Regent's Park

The reason for the 19th century connoisseur to visit Regent's Park is for the architecture - the beautiful Nash terraces - but there is some decorative architectural sculpture, and a few noteworthy works by 19th and 20th century sculptors.

From my guidebook, fortuitously dated just as the last terraces were being completed in the late 1820s:

'Regent’s Park, or Mary Le Bone Park, is a spacious enclosure on the North side of the Metropolis, between the New Road and Hampstead. It is nearly of a circular form, and comprises about 450 acres, laid out in shrubberies, interspersed with various pieces of water, and intersected by several roads… In the centre are 8 villas, and around the park are noble ranges of buildings in various styles of architecture...'

'The plan of the Park is formed upon such a scale of magnificence as to eclipse all other modern improvements. The objects proposed to be obtained are – the beauty and salubrity of that part of the Metropolis, by the formation of a spacious area for exercise, on horseback, in carriages, or on foot; the erection of noble mansions for the residence of the higher classes; the construction of markets for the supply of those who settle here; and the augmentation of the revenue of the crown, at the expiration of the leases granted for building...'

'In pursuance of these objects... a circus, called Park Crescent, has been erected at the end of Portland Place, whilst, on the other side of the New Road, two handsome ranges for Park Square; several terraces of ornamental architecture have been built on the east, south and west sides of the park; a lake, equal in magnitude to the Serpentine river has been formed; and the centre of the park has been embellished with a shrubbery, around which is a circular drive.'

The same guidebook noted that 'Baker St has been carried a considerable distance northward, so as to terminate at one of the entrances to the park', and it is from here that we start our perambulation.

From Baker Street, South Eastern range

From Baker St station, taking the right hand side exit, proceed up Baker St, over a small crossing, and then to cross the larger road at the lights to go in to the Park, we go around the projecting corner and garden of the earliest of the Nash Terraces (started 1820), which is Cornwall Terrace. The architect was actually Decimus Burton, though supervised by John Nash and working to his overall design for the Park. Described in a contemporary magazine as: 'characterized by its regularity and beauty, so as to reflect high credit on the taste and talent of the young architect. The ground story is rusticated, and the principal stories are of the Corinthian order, with fluted shafts, well proportioned capitals, and an entablature of equal merit. The other embellishments of Cornwall Terrace are in correspondent taste, and the whole presents a facade of great architectural beauty and elegance.' Looking over the tall hedge from the Park side of the road, we can see the west end bow window facing onto the hidden garden, which bears four caryatids, or rather steles, which with their tapering pillars forming the lower bodies or skirts (note the little feet underneath), and slanted capitals forming head-dresses, have a somewhat Egyptianising aspect (see right hand side of the full-sized version of the picture below).

Cornwall Terrace.

Inside the Park, rather than crossing the footbridge to where the famous Dutch tulip displays are each Spring, we turn to the right. After Cornwall Terrace is York Terrace, designed by Nash and put up in 1824-26. It is a very long pair of terraces with a view between of Marylebone Parish Church (by the architect Hardwick), which had been built a couple of years earlier. It has a Doric colonnade, and giant Ionic columns at the ends and for the central portico. No decorative sculpture.

The next Nash terrace is the smaller, plainer Ulster Terrace, from 1824-5, Ionic, with Ulster Place behind facing onto Marylebone Rd also part of the complex. And beyond this are Park Square and Park Crescent, which are outside the Park but need to be visited. Park Crescent, with its perfect Ionic colonnade of doubled pillars all the way round, was originally conceived by Nash (1812, only finished after 1818) as the half of a complete circus, of prodigious size, but in the event, the two facing terraces of Park Square complete the composition (1823-25), again Ionic. On the east side in the centre at no. 18 was the entrance to the Diorama, showing vast painted views of London, designed by Nash and AC Pugin (father of the more famous Gothic architect). Alas, it closed in 1851, was for a long time a chapel, and only the shell remains. In the middle of the crescent, facing down Portland Place, is Sebastian Gahagan's bronze statue of Prince Edward Duke of Kent.

North Eastern range

Back into the Park. The formal Avenue Gardens opposite Park Crescent and Square contain some ornamental features, one of which is a huge stone pot, supported on four winged and horned heraldic lions. The central avenue becomes the Broad Walk which runs right across this side of the Park. But we may first carry on NE to the corner of the Park, where is Nash's rather short Cambridge Terrace (1825), originally with urn and two sphinxes on top, to which the architects Archer and Green added the vast Cambridge Gate in 1875, this latter on the corner site of the just-pulled down Colosseum, which also showed a panorama of London. High Victorian rather than anything matching to the style, height or material of Nash (orangey stone rather than white stucco). In front of this edifice are two gates, each flanked by a pair of short stone pillars bearing 3 emblematic female figures. Solid to the point of heaviness, classically garbed, they bear a variety of flowers and plants (oak, ivy etc), and one has a sickle.

One of four gateposts in front of the Cambridge Gate range.

Carrying along NW now, along the edge of the Park, we pass Chester Terrace, an incredibly long and grand facade in Corinthian, by Nash and dating from 1825. At each end, a massive triumphal arch, again in the Corinthian order. While appreciating the overall effect, there was some contemporary criticism of the detail: '...characterized by its richness; but the present specimen is weak in its details, and the form and proportions of its balustrade are starved and lanky. The capitals of the columns want the gracefulness of the Corinthian, and the volutes are but puny illustrations of that beautiful order. Leaving these defects to be further scrutinized by the more critical spectator, we cannot fail to be impressed with this grand and commanding terrace; the composition exhibits great genius and powerful conception; and the effect of the whole would be extremely beautiful, were it not for the defective details. At each end of the terrace is a Corinthian arch, the idea of which is altogether novel. These arches connect with pavilion temple-like mansions, and their effect is very rich and picturesque'.

There were supposed to be 52 statues, one for each of the capitals on the facade, of 'British Worthies', commissioned from the sculptor J. G. Bubb. However, on being put in place, Nash decided they detracted from the overall effect, and had them removed. Where are they now? Fortuitously, we have the opportunity to see Bubb's work in the next terrace, which is the grandest of them all.

End block of Cumberland Terrace; the Bubb pediment is at the top of the page.

Cumberland Terrace, of a grandeur to be appreciated only from a distance, was put up to Nash's overall design with James Thomson as architect on site in 1826-27. A symmetrical composition, with the central block bearing 10 huge Corinthian pillars, with a very long pediment on top, happily enlivened with a decorative sculptural composition, by J. G. Bubb. There are three statues crowning the pediment, with four more on each side and below the pediment on the balustrade. The wings of the terrace stretch out to left and right, via recessed giant arches, with projecting blocks part way and at the ends. Each of these bear 4 standing figures, giving a total of, including the central ones, some 27 in all, also by Bubb.

The central pediment was much noted at the time as being the second largest in England after that on St Paul's Cathedral. The composition is described in detail in the Mirror as representing:

Britannia crowned by Fame, and seated on a throne, the basis of which represents Valour and Wisdom. On one side, Literature, Genius, Manufacture, Agriculture, and Prudence, are bringing youth of different nations for instruction; and on the other side, the guardian-spirit of the Navy, surmounted by Victory, Navigation, Commerce, and Freedom, is extending her blessings to the Africans. The group is terminated on each side by Plenty.
The larger picture (click on the small one at the top of the page) is sufficiently detailed to pick out most of these.

Next door, a Tudor-style intrusion of similar date - the church of St Katharine's Hospital, by the architect Ambrose Poynter (1826), later to become the Danish Church.

Gloucester Gate

Next, and the final terrace on this side of the Park, is Gloucester Gate, with the accompanying Gloucester Lodge. Again by Nash, dating from 1827, but the architect on site, J. J. Scoles, saw fit to emphasise some of the features. A central projecting block, and two further projections at the ends, with giant Ionic columns. The end blocks have pediments, each with an alto relievo garnish, and surmounted by three standing figures - Bubb again, we can presume, but I cannot prove. Gloucester Lodge turns the corner towards the exit to the Park.

One of a pair of pediments at Gloucester Gate.

A diversion can be made out of the Park here - Gloucester Gate takes you through into Camden, via a bridge over a small depression, and on this is a blocky construction surmounted by an important statue of a girl. She is the Milkmaid, by the sculptor Joseph Durham. This distinctive figure, gazing into the distance, shading her eyes under one hand, is known in several versions. A plaque notes the figure was presented to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle trough association (see the page on Water) by Matilda, [wife?] of Richard Kent Esq, Junior Churchwarden 1878.

The Gloucester Gate fountain figure, by Joseph Durham.

The Broad Walk, Readymony fountain

Back in the Park, we double back somewhat, taking a diagonal path to skirt the edge of the zoo (a separate page covers statues there) and arrive at the Broad Walk, by the Readymony Fountain. This fountain, another work of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (again, see the page on Water), was presented by Cowasjee Jehangheer Readymony, a Bombay philanthopist who funded schools, hospitals and colleges in India. It takes the form of a Gothic shrine, like the top of a church steeple, and is raised up on three steps. Some 10 tons of Sicilian marble, and 4 tons of red Aberdeen granite (for the corner pillars) were used in its construction. It was designed by Robert Kierle, architect of the Association, and the sculptural work was by a certain Henry Ross. The four carvings, now very much worn, show the donor, above a panel showing an Indian bull with palm tree behind, and on the other sides, the scarcely-recognisable outline of a young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and, apparently, in the past, a timepiece.

We carry on along the Broad Walk, the point being to have the views across the field to see Cumberland Terrace and Chester Terrace from best vantage, most especially in the winter months when the trees do not obscure the half of them - the picture at the top of the page is taken from this viewpoint.

St John's Lodge Gardens, St Mary's Gardens

Arriving at a crossroads, Chester Road, we turn right, towards the centre of the Park to the Inner Circle, once intended to enclose further terraces, never built, and now, since the 1930s, holding Queen Mary's Gardens. A right again, around the Inner Circle, takes us to the easily missable entrance to St John's Lodge Gardens - if you pass the Lodge itself, you have gone a few paces too far. The gardens, very beautiful, very English, give the best view of the imposing St John's Lodge, one of only three of the surviving great villas out of the eight built and dozens conceived by John Nash for the Park. Nash was not the architect - that was John Raffield (1817), with the wings added by Decimus Burton in 1831-32, and later changes by Charles Barry and others. A construction in the Doric order, with various pots along the tops of the wings, and four stone gateposts abutting the wrought-iron gates, each bearing surmounted by a naked youth supporting a heraldic shield. Perhaps dating from one of the later workings on the house rather than the 1817 construction.

Henry Pegram's Hylas, and statue by C. L. Hartwell, in St John's Lodge Gardens.

Within the gardens are two excellent statues. Central, in a small round pond, is a Hylas, a bronze of a nude man with a sensual mermaid seizing his legs to pull him to his doom. It is by Henry Pegram, and an inscription on the base notes it was presented through the Leighton Fund, in 1933. Pegram exhibited a very similar work in marble, 8ft high, called the Bather, at the Royal Academy in 1895 – the pose of the man is almost identical, but in the 1895 work the mermaid is curled forward round one of Hylas's legs, thus showing her back, rather than lying back between his calves as here. The second statue, off to one side, is a bronze of a semi-draped shepherdess holding a lamb, with the inscription 'To all protectors of the helpless'. The sculptor was Charles L. Hartwell, obscure now, who worked in the first half of the 20th Century and was, as shown in this work, a devotee of the New Sculpture movement.

Now, we take one of the footpaths to within the Inner Circle, and so into St Mary's Gardens, highly explorable and with many floral features, among which the circular rose garden is one of my favorite places within Regent's Park. There are a few statues to pick up within St Mary's Gardens, of which the principal one is the Triton Fountain, instantly recognisable as the work of William McMillan, familiar from his fountain sculpture in Trafalgar Square on a similar theme. A muscular male triton, blowing on a conch, rises above two female ones, angled outwards to make this a diamond-shaped rather than pyramidal composition. It was donated in memory of Sigismund Goetz, 1950. More minor works are by and in the pond - two of these show naked cherubic figures, one helmeted, seated on a vulture squatting on a bow (The Lost Bow), the other on a goose (The Mighty Hunter). They are lesser works by Albert Hodge, exemplifying the solid, fleshy style of this sculptor. In the water, a bronze of an eagle, modern and very accomplished. And nearer to the garden cafe, away from the water, is the Boy with the Frog statue, by William Reid Dick, a contemporary of McMillan.

Western and Southern range

Main pediment of Hanover Terrace.

We now exit Queen Mary's Gardens to the west, to complete our perusal of the Nash Terraces. Cross the Long Bridge over the lake, bearing left keeping to the lakeside before crossing it again to the children's boating pond, with the modern London Central Mosque in front of us (1978, Sir Frederick Gibbert & partners). The gate to the Park there is Hanover Gate, and next to it Nash's Hanover Lodge (with early 20th C Lutyens enlargements), and Hanover Terrace, put up early in the sequence, in 1822-23. It is in the Doric style, and the three main blocks have pediments with sculpture, the last on our walk. The central pediment has a fairly full selection of allegorical figures in alto relievo, nicely spaced out like a Wedgewood Flaxman design, the effect increased by the painted blue background. Thirteen figures in all, representing from left Navigation (with a large paddle), History, Music (lyre), Plenty (male figure with cornucopia), Agriculture, Justice, a central figure of a lightly draped girl with no accoutrements, then apparently Peace, and more recognisably Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Chemistry and Medicine. Three female full statues crown the pediment. The left and right pediments are smaller, and have more stylised groups of arabesqued cherubs without any great theme, again each being crowned with three feminine figures - the full set of nine are the Muses. As previously, we can hazardously assign the relief sculpture to Mr Bubb, and most definitely the muses. We should note, though need not visit, that behind Hanover Terrace is Nash's only terrace facing outwards from the Park - the rather plain Kent Terrace, 1827, with Ionic columns. William Smith was the executive architect.

Next, the last of the larger terraces, Sussex Place, designed by 1822 by Nash, and with its onion domes immediately reminding us of the Brighton Pavilion, which Nash designed at about the same date. In the words of the Mirror:

'It is said to have been erected from the designs of Mr. Nash, but is considered as one of the least successful of his productions. It was among the earliest of the terraces in the Park, and its whimsical contrast with the chaster beauties of the adjoining structures soon became the signal for critical pasquinade. It consists of an extensive range of residences, a centre with a pediment, with two octagonal towers, and wings with four other towers in each, all the towers being finished with cupola tops and minarets. Probably the architect was tempted to this introduction for the sake of picturesque variety, since it is not justifiable on the score of architectural beauty or good taste. Indeed, it is an attempt at magnificence which, on so small a scale, is not deserving of imitation, and has not been followed. The general effect is far from pleasing; but the eye of the landscape painter will probably enjoy an assemblage of picturesque outlines in grouping Sussex Place with its adjacent scenery and accessories. '

Other sources refer to 'singular gourd-like cupolas' and 'surmounted by domes of grotesque appearance'. Personally, I grew up seeing this every time I visited the Park, and feel at home with its exotic skyline. Otherwise, we may merely note the curved ends, the Corinthian columns, and that the length is accentuated by the fact that unlike with the other long terraces, despite the domes there is no strong emphasis to the centre or ends, but rather an evenness across the whole range.

We end with the very short Clarence Terrace, Corinthian centre and side blocks, linked by Ionic screens, by Decimus Burton, 1823, and rather a foreshadow of his screen at Hyde Park Corner. And we are back at the Clarence Gate entrance whence we entered.

Sample statues by Bubb, from Cumberland Terrace.

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