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The Eighteenth-Century townhouse in England: Its form and function

Joseph, Retnam Kumari (2015) The Eighteenth-Century townhouse in England: Its form and function. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines the interior spaces of the eighteenth-century English Town House in order to explore the relationship between wider societal shifts and the ways in which the urban houses of the upper and middling levels of society were organized and decorated. For some historians, the eighteenth century represents the beginnings of the modern age with new philosophical, economic and social understandings developing at this time. Examining the spaces where people lived provides us with insight into the effects of Enlightenment ideas and consumerism on their lifestyle.

While the development of the eighteenth-century Town House as an architectural form has interested historians for the last 70 years, the same degree of attention has not been directed at its interiors until relatively recently. This shift is possibly a consequence of a new historical interest since the 1990s in cultural history, and how and why people behaved in particular ways.

By using eighteenth-century house plans from architects and designers such as Robert and James Adam and John Wood, the work of Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Chippendale, master craftsmen from the period, as well as contemporary diaries and letters, it is possible to discern the significance of the form and function of the eighteenth-century Town House. These primary sources, while often relating to the aristocracy and gentry, also provide access to the lives of the middling sort who were becoming increasingly literate and urbanized during this period. We consequently see the responses of different classes to the wider shifts of the eighteenth century and the extent to which the middling sort were emulators of the aristocracy and gentry or innovators in their own right.

This thesis argues that consumerism had a very significant influence not only on the architecture of the Georgian Town House but also on the people who lived in these houses, especially in the city of London. An examination of the interior of the Town House provides us with a microcosm of the eighteenth century, and we see a society where notions of taste, decorum, and social etiquette were an integral part of not only new consumer habits, but also education, gender and family relationships.

Publication Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Brash, Helen
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