European Architecture Series
John Nash

Biography of English Neoclassical Regency Architect.

Pin it

Cumberland Terrace, London (1828)
Neoclassical Regency architecture

John Nash (1752-1835)


John Nash's Architecture
Regency Architect
Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1815-22)
Other Buildings Designed by John Nash
Other Leading Baroque Architects

Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1815-22)

For a short guide to terms
see: Architecture Glossary.

John Nash's Architecture

One of the greatest architects of metropolitan London during the Regency era (c.1810-30), John Nash was a highly original and prolific designer, best known for the neoclassical architecture he used in the Marylebone region of London, notably Regent's Park (1812-27), an impressive complex of rigorously classical buildings. Part of the Picturesque movement, he combined irregular views with Neoclassical structures, making use of the widest variety of styles and urbanistic ideas. In addition, he was among the initiators of the revival of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, Exoticism, and similar styles, that became typical of 19th century architecture in England. His most famous examples of classicism included city terraces in London (Royal Mews 1825; Cumberland Terrace 1828; Carlton Terrace 1827-32), major urban structures (Theatre Royal Haymarket 1820), country houses and castellated villas (East Cowes Castle 1798-1802; Ravensworth Castle 1808), and picturesque cottages (Blaise Hamlet 1810-11). He also designed the neoclassical All Souls Church in Langham Place (1822–24), and the gothic-style St. Mary's Church Haggerston (1825–27). His most unorthodox building was the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1815-22) - a fantastic version of Indian design, with elements of Chinese, Moorish and Gothic architecture. The layout of the West End of London, including Trafalgar Square, St James's Park, and the Royal Mews off the Mall, owes a great deal to his innovative designs and planning. He also worked on Buckingham Palace, although here he was less unsuccessful and after the King's death he lost his royal commissions. See also Victorian Art (1840-1900).




Born in Lambeth, the son of a millwright, Nash trained with the architect Sir Robert Taylor (1714-88) and began as a surveyor and builder, before opening his own architectural practice at the age of 25. Alas, despite receiving a substantial family inheritance of £1000 in 1778, Nash's decision to invest in property proved unwise and he was declared bankrupt five years later. After this, he left London and settled near his mother in Carmarthen, Wales. It was in Wales that he completed his first important projects of late-18th century architecture, the prisons at Carmarthen (1789-92), Cardigan (1791-96) and Hereford (1792–96). He also renovated St David's Cathedral (1789-91) by adding two large flying buttresses, and designed Castle House Aberystwyth (1795) in Picturesque style. In addition, he designed a dozen small country houses or "villas", located throughout South Wales, such as Llanerchaeron (c.1795). While working in the principality, Nash formed a profitable 8-year partnership with landscape gardener Humphrey Repton (1752-1818). Then in 1797 he returned to London.

His first major project after settling in London was out of town. In 1798 he designed his own summer residence, East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was the first of a number of picturesque Gothic castles that he would build across England. (Later he also built his own town house at No.14 Regent street: 1819-23). Other Nash "castles" - all executed in the asymmetrical and picturesque style of architecture - included: Luscombe Castle, Devon (1800–04); Ravensworth Castle, North Durham (begun 1807); Caerhays Castle, Cornwall (1808–10); Shanbally Castle, County Tipperary (1818-19). To these, Nash added groups of buildings, such as Blaise Hamlet (1810–1811), considered by some critics to be the last word in the Picturesque idiom. Another type of design he produced was the Italianate Renaissance-style villa, as exemplified by Cronkhill (1802), Sandridge Park (1805) and Southborough Place, Surrey (1808).

Architect to the Prince Regent: Regency Architecture

Politically, Nash was a supporter of the Whig party and a friend of Charles James Fox (1749-1806). Through this and other contacts, Nash came to the attention of the English Prince Regent, later King George IV (1762-1830). As a result, in 1806, Nash was given the position of architect to the Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks, and Chases, and, from 1810, worked almost exclusively for the King. In this position he became an important exponent of the Regency Style of architecture - a style inspired by Greek art of classical antiquity. The first major royal commission was the development of Marylebone (today's Regent Street, Regent's Park and St James's Park). With the assistance of other architects including James Pennethorne (1801-71) and Decimus Burton (1800-81), Nash designed Carlton House Terrace (1827–1832), Park Crescent (1812-21), and Park Square (1823–24), as well as villa developments like Park Village East and Park Village West (1823–34). In addition, Nash was responsible for the planning and completion of Regent's Canal (1812-20).

Other royal commissions included the design of two of London's theatres: the King's Opera House (now, Her Majesty's Theatre) (1816–1818), and the severely neoclassical Theatre Royal Haymarket (1821), with its hexastyle Corinthian columns. After this came the redesign of Buckingham House, creating Buckingham Palace (1825–1830), followed by the Royal Mews (1822–24) and Marble Arch (1828).

Nash's career and influenced declined abruptly with the death of George IV. Both the King's extravagance and Nash's own success had attracted considerable resentment. The huge cost of his work on Buckingham Palace, in particular, caused enormous controversy, and effectively denied him the knighthood traditionally awarded to royal architects. In response, Nash retired to his home on the Isle of Wight.

Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1815-22)

This was Nash's most unusual and exotic architectural design. Starting out as the Prince's Marine Pavilion, it became the Royal Pavilion, on completion. It was originally built by Henry Holland (1745-1806). Nash transformed it from an earlier Palladian-style house into a flamboyant example of eclectic, whimsical Picturesque architecture, to host the summer entertainments of the Prince Regent. Modelled on Mughal architecture, which lent it it a distinctly exotic appearance, its exterior - complete with minarets and bulbous onion domes - resembles the geometrically disciplined Taj Mahal at Agra, Northern India (1630-53). Its more unorthodox features included: a gothic-parapeted, circular staircase in the castellated turret provides access to the upper dome, which was modified to accomodate three bedrooms, each with a fireplace and windows; and a marquee-style roof of the pagoda dome above the Banqueting Room and Music Room. For the interior, cast-iron was disguised as bamboo and gas-lighting was installed to display the brilliant chinoiserie to its greatest effect.

Other Buildings Designed by John Nash

- Southborough House, Surbiton (begun 1808)
- The Rotunda, Woolwich (1814, 1820)
- St. James's Park (1814–27)
- Suffolk Place, Haymarket (1820)
- Haymarket Theatre (1820)
- York Gate (1821)
- Hanover Terrace (1822)
- York Terrace (1822)
- Sussex Place (1822)
- Albany Terrace, London (1823)
- Cambridge Terrace (1824)
- Ulster Terrace (1824)
- Chester Terrace (1825)
- United Services Club, Pall Mall (now Institute of Directors) (1826)
- Gloucester Terrace (1827)

Note: Regency architecture broadly coincided with the Biedermeier style in Germany/Austria lands, the Federal style in America and the Napoleonic Empire style in France. It was followed in Britain by Victorian architecture, whose two most popular styles were Neo-Gothic and Jacobethan.

Other Leading Neoclassical Architects

Here is a short selected list of the most famous neoclassical artists involved in architectural design, during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80)
Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806)
Jean Chalgrin (1739-1811)

Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808)
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841)
See also: Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68)

Charles Cameron (1745-1812)

Juan de Villanueva (1739-1811)

United States
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
William Thornton (1759-1828)
Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820)
Charles Bulfinch (1863-1844)

See also: Roman Architecture (c.400 BCE - 400 CE).

• For more about 19th century Regency architecture, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.