Lifestyle / Buying / What is Tudor Revival architecture, anyway?

What is Tudor Revival architecture, anyway?

Melbourne is full of properties built in the early 20th century in the English or Tudor Revival style. Lisa Davis took a look at why, and shares some tips on how to spot them.

If you've always wondered what "those Shakespeare houses" are, you're not alone. The Tudor Revival style is very distinctive.

Feeling nostalgic after the huge amount of change wrought by the industrial revolution, not to mention advances in science, architects in the Victorian era in England started looking to the Middle Ages and the Tudor period for inspiration. By the late 19th century, Tudor Revivalism had moved out to Australia, America and even as far as Singapore and Malaysia, where homes in the style are called “black and white” houses.

Popular for both commercial and domestic architecture, elements of it were used in Melbourne from the late Victorian period right up until World War II, but it was most popular in the 1920s and 30s. This was partly for political reasons; the unmistakably English style was a nod to the “mother country” after World War I. This type of architecture was so intertwined with politics, in fact, that Robert Bell Hamilton, who has been described as Australia’s foremost proponent of the Tudor Revival style, became the member for Toorak for the Liberal and Country Party. Among other projects, he was responsible for the distinctive heritage-listed Tudor-style buildings in the Toorak Village shopping strip.

Toorak Village

Things to look out for

The most obvious examples of Tudor Revivalist buildings have steeply pitched roofs and distinctive white plastering with black-painted timber, but other features to look out for include overhanging second storeys or oriel (a type of bay) windows; the use of decorative clinker brickwork in herringbone or chequered designs; multiple narrow windows, diamond-pane glass and dormer windows in the roof; and “catslide” roofs.

“Clipped” gables are also common in the style (though less popular in Melbourne). This refers to the join between the roof and the house built to look like it’s been clipped off, thus having three softer angles rather than one steep one, such as in the image above. Clipping the gable not only creates visual interest, it also reduces the impact of wind.

Fences in matching brickwork and front yards featuring classic English cottage garden plants like roses and lavender were also common.

Because they were both popular in Melbourne at overlapping times, Art Deco elements were regularly used in later Tudor Revival-style buildings. Though it seems a strange pairing, given that Art Deco looked to the future while Tudor Revivalism looked to the past, aesthetically the styles work very well together.

The distinctive former Apostolic Church at 231-233 Punt Road in Richmond, for instance, combines Tudor Revival bones with Moderne detailing. Domestically, using Art Deco windows and brick motifs outside and decorative features inside a home is very common, particularly in 1940s English cottage versions of the style.

Tudor Revival elements are also commonly seen with the Arts and Crafts style; a more natural pairing.

“Hot bed of architectural corruption”

Not everyone liked the style. It was dismissed snobbishly in the early 20th century as something favoured by those of the nouveau riche with more money than taste by some of Australia’s design scene, most vocally by Robin Boyd, who referred to it as architecturally “corrupt”. Boyd also hated the Spanish Mission style, Californian bungalows and pretty much any other style with purely decorative features (“featurism”, he called it).

Luckily, this didn’t stop people building in these styles and we still get to enjoy them, all these decades later.