“What I think the beauty of Bath; is the Cressent,” Abigail Adams wrote her sister after visiting the city in early 1787. “The front consists of a range of Ionic Colums on a rustick basement. The Ground falls gradually before it, down to the River Avon about half a miles distance, and the rising Country on the other side of the River holds up to it a most delightfull prospect. The Cressent takes its name from the form in which the houses Stand; all of which join. There is a parade and street before them a hundred foot wide and nothing in front to obstruct this Beautifull prospect” (Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 20 Jan. 1787
The majestic 500-foot curved Royal Crescent is considered one of the great pieces of eighteenth-century architecture. Built between 1766 and 1774 by John Wood the Younger, the thirty attached
private houses stand fifty feet high and are faced with 114 columns. The houses were built one at a time and sweep in a near-perfect arc. While the nearby Circus of John Wood the Elder was the crowning achievement of a period of architectural development that preceded the Seven Years' War, his son's Royal Crescent represents the pinnacle of a second period of expansion during the 1760s and 1770s. The buildings became the centerpieces of Bath's Upper Town, a new city center to the north of the original city. The architectural renaissance of the eighteenth century paralleled a cultural rebirth that saw Bath transformed from a traditional walled town to a fashionable resort for wealthy nobles and heads of state (James Crathorne,
The Royal Crescent Book of Bath
, London, 1998, p. 74, 75, 77; Barry Cunliffe, The City of Bath
, New Haven, Conn., 1986, p. 134; David Gadd, Georgian Summer: Bath in the Eighteenth Century
, Bath, 1971, p. 83–85, 104).
The Royal Crescent appears frequently in English fiction. Baroness Emmuska Orczy had her fictional Scarlet Pimpernel reside in the Royal Crescent no. 16, and Charles Dickens had Mr. Pickwick stay in a Royal Crescent townhouse in The Pickwick Papers. The building also appears in the works of Jane Austen and Henry Fielding (Crathorne, Royal Crescent Book of Bath, p. 81).
Courtesy of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bath, England, and Bridgeman Art Library.