Looking at Buildings

Building Types


Religious Buildings

Click to enlarge
Ely Cathedral, West front

A religious building provides a place for worship. Christianity, first introduced to Britain at the time of the Romans, was re-established through the mission of St Augustine (597 AD) and led gradually to the widespread building of parish churches for local communities, cathedrals, which each formed the seat of a bishop, the senior member of the clergy responsible for a larger region known as a diocese, and abbey churches which served monasteries.

After the Reformation

Click to enlarge
Bristol, Wesley's New Room

After the Reformation, when the monasteries were abolished by Henry VIII, parish churches and cathedrals were adapted for the Protestant Church of England, or Anglican church, which placed greater emphasis on preaching and participation by the laity.

Alternative forms of worship were at first suppressed, but by the later 17th century Nonconformists were building their own chapels and meeting houses, while Roman Catholics who had not accepted Protestant reforms worshipped in private chapels until they were permitted to build their own churches after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.


Click to enlarge
Manchester, St Augustine, Chorlton-on-Medlock

Church interiors and fittings have been adapted to accommodate different forms of worship through the centuries. From the 17th century classicalGlossary Term styles of architecture were employed for rebuilt and new churches, but the impact of many hundreds of surviving medieval churches has ensured that GothicGlossary Term has remained widely associated with church building, a concept strengthened by the GothicGlossary Term Revival of the 19th century, whose concepts remained influential into the 20th century. For churches of the later 20th century there have been radical innovations in style, buildings materials and interior layout.

Other Religions

Click to enlarge
Manchester, Synagogue, Cheetham Hill Road

The small Jewish population in medieval Britain was expelled by Edward I. The oldest remaining synagogues date from the end of the 17th century, after Cromwell lifted the ban; many more were built in the later 19th century, after the arrival of refugee Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. 20th century immigration has led to the establishment of places of worship for other faiths, at first in converted buildings, but increasingly in purpose built complexes also serving as cultural centres and schools for their religious communities. Temples for Hindus and Buddhists, and Mosques for followers of Islam are now to be found in many large towns.



A term used for the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome, revived at the Renaissance and subsequently imitated around the Western world. It uses a range of conventional forms, the roots of which are the orders, or types of column each with its fixed proportions and ornaments (especially Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Classical buildings tend also to be symmetrical, both externally and on plan. Classical architecture in England began c. 1530 with applied ornamental motifs, followed within a few decades by fully-fledged new buildings.


The style of the Middle Ages from the later 12th century to the Renaissance, with which it co-existed in certain forms into the 17th century. Characterized in its full development by the pointed arch, the rib-vault and an often skeletal masonry structure for churches, combined with large glazed windows. The term was originally associated with the concept of the barbarian Goths as assailants of classical civilization.