The Royal Crescent, Bath
Architect: John Wood the Younger (1767-1775)
Photograph: Edwin Smith (date unknown)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
The Royal Crescent is Bath’s most celebrated architectural sight. After the tight terraced streets of Bath, its majestic sweep of thirty houses, constructed in golden Bath stone, and fronted by a wide expanse of lawns, comes as a complete surprise. An unforgettable composition, this became the proto-type for urban planning for much of the next century.
Built between 1767 and 1775, the Crescent’s basic form may have been planned by John Wood the Elder. Although shaped as a half-ellipse, its name alludes to the Moon, associated with pagan worship, one of the elder Wood’s obsessions. But the architecture has no such references, and the great terrace was designed by his son, John Wood the Younger (1712-81).
The Crescent has none of the feeling of being cramped and imprisoned in a grid, like the Circus. The façade is dominated by 114 majestic Ionic columns, rising up two storeys. Doors and windows have little if any decoration: nothing disrupts the rhythm or distracts the eye. Only at the ends and the centre are there subtle changes. Coupled columns mark these points. Surprisingly, behind such splendid fronts, inside most of the houses are very plain, with utilitarian back facades, classic examples of the quip: ‘Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Anne backs.’