George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival
in Britain and America
Church Times Bookshop £45 (Use code CT251
IT IS no exaggeration to say that historians of Victorian
architecture have been awaiting this book for decades; for that is
exactly how long it has taken to write. Michael Hall began research
on Bodley in the 1980s, and by the 1990s there were rumours that he
had started work on a full-scale biography. Now, here it is, a
study on a monumental scale: 24 chapters, 300 illustrations, 500
pages, many thousands of words - a book so large that is almost
impossible to hold, let alone read, in comfort.
Non-specialists may well wonder whether all this effort was
really worth it. George Frederick Bodley is scarcely a familiar
name, even for those who take some interest in church buildings. A
Gothic Revivalist through and through, he kept the faith long after
many others had moved on, leading some contemporaries and many
subsequent writers to see him as an irrelevant anachronism,
lingering long after his architectural moment - and any real
originality - had passed.
Any doubts about Bodley should be silenced by this impeccable
piece of scholarship. Hall has amassed a huge amount of material to
show just how significant - and how original - he actually was.
This was the man behind a series of strikingly beautiful churches:
St Augustine's, Pendlebury; Holy Angels', Hoar Cross; All Saints',
Cambridge; as well as the original architect of the National
Cathedral, Washington, DC. Whenever the Archbishop of Canterbury
addresses the nation from his cathedral, too, he does so in a
pulpit designed by Bodley.
The architect himself left behind few personal papers and, aside
from a book of terrible verse, which Hall very wisely avoids, gave
little public expression of his inner life. Beyond occasional
speculations about his sexuality - and that of his clients, many of
whom were gay - this book is not able to shed much light on Bodley
the man. Instead, it most brilliantly illuminates the world in
which he worked: a world of High Churchmen, newly interested in
ritual and ceremonial; a world of ambitious architects, filled with
all the excitement of the Gothic Revival; a world of builders and
master-craftsmen, using the latest technologies to recreate the
lost beauties of medieval art and architecture.
The book is, as a result, a treat for specialists as well as a
revelation for those new to the subject. Broadly chronological, it
recreates this now-lost world in an almost sedimentary manner.
Layer upon layer of analysis, with each chapter consisting of a
series of more-or-less connected sections, slowly but surely build
up into the most marvellous evocation of a time and place. It's the
sort of book that could only have been written over many years -
and it's all the better for it.
This, then, is indisputably the standard work on its subject:
not just Bodley, but also the late-19th-century Gothic Revival that
he was so instrumental in shaping. Architectural historians will
love it. It should also be read - and read with enjoyment - by
anyone interested in the people who built some of our most
The Revd Dr William Whyte is Senior Dean, Fellow and Tutor
of St John's College, Oxford and Professor of Social and Architec-
tural History in the University of Oxford.