How nine years of Regency designed the look of London
A panel of experts debate which architectural styles define the London lookbook. Anna White reports
Revered for its rotunda, columns and deep sash windows, The Holme in Regent’s Park instantly transports the onlooker to the capital’s heyday of splendour. Ian Nairn, the architectural critic, wrote: “If you want a definition of Western civilisation in a single view, then here it is.” The view of the proud Palladian villa has now been delighting Londoners for 200 years, and arguably represents the most important architectural phase in the London lookbook. But much has changed since that decade of the Georgian era. Our panel of experts choose the more recent styles of architecture, listed here in chronological order, which they feel best sum up the spirit of London.
1 REGENCY REIGNS
“London had never been as beautiful as it became during the Regency years, and it will never be that beautiful again,” says David Hills, a partner at Purcell UK and the lead architect on the restoration of Battersea Power Station.
In the nine-year spell that the socialite Prince Regent, later George IV, manned the throne (1811 to 1820), residential design strayed from the Georgian formula of straight lines, symmetry and simple brickwork. Through the use of porticos, columns, pediments and embellishments, the prince and his band of progressive architects showed a new willingness to think outside the box, argues Hills. “They unshackled themselves from strict, minimalist rules and a looseness came to the fore. Tastes were changing and this new breed of architect was not afraid to add statues to the top of pediments, which would have been seen as vulgar by the previous generation.”
One such architect was John Nash, friend to the Prince Regent, who transformed Henry VIII’s hunting ground into the Regent’s Park we know today. His plans detailed a lake, a canal, 56 villas (only eight were built, including The Holme) and a summer palace (also never built). Nash was also responsible for the palatial terraces of stucco-fronted townhouses that line the park.
Such decorative facades were representative of the flamboyance of the foppish Prince Regent, mocked in Blackadder the Third for overspending on socks. But he was the first monarch to put real energy into construction and master-planning, commissioning rows of townhouses for the wealthy and modest streets for the construction workers who were creating his London legacy.
“To this day when a tourist pictures London they see Buckingham Palace,” which received its royal renovation in the 1820s, says Becky Fatemi of Rokstone estate agency. “It’s the epitome of Regency.” The average buyer can’t get their hands on Buckingham Palace, of course, so the top end of the market looks for rarity. “They want the house at the centre of the terrace, the only penthouse in a block, or the property with the highest ceiling,” she says. The Nash villas in Regent’s Park (and there are plenty on the market) sell for tens of millions, or rent for around £35,000 per week.
NASH NOSTALGIA The Holme, main, was built 200 years ago as part of John Nash’s original layout of Regent’s Park A three-bedroom, end-of-terrace Victorian house in Stoke Newington is £1.2 million with Foxtons