Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Regency Review III, by Lady A~, Authoress of 'The Bath Novels of Lady A~'.

Having been quite stuck up a chimney in my last Regency review-of-two, it is fitting that my third little amble through the period should now wind its way down the more refined lanes of English architecture. Fashioned more out of individual taste than by popular demand, and largely owing to the singular style of its architects, the Regency became a landmark era of architectural design; and elegance was its very fitting catchword. From the modest houses of the 'residential squares' of spa resorts to the sweeping prospects of John Nash's grand terraces in town, the finessing of architectural detail spurned a host of theatrical effects. And from classical moldings and cupolas to 'vistas of white or cream-coloured stucco', the evolution of Regency architecture soon singled out its select group of architects-extraordinaire. John Buonarotti Papworth was one such gentleman early admitted to this group, and was renowned for both his views of elegance, coupled with an acute sense of social awareness. Here he expounds his novel theories upon the improvement of laborers' cottages in his work Rural Residences:


"The habitations of the labouring poor may be rendered ornamental, and the comforts of them increased, at a very trifling charge beyond the cost of common buildings; towards this purpose the annexed plate is designed for four cottages, connected with each other, and under one roof; a mode of building that admits a considerable saving of expense...

The porch in which the husbandman rests after the fatigues of the day, ornamented by some flowering creeper, at once affords him shade and repose; neatness and cleanliness ... bespeak that elasticity of mind, and spring of action, which produce industry and cheerfulness..."

Whether or not the fatigued husbandman did indeed rediscover the 'spring' in his step from such commodious order, Papworth was soon bounding off in another direction, fashioning rural retreats for the gentry. Here he extols his thoughts upon a 'cottage orne':

"The cottage orne is a new species of building, ... and subject to its own laws of fitness and propriety. It is not the habitation of the labourers, but of the affluent; of the man of study, of science, or of leisure; it is often the rallying point of domestic comfort, and, in this age of elegant refinement, a mere cottage would be incongruous with the nature of its occupancy. The lawn, the shrubberies, the gravel walks, and the polish that is given to the garden scenery, connected with such habitations, require an edifice in which is to be found a correspondence of tasteful care: perhaps it is essential that this building should be small, and certainly not to exceed two stories; that it should combine properly with the surrounding objects and appear to be native to the spot, and not one of those crude rule-and-square excrescences of the environs of London, the illegitimate family of town and country."


Other acclaimed architects associated with the Regency were George Basevi, Decimus Burton, Sir John Soane and Henry Holland. Though the latter died in 1806 (before the Regency began) he has a distinct association with the era. As the son-in-law of  'Capability' Brown, the celebrated landscape gardener, Holland built Claremont [in Esher, Surrey], the house in which Princess Charlotte spent her married life, and the famed Whig men's club, Brooks's, in St James's Street. It was through his association to Brooks's that he was introduced to the Prince of Wales and this brought about Holland's next commission: the rebuilding of Carlton House, the Prince's London residence. Holland also had a hand in redesigning the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, which was later designed again, and there his distinct cupola paid tribute to the 'Indian domes of Repton and Nash'.


The nonpareil of Regency architecture is, undoubtedly, John Nash. As the architect to the Prince Regent, he began his illustrious career in the office of Sir Robert Taylor. After going bankrupt in 1783, he re-established himself designing country houses in 'classical, Gothic and picturesque styles', and in 1796 entered into a partnership with Humphry Repton, who became one of the Regency's most notable landscape gardeners. In 1798 Nash acquired the Prince Regent's patronage and in 1811, as one of his most significant works, he developed Regent's Park into a preeminent residential area. Incorporated into this grand scheme were 'Regent's Canal, churches, artisans' houses, shops and arcades, and the layout of many surrounding streets'.


Tom Moore, the poet, wrote:

"[The Prince] is to have a villa upon Primrose Hill, connected by a fine street with Carlton House, and is so pleased with this magnificent plan, that he has been heard to say 'it will quite eclipse Napoleon'. "

The villa was never built, but Crabb Robinson, the noted diarist, recorded his opinion upon Regent's Park:

"I really think this enclosure, with the new street leading to it from Carlton House, will give a sort of glory to the Regent's government, which will be more felt by remote posterity than the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo."


Nash was made Deputy Surveyor-General between 1813-15, and had also become the Prince Regent's personal architect during that time. Between 1815-1823 he set to work on giving the Regent's palace at Brighton, the Royal Pavilion, an ornate makeover in the 'Hindoo' style, at a cost of nearly two-hundred thousand pounds. The extensions and additions incorporated the Great Kitchen and the Long Gallery (and its staircase). In 1817, the Music and Banqueting Rooms were added. After a 'new sixty-ton dome' was fashioned for the palace, and the entire center part of the building reworked, some critical commentary followed the progress. Mr. Croker of the Admiralty stolidly remarked:

"It is not so much changed as I had been told ... But in the place of the two rooms which stood at angles ... with the rest of the building ... have been erected two immense rooms, sixty feet by forty; one for a music-room and the other for a dining-room. They both have domes; an immense dragon suspends the lustre of one of them. The music-room is most splendid, but I think the other handsomer. They are both too handsome for Brighton, and in an excessive degree too fine for the extent of His Royal Highness's premises. It is a great pity that the whole of this suite of rooms was not solidly built in or near London. The outside is said to be taken from the Kremlin at Moscow; it seems to me to be copied from its own stables, which perhaps were borrowed from the Kremlin. It is, I think, an absurd waste of money, and will be a ruin in half a century or sooner."


Fortunately Mr. C's foreboding of rack and ruin was itself waylaid to dust, and a Victorian critic made due account of the chinoiserie-styled music-room in proper praise:

"No verbal description, however elaborate, can convey to the mind or imagination of the reader an appropriate idea of the magnificence of this apartment...
The windows, which are so contrived as to be illuminated from the exterior, are enriched with stained glass displaying numerous Chinese devices, and similar decorations, in green gold, surround them...

At the [cupola's] apex, expanding in bold relief and vivid colouring, is a vast foliated ornament, bearing a general resemblance to a sunflower, with many smaller flowers issuing from it in all luxuriancy of seeming cultivation. From this, apparently projected from the calyx, depends a very beautiful lustre of cut glass, designed in the pagoda style, and sustaining by its chain-work an immense lamp in the form of the ... water-lily. The upper leaves are of white, ground glass edged with gold, and enriched with transparent devices derived from the mythology of the Chinese; the lower leaves are of a pale crimson hue. At the bottom are the golden dragons in attitudes of flight..."


The erstwhile critic, Mr. Croker, did however set his seal of approval upon the Pavilion's new kitchens:

"The kitchen and larder are admirable -- such contrivances for roasting, boiling, baking, stewing, frying, steaming and heating; hot plates, hot closets, hot air, and hot hearths, with all manner of cocks for hot water and cold water and warm water and steam, and twenty saucepans all ticketed and labelled, placed up to their necks in a vapour bath."

In 1819, the last improvements to the Pavilion came in the additions of the King's Apartments, and in 1821, Buckingham House became Nash's next palatial project, never to be completed. After it was ordered that it be rebuilt as a royal palace, time ran out on George IV (formerly the Regent) and his personal architect. In 1830 the King died amidst a great groundswell of personal unpopularity, which likewise, and predictably, underwrote Mr. Nash's (regally affiliated) professional demise.

But fond friends despair not! Before dear Prinny goes up in a veritable puff of smoke in his palace, alongside his gifted architect and his glorious era, I shall, in my next review, continue to meander into the Regent's imaginative and extravagant world. I invite you all, most cordially, to join me there, at a later date, in unveiling the politics of  landscape gardening, the Picturesque movement, and the fashions and pleasures of the affluent in both town and country.

Source: Richardson J., The Regency, (Collins, 1973.)
Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Very nice article. And a weekend of giving away Merits and Mercenaries. Great!


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