Bath - The Circus
18th century

Click photos to enlarge
Notes in italics from North Somerset and Bristol by Nikolaus Pevsner  (1958)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London

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The Circus dates from 1754-8 and it is the most monumental of the elder Wood's works, even more so if one remembers that the old plane trees which are now so much more splendid than the buildings did not exist and were not projected. The centre was paved stone and no greenery. Planting was introduced early in the C19. Wood's architectural conception is original and powerful. ... The Circus has one architectural motif only, and this is relentlessly carried through on all sides - without accents of height or relief - a triumph of Wood's economy of means.

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The system is easily described; coupled columns in three orders, Tuscan (with metope frieze), Ionic, Corinthian, and then a top balustrade. (Like the Colosseum, to which it has been compared, turned outside in). The sustained depth of relief was something new for Bath, a first step in the direction in which the younger Wood was to continue.

While conceiving the new Roman Bath, Wood was also inspired by ancient Britain, King Bladud (mythical founder of pre-Roman Bath) and the Druids. The diameter of the Circus is said to be based on measurements Wood took of the stone circles at Stonehenge and Stanton Drew. The acorns on top of the Circus are highly unusual; oaks were sacred to the Druids. Wood was probably also a Freemason and many of the symbols on the frieze come from Freemasonry. 

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Rear of the Circus.

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Brock Street leads from the Circus to the Royal Crescent. There are a number of later additions to the frontage, e.g. the pointed Gothic portico above and the three-storey projection at one entrance. Walking along Brock Street one has no idea of the grand surprise that will open up at the end of it ... the Royal Crescent.


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