John Nash

John Nash (1752-1835), English architect and town planner, was one of the principal architects of the Regency period.

John Nash was born in London in September 1752. He began his career in the office of Sir Robert Taylor. In 1777 Nash established his own practice, but he went bankrupt in 1783 and moved to Wales, where he built country houses, cottages, and various minor public works. By 1791 he had achieved considerable success.

In 1796 Nash returned to London and entered into a partnership with the landscape gardener Humphrey Repton (dissolved in 1802). In 1798 Nash designed a conservatory at Brighton for the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), and he became an intimate member of the prince's circle. During the next 15 years Nash designed a number of remarkable country houses in the form of picturesque pseudomedieval castles, such as East Cowes Castle, Isle of Wright, for himself (1798); Luscombe, South Devon (1800-1804); West Grinstead and Knepp Castles, Sussex (ca. 1806); Ravensworth, County Durham, and Caerhayes, Cornwall (ca. 1808); and Cronkhill, Shropshire (ca. 1802), the first neo-Italian villa in England, from which sprang the Italianate revival of the late Regency and early Victorian eras. He also built the picturesque cottages and dairy at Blaise Hamlet near Bristol (1805-1811) and the most important of all cottages ornées, the Royal Lodge at Windsor (1812).

Nash became architect to the Department of Woods and Forests in 1806 and prepared plans for developing Marylebone Park. His scheme provided for the laying out of Regent's Park with villas and surrounding terraces of grand houses and for the creation of a processional thoroughfare (Regent Street) from Marylebone to the seat of government in Whitehall. This gigantic program, known as the Metropolitan Improvements, was a masterpiece of early town planning and transformed London's West End. In these works Nash expressed his genius for grand spectacular effects, but he was much criticized for the carelessness and incorrectness of his classical details.

In 1813 Nash was appointed one of the three "attached architects" to the Board of Works. Tow years later he began the transformation of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, then a simple classical villa, into an Oriental dream palace with an Indian exterior and a richly fantastic chinoiserie interior, which became the most magnificent expression of Chinese taste in Europe. For the building of Buckingham Palace (1825-1830), when his creative powers were failing, Nash incurred severe official criticism. After the death of George VI in 1830, he was dismissed from the Board of Works and retired to East Cowes Castle, where he died on May 13, 1835.

Further Reading on John Nash

The pioneer biography of Nash is John N. Summerson, John Nash: Architect to King George IV (1935). Complementary to Summerson's work is Terence Davis, The Architecture of John Nash (1960), which consists of a comprehensive collection of over 200 photographs and engravings of Nash's works, descriptive notes on each illustration, and a long historical introduction by Summerson. This book was followed by Davis's admirable John Nash: The Prince Regent's Architect (1966), which embodies a great deal of new material and provides a reassessment of Nash's place in British architecture. Nash is discussed in two other works by Summerson: Georgian London (1945; rev. ed. 1970) and Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1954; 4th rev. ed. 1963).

Additional Biography Sources

Summerson, John Newenham, Sir, The life and work of John Nash, architect, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1980.

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