Image: Tom Wilks
Like a whiff of Chanel or a strain of Mozart, Georgian architecture has an immediate impact on the senses. Easily identifiable by Classical motifs derived from ancient Roman and Grecian culture, wide sash windows and the use of symmetry, Georgian buildings are elegant in their simplicity and lend a certain grandeur to a building or area. Easy on the eye and steeped in history, Georgian buildings remain an important patch on the architectural quilt of London.
Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Georgian architecture in the UK, Oli Gerrish founded the Young Georgian Society in 2002 to encourage new landowners and enthusiasts alike to protect our buildings. On its 10th anniversary it boasts an impressive 350 members. The society has its roots in the Georgian Group which aims to ‘promote our heritage in an accessible, articulate and fun way’.
A successful, Guildhall-trained countertenor when he is not charging around the country with the Young Georgians, Oli is dashing, dynamic and clearly passionate about his field. ‘I have loved architecture for as long as I can remember’, he exclaims. ‘I feel it is such a wonderful expression of people’s imagination – imagination in stone, if you like – and I believe passionately that we all respond to where we live and our built environment.’ Part of London’s charm is its architectural make-up – and contemporary and historical in equal parts, the effect is stylish, intricate and multilayered. Oli’s observation on the human response to our surroundings is interesting and exposes architecture in its fundamental role in society.
Most of us are familiar with the style of this era (which spans more or less from 1720 to 1830), so Oli gives it life and context for me. ‘The Georgians managed to combine proportion, discerning use of decoration, quality of materials and a lightness of touch … [The Georgian era] was a time of huge change for Britain and the country was richer than ever. Architecture took on a grace which, even now, we try to evoke and treasure.’ And so it falls to the Young Georgians, as the new generation, to preserve the precious remains for the enjoyment of those to come.
While many of the country’s best loved Georgian houses (like the infamous Chatsworth, in Derbyshire) loom from rural landscapes outside London, the architecture of this era is very much part of London’s urban landscape too. You only need to wander through chic areas such as Islington and Chelsea to appreciate their quiet, elegant presence. Like any form of architecture, the story it tells of a society gone by is part of its allure.
Georgian London is no exception, Oli explains. ‘By taking a closer look at the old terraced houses in London one can make out the whole hierarchy of London society. In Marylebone the tall, grand squares for the gentry give way to lower houses for the lesser gentry and merchants, then to lower houses still for trades people and finally to the mews houses, where the grooms, stable hands and horses would have been housed.’ It is odd to think that London’s beautiful and coveted mews houses were once so lowly and fascinating to think of the lives and stories for which they were once the back drop.
London’s Georgian buildings are scattered all over the city, but for a close look at the evolving styles within the Georgian period Oli recommends ‘Spitalfields in Brick Lane for early Georgian, Marylebone for mid-late Georgian and Nash’s great palace-like terraces around Regents park for Regency.’
For those who wish to take their Georgian exploration one step further:
Syon House, Syon Park, Brentford. ‘Robert Adam’s imagination gone wild all set within the simplest exterior. This really is a jewel box.’
Church Row, Hampstead. ‘A grand Georgian country village street just a stone’s throw from central London. The backs of these immensely tall houses are like galleons looking across London.’
Sir John Soane’s house, Lincolns Inn. ‘This is about as theatrical as you get, all set within the standard large Georgian terraced house.’
Oli’s primary challenge as Chairman of the Young Georgians is ‘keeping the ethos relevant to younger people’. Talking to him leaves me in no doubt that his dynamic approach (think wild parties in Georgian costume) and very real passion for the subject are exactly the energy needed to preserve these great buildings and raise awareness about the danger of their demise. With the right support and visibility, Georgian architecture in Britain will continue to delight and decorate for many more generations to come.
This is a guest post from Sophie Stewart.Google+