The Architecture of John Nash

By Terence Davis; John Summerson | Go to book overview

Palaces, Town Houses and Metropolitan Developments

NASH'S SCHEME for Regent, Street, outlined on page 15, formed only a part of his great plan for the development of London. Another important aspect was the transformation of Marylebone Park, then isolated farm-land north of Portland Place, into one of the most splendid architectural panoramas in Europe.

London's streets and squares already contained mansions of considerable grandeur but the plan for Regent's Park was to offer something different`something unique. The snobbery of living in a terrace that looked like a great mansion was no novelty. Georgian terraces had already provided this illusion`individual houses sharing common pediments, porticoes, columns and other unifying features. But to live in a vast plaster palace overlooking what appeared to be boundless private park-land filled with rare trees, undulating lawns and sparkling lakes was irresistible.

As with the Regent Street buildings, we must appreciate Nash's terraces in the Park as a whole`as an attempt to provide the most enticing residential area ever conceived for a capital city and, whatever faults we find in the individual compositions, the lay-out we see today is a monument to the only man in the history of British architecture who managed to get such an ambitious town-planning scheme off the drawing-board and into reality.

In 1828 James Elmes, himself an architect and the author of a life of Sir Christopher Wren, wrote Metropolitan Improvements or London in the Nineteenth Century. [142] shows the title page of the book which is a remarkable record of the likes and dislikes of a discerning critic of the day. It contains a series of dramatic engravings from drawings by Thomas Shepherd and the text describes the new architectural wonders on the London scene. Elmes found it difficult to ignore Nash's lack of respect for the proper use of Classical elements and his disregard of what he called 'pure style' in some of the Regent's Park and Regent Street buildings. We must commend him for saying so in a book which he humbly dedicated to the King who was, after all, Nash's devoted patron. Nash received many other Royal commissions whilst under the patronage of the King, whose growing discontent with his only London residence Carlton House eventually ended the architect's career. Nash decorated the low-ceilinged rooms of Carlton House (or Carlton Palace as it was sometimes known) in styles of great magnificence but the results were short-lived and he spent the last active years of his career on the ill-fated hazard of re-building Buckingham House.


CUMBERLAND TERRACE, London. 1826.

[141, 153-155]. A range of houses on the east side of the Park with great central pediment supported by ten Ionic columns.

The terrace comprises five main blocks of houses divided by decorative arches behind which are set pairs of smaller houses. These sub-divisions and recesses save the terrace from monotony and seen as a whole the effect is impressive and must rank as Nash's most spectacular single composition. The pediment is filled with sculpture by J. G. Bubb representing Britannia surrounded by the various arts and sciences. Close examination shows the sculpture to be perfunctory and naïve but it is sufficiently decorative when seen from afar. The scale of the tower block seen in [155] is spoiled by a Victorian fourth storey addition. The interiors of the houses are spacious but have dull cantilever staircases. The drawing-room floors are of the usual good proportions with cornices of the period, fluted door architraves and white marble chimney-pieces.

Since the Second World War the houses have been used as Government offices but part of the terrace is under reconstruction as flats and the remainder will be retained as whole houses.

-99-

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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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