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Evidence -- Dating Old Buildings 

When we look at an old building, the styles of the arches above doorways and windows tell us a lot about its age. Here are some examples of different styles from different periods in history.

  • When you have had a look, try the activity which will show the evidence of how one style led to another. 

  • The whole history of arches shows how across the centuries, stonemasons and builders learned more about the maths involved in making a strong arch.

  • They brought in new materials and new building methods, and changing fashions also played their part.

  • After the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they built castles and churches in a new style, which came to be known as a Norman Arch. The Norman arch is a semi-circle on top of a rectangle, and is based on the arches common in ancient Rome.

  •  It gives a building very strong support. Norman arches date from 1066 to about 1220. The earliest are quite plain but you will also see more decorative examples.


Here are two Norman arches. Each has the typical zig-zag decoration. The one on the right has two windows, each shaped like smaller Norman arches.



 By 1220, the Norman arch was out of fashion. It was replaced by the lancet style which was popular in England  for the rest of the 13th century. The lancet shape  was tall and  thin, with a point at the top. It got its name because it looked like a lance or spear. Above is a  lancet window, from the 13th century. Glass was very expensive at this time, so would not be used in ordinary buildings – the window would be an open space. Glass was used only in the grandest buildings, such as cathedrals.


Larger lancet windows could be made by overlapping the shapes, such as this spectacular lancet window in Lincoln cathedral. How many lancet shapes can you find in this window? 


A row of arches could be used to make an arcade. The arcade gave people a walking area sheltered from the worst of the weather, and with much more light than anything indoors. The arcade shown here runs along the side of the Cloth Hall, a buildng in the main square of Krakow in Poland. 

Now have a go at the activity to see how the various styles are linked. You will need a pencil, a ruler, card, scissors and some A4 paper. Start with the instructions on Arches A, then use the vari0us pictures in order, starting with Pic 1.

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