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An Architectural History of Modern Britain – five online talks by Steven Parissien

posted on 23/05/22


This series of five lectures provides an intriguing overview of how a growing sense of British nationhood and identity was expressed though architecture. It traces the story of Modern Britain – where we lived, worked and spent our leisure hours – from the Restoration of Charles II to the dawn of post-industrial Britain through the prism of six key building types, all of which have been crucial in shaping the nation we know today and in helping to fashion a unique, if somewhat over-romanticised, idea of the British character.

The building types featured in this series represent some of Britain’s most celebrated exports to the world, architectural forms which have inexorably connected with the nation both at home and abroad. We look at the country house, from its Tudor origins through to its 20th-century eclecticism; at the British townhouse, a synthesis of economy and style which became hugely popular in the years after the Great Fire of 1666; the railway station, a building type invented by the British, which metamorphosed into the cathedral of the steam age; the factory and the shop, the development of both of which Britain led the world, for good or ill; and at that enduring British institution, the pub.

They take place every Tuesday from 30th August to 27th September at 4.30pm (GMT +1) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (22nd November 2022).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. The English Country House (30th August 2022)

An overview of how one of the most globally-fêted of all British building types evolved from half-timbered Tudor pile to austere Palladian villa, to rambling Gothic mansion, and then back again to classical austerity and beyond. We also look at some of the key country house architects, from Elizabethan genius Robert Smythson to Georgian neoclassicist Robert Adam and country-house virtuoso Edwin Lutyens.

2. The Townhouse (6th September 2022)

A look at one of the most successful phenomena of British architectural history: the early modern townhouse and its successors, from its origins in the wake of the late Stuart revolution in building materials to its flowering in the 18th century and explosion in the 19th. Themes to be explored range from house prices to privacy to class distinctions – peculiarly British obsessions which are still very much with us today.

3. The Railway Station (13th September 2022)

A brief history of the building type which, along with the factory, epitomised the technological advances, corporate hubris and immense ambitions of Victorian Britain – and a look at what happened to this most striking and aspirational of concepts in the 20th century. We travel from Brighton to Bute and from the Brunel cottage to the Beeching axe.

4. The Factory and the Shop (20th September 2022)

Napoleon famously denigrated the British as a nation of shopkeepers, but he could also have added factory owners, for the modern factory, that engine of industry, was first developed in Britain in the 1770s. This lecture traces how both of these totems of modern society changed with the times, from Georgian entrepreneurism to post-industrial minimalism.

5. The Pub (27th September 2022)

A narrative which follows the history of the pub from its 18th-century origins as a riposte to the gin-sodden dens of Early Georgian England to the welcoming, gas-lit social centres of Victorian Britain to the brick-built wayside refuges of the interwar years, fuelled by cheap gin, fearsomely strong IPAs and the pallid beer brands of the mid-20th century.

The speaker

Steven Parissien

Cultural historian at Oxford University. Born in London and raised in Chesham in Buckinghamshire, he obtained both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Oxford. Steven has written extensively on cultural history. His twelve books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine's Book of the Year for 1992 and The American Institute of Architects' Book of the Year Choice for 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001), Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008), English Railway Stations (English Heritage, 2014) and The Comfort of the Past: Building Oxford and Beyond 1815-2015 (2015).

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

Image: 'Cragside House' by Piotr.Wassermann is licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

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