Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nash, John
NASH, JOHN (1752–1835), architect, of Welsh extraction, was born in 1752, at Cardigan in Wales, or, according to another account, in London. He was placed by his parents as pupil to Sir Robert Taylor [q. v.], but on leaving him he discontinued the profession of an architect, and retired to a property near Carmarthen. About 1793 he was induced by his former fellow-pupil, Samuel Pepys Cockerell [q. v.], and others, to resume practice as an architect. He soon obtained a large local practice in public and private architecture, extending rapidly throughout the country. Among his early works were the county gaol, Cardigan (1793), the county gaol, Hereford (1797), the west front and chapter-house of the cathedral at St. David's (1798), and various private commissions, such as Sundridge in Kent, Luscombe in Devonshire, Killymore Castle in county Tyrone, Childwall Hall, Lancashire, and alterations or additions to Corsham House in Wiltshire, Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire, Hale Hall in Lancashire, etc.
In 1814, at the celebration of the peace by fireworks and other entertainments in St. James's Park, Nash designed the temporary bridge over the lake (which remained for some years after), and also the Temple of Concordia in the Green Park. Nash had by this time obtained as an architect a large share of the patronage of royalty, the nobility and gentry, and public bodies, and became the favourite architect of the prince regent. He designed or remodelled numbers of mansions, bridges, market-places, &c. It is, however, with his share in London architectural improvements that his name will be inseparably connected. When the crown in January 1811 re-entered into possession of the land known as Marylebone Park, an act of parliament was obtained to form a public park there and to build on the ground adjoining it. The plans were made by Nash, who obtained the premium of 1,000l offered by the treasury in 1793. Nash also designed the terraces along the edge of the park (except Cornwall and Munster Terraces); in these he followed out a design previously adopted by the brothers Adam, of uniting several houses in a single facade, faced with stucco. A special clause was inserted in the leases whereby the lessees covenanted to renew the stucco exteriors every 4th August during their lease. The park was christened the Regent's Park. Park Crescent and Square, with Albany and other adjoining streets, were also erected from Nash*s designs. He also projected the Regent's Canal, connecting the Thames at Limehouse with the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington. This was commenced in October 1812, and finally completed in August 1820.
A desire was now felt to make a wide street as a means of communication from Carlton House, the residence of the prince regent, to the Regent's Park. An act of parliament for this important work was obtamed in 1818, and the new street was nearly completed in 1820. The street started from Carlton House, sweeping away St. Alban's Street and the rest of the small streets known as St. James's Market; it then crossed Piccadilly, and, following the course of the old Swallow Street, was originally intended to open straight into Portland Place. Foley House and its grounds, on which the Langham Hotel now stands, were purchased by Nash for this purpose at a price of 70,000l, but he subsequently altered his plan through A disagreement with Sir James Langham, and diverted the new street so as to make a sharp turn into Portland Place. At this turn Nash built All Souls' Church, to terminate the view up the new street, which was christened Regent Street. This church, with its pointed spire and round colonnade, which was advanced unduly forward towards the street, was the butt of many caricaturists of the period. For the buildings Nash adopted his former principle of several single facades; these gave a continuous architectural effect, but owing to the great length of the street became featureless and monotonous. Among the important features of Nash's design was the Quadrant, extending from Glasshouse Street to Piccadilly, consisting of two rows of shops with projecting colonnades. The colonnades, however, in themselves a very striking piece of architecture, were removed in 1848 at the request of the shopkeepers, and for other public reasons. Among the buildings erected by Nash in this street were the Argyll Rooms (burnt down in 1834), and a spacious residence, situated halfway between Piccadilly Circus and Waterloo Place, on the east side, which he built for himself; he removed to it from his former house at 29 Dover Street, Piccadilly, and resided there until he retired from the profession. To this house he added a picture gallery, decorated with copies of pamtings by Raphael, to make which he obtained the special permission of the pope, and employed artists for four years at Rome. The house subsequently passed through various hands, was known at one time as 'The Gallery of illustration,' and was the temporary home of the Constitutional and Junior Constitutional Clubs.
Nash also altered and enlarged the operahouse in the Haymarket (pulled down in 1893), and added the arcade and colonnade. He designed the Haymarket Theatre; the Gallery of British Artists, Suffolk Street (with James Elmes [q. v.) ; the Church of St. Mary, Haggerston; the United Service Club, Pall Mall; the east wing of Carlton House Terrace; and he completed the laying out of St. James's Park. Nash was employed by the prince regent to repair and enlarge Buckingham House; contrary to the intention of parliament in voting the money, this resulted in its complete reconstruction as Buckingham Palace (again altered by Edward Blore [q.v.] after the accession of Queen Victoria). One of the features of Nash's design was a large entrance archway, modelled on the arch of Constantine at Rome; but this was removed to Cumberland Gate, Hyde Park, in 1850-1, and is generally known as the Marble Arch. Nash also designed the entrance to the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace Road. He was further employed by the prince regent in making extensive alterations and additions to the Pavilion at Brighton.
About 1831 Nash retired from business, and went to reside at East Cowes Castle, Isle of Wight, which he had erected in earlier days for himself. He died there on 13 May 1836, in his eighty-third year.
Few architects have been given such opportunities of distinction as Nash, but it cannot be said that he proved himself quite worthy of them. Regent Street ranks among the great thoroughfares of the world, but its architecture is its least satisfactory feature. Never original in his ideas, Nash seemed devoid of any sense of grandeur or freedom in his style. No one of the buildings designed by him qualifies him to rank as a great architect; and where an effect of solidity and massive repose is produced, it is marred by his persistent use of stucco in the same monotonous tint. This gave rise to the well-known epigram (Quarterly Review, June 1826):
Augustus at Rome was for building renown'd,
For of marble he left what of brick he had found;
But is not our Nash, too, a very great master?
He finds us all brick and he leaves us all plaster.
Nash made great use of cast-iron in his buildings, and took out several patents for this purpose. He had many pupils and assistants, among them being Augustus Pugin [q. v.], who was led very much by Nash's advice and encouragement to the study of Gothic architecture. Nash was in every way a liberal encourager of art and artists, and in private life was highly esteemed; but the excessive patronage lavished on Nash by George IV brought him many enemies, especially after the king's death. His books, prints, and drawings, including a large number of his original architectural designs, were sold by auction at Evans's, Pall Mall, on 15 July 1835, and following days. A portrait of Nash by Sir Thomas Lawrence is at Jesus College, Oxford, placed there at his own request, instead of pecuniary recompense for work done on behalf of the college; and a bust of him is in the Royal Institute of British Architects. He frequently exhibited his designs at the Royal Academy.
[Papworth's Dict. of Architecture (where an extensive list of authorities is given); Gent. Mag. 1835, ii. 437; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists.]