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Victorian Industrial Architecture

Bliss & Sons' Tweed Mill, outside Chipping Norton Bliss & Sons' Tweed Mill 1873 Water Tower and Chimney in the form of an Italian Campanile
Architect: Decimus Burton
1848 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Evans explains that the factory remained "a woollen mill until 1980 or 1982. (My sources don't agree on the years.) In 1988 or thereabouts it became a residential block, Bliss Mill, with 34 apartments and all the appurtenances of rural life (squash court, jacuzzi, etc.). . . . Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp write, 'the driver who on leaving Chipping Norton and seeing the mill for the first time doesn't narrowly avoid driving off the road in shock is blind to the delights of architecture.' Very true. What Headley and Meulenkamp are too polite to comment on is the resemblance of the 'gigantic Tuscan factory chimney erupting out of the domed bay front' (their description) to a toilet plunger."
Wells and Co foundry and showroom, Shoreditch    
Window detail of the former Wells and Co foundry and showroom, Shoreditch, designed by J. W. Brooker, c.1877-80. 125-30 Shoreditch High Street, London EC 1. Photograph, caption, and commentary below by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

In the London borough of Hackney's list of "listed buildings," the old Wells & Co. premises on Shoreditch High Street are described as Italian Gothic in style, with "cusped pointed window arches and mosaic inlaid stars of David at third floor level." Wells & Co. were cabinet ironmongers and this was their purpose-built foundry and showroom. An inscription in the centre (not visible here) reads, "Contractors to HM Dockyards, Metropolitan Board of Works, Corporation of London School Board." The architect is not named, but this company built other premises nearby, one of which is described in an amendment to the list as having been designed by J. W. Brooker. This building too is described as having "Gothic, Italianate and Venetian elements." It seems fair to assume that the company used Brooker for both.

It is interesting to see that Ruskin's influence had penetrated the East End, and almost certain that he would have disapproved: he came to hate the way that "partial use" of his views had "dignified our banks and drapers' shops with Venetian tracery" (qtd. in Clark 193). But the decorative frontage is perfectly understandable here, because Shoreditch was a centre of the furniture industry, and the showrooms would have been built to advertise craftsmanship.

Philip Webb had been at work in the neighbourhood as well, designing a row of workshops with accommodation above them at 91-101 Worship Street (1862). These were built at the bidding of the philanthropist Colonel William Gillum: they have very high-pitched tiled roofs, and dormers, and even incorporate a carriage arch and a Gothic stone-and-marble drinking fountain. London's East End, with its artisans and its philanthropic input, is full of interesting architecture.
Burroughs Wellcome & Co. Factory, Dartford. Photograph c. 1890-1900. Photochrom print published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1905. The signs on the front and sides of the factory read "Extract of Malt" and "Kepler Solution of Cod Liver Oil in Extract of Malt."

Source: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsc-08610v
London largest 'Ragged School,' now the Ragged School Museum. Copperfield Road, Mile End, East London. Originally three canalside warehouses, this forbidding building on the towpath of the Regent's Canal housed the largest of London's Ragged Schools. It was run by the famous Dr Barnardo, founder of the Dr Barnardo's children's homes and promoter of large-scale child emmigration. Dr Barnardo opened the school in 1877, when his first school (at Hope Place in nearby Stepney, where he initiated his "The East End Juvenile Mission") proved inadequate. It ran until 1908.
Doric Arch at Euston Station Brighton Railway Station. 1841. Marylebone Street Station (Great Central Railway), London, 1899
The Victorian Railroad Station — a New Building Type

The head-type station plan, in which all passengers entered and left through the head-building across the end of the lines, proved to be the most long- lived scheme for terminals. Numerically important even in the experimental period, they were of continuing significance. A single building was erected across the ends of the tracks with platforms lying between the tracks and perpendicular to the building. This was the plan of the Brighton Station by David Mocatta, 1840-41. At York in 1840-41 a "U" or "stirrup" plan was employed with wings extending back from the head building to surround the end of the spur tracks on three sides. Other variations occurred, even in large stations: "L's," for example, and a "T" plan at Stuttgart in 1863-68, where the returned wing lies between two sets of spur tracks.

Two British stations . . . made the shed the dominant feature. The first was the Liverpool Central Station built by the engineer John Fowler in 1874, and the second was the Manchester Joint Central Station, begun two years later. Both sheds were arched, and without visible ties. They are striking examples of refined technology. The profiles are reversed catenaries in shape, exceedingly subtle and worthy of their prominent role on the exterior. The high sheds reduce the wings and marquees to inconsequence, thereby reminding us of the earlier Fenchurch Street Station in London and of the numerous American arched train-barns. Coming so long after the Crystal Palace, they can hardly be considered an example of its influence, though they represent the lesson which might have been learned from it. — Carol Meeks, pp, 33, 86.
Special thanks to
Industry, Power & Social Change

George Cruikshank, 'The British Beehive', 1867.

The emergence of Britain in the Victorian period as the world's most powerful trading nation was the direct result of the process of industrialisation that had transformed the country since the latter part of the 18th century. This economic and social revolution had been driven by many elements, but the most significant by far was the widespread application of steam technology.

By 1800 brilliant engineers and entrepreneurs such as Matthew Boulton had made steam power a practical reality. It radically improved Britain's core industries, namely the production of textiles, metalwork and other manufactured goods, and the mining of coal and other raw materials. By 1820 the potential of the steam engine as a viable source of power for ships and railway locomotives had been realised.

Although the first decades of the nineteenth century were marked by wars, financial crises and social unrest, Britain's industrial base continued to grow, fuelled by the rapid expansion of international trade. Between 1809 and 1839 imports nearly doubled, from £28.7 million to £52 million, while over the same period exports tripled, from £25.4 million to £76 million. Ten years later these figures were £79.4 million and £124.5 million respectively.

The expanding Empire partly explains this great pattern of growth, but Britain's export success was genuinely global. In both 1850 and 1900 the major export markets were Asia, Europe and, increasingly, the United States. When Victoria came to the throne, Britain's status as an industrial power was unchallenged and the pattern of expansion established since the end of the 18th century was set to continue.

Inextricably linked to the process of industrialisation was the increasingly stratified structure of British society, made in any case more rigid by the application of the work ethic, a reflection of a revived Protestant philosophy that had been largely dormant in the pre-Victorian period. Classification was the order of the day in a society whose values were linked to a well-defined moral code, fortified by concepts such as 'improvement' and 'self-help'.

The Victorians saw British society as a pyramid, with royalty, the aristocracy, the Church, the arts and the professions on top, supported by industry, and with the workhouse at the bottom, was very familiar. Inherent within this vision, and enshrined in society was the idea that the rungs of the social ladder could be climbed only by hard work and integrity, an idea that was constantly explored by painters and writers. By this process the concept of industry achieved its own morality, with the word consciously achieving the dual meaning of hard work and industrialisation.

A frequently used metaphor for the industrial process was the beehive, and many Victorian buildings featured bees, symbols both of hard work and the acceptance of the social order, in their decoration. George Cruikshank's well-known 1840 print, The British Bee Hive, underlines this and at the same time throws a spotlight on British society's classified view of itself.

A parallel vision of British society was supplied by the census of 1851. Of a working population of about 15.75 million, nearly two million were employed on the land, and over one million worked in domestic service. Other major areas of employment were all aspects of the textile trade, the building trades, mining and manufacturing. When analysed in depth, the census, and those that followed, offered many insights into the changing nature of society, not least the great increase in the number of civil servants and those in other service industries (although the censuses do create some problems of definition).

Such surveys also chart the major phenomenon of the Victorian period, the rise of the bourgeoisie, or the middle-class consumer society that was the driving force behind industrial expansion. In very simple terms, industry created wealth and the ability to spread that wealth through the various strata of society, both in terms of expenditure and buying power, and as investment. The growth of investments and savings was significant. In 1861 the Post Office Savings Bank was opened and between 1840 and 1900 savings bank deposits rose from £23.5 million to £191 million. Over the same period earnings from foreign investments rose from £7.1 million to £105 million.

As primary wealth-creators, the major producer industries of the Victorian period were agriculture, textiles, coal, iron and steel, and engineering. These industries were also the major employers, the major export earners and, in the latter part of the century, the major targets for the newly emerging trades unions. In 1889 trades unions had 679,000 members, the majority of whom were in the primary industries. By 1900 there were over two million union members in Britain. However, just as important was the diversification of industry in this period, along with the ever-increasing range of imported products.

Entrepreneurial expertise generated enormous wealth from the manufacture or importation of products as diverse as biscuits, guano, pianos and ostrich feathers. The importance of agriculture was directly linked to the rapid growth in population. Food production was always a labour-intensive industry, but traditional skills and technologies were increasingly replaced by industrial processes. Fertilisers based on guano were first used in 1835 and the first combine harvester was developed in the United States in 1836. Clay drainage pipes were used from 1843, but before that date, in 1839, an engineer called Howden demonstrated to the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society a portable steam engine designed for farm use. He went on to make 12 such engines, but far more significant was the portable steam engine displayed at the Liverpool Royal Show in 1841 by Ransome's of Ipswich, the machine that really brought mechanisation to the farm.

By the end of the century one of the many manufacturers of portable steam engines had alone produced over 33,000 machines. In 1842 Ransome's developed a self-propelled version, which paved the way for the thousands of traction and ploughing engines that revolutionised agriculture in Britain from the 1870s. Other important benchmarks were the reaping machine in 1851 and the widespread use of milking machines from the 1880s.

Despite the extensive improvements brought about by technology, and the huge increases in the amount of land under cultivation, peaking in 1872 at 9.6 million acres, Britain could never produce enough to feed its expanding population. Initially, imports were limited by the Corn Laws, which remained in place in one form or another until 1869. From that date onwards the growth was dramatic. Imports of wheat from the United States, for example, increased over 32 fold between 1865 and 1900, and over the same period the price dropped by a half. Food imports, encouraged in any case by free-trade philosophies, had a direct effect upon the agricultural industry and between 1870 and 1900 the number of farm labourers also dropped by half.

The spread of industrialisation and the expanding economy in Britain dramatically increased the demand for coal. In the second half of the century, new pits were opened in every British coalfield, but notably in South Wales, aided by the new technology that facilitated deep mining and coal extraction. Between 1860 and 1900 the number of miners increased from 307,000 to 820,000 and over the same period annual coal production soared from 80 million tons to over 225 million tons. A quarter of this was exported, making coal responsible for a tenth of all exports from Britain.

Another important industry was textiles, but in this case the growth was not so dramatic, with an increase from 259,000 employees in 1835 to 523,000 in 1901. In addition, over 300,000 women were employed as seamstresses and dressmakers. Over the same period cotton production increased fivefold but the percentage exported was ten times greater. Cotton spinning and printing was the major part of the industry, but large numbers of both men and women were employed to work with wool, linen and flax, silk and lace, and as workers for the hosiery, glove-making and straw-plait trades.

More significant in historical terms was the steel industry, which Britain dominated throughout the latter part of the century. The birth of the industry was in the new technology: Bessemer's converter of 1856 and Siemen's open-hearth process of 1869 both used hot gases to produce the steel, a technique that initially required low-phosphorus ores, while the Thomas-Gilchrist process of 1879 used phosphoric ores. Annual steel production in Britain grew from 300,000 tons in 1870 to 5 million tons in 1900 and by the end of the century nearly 1million tons were being exported. Much of this came from Barrow, a huge steel-making centre established from 1865 to exploit the low-phosphorus haematite ores from the Lakeland region.

In 1900 Britain produced 9 million tons of iron, and steel production did not outstrip iron until 1918. Steel was used increasingly for railways, in engineering, for tool-making, for armaments, in buildings and for ship-building. The construction of the Forth Bridge, completed in 1890 as one of the wonders of the world because of its pioneering cantilever construction, was made possible through the use of 50,000 tons of steel, as was the rapid growth in ship construction.

In 1900 ships totalling 739,000 tons were built and registered in Britain, and the shipyards on the Clyde, the Tyne, the Mersey and in Barrow and Belfast dominated the world. The same year, 1900, the total tonnage of ships registered in Britain was over 11.5 million. Fifty years earlier, British yards had pioneered the use of iron in shipbuilding.

Cast iron continued as a staple product for British industry throughout the 19th century, with extensive uses in engineering, architecture and the domestic sphere. There was also a thriving export business for all kinds of cast-iron products, from cooking pots to entire buildings. Scottish foundries in particular specialised in architectural cast iron and sold their products all around the British Empire. For example, Scottish-made iron buildings still survive in India and elsewhere, while ornamental fountains are still to be seen in the West Indies.

Paul Atterbury

Paul Atterbury is a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century art and design, with an interest in the history of technology. He was the curator of the Pugin: A Gothic Passion (V&A, 1994) and co-curator of Inventing New Britain: The Victorian Vision (V&A, 2001). Publications include Victorians at Home and Abroad (V&A Publications, 2001).
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the first English monarch to see her name given to the period of her reign whilst still living. The Victorian Age was characterised by rapid change and developments in nearly every sphere - from advances in medical, scientific and technological knowledge to changes in population growth and location. Over time, this rapid transformation deeply affected the country's mood: an age that began with a confidence and optimism leading to economic boom and prosperity eventually gave way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britain's place in the world. Today we associate the nineteenth century with the Protestant work ethic, family values, religious observation and institutional faith.

For the most part, nineteenth century families were large and patriarchal. They encouraged hard work, respectability, social deference and religious conformity. While this view of nineteenth century life was valid, it was frequently challenged by contemporaries. Women were often portrayed as either Madonnas or whores, yet increasing educational and employment opportunities gave many a role outside the family.

Politics were important to the Victorians; they believed in the perfection of their evolved representative government, and in exporting it throughout the British Empire. This age saw the birth and spread of political movements, most notably socialism, liberalism and organised feminism. British Victorians were excited by geographical exploration, by the opening up of Africa and Asia to the West, yet were troubled by the intractable Irish situation and humiliated by the failures of the Boer War. At sea, British supremacy remained largely unchallenged throughout the century.

During the Victorian heyday, work and play expanded dramatically. The national railway network stimulated travel and leisure opportunities for all, so that by the 1870s, visits to seaside resorts, race meetings and football matches could be enjoyed by many of this now largely urban society. Increasing literacy stimulated growth in popular journalism and the ascendancy of the novel as the most powerful popular icon.

The progress of scientific thought led to significant changes in medicine during the nineteenth century, with increased specialisation and developments in surgery and hospital building. There were notable medical breakthroughs in anaesthetics - famously publicised by Queen Victoria taking chloroform for the birth of her son in 1853 - and in antiseptics, pioneered by Joseph Lister (1827-1912). The public's faith in institutions was evident not only in the growth of hospitals but was also seen in the erection of specialised workhouses and asylums for the most vulnerable members of society.

by Anne Shepherd