Buildings designed in the style of the Romans continued to be erected in western Europe until the end of the 12th century. In Britain this Romanesque style is divided into the Saxon and Norman periods, allowing for the Saxo‐Norman overlap of the 11th century. Churches were modelled on ancient Roman basilicas, with rows of round arches providing access from the nave to the aisles in the largest examples, e.g. Brixworth (Northamptonshire). The Anglo‐Saxons favoured tall, rather narrow, rectangular buildings with small, splayed windows, e.g. Escomb (County Durham), sometimes with porticus, or side‐chapels, e.g. Bradford on Avon (Wiltshire). Towers were not buttressed, and had large quoins arranged in a side‐alternate manner, or in the long‐and‐short work favoured by the Mercians in the 10th and 11th centuries. The largest of these Mercian churches, e.g. Earls Barton (Northamptonshire) and Barton‐upon‐Humber (Lincolnshire), used pilaster strips for decorative and structural purposes. Most Anglo‐Saxon churches should be thought of as samples of vernacular architecture, reflecting local traditions and using local building materials.
The Normans built in the same tradition. Their early secular and ecclesiastical buildings were austere, but grander in scale than what had been built before (see castle; cathedral; manor house; monastery). The Normans used thick walls and rounded arches that seem earthbound in slow, solid rhythms. The nave of Durham Cathedral is the finest example in Britain. From the middle of the 12th century parish churches became much more decorative, with larger windows and carvings on capitals, doors, tympanum, arches, string courses, and corbel tables. Outstanding examples include Barfrestone (Kent), Iffley (Oxfordshire), Kilpeck (Herefordshire), and Steetley (Derbyshire). The styles of decoration allow fairly precise dating for the first time, e.g. the use of water‐leaf on capitals between 1175 and 1190.
The Gothic style was introduced from France for use in monasteries and cathedrals in the last decades of the 12th century. The cathedrals at Canterbury and Wells are early examples from the 1170s. Based on knowledge of geometry gained from the Arabs, with thrust and counter‐thrust obtained through the use of buttresses and pointed arches, these buildings soared to new heights. The style was soon taken up by parish churches and secular halls. The window styles of the open hall of Stokesay Castle (Shropshire), for example, are similar to those in contemporary late 13th‐century churches. Window styles are the first point of reference for dating. The English Gothic styles are divided into three main phases: Early English (1170–1300), Decorated (1300–50), and Perpendicular (1350–1550).
The grandest secular buildings continued to use Gothic forms throughout the 16th century. The Tudor court Gothic style of Hampton Court influenced building in the provinces. See Maurice Howard, The Early Tudor Country House: Architecture and Politics, 1490–1550 (1987). The prodigy‐houses of Elizabeth's reign, e.g. Hardwick Hall (Derbyshire), owed more to the native tradition than to the influence of the Italian Renaissance. See Mark Girouard, Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House (1983). These buildings were much admired by Sir John Vanbrugh and influenced the design of some of his early 18th‐century buildings.