Georgian Eclecticism


Detail of Devonport

During the seventeenth century British architects and clients wanted increasingly exotic buildings and interiors. Initially these designs referenced home-grown medieval Gothic buildings before seeking inspiration from further afield. As a consequence of political and military rivalries, greater global exploration and growing trade links, many far away places had become more accessible. In due course architectural evocations of lands such as China, India, Egypt and the Pacific islands were planted in the English landscape in order to satisfy this desire for the exotic. 

Gothic was seen as particularly appropriate for churches or for houses where the owners were snobbishly trying to emphasise the antiquity (usually spurious) of their family, such as William Beckford at Fonthill. Many of the more exotic styles were used either for interior decoration or for garden buildings that had the advantages of being relatively small, cheap and easily remodelled or destroyed in the event of changing fashions.

Exotic styles received a fresh boost in the early nineteenth century from the restless novelty-seeking of the Prince Regent, later King George IV, spurred on by his frequent remodelling of his palaces and Brighton Pavilion in particular.

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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