Richard Knill Freeman

Bolton architect

Home Life Buildings Related architects Features Contact
search this site the web
search engine by freefind
Features Knill Freeman

Talk given to Manchester Architectural association, 1861

Below is a report of a talk Freeman gave to the Manchester Architectural association in 1861, when he was 20 years old. He is complaining about the sham nature of contemporary architecture and looks back to the “life and vigor” of medieval architecture.

MANCHESTER ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION - A meeting of this Association was held on the evening of Wednesday, May 29, at the rooms, George-street, the Vice President in the chair.

After the transaction of some preliminary business, the Chairman called upon Mr R Knill Freeman, to read the paper for the evening on the subject of domestic architecture. After alluding to the fact, that the architecture of a people has ever been a medium through which we are able to judge, not only of their mode of life, habits &c., but also, to a great extent, of their character and intellectual position ; and having referred to the state of the country prior to its conquest by the Romans, the adaptation by them in some measure of the arrangements of the Roman villa to the requirements of this climate, and the subsequent imitation of this arrangement by the Saxons and Normans, the essayist gave a brief outline of the peculiar characteristics of the castles, manor houses and towns of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and called attention to those works which yet remain in proof of the perfection to which many branches of art were brought. Comparing the towns of the past and present, he remarked -,

"Very quaint and pretty must these old Gothic streets have been with their overhanging upper storeys, high roofs and gables, and picturesque chimneys. Rows of buildings, in which, not only was the general effect pleasing, but care was bestowed on the minutest details. The carving, whether in timber or stone, had a life and vigor about it which we, while the reign of stucco and cement continues, shall in vain search for. The question may here be asked, have we made advances in this department of architecture? Are we, who exist in the present enlightened period, surpassing in excellence and beauty of our towns, the productions of what some are pleased to term rude semi-civilised times? Is a greater love of truth displayed in our buildings than was shown in theirs? Do our works as a whole tend more to the refinement of the public than did theirs? Can anyone truthfully answer, yes? As we walk through our towns are we not painfully struck by the want of taste and education which is everywhere manifest? On all sides we see shams and false construction, ignorance and deception. Shops innumerable, in which the whole of the superstructure, consisting perhaps of a row of unmeaning pilasters or columns surmounted by an equally unmeaning cornice or pediment, would seem to be carried on plate glass - abortions, in which the beauties of Gothic or classic art are shamelessly caricatured."

After alluding to the suitability of Gothic architecture to the domestic requirements of the present age, and referring to the specimens of modern villa Gothic, by which the suburbs of our towns are disfigured, the paper was concluded by a review of some of the causes which lead to the debased style of buildings by which we are at the present time surrounded. After a short discussion, a vote of thanks having been presented to Mr Freeman for his essay, the meeting was concluded by the announcement of the business of ensuing evenings.


The Manchester Guardian, 31 May, 1861