Posts Tagged ‘Georgian Architecture’

Inquiring readers, guest blogger Tony Grant is a marvelous photographer, as you might have discovered from the images that accompany his posts. A week or so ago he wrote a post about door knockers. He provided only two original images: the rest came from the web. Last weekend he rectified the situation, saying:

I drove into London to meet my daughter off the Cardiff coach at Victoria Coach Station today. I think I did an article on Belgravia once connected with the upstairs Downstairs series. Victoria is in Belgravia.To cut this story short, I had time to have a walk around Belgravia and along Eaton Square. The doors to those houses have a superfluity of Lion head door knockers.
What I have discovered taking these photographs is that  each lion head has it’s  own personality. They are all different which means they were all made individually, each from their own unique mould.

What struck me in viewing those photos is how beautifully painted the doors are. Tony is right – the lions all have their own personalities! Enjoy. Click on each image to view the larger photo.

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Tony Grant has supplied us with yet another treat: a post about door knockers. After you have read it, you will want to hop on over to his blog, London Calling, in which he describes his trip to Venice. 

The quintessential door knocker in Georgian architecture is the brass lion head with a large brass ring gripped in its mouth. It has been used as a symbol of Great Britain for centuries. Trafalgar Square has four enormous bronze lions positioned on great granite plinths at the four corners of the base of Nelson’s Column. They are made from the melted down bronze from canons captured from French ships at The Battle of Trafalgar.

Lions at the base of Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square. Image @The Illustrated London News

All coats of arms relating to the monarchy have lions as a prominent feature of their design, usually rampant. Lions have been used symbolically since the Paleolithic period.

Egyptian lion sculpture carved out of limestone, Louvre

The Egyptians carved sphinxes, half man, half lion. They symbolise power and strength, courage and fortitude.

Heraldic lion

You can go to any part of London and you will come across Victorian or Georgian housing still with their original door furniture. Very often the door furniture will include a brass lion head door knocker. This could be a sign of Victorian and Georgian confidence. A sign for people of the greatest and largest empire the world has ever known. For the visitor it is their first contact with the house and a way of communicating their arrival by lifting the knocker and rapping it smartly against its back plate. The back plate to a lion head knocker is the lion’s head.

Lion door knocker. Image @Tony Grant

Knocking on a door does two things. First it makes the visitor take hold of the house. The hand grips the knocker. It is a like a handshake; a very English form of greeting. Secondly, through the sound of the knock it communicates to the occupants that somebody is visiting. The way the door is knocked can express other things too like haste, frustration, timidity or confidence.

Front door with lion knocker. Image @Tony Grant

The fact that many Georgian houses have door knockers that are the originals means that we today in the 21st century, who are still using these door knockers to gain entrance, have a palpable, physical connection to people from past generations and from all classes of a past society.

Downstairs to the servant's quarters, Bath. Image @Tony Grant

The servants belonging to the Georgian household would not have used the doorknocker of their own house. They would have slipped down the flight of stone steps near the front gate, to the servant’s quarters in the basement. However a footman or servant sent with a message or communication from another household would have used the front door knocker. The owners of the house would have knocked to alert their footman to open the door to them and their friends would have knocked to gain entrance too.

Door knocker made of brass. Image @Ruby Lane

A lot of door knockers are made from brass. Some are iron. Brass is a very special metal. It has a golden lustre when polished and expresses wealth, a friendly glow and a welcoming feel. Iron on the other hand can be aggressive and harsh. Iron against iron can cause a spark. It can rust and have unfriendly qualities. Brass on the other hand is benign. It is a malleable metal and has acoustic properties. In fact the brass door knocker on a Georgian front door can almost be regarded as a percussion instrument. The solid wooden door is the drum skin and the entrance hall behind it is the chamber within which the sound resonates and vibrates.

J. L. Settle door knocker at Portsmouth

Brass is used for many purposes, including bullet cases, artillery shell casings, horse accoutrements, locks, bearings, gears, musical instruments, horns and bells. It does not create a spark. It is low friction.

Brass is an alloy, which almost makes it a magical thing. It is an alloy of copper and zinc. The proportions can vary between the two metals to create different qualities in the brass. It is a substitutional alloy. This means that when the copper and zinc are melted together they replace some of each other’s atoms with their own atoms. Brass has been made since Roman times. You can imagine in the middle ages or earlier and perhaps even up to Georgian times people regarded blacksmiths and workers of metals almost as magicians being able to smelt ores and extract pure metals from their furnaces to make the most magical things. Brass is a difficult alloy to make, even more so than other alloys. Copper can be smelted easily but zinc cannot be smelted from it’s ore. Brass has to be created through what is called a cementation process. This is when smelted copper is mixed with the unsmelted zinc ore. This means that many impurities are included and the slag that is created has to be carefully separated during the alloy creating process. Zinc comes from rocks called hemimorphite and smithsonite. Lead is something that is also added to some brass alloys to create a different quality. However, sometimes, the lead leaches from the finished brass. Imagine that rubbing onto some unsuspecting visitors hands. Particles of lead unseen on the hands and transferred to the mouth and the digestive system.

That thought lends new credence to the famous scene in Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol when Scrooge returns home on a cold misty winters night,

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

Another form of door knocker - that of a Roman god wearing a laurel wreath, Bath. Image@Tony Grant

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue.  But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.”

Was it lead poisoning that was rotting Scrooges brain or just tiredness, misery, the cold and mist and darkness playing tricks with his imagination and senses?

Filing a door knocker. Image @History.org Foundation Journal

To make a lion head door knocker a few technical and difficult processes have to be carried out. A mould has to be made. A carver carves a lion head pattern out of wood. A mould maker uses a box filled with a mixture of sand and clay to make a fire-proof  mould. The wooden pattern is pressed into the sand and clay composite and a lion head knocker mould is thus created. The molten alloy of copper and zinc that creates the brass is then poured into the mould and left to cool and solidify. When cold the brass knocker can be extracted and filed and sanded down to get rid of any rough surfaces. In this process, craftsmen, metal workers geologists and miners would form a trail of work and economy. Finally the finished  door knocker would have been sold to a carpenter making a door to then be sold to a builder who would fix the door in the house he made for a new purchaser.

Door knocker at the Brighton dome at the Brighton Pavilion, early 19th c.

More on the topic:

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After many parts of Bath disappeared overnight during a German bombing raid in World War II, efforts to restore the city began – efforts to reconstruct the major landmarks like the Assembly Rooms and The Circus, that is.  Smaller Georgian houses were scheduled for demolition.  In 1970, a horrified James Lees-Milne wrote to the Times:
Your readers may be interested to learn that we are getting on quite nicely with the demolition of the centre of Bath. This year alone we have swept away several acres between Lansdown Road and the Circus. The whole southern end of Walcot Street (including the 19th century burial ground and tombstones) has entirely gone. We are just beginning on Northgate Street and have only knocked down two or three houses in Broad Street this month. But New Bond Street’s turn is imminent. All the houses are (or were) Georgian, every one.
Lees-Milne, who joined the National Trust, “played an active part in the campaign to save Bath.” Click here to read the review of Michael Bloch’s book, James Lees-Milne, The Life: Saving what was left to a Georgian city, which goes on to describe the rest of this fascinating story.

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Georgian town houses in Bath

Georgian town houses in Bath

Cutaway of a Bath town house

Cutaway of a Bath town house

When we think of Regency architecture we think of the beautiful Georgian architecture so popular in Bath and Brighton. While there were subtle variations in design and detail, the basic plan for First Rate houses was similar to Fourth Rate houses*.

Bath Regency town house

Bath Regency town house

  1. The basement, or subterraneans section: All except the poorest houses had basements. They were occupied by the kitchens and other servant offices. The housekeeper and cook might be given rooms in this area away from the maids who slept in the attic.
  2. Ground floor: The drawing room was placed near the front door so that it was easily accessible. Drawing rooms were a place to greet visitors and where the women of the house could retreat. The humbler parlor was generally a private room where the family could retire. Furnishings in the drawing room were generally more feminine than those in the adjacent dining room. Double doors would lead to the dining room, which was more austere and masculine in nature. After dinner the men would remain there to enjoy conversation over port and cigars, while the women retreated to the drawing room. The closer the dining room was located to the kitchens, the warmer the food remained when it arrived at the table.
  3. The first floor: Featured a large room for entertaining on a grand scale, such as dancing, card playing, or other fashionable pastimes. This floor might also hold the principal bedrooms, which were generally placed in front of the house. The bedrooms would be decorated lavishly and in the latest style.
  4. The second floor: Featured bedrooms for children, or perhaps a lodger or guests.  Little expense went into decorating the nursery in comparison to the lower bedrooms. As the levels rose, the complexity of room decorations were simplified since fewer visitors bothered to climb the stairs to the upper levels. In general furnishings, mouldings, and decorations were modest on these floors.
  5. The attic: Reserved for the servants, whose beds were often like murphy beds and let down from the wall.  These rooms were cheaply painted and furnished.
Georgian houses: first rate, second rate, and fourth rate

Georgian houses: first rate, second rate, and fourth rate

Throughout the 17th century, London houses had been susceptible to big fires that swept through narrow, twisting lanes in the city’s center and houses made of timber. A series of Rebuilding Acts specifying building construction followed the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed over 14,000 houses. A rise in population generated demand for housing, encouraging land owner to develop large tracts of land. The Building Act of 1774 prescribed how houses were to be built. The act specified the use of stone or brick and determined the width of the street, the size of the houses, floor to ceiling heights, and the layout of the houses. It also defined the four types of houses that could be built in London. Each of these types were standardized and followed strict building guidelines:

First Rate House: Worth over £850 per year in ground rent and occupied over 900 square feet of space. These houses faced streets and lanes.

First rate house

First rate house

Second Rate Houses: Worth between £350 and £850 in ground rent and occupied 500-900 square feet of floor space. They faced streets, lanes of note, and the RiverThames.

Second rate house

Second rate house

Third Rate Houses: A smaller house worth around £150-£300 and occupied 350-500 square feet. They faced principal streets.

Fourth Rate House: Worth less than £150 per year in ground rent and occupied less then 350 square feet. These houses stood in their own ground.

About ground rent:
Land owners improved their land by laying out roads and services.  They then charged rent on this land. Housing developers (landlords) would build spec houses on the improved land and generate an income from leaseholders by collecting rent. Sometimes the land owner and the house landlord were the same person. These people were usually owners of great estates, which were better managed and the most sought after. Original leases were for as little as 33 years, but by the end of the Georgian era the length of time for many leases was increased to 99 years.

Curiously, the people who paid rent on large houses belonged to the nobility or gentry or prosperous merchants. While they did not own the houses they lived in, they received enormous incomes from their properties and businesses.

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Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs. Woffington is a fascinating blog that offers insights about the 18th century. The blog’s author, who lives in England, has been featuring Georgian Liverpool in a series of posts. Click on the following links to read:  Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Image of Georgian Doors (Rodney Street, Liverpool) courtesy Andy Marshall of Fotofacade

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