Venetian Gothic in England
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Venetian Gothic in England

The new office was a red brick edifice designed in the High Victorian Gothic style by G.G. Hoskins (1837-1911) of Darlington.

As the town of Sunderland developed into a major industrial centre it increasingly needed public utilities to serve its ever-expanding population. Water, gas and electricity were initially provided by private utility companies, some of which were later acquired by the Corporation. One of these was the Gas Company, which built a head office on Fawcett Street in 1867 at a cost of £45,000.

The new office was a red brick edifice designed in the High Victorian Gothic style by G.G. Hoskins (1837-1911) of Darlington. Hoskins had studied under the prominent Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse, whose works include Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London. Like Waterhouse, Hoskins designed many buildings for the Backhouse family. In Sunderland, this included a bank for Edward Backhouse in High Street West, and the ill-fated Victoria Hall, which was partly funded by the family.

The gas office has two storeys plus an attic, with pointed dormer windows breaking from the roofscape. A powerful oriel window projects at the centre, resting upon a marble pier with foliated carving. The muscular massing is typical of High Victorian Gothic, a phase of the Gothic Revival occurring c.1850-70. Buildings of this period were strong and angular, and their robust forms were emphasised by the use of multicoloured building materials, a technique known as ‘structural polychromy’. The gas office is a prime example: red and blue bricks are combined with buff stone to produce a vibrant patterned surface.

Detail of the Gothic oriel window and supporting pier.

The building also reveals the influence of Venetian architecture. The art critic John Ruskin became enraptured by the gothic architecture of Venice and published a monumental study, The Stones of Venice, in 1851-3. British architects were inspired to visit the city and soon began to incorporate Venetian motifs into their own work. In Hoskins’s design, the horizontal division of the façade and the multicoloured windows echo the architecture of Venice.

John Ruskin’s sketch of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.

High Victorian Gothic exemplified Britain’s pride and confidence as the world’s first industrial power. Using this bold, assertive style, the Gas Company announced its presence in Fawcett Street. This was in fact the first commercial building in the street and signalled its shift from an elegant, residential street to a bustling commercial thoroughfare. For many years, the building was part of Binns’ sprawling department store.

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Comments (10)


You have described my favorite Gothic style very well in your well composed article of facts.

Very interesting.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, everyone.

Excellent, and as usual informative read. Thanks for the insightful write about this impressive style.

Another great treat on architecture. Voted up!

vote back :)

Another exceptional piece from you Michael. These are some extraordinary pictures, also. Keep up the good work. Thanks much for taking the time to put together articles well worth reading. Voted up!!!

This is surprising as Sunderland gets such a bad name.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

I suppose it does. A shame because its my home town and does have some impressive buildings.