Georgian Bath

Three men were to be instrumental in transforming a medieval walled city of 3,000 people into an elegant Georgian City with a population of 30,000.

Richard ‘Beau’ Nash (1674-1762)

Richard Nash was born in South Wales in 1674 and educated at Jesus College, Oxford. He served as a Guards Officer and studied law at the Inner Temple in London, but opted for a career as a gambler. Nash was the power behind gaming dens in Tunbridge Wells and came to Bath in 1703 as an aide de camp to the Master of Ceremonies, Captain Webster. The young Richard Nash took his place when the Captain was killed in a duel.

He set about changing the social behaviour of the citizens, creating a strict code of etiquette which became the norm for all walks of life, and made the city a pleasanter and safer place. He became the “Arbiter of Elegance” and was known as the “King of Bath”, becoming one of the most influential men in the social history of England.

He lived with his mistress, Juliana Popjoy, in a fine house, which is now the Theatre Royal in Sawclose and maintained his luxurious mode of living by gambling until gaming was outlawed in 1745. Nash died a pauper but was buried in Bath Abbey.



John Wood (1704-1754)

John Wood the Elder was an architect whose vision of building the “Rome of the North” gave Bath its architectural gems.

Wood studied Palladio, a 16th Century Italian architect, and created the buildings of Bath with symmetry, balance and proportion. As a 22-year-old working in the city in 1726/7 he was commissioned by the Duke of Chandos to rebuild part of St Johns Court Hospital. Wood seized the opportunity to realise his vision and, for the first time local stone was used to create a unified street as he designed a number of houses to look like one, in the classical Greek/Roman style.

There are three main creations that exemplify Wood’s vision: Queen’s Square (1729-39), the King’s Circus (1754-67) and the Royal Crescent (1767-74). Wood the Elder laid the foundation stones of the Circus, but died in 1754. His son, John Wood the Younger, completed the project. The Circus incorporates three classical styles of architecture: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The carved frieze of 158 Metopes represent the arts and the sciences, while the 138 masks and 108 acorns crown the roof line to commemorate the legend of Bath.



Ralph Allen (1693-1764)

Born in Cornwall, Ralph Allen came to Bath aged 17. He joined the postal service. By 19 he was sub-Post Master and made his fortune as a Post Master when he re-organized and developed the national service. Being a man of enterprise, Allen invested his money in the stone quarries of Bath and was able to supply John Wood with the material crucial to the design of the city.

Known as the “Benevolent Man”, Allen was made an Honorary Freeman in 1725. He became Mayor in 1742 and was the MP for Bath between 1757-64.




Thanks to Nash, Wood and Allen, Bath grew in wealth and popularity, becoming known as the finest city in Europe, epitomizing the height of style and fashion. In 1738 they founded one of the first hospitals outside London. It provided treatments using the hot springs and became known as ‘The Royal Mineral Water Hospital’. Now ‘The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases’, it is stil ‘The Min’ to Bathonians. The first physician was Dr William Oliver and the foundation stone was laid by William Pulteney.

The Pulteneys, one of the richest families in England, owned land on the eastern side of the river. In 1770 they employed the Scottish architect Robert Adam to design Pulteney Bridge to connect the Bathwick estate with the city. Based on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, with shops on either side, it was completed in 1774 and unique in England at that time. The Pulteney estate continued to expand with the building of the main thoroughfare, Great Pulteney Street, in 1788. The culmination of this project came in 1796 with the building now known as the Holburne Museum.

The original Guildhall, designed by the classical architect Inigo Jones 1626-27, was demolished. In 1776 the City Surveyor, Thomas Baldwin, designed and built what is now the central section of the Guildhall. This includes the Banqueting Room, elaborately decorated in the Adam style.

Bath suffered a drop in popularity as the French Revolutionary Wars began. Banks and builders went bankrupt and construction halted. The city became less fashionable as society began to favour the salt water of the sea to the mineral water of Bath.

However, during the 18th and 19th Centuries, as a cultural centre the city still attracted a wide variety of the rich and famous. This included writers Jane Austen, Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Dickens; artist Thomas Gainsborough; poets William Wordsworth, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Walter Savage Landor; and actors David Garrick and Sara Siddons. Bath also attracted Lord Nelson, Josiah Wedgwood, William Pitt, Lord Clive (later Governor of Bengal in India) and the explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone.

In 1805, nine days before the Battle of Trafalgar, the Theatre Royal was opened. This was the City’s fourth since 1705. The original entrance on the north side of the theatre was adorned with the Royal Coat of Arms. The railings around the lawn are replicas of the seamen’s pikes used at the time of Lord Nelson’s death and placed there in his memory.

The Kennet and Avon Canal was opened in 1810, connecting the River Thames with the Severn Estuary. It was mainly used for the transportation of coal and other merchandise.