Kerry Jordan, Early Victorian society and the desire for privacy
Early Victorian society and the desire for privacy
Interview with Kerry Jordan
Filmed by Tribal Media
Contributor: Heritage Victoria
What house is that? Interactive, created by Heritage Victoria.
Kerry Jordan speaks about how homes reflect the values of the time, and what early Victorian houses tell us about nineteenth century social conventions.
To learn more about the Early Victorian period of architecture, Click Here.
Kerry Jordan is an architectural historian at Heritage Victoria. She wrote her PhD thesis on the grand houses of nineteenth century Victoria. In particular she looked at the relationship between interior planning of houses and the social history of the period. She considered how and why local house planning differed from contemporary British models.
I'm Dr Kerry Jordan and I'm a conservation officer for Heritage Victoria. I work in assessments, and we assess places that are recommended for addition to the Victorian Heritage Register.So that's my job - to carry out that initial assessment.
I was looking at the larger houses that were built in Victoria during the 19th century and basically looking at the planning of the houses - how the rooms were organised and laid out within the house.
And what I wanted to particularly look at was how that compared to Britain, because of all the initial settlers in Victoria obviously were British and the sort of houses they built were based on the houses they would have lived in in Britain.
And I want to look at whether those houses changed when they came to Victoria, because there were huge changes that occurred in society in Victoria compared to in Britain, even things like greater informality of society and less rigid social hierarchies, etc.
So it was interesting, then, to look at the houses and see how they change in response to the changes in society at that time. Well, the houses stuck very, very closely to the rules in Britain, and these were quite rigidly laid down.
There were quite a lot of publications put out during the 19th century in Britain and in other parts of the world as well - in America and Europe - which laid out how a house should be designed from the exterior - you know, the sort of style that you might use - but also the interior arrangements.
And some of them went into enormous detail about how it should be laid out, but also why they should be laid out in this way, and there were quite rigid, as I say, social rules about why this might be done.
In Britain, they had a couple of absolute obsessions when it came to their houses. They had an obsession with personal privacy, for a start.
So this meant that all of the rooms and the people in those rooms should be quite separate to everyone else. And there was also an obsession with social hierarchy, so you wanted to be separate from, say, any servants that might be working in the house.
So this meant that the planning was very separate and it led to what we call corridor planning where, when you came into a house, you went into a hallway and all of the rooms could only be accessed from that hallway.
And if you want to go from one room to another, you had to go back into the hallway, walk along the hallway and into the room - which may sound very obvious to us, but it wasn't the way in Europe and in America at the time.
In France and in Germany, for example, and also in America, the rooms might open directly into one another. So if you want to go from the drawing room into the dining room, there'd be a doorway that you could just go through.
If you've been to, say, the Palace of Versailles, for example, you'll know that the rooms just connect up. You can just walk from one into the other. And that was just terrible as far as the British were concerned. That was way too informal.
And so, this corridor planning, because of this obsession with privacy, was very typically British and it also occurred throughout Victoria in the 19th century.
Even though they were in contact with America, they saw American books and American journals and saw that wasn't the case there and knew it wasn't the case in Europe and even though society here was more informal, they still stuck to that corridor planning right through the 19th century.
And it didn't start to break down, really, until the 20th century, where we get more open planning, and of course now with family areas particularly, they're totally open, so it was quite different to today.