24 July 2017

Historical architecture and buildings: A-Z glossary

By Engaging Places | 10 October 2014
  • List
  • Archived article

An A-Z glossary on the theme of ‘historical architecture and buildings’, containing a definition for each letter of the alphabet (where possible).

Photo of a line of young students holding hands infront of a castle wall

Primary school students in front of Eltham Palace walls © English Heritage

The A-Z glossary for buildings and places can be used as:

  • a straightforward research tool for teachers and students
  • a reference point for students during a unit or scheme of work on buildings and places
  • introductory activities for a new learning session or scheme of work on buildings and places
  • a way of developing classroom discussion.

Historical architecture and buildings: A-Z glossary

Art Deco A style of design and architecture that evolved in the 1920s and 30s. It shows the influence of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan and Eastern design, often using shapes and streamlining. The style was often used for hotels, theatres and office buildings.

Battlements Often found on the top of castle walls and towers, these are the regular gaps in the stonework used for firing arrows.For an example, see the Dinefwr Castle on the Wales castle website.

Column A tall vertical structural element, which is usually circular. It can be free-standing or used to support a building.

Drum tower Found on a tower, it is a round tower built into a wall to connect the wall along the perimeter. The large drum towers of Beaumaris Castle are a good example.

Excavated remain Historical remains that have been found by digging down into the soil.

Fort A strong building designed to protect people from attack during periods of war, such as Leeds Castle in Kent.

Garderobe A medieval toilet built into the thickness of an outer castle wall, so the waste would empty out into the moat or ground below.

Hemicycle buttress A semi-circular structure usually made of brick or stone, which has been built to strengthen a wall of a building. It is a feature of defensive buildings such as castles.

Ironwork Building and structure elements that have been made out of iron, including gates, ornamental scrolls and delicate ornamental work. Some fine ironwork has survived in medieval buildings of worship, such as Winchester Cathedral.

Jesse window A decorated window showing Christ’s family tree, created mainly during the medieval period.

Kneeler The stone block set at the top of a low (sometimes battlemented) stone or brick wall, also called a pad-stone.

Leaded light A window in which panes of glass are framed in a lattice of lead rods. Stained glass windows in churches are an example of leaded lights. Visit the Churches Conservation Trust for more details.

Photo of the Whitby Abbey, blue skies, green grass

Whitby Abbey, view from the visitors centre © Ashley Bingham and Mark Ellis, A&M Photography

Medieval This refers to architecture of Europe during the period, also known as the Middle Ages. This period spans from the end of the eighth century to the first half of the sixteenth century. Medieval architecture includes Romanesque and Gothic styles.

Necropolis an ancient burial ground situated in or near a town

Oubliette A hidden medieval place of imprisonment, often found in masonries or the foundations of a castle, into which unfortunate captives could be dropped.

Prehistoric site An area that dates from prehistoric times (the time before history was recorded), and is a site where archaeological remains can be discovered.

Quadratura The painting on walls and ceilings to create an architectural illusion, often to create the sense of a larger space. This can be seen in the Roman, Renaissance and Baroque styles.

Roman mosaic The patterned surface on the floors of Roman buildings, made from regular squares of glass, stone, pottery or marble, embedded in cement or plaster. Some of the finest mosaics in the UK can be seen at Fishbourne Roman Palace andBignor Roman Villa.

Sally-port A small exit point in a fortification (or castle) designed for the passage of troops.

Tarsia Inlaid wood, usually light on dark, which was common during the Renaissance period. It features arabesque or scroll-work, and representations of paintings in perspective.

Undercroft A vaulted space under a church which is completely or partly below ground.

Victorian Architectural styles dating from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), typically seen in highly ornamented large scale public buildings.

Ward A courtyard of a castle. It can be seen in the form of a bailey - an open area inside the castle complex that contained domestic buildings. See an example of the lower bailey at Chepstow Castle in South-east Wales.

Yett A grated iron door or screen made from iron bars intersecting vertically and horizontally.

Activity for ‘historical buildings and sites’, and ‘building features’ (theme 9)
Key stage 3

  1. Divide the class into teams of four to six students.
  2. Provide each group with images of the interior and exterior of a building, for example San Lorenzo (Florence), the Royal Festival Hall, a Victorian house, a local shop or shopping centre, and the school building.
  3. Ask each group to identify and list any words from the A Z glossary theme ‘historical architecture and buildings’ (theme 6) that they think are relevant to their particular building.
  4. Ask each group to annotate the photographs with features from the A Z glossary theme ‘building features’ (theme 9) that they think are present on their building.
  5. Each group chooses two of their identified terms to share with the class.
  6. In class discussion, look at the terms that have been chosen. Use prompt questions, such as ‘Where would you expect to find these features?’ and ‘What clues do they give about when the building was designed and built?’

More A-Z glossaries
Go back to the complete list of A-Z glossaries for buildings and places, and associated class activities.

  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
Resources showcase (183)
more listings »