 12th to the 14th century, of the so-called First and Second Pointed styles. Freeman set out to disprove Pugin by making a detailed study of medieval church towers in Northamptonshire, renowned for west towers with fine stone spires. Pugin may, Freeman wrote that June, be right that spires are aesthetically most pleasing but his theory that the churches of this period were all intended to have them was not borne out by the facts. A paper of November that year dismissed Pugin trenchantly.27 On the basis of more fieldwork and study, Freeman concluded that many churches in Northamptonshire were clearly never even intended to have spires. Indeed, the lack of spires was a particular regional characteristic. Moreover, the vertical principle, symbolic of the resurrection, was no less developed in late Gothic (the Perpendicular style) than in any earlier one. Just consider, he observed, Canterbury Cathedral. In summing up, the chair of the meeting had this to say: ‘the plan which this Society originally prescribed for itself, and has steadily kept in view, is to collect facts and proceed by induction, leaving principles or theories to be drawn from them afterwards, whilst most writers on Gothic architecture seem to have gone on the opposite principle’.28

Two years later, at the November 1845 meeting of the OAS, Freeman expanded the theme in another paper, ‘The Development of Roman and Gothic Architecture, and Their Moral and Symbolical Teaching’.29 By this date he was reading OAS reports and contributing regularly to meetings, donating drawings and brass rubbings besides.30 This paper was the most ambitious he had written yet, and it was intended in part as a riposte to the essentialist doctrine of the Camden Society, whose association with Anglo-Catholicism was increasingly controversial. This ‘influential party,’ he wrote, ‘with something more like pretension to philosophical investigation’ had put the architecture of the 13th century, the Decorated or Middle Pointed, above all others.31 The ‘moral and symbolical teaching’ of Freeman’s piece was not the sacramentalism which Neale and Webb believed had defined medieval (p.149) practice.32 Freeman was determined to show that each new style had merit in its own terms both as evidence, and aesthetically, in an absolute sense. Each style was equally complete and satisfying, matters of individual taste or questions of modern utility being put to one side. The appearance of any building, and in particular sacred buildings, ought to be understood as an intimate expression of those ‘great philosophical and moral principles, intimately connected with the spirit and feelings of successive ages’. Like many who have tried to define a social history of art, Freeman struggles with how to describe this subtle relationship. It is not quite ‘symbolic’; it is not really metaphorical either. He prefers to say that the physical appearance of a building is ‘best calculated … to produce that moral effect [sic] which is the end of all art, especially when devoted to sacred purposes’.33 The ‘morality’ here is, as noted, not a right or a wrong but a characteristic that convened meaning.

All monuments, in any style then, are valid objects of historical study, first, because they are evidence and, second, because they each either express that ‘moral effect’ or show progress to the expression of it. From this perspective, Freeman is able to see the Classical tradition, Greek and Roman, positively. Not surprisingly, though, and given the context of this paper and Freeman’s own Tractarian views, he is in no doubt that architecture achieves aesthetic perfection during the medieval period. This period is on his telling a long one, stretching from what we understand now to the Romanesque, say the 6th or 7th century, to the late 15th. Across that span, Freeman sees two historical divisions. The language of the Romanesque (comprising Saxon and Norman styles in England) is the architecture of a Christian church in persecution, the architecture of the age of martyrs and confessors. Its heavy walls are a moral lesson against despondency and affliction. In this, ironically, he is perhaps following Neale at the Camden Society, whose first paper to the Camden Society explained the harsh detailing of Norman details at Old Shoreham Church – the ‘saw toothed, the nail-head, the reticulated, the chain, the cable’ – as ‘emblematic’ of early Christian martyrdom.34

The Gothic, evolving out of the Romanesque, is the language of the Church resplendent, having thrown off her mourning to exult in worldly triumph. Underpinning both species of medieval architecture is the ‘glorious’ (p.150) heritage of ‘our own Northern race’, whose vigour gave rise to the vertical principle in a continuous process that commenced in the Early Christian epoch. The will to express that vertical principle ever more clearly was the motor of stylistic development from Saxon to late or Flowing Gothic, including the Flamboyant and Perpendicular (which he admires above the Continental schools).

Thus it was that Freeman was particularly interested in buildings that illustrated that gradual evolutionary principle. They were in his terms more historic than ones constructed to a single design, a point of view that comes across strongly in a slightly earlier paper, of November 1844, on Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. This was, he wrote, built ‘gradually from one design, during the latter half of the twelfth century and beginning of the thirteenth century, as the same general outlines prevail throughout, while every gradual change of detail is admitted, from the east end, which is pure Romanesque, to the west, which is fully developed Early English’.35 It was possible, then, for a building to have a single design, and so a coherent aesthetic, notwithstanding it may be composed of parts which had very different styles. A whole completed over time could, then, be coherent because of a single underlying idea. This concept was unusual, certainly, but not unique, for we find it in Petit’s Remarks on Church Architecture (1841) illustrated by his own unusual sketches which capture the underlying form and proportions of buildings at the expense of their specific details. Freeman’s own drawings (which survive in the John Rylands Library) recall Petit’s.36

In December 1844, Freeman toyed with a new and more practical venture, and was party to founding a new society in his rooms at Trinity, the Brotherhood of St Mary’s, intended, Dean Stephens, his biographer, later recorded, ‘to study ecclesiastical art upon true and Catholic principles, mostly architectural’. This became a kind of lay guild but Freeman soon stepped away from it.37 In 1845, with his degree in sight, Freeman considered the Anglican priesthood only to reject it because, again according to Stephens, he believed the clergy should be celibate. So by May of that year he was contemplating a career in architecture. He even engaged a local architect to coach him in the practical aspects of that profession along with a fellow member (whom Stephens does not name) of the OAS. Before very long, though, Freeman had turned away from that too because of the ‘rank of unworthy men who crowded that field’. ‘Miserable pretenders’, he is said to have called them. He was under no financial pressure, because he then had a moderately (p.151) comfortable, independent income of £600 a year.38 There are two likely candidates for the unnamed architectural tutor. One is James Cranstoun, who had published a set of measured survey drawings of St Bartholomew’s Chapel near Oxford for the OAS. Cranstoun was then instructed by the society to specify repairs and restorations at Dorchester Abbey. The other candidate is J. M. Derrick (1810–59), who was active in Oxford and had competed with Scott for the Martyrs’ Memorial.

‘Witness the past and possess the present’: Freeman on restoration

Freeman’s interest in the profession could well have been encouraged by the OAS’s decision to promote the restoration of the splendid Abbey Church of SS Peter and Paul at Dorchester, about 10 miles south of Oxford.39 It was thought to have been founded in the 7th century but had been substantially enlarged from 1293. Like Romsey Abbey, Dorchester illustrated the continuity of Christian architecture. It was also in poor condition and the incumbent, the Revd Luscombe, was a member of the OAS. In summer 1844 the OAS instructed Cranstoun to survey the fabric and then to make recommendations to restore the whole of this very substantial building. Stephens reported that the idea had been Freeman’s.40 True or not, he did chair the subcommittee, instructing work as funds became available. In 1846–7 repairs were made to the chancel, with the restoration of its steeply pitched roof and splendid east window by William Butterfield, who was now in charge of the work.41 The fine glass in it was a mix of ancient and modern work completed by Michael O’Connor, an Irish craftsman who had moved his studio to London in 1845 and collaborated with Pugin. Other amateur societies had promoted model restorations of this kind, directly or indirectly, including the CCS which in 1842 commenced an ambitious restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge (Round Church). The object was to give back to the (p.152) building its original, early 12th-century form. What attracted the OAS to Dorchester was its older foundation and the several stylistic phases it illustrated. The building was conceived, in Freeman’s terms, when the church was in chains, and completed when the church was triumphant.

The experience of the abbey stands behind what is one of Freeman’s most widely read contributions to the Gothic Revival, an 1846 pamphlet Principles of Church Restoration.42 Its underlying thesis was not new. Indeed, in 1841, the Revd Liddell of Christ Church read a paper on the principles of church restoration that cautioned, as Freeman would, against reconstruction or restoration because of the loss of authenticity.43 J. L. Petit’s Remarks on Church Architecture of the same year made much the same argument, which as it happened was at the crux of his criticism of Scott’s restoration of St Mary, Stafford, leading to a dispute eventually adjudicated by a joint committee of the Oxford and Cambridge architectural societies.44 Freeman’s approach was more rigorous. Yes, preserve all medieval work, of any period, for its documentary qualities. Bear in mind, however, that the historical content of architecture is its design not its material authenticity. Restoration was the realisation of a building’s authentic style, and reconstruction was acceptable provided it was based on incontrovertible evidence. Entirely conjectural work purporting to be in the spirit of the old was, though, unacceptable in any circumstance because, in Freeman’s view, the architect of his day could not practically reflect the spirit of the age that had produced the original work.

The Ecclesiologists welcomed this pamphlet and devoted a whole meeting to it, in May 1846, very soon after it was published.45 Freeman was, Neale argued, effectively defining three approaches. First was the ‘destructive’, the one followed by medieval builders who had no sentimental interest in old work. Then there was the ‘conservative’ approach, which they were critical of Freeman for advocating: do nothing to improve the architectural character of an old building beyond restore that for which there is incontrovertible evidence. Third was the ‘eclectic’, which the OAS supported. This held that later medieval work could be removed in order to restore the aesthetic integrity of one part of a building. G. G. Scott, by now in regular correspondence with Freeman, was uncomfortable with this last approach and in 1848 published his own thoughts in A Plea for the Faithful Restoration of Our Ancient Churches that supported Freeman’s earlier position. The cycle of debate continued, stirred by Ruskin, whose Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) (p.153) contained a chapter entitled ‘The Lamp of Memory’. This attacked all restoration as falsification and destruction. Freeman used the opportunity of his 1851 monograph on Llandaff Cathedral (then being restored) to criticise Ruskin for not distinguishing, in effect, between how one should treat ruins as opposed to buildings in use.

There followed, in 1852, Freeman’s last word on the matter, and indeed his last major contribution to architectural thinking, On the Preservation of Ancient Monuments and Remains. This would turn out to be the most comprehensive and articulate analysis of this topic, published in English, until the early part of the 20th century. Freeman’s innovation was to propose that the use of a building should provide the basis for how it is conserved, or indeed whether it is conserved at all. The material authenticity and patina of ancient ruins should be respected because of their poetic and artistic value, a kind of managed decay. Where, however, there was any feature of particular design value—for example, an innovative piece of window tracery—then this should be replicated to preserve the idea, whether or not the building was in use. Any buildings in regular use, though, had to be modernised and this was valid particularly where they served their original purpose. Such work had integrity because of that use, so that ancient buildings refurbished, even modernised, for their original use would ‘witness the past and possess the present’.

By this point Freeman had laid aside his earlier attempt to define a new kind of architectural history. His most ambitious essay in this genre was also his last, A History of Architecture, published in London by Joseph Masters in 1849. The paper he read six years earlier in Oxford, on 12 November 1843, provided the critical framework. Freeman populated this in his later work with monuments stretching from the lion gate at Mycenae to York Minster. They are tied together in a single, continuous narrative culminating in the complete realisation of the vertical principle which Freeman saw as the unique achievement of the vigorous Teutonic race. Style and its evolution are described for the first time as products of changing historical forces, forces that style, in return, expresses.

It was a revolutionary piece of writing. However, it had no lasting effect on the practice of architectural history in the United Kingdom. There was no university infrastructure enabling the dissemination of the idea, and Freeman himself did not promote it. As discussed further by Alex Bremner in this volume,46 if Freeman’s intellectual achievement as an historian of architecture had a legacy, then it was realised through his friendship with George Gilbert Scott. Freeman’s concept of historical development, the notion that style evolved through a series of small changes, suggested to a practising architect (p.154) that it might be possible to forge a new, native northern style by applying the same process more self-consciously. Motifs from different monuments could be combined creatively into something that was recognisably traditional but without strict precedent. The two, Scott and Freeman, went on a tour of Leicestershire churches in July 1844. Shortly after Scott returned to London, a contact in Hamburg invited him to enter the competition for the rebuilding of the ancient Nikolaikirche, destroyed in the great fire of May 1842.

At once Scott set off on another tour, this time of the Low Countries, the Rhine, and the northern Elbe, in order to crib source material for his design. This was ready by November, and submitted with full plans, perspectives, and a written explanation. Recognising the nationalist sentiments at play, Scott justified his design as expressing the essence of German Gothic. Many then thought that Germany, and the Rhineland in particular, was the source of the pointed arch. Scott’s design was not a copy of any one building. It was an amalgam of many, combining features and compositional devices not just from German but from English 13th-century sources. Even his opponents admired the result, a beautiful essay in ‘pure German style’ one wrote, in other words a design capturing the essence of a whole movement.47 The Nikolaikirche was unprecedented in that respect and prepared the ground for the eclecticism that would characterise the most advanced Gothic Revival architecture after 1850. Just as Freeman had rejected the narrow empiricism of antiquarian writing, so had Scott moved beyond simple copyism to a creative synthesis.

Scott and Freeman continued to correspond, but Freeman took another route. By the time his History of Architecture had been prepared for publication in 1848, he was stepping away from the OAS. He resigned as its librarian that June, the month he left Oxford.48 He and his wife moved to Oaklands in Dursley, Gloucestershire, close to the Welsh border and here he became a fixture in the network of architectural writers based around the county, amateur tradition. There is a notable article in 1850 on medieval churches in the Gower peninsula and shortly after monographs on Llandaff and St David’s cathedrals (the latter written jointly). He would take an interest in medieval antiquities near later homes: in 1855, Lanrumney Hall, near Cardiff, then from 1860 their final home, Somerleaze, a house with a small park outside Wells, in Somerset. During this time he developed a greater interest in Continental architecture, though never wrote about it in any serious way. It is notable, even surprising, that Freeman did not ever again attempt the grand (p.155) narrative of cultural history he sketched in his 1849 work. Nor did he make any particular use of architecture in the great work on the Norman Conquest for which he is known. The reasons are a matter for speculation. It may be that architectural history and archaeology, which were not then defined university subjects, smacked too much of amateurism, the architectural profession, or both. (p.156)


(1) After a short period the Society was commonly referred to simply as the Oxford Architectural Society. Freeman’s membership is noted in the Rules and Proceedings, 2 March 1842. For the history of the OAS, see D. Prout, ‘The Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture, 1839–1860’, Oxoniensa, 54 (1989), 379–91; W. A. Pantin, ‘The Oxford Architectural and Historical Society’, Oxoniensa, 4 (1939), 174–94.

(2) See C. Dade-Robertson, ‘Edward Augustus Freeman and the University Architectural Societies’, Oxoniensa, 71 (2006), 151–73; G. A. Bremner and J. Conlin, ‘History as Form: Architecture and Liberal Anglican Thought in the Writings of E. A. Freeman’, Modern Intellectual History, 8, 2 (2011), 299–326 at 315–21.

(3) N. Pevsner, Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 101–2. Freeman is not even cited in Paul Frankl’s compendious The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1960).

(4) See G. A. Bremner, Chapter 10, this volume.

(5) See Dade-Robertson, ‘Edward Augustus Freeman and the University Architectural Societies’ for this wider network, which is separately treated in P. Levine, The Amateur and the Professional: Antiquarians, Historians and Archaeologists in Victorian England 1838–1886 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(6) G. Chitty, ‘John Ruskin, Oxford and the Architectural Society, 1838 to 1840’, Oxoniensa, 65–6 (2000–1), 111–31 at 125ff.

(7) J. Myles, L. N. Cottingham, 1787—1847: Architect of the Gothic Revival (London, Lund Humphries, 1996), pp. 83–9.

(8) J. B. Bullen, ‘The Romanesque Revival in Britain, 1800–1840: William Gunn, William Whewell and Edmund Sharpe’, Architectural History, 47 (2004), 139–58.

(9) Rules and Proceedings, 30 May 1839, 2 December 1840, 9 June 1841, 15 and 29 November 1843, 13 November 1844.

(10) Rules and Proceedings, 27 April 1842. This identifies more than 2,000 items subsequently catalogued.

(11) The two were founded in 1839, Oxford first in February and then Cambridge in May. They formally affiliated on 12 May 1841, shortly before Freeman matriculated.

(12) Rules and Proceedings, 12 March 1839 (ancient domestic architecture); 3 November 1841 (medieval bridges); 2 February 1842 (local style); 8 March 1843 (symbolism).

(13) Ibid., 2 December 1840.

(14) Rules and Proceedings, 3 June 1845, 73. See also C. Miele, ‘Gothic Sign, Protestant Realia: Templars, Ecclesiologists and the Round Churches at Cambridge and London’, Architectural History, 53 (2010), 191–25.

(15) See Rules and Proceedings. The earliest discussion took place at the ordinary meeting of 15 May 1841, including communications with the bishops of Madras and of Newfoundland. On 25 May 1842, casts of Iffley church were sent to the bishop of New Zealand as models, and there were further discussions on 27 April and 25 May 1842. For the Colabah church in Bombay, in response to a letter from its incumbent, the Revd Piggott, see 22 March 1843. See also discussions on W. Milliard, ‘On the Style of Architecture to be Adopted in Colonial Churches’, Rules and Proceedings, 16 April 1845, 7–18.

(16) Ibid., 14 February and 13 March 1844. See also G. A. Bremner, Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, c.1840–1870 (London and New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2013), pp. 14, 59, 60, 91, 125–30, 143.

(17) His earliest essay on the subject, ‘On the Origin and Progress of Romanesque Architecture’, was delivered on 25 March 1846. See Rules and Proceedings, 25 March 1846, 44–7.

(18) Ibid., 2 March 1842.

(19) Ibid., 2 February 1842.

(20) Ibid., 10 May 1843.

(21) W. Whewell, Architectural Notes on German Churches with Notes Written during an Architectural Tour in Picardy and Normandy (Cambridge, Deighton, 1830). A new edition was published in 1835, and then a third identical one with the addition of notes by J. C. von Lassaulx on churches of the Rhine. He was the architectural inspector of Prussia.

(22) A. Buchanan, Robert Willis (1800–1875) and the Foundation of Architectural History (Martlesham, Boydell Press, 2013), pp. 80–114 and passim.

(23) Rules and Proceedings, 16 April 1845, 18–19.

(24) Ibid., 26 October 1842, with notes on St Giles, St Peter, and St Sepulchre in Northampton.

(25) W. R. W. Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2 vols (London, Macmillan & Co., 1895), vol. 1, pp. 50–2. The diary Stephens refers to has not, insofar as I am aware, been located.

(26) Dade-Robertson identifies a full MS copy in the Freeman Papers (FA), John Rylands Library (JRL), University of Manchester, 3/3/17. See Dade-Robertson, ‘Freeman and the University Architectural Societies’, 159. See also Bremner and Conlin, ‘History as Form’, 311.

(27) Rules and Proceedings, 27 June and 1 November 1843.

(28) Ibid., 1 November 1843.

(29) Ibid., 12 November 1845, 23–51. See also Bremner and Conlin, ‘History as Form’, 311–15.

(30) He was elected secretary in 1845 and 1846, then librarian in 1847, and towards the end of his life president from 1886 to 1891: Dade-Robertson, ‘Freeman and the University Architectural Societies’, 157. A catalogue of Freeman’s papers including some 6,000 drawings is to be found in the Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 72 (1990), 27–71.

(31) Rules and Proceedings, 12 November 1845, 23.

(32) Introduction to J. M. Neale’s and B. Webb’s translation of Durandus, The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments … (Leeds, T. W. Green, 1843), dedicated to the Cambridge Camden Society.

(33) Rules and Proceedings, 12 November 1845, 24.

(34) J. M. Neale, ‘An Account of the Late Restorations in the Church of Old Shoreham, Sussex’, Transactions of the Cambridge Camden Society, 1–3 (1839–41), 28–34 at 28, as discussed in C. Miele, ‘Re-Presenting the Church Militant: The Camden Society, Church Restoration and the Gothic Sign’, in C. Webster and J. Elliott (eds), ‘A Church as It Should Be’: The Cambridge Camden Society and Its Influence (Stamford, Shaun Tyas, 2000), pp 257–94 at 260–2.

(35) Rules and Proceedings, 27 November 1844.

(36) A resemblance Stephens records. See Stephens, Life and Letters, vol. 1, p. 62.

(37) Ibid., p. 58.

(38) Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 61–3.

(39) Dade-Robertson, ‘Freeman and the University Architectural Societies’, 164–6. For his sketches of the Abbey, see JRL, FA 4/1/2275–457.

(41) The works can be followed in the Rules and Proceedings, 13 November 1844, 30 April, 14 May, and 29 October 1845. This culminated in an OAS-sponsored monograph, Some Account of the Abbey Church of SS Peter and Paul, Dorchester, Oxon., by H. Addington (Oxford, J. H. Parker, 1845; 2nd edn 1860). Papers relating to the works are held at the Bodleian Library, MSS Dep.d. 518 and Dep.d. 540 (1844–58). The OAS applied for a grant from the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) in 1852 and there is file in the Lambeth Palace Collection on those works, which received a grant.

(42) J. Conlin, ‘Development or Destruction? E. A. Freeman and the Debate on Church Restoration, 1839–1851’, Oxoniensia, 57 (2012), 137–52.

(43) Rules and Proceedings, 9 June 1841.

(44) Calendar of Correspondence of the OAS, Bodleian Library, MSS Dep.d. 538, 10 May 1842.

(45) The Ecclesiologist, 5 (1846), 55–67.

(46) See Chapter 10, this volume.

(47) For the full text Scott submitted, see B. Franck, Die Nikolaikirche nach dem Hamburger Grosser Brand (Hamburg, Friedrich Wittig, 1989), pp. 274–9. Scott reproduced extracts in English in his memoir, published posthumously as Personal and Professional Recollections, ed. G. Stamp (Stamford, Paul Watkins, 1995), pp. 121–6.