Immediately prior to the English Civil War, Inigo Jones, who is regarded as the first significant British architect of the modern period, brought Italianate Renaissance architecture to England. He was responsible for importing the Palladian style from Italy. The Queen’s House at Greenwich is perhaps his best surviving work.
The Civil War was a turning point in the development of British architecture. It was the last time in British history that houses had to survive siege. After the war high status houses were built for living in rather than defence and their design and appearance resumed an importance hardly seen in England since the Roman occupation.
From the end of the 16th century building techniques had vastly improved especially the crafts of joinery and brickwork. In London houses built for lawyers, bankers and merchants reflected their City connections with the guilds. High status houses of this time were substantial, if lacking in fine detail. They reflected the idiosyncratic fashion called Artisan Mannerism that flourished during the Commonwealth.
The Restoration is seen as culturally superior to the period of the Protectorate. But the Commonwealth, although a time of introspection, was not completely without Continental influences and were years when the great estates saw consolidation. Once Charles II came to the throne even greater change would come from mainland Europe. The royal family and their courtiers in exile had become greatly influenced by French and Dutch fashions.
Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 Sir Christopher Wren recognised the opportunity to redesign London on an efficient and elegant grid pattern in the fashion of Florence and Rome. His plan was rejected as the complexities of land ownership in the Capital made such a radical design impossible to execute. However this great, creative and innovative architect was employed to design and rebuild many of the ruined ancient churches of London. It was during this period that he designed St. Paul’s Cathedral. If Wren’s city layout was not adopted at least the distinctive London skyline created by his spires and cupolas would provide London with a unique signature for another three hundred years.
In the late 17th century the Baroque style, typified by heavy embellishment and popular in Europe, was introduced to England. The first Baroque house in England was Chatsworth designed by William Talman in 1690. However, it is Sir John Vanbrugh who is regarded as the master of Baroque architecture in England. Vanbrugh evolved a style to suit the more solid English taste. His houses include Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.
In spite of Vanbrugh's efforts, and those of his colleague and contemporary Nicholas Hawksmoor, Baroque did not really appeal to English tastes, and well before the time of Vanbrugh's death in 1724 it was being replaced by a return of the Palladian form.