A basic description with images of the differences between Norman and Gothic arches and windows.

This will enable students to have an insight into the differences with visual examples and to thus have a better understanding of early English architecture when looking at churches and cathedrals in the UK.

In this article only Door arches and Window arches are being considered since when looking at religious buildings in the UK these two elements are probably the first and most noticeable.

Gothic architecture is a particular series of styles in which most of our churches have been built since the Norman conquest in 1066 AD. It was given the name 'Gothic' supposedly by Sir Christopher Wren, as a term of contempt, as  he considered it to be inferior to the purer styles of Grecian and Roman architecture.

There are many different styles of English church architecture and they can be identified as follows :-

  •   500 - 1100 AD     Saxon and Anglo Saxon

  • 1100 - 1200 AD     Norman

  • 1200 - 1300 AD     Early English Gothic aka Lancet

  • 1300 - 1400 AD     Decorated Gothic

  • 1400 - 1500 AD     Perpendicular Gothic aka Florid

The difference between these styles depends chiefly in the form of the arches, which are either round, pointed, or mixed. The size of the windows, and the manner in which they are sub-divided by transoms (horizontal division of a window), mullions (vertical division of a window), and tracery (ornamental work and mouldings) are peculiar to each style.

Most of our cathedrals and country churches took decades (or even hundreds of years) to be completed, and thus had different styles built into them as they progressed. Or had additions made to them, at different times. They seldom exhibit any uniformity of design.


The principal distinction between the styles is evident in the form of the arches which fall into three distinct sorts, namely, the 'round', the 'pointed', and the 'mixed'.

First came the 'round' arch.

There are 4 'round' arches which were used from the time of the Romans up to about 1250 AD when they were superceded by by a pointed style of arch. Of course, if a builder at a later date (or even today) wishes to construct a 'round' arch, then there is nothing to stop him doing so. Fig.1 shows a semicircular arch indicating the radius from the centre of the circle.

fig 1

Fig.2 shows a semicircular stilted arch which has vertical sides.


fig 2

Fig.3 shows a segmental arch which shows that the centre of the circle is outside of the segment.


fig 3

and fig.4 shows a horse-shoe arch.


fig 4

Then came the 'pointed' arch which can be classified into 2 basic types, the 'simple pointed' based on having 2 centres, and the 'complex pointed' based on having 4 centres.

The 'simple pointed' arch comprises of 4 kinds; the 'Lancet', the 'Equilateral', the 'Drop', and the 'Horseshoe' arch.

The Lancet Arch is formed of two segments of a circle, and its centres have a radius or line longer than the breadth of the arch, and may be described from an acute angled triangle, (fig 5).


fig 5

The Equilateral Arch is formed from two segments of a circle, the centres of it have a radius or line equal to the breath of the arch, and it may be described from an equilateral triangle, (fig 6).


fig 6

The Drop Arch is formed like the foregoing, and is formed from two segments of a circle, and the centres of it have a radius shorter than the breadth of the arch; it may be described from an obtuse angled triangle, (fig 7).


fig 7

The Horseshoe Arch, which was seldom used, is formed of two segments of a circle, and is described from two centres or points, both of which are on its spring line; ie the place where an arch rises from its support column or wall, (fig 8).


fig 8

These pointed arches were introduced between 1100 AD and 1300 AD, but the horseshoe and lancet arch appear to have been generally discarded after this time.

The 'complex pointed' arch fall into two kinds; namely, the 'Ogee' arch, and the 'Tudor' arch.

The Ogee arch is formed of four segments of a circle, and is described from four centres - two on a level with the spring, and two placed on the exterior or the arch and level with the apex or point of the arch. It was introduced about 1300 AD and continued to be used up to about 1500 AD, (fig 9).


fig 9

The Tudor arch like the Ogee, is formed from four centres - two on a level with the spring, and two at a distance from it, and below it. It was introduced about 1450 AD (fig10).


fig 10


An Early English or Lancet style of window is depicted in (fig 11). It prevailed from about 1220 AD to about 1300 AD and it is distinguished from the Norman and Semi-Norman by the round arch being entirely discarded, and the pointed arch only used.


fig 11

The Lancet arch headed window, being very long and narrow, was most prevalent. Frequently two, three, or more of these windows were connected together by dripstones, the middle window being longer and higher than those at the sides. Sometimes they were unconnected and without dripstones. A dripstone or hoodmould or label is an external moulded projection from a wall above a door or window to throw rainwater clear.

Dripstone over window

The Decorated English style commenced about 1300, and continued to about 1400. It generally had plain chamfered edges or mouldings. The windows of this style are easier to distinguish than any other part. They are in general, large and wide, divided by mullions into two or more lights. (A mullion is a vertical structural element which divides adjacent windows). (Fig 12).


fig 12

The transition from the Early English to the Decorated style, and from the Decorated to the Perpendicular or Florid style, was so gradual, that though many individual details were extremely dissimilar and peculiar only to each style, we are only able to judge from examples, when a change was generally established.

The Perpendicular or Florid style commenced about 1375 and ended about 1525. It derived its name from the multiplicity, profusion, and minuteness of its ornamental detail, hence florid. (Fig 13).


fig 13

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