The Architecture of John Nash

By Terence Davis; John Summerson | Go to book overview

Public Buildings

NASH'S CHRONOLOGICAL PROGRESS from the design of prisons to palaces was rapid. In 1795 he had completed his third and last gaol -- at Hereford -- and by 1812 he had found Royal favour and was starting to build a country palace to be known as the King's Cottage at Windsor.

Unless we count the Regent Street and Regent's Park developments as public buildings (which strictly they were not, as many private speculators were involved and the buildings were not public in the normal sense of the word) Nash left a small legacy in this category. Seven churches, four bridges, two hospitals, two monuments, two theatres, one institution, one market house and one town hall was its extent. As a list, this may sound impressive but in fact Nash's concern with these buildings was superficial and in most cases merely entailed small additions, reconstructions or alterations. The majority of this work was, in any case, done early in his career and acted as a springboard to greater things.

His least successful undertakings were his bridges and churches. None of the bridges survived and three of them collapsed after a short time. His two London churches were bitterly criticised and All Souls', Langham Place, has only become properly appreciated within the last few years.

Had Nash not elected to share the unpopularity of an extravagant monarch he might well have found favour with those responsible for public building schemes -- for it was only the King's personal caprices that ultimately led to his disgrace. He was more successful when he concerned himself with such ventures as his insular work in the Isle of Wight -- far away from a resentful Government.

GUILDHALL, Newport, Isle of Wight. 1814.

[127]. A stuccoed composition with Ionic columns.

Nash designed several public buildings on the Isle of Wight at the time he was building his own house there, one of which was the Guildhall. A disfiguring clock tower was added to the right of the portico in the late nineteenth century and all but ruins this plain scholarly composition.

Nash's original working drawings are preserved in the Borough Surveyor's office and the building cost £10,000.

ALL SOULS', Langham Place, London. 1822.

[128-131]. A Classical composition in Bath stone closing the vista at the north end of Regent Street.

Nash designed two churches in London, both entirely different in style and both much criticised by contemporary observers. All Souls' was the target of every form of lampoon, cartoon and public derision. It was, in fact, a brilliant solution to the problem of how to marry the north end of Regent Street to the south end of Portland Place further to the northwest. The round steeple and portico form the perfect link, and the main body of the church is cunningly tucked away, unseen from the main vistas. The effectiveness of its siting is seen in [172]. The fluted conical steeple encircled by a peristyle of Corinthian columns is unique and, although it was the main cause for censure, is an ingenious architectural feature. The capitals of the portico [129] are of an elaborate Ionic order made of Coade's pale terra-cotta and contain unusual cherubs' heads between the volutes based on a design by Michelangelo. The balustrade on the parapet of the main building, matching that of the portico, has long been removed and from certain angles the great slate roof is insufficiently concealed. [130] shows the plan and west elevation drawn by Pugin for Britton Edifices of London, 1828. Britton, one of Nash's few champions for All Souls', states that the contract price was £15,994. and this figure was very little exceeded.

The interior follows the familiar pattern of Classical churches of the period. A gallery runs round three sides and simulated yellow marble columns rise from gallery level to cornice. The ceiling is coffered and is richly embellished with plaster mouldings and large rosettes. The marble font, organ case and Communion balusters (re-adapted) are all relics of Nash's original fittings.

The church was severely damaged during the Second World War, when a bomb pierced the roof, destroying the interior and removing the top of the spire. Extensive restoration work was carried out after the War by H. S. Goodhart- Rendel and the church was re-dedicated by the Bishop of London on 29 April 1951.

STMARY'S, Haggerston, London. 1826.

[132]. A Gothic church with tall tower built of Bath stone by John Walters.

This strange church was built from designs provided by Nash and it was severely criticised at the time. It was certainly an eccentric pile and had great areas of undecorated wall-space, the tower itself being particularly stark. The lantern at its summit, however, surrounded by elaborate finials, was arresting. Smaller polygonal twin towers flanked the main tower


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The Architecture of John Nash
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface 7
  • Introduction - BY SIR JOHN SUMMERSON 9
  • Country Houses and Castles 21
  • Small Houses, Collages and Follies 69
  • Public Buildings 89
  • Palaces, Town Houses And Metropolitan Developments 99
  • Index of Buildings Illustrated 137


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