The Royal Crescent in Bath is probably the most famous crescent in England, with good reason. The architect who designed and built it was John Wood the younger. It is Palladian in design with many classical columns along its length.
The Most Famous Crescent in England
The reasons the Royal Crescent is so famous are many. Firstly, there is the magnificent sight of the sweeping semiellipse of palatial fronted terraces. This is often used on postcards to depict the true essence of Bath. Secondly, it was a unique design in its day. It is said to have set a precedent for crescents in England then and it still does today. Lastly there is the commanding view over Victoria Park. This vista, when taken as a whole, is similar to that of a country mansion, in the city. This is without any doubt one of the must see attractions in Bath, as you will see for yourself when you visit.
Architecture of the Royal Crescent
The architect who built it was John Wood the younger (born 25 February 1728, died 18 June 1782). The building of the crescent started in 1767 and was completed in 1775. Literature tells of us many possible inspirations for its unique design. For example its’ aim may have been to embrace the natural landscape. Also, speculative note must be taken of John Wood the elders designs for Bath and his love of things druidic, like the moon. Its shape can be likened to the latter phases of waxing and waning crescents of the moon. Alternatively, it can also be seen as half a coliseum similar to his Romanesque concept, the Circus. This idea was known to Wood the elder from the interior of Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico built after 1579 in Vincenza, Italy. Even so, contrary to its name and the above it is not a true crescent in shape. It is a half-ellipse.
There are 30 houses along its over 100 metres length. No. 1, the Bath Preservation Trust’s museum at the far East-Southeastern end was the first one built. It was used as a model to base all the other on. Not all are exactly like this model though. Most are 3 bays wide. There are 5 exceptions which are 4 bays wide. These are Nos. 14 to 17, which house the Royal Crescent hotel and No. 30. Each of the houses has 3 stories above ground and a basement as well making them all a very good size.
Palladian Design in Georgian Bath
The style used to design these buildings here is called Palladian. You can see this clearly from the many columns on the front of the houses. This was popular in England during the early 18th century. It was named after Andrea Palladio (1508 - 1580). This 16th Century Italian architect used ancient Roman and Greek elements in his designs. Many of Georgian Bath’s architects, including the Wood’s, picked up on this quality. Decorating buildings with architectural features such as columns, ornamental ceiling mouldings called cornices and triangular carved roof fronts called pediments was very fashionable The Royal Crescent epitomises the impressive nature of 18th Century Palladian architecture.
Capitals of the Classical Orders
The columns along the crescent all have capitals (the fancy carvings at the top of a column) based on the classical orders of Greek architecture. House No. 1, which incidentally is also a museum that is very worth seeing, has 2 columns with Doric capitals at its front door. The Doric order are simply circles at the top of the columns without any fancy carving on. The larger columns above and the rest of the columns down the crescent have Ionic capitals. The Ionic order is characterised by volutes or scrolls carved in the stone above the pillars. However technically it can be argued these are not Ionic columns as the height is not 9 times the diameter of its base. The same can be said of the other columns here. However, we are looking at Georgian Bath and not ancient Greece.
- Charles Steven original article 2004
- Kevin Ireson pictures, author and editor (2004 – today)
- M. Forsyth (2003) Bath, New Haven & London, Yale University Press.