Thursday, June 20, 2013

John Nash, Designer of Regency London

by Regina Jeffers

John Nash was the man responsible for the shape and development of London. Under Nash's plan, Londoners embraced the concept of Regent's Park in the northern sections and St James's Park in the south, as well as Regent's Street, which connected the two. Trafalgar Square came into being, as did the reconstruction of the Strand. The Regent's Canal was cut, along with its branch to service Regent's Park.

According to most experts, the reversion of Marylebone Park from the Duke of Portland to the Crown in 1811 opened the door to the "metropolitan improvements."

The original idea for the development came from John Fordyce, who had been appointed to the Surveyor General of His Majesty's Land Revenues. Fordyce drew up several plans, but the one from 1809 suggests the need for a new street from Marylebone Park to Carlton House. Fordyce reasoned that the nobility and professional classes required a means to conduct business and that these groups would settle north of the New Road. His creation would provide easier access to Westminster, Parliament, the Law Courts, and the Public Offices.

Fordyce requested development plans from two pairs of architects: Messrs Leverton and Chawner, of the Land Revenue Office, and Messrs Nash and Morgan, of the Office of Woods and Forests. Leverton and Chawner's plans simply extended the Bloomsbury pattern of streets. Meanwhile, Nash and Morgan suggested a landscaped park with peripheral ring of villas and fine houses.

Nash's connection to the Prince Regent is not clearly defined. Nash caught the Prince's attention after he formed a partnership with Humphry Repton, a landscape gardener. Although his partnership with Repton ended in 1800, Nash's career bloomed. In 1806, the Foxite Whig, Lord Robert Spencer, helped Nash secure a position with the Surveyor of the Office of Woods and Forests.

In his personal life, Nash attempted to obtain a divorce from his first wife after he went bankrupt in his business dealings because Mrs Nash did little to economize. His case was refused, but he remarried in 1798, presumably after the first Mrs Nash's death. It was with this second marriage that Nash came to notice of the nobility. He became a member of the Carlton House set.

John Summerson in Georgian London says, "On the strength of a scurrilous cartoon dated 1820, in which the new king [George IV] is shown making love to Mrs Nash on the royal yacht, it has been supposed that a liaison existed  between the two and that Nash's marriage twenty-two years earlier had been arranged for the prince's convenience. Speculation has even gone so far as to suggest that the Pennethorne children whom Nash adopted were in fact the progeny of the prince. All this can safely be discounted, but Nash's accession to wealth and princely favour at a period coincident with his second marriage in 1798 does remain something of a mystery."

Nash's plans sparked the Prince's interest. The future king had grand schemes to outshine Napoleon's Paris. From 1809 - 1826, Nash worked largely for the Prince.

Nash's original plans showed a rectangular layout of streets, anchored by Marylebone Park and St James's on either end. Eventually, the master plan for the area stretched from St James's northwards and included Regent Street, Regent's Park and its neighboring streets, terraces and crescents of elegant town houses and villas.

Nash did not design all the buildings himself, in some instances, these were left in the hands of other architects such as James Pennethorne and Decimus Burton. Nash re-landscaped St James's Park, reshaping the formal canal into the present lake, and giving the park its present form. Regent Street, which linked Portland Place in the north with Carlton House, followed an irregular path. Park Crescent, which frames Portland place, opens into Nash's Park Square. With terraces on the east and west, the north end of the plan opens into Regent's Park.

Around Regent's Park, Nash designed terraces, which conformed to the earlier form of appearing as a single building, as developed by John Wood, the Elder. However, Nash ignored the earlier examples and did not employ orthogonality in relationship to one another.

In Park Village East and Park Village West, completed between 1823-1834, Nash placed a mixture of detached villas, semi-detached houses, both symmetrical and asymmetrical in their design. They are set in private gardens railed off from the street, the roads loop and building are both classical and Gothic in style. No two buildings were the same, and or even in line with their neighbors. The park Villages are often considered a prototype for the Victorian suburbs.

Set up in 1812, Nash became the director of the Regent's Canal Company, which was to provide a canal link from west London to the River Thames in the east. Nash's design had the canal running around the northern edge of Regent's Park. His assistant James Morgan executed the plan, and the Regent's Canal was completed in 1820.

As part of his new position as an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813, Nash advised the Parliamentary Commissioners on the building of new churches from 1818 forward. He produced the design for ten churches, each estimated to cost £10,000 and offered seating for 2000. The plans for these ten churches incorporated both classical and gothic styles. Nash oversaw the building of both the classical All Souls Church, Langham Place (1822-1824) at the northern end of Regent Street and the gothic St Mary's Haggerston (1825-1827), which was bombed during The Blitz in 1941.

Nash was also involved in the building of The King's Opera House (now rebuilt as Her Majesty's Theatre) and the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Nash and George Repton remodeled The King's Opera House between 1816-1818. They added arcades and shops around three sides of the building, the fourth being the still surviving Royal Opera Arcade. The Theatre Royal Haymarket, which was finished in 1821. Although Nash's interior no longer survives, the Theatre Royal Haymarket sports a fine hexastyle Corinthian order portico, facing down Charles II Street to St James's Square.

Nash oversaw the remodeling of Buckingham House to create Buckingham Palace from 1825-1830 and the Royal Mews from 1822-1824, as well as the Marble Arch in 1828. Originally designed as a triumphal arch to stand at the entrance to Buckingham Palace, the Marble Arch was moved at the request of Queen Victoria, who had commissioned Edward Blore to build an addition to the east wing of the palace to meet the needs of her growing family. Marble Arch became the entrance to Hyde Park and The Great Exhibition.

With the death of George IV in 1830, the Treasury began to question the extravagant cost of Buckingham Palace. Nash's original estimate of the building's cost had been £252,690, but by 1829, the cost had risen to £496,169. Although unfinished, the actual cost was £613,269. Nash was denied the Knighthood promised to him. Finally, he retired to his home, East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. He died on 13 May 1835 and is buried at St James's Church, East Cowes, where the monument to him takes the form of a stone sarcophagus.
Regina Jeffers loves all things Austen and is the author of several novels, including Darcy’s Temptation, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy and Second Chances: The Courtship Wars .

Her website is:


  1. fabulous info ! TY - love architecture and the productivity of this man is amazing..

  2. I actually stumbled across him in my research and was amazed, FHC.

  3. Lovely to read a bit about Nash - I've seen so many of his buildings in my travels! Thanks!


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