Saturday, 22 October 2016

Visit Bath and Visit Bath’s Famous Circus

The Royal Crescent shouldn't get all the glory.

More often than not, the buildings in Bath that get the most attention are those of the Royal Crescent. The Royal Crescent is the scene you’ll see on postcards, as the subject of artistic photographs, on tea towels, used for logos… And we can see why, the thirty terraced houses make for an incredible façade, and one well worth visiting and taking pictures of, but just down the road is the another feat of architectural innovation which doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves; the Circus.   

The King’s Circus as it was originally called (named in honour of George II though he never lived to see its completion), was mapped out John Wood the Elder and work was begun on it in 1754. Unfortunately, less than three months after work began John Wood died, so his son, John Wood the Younger, took over work on it. 

In the end the Circus took fourteen years to complete, with the final stone going into place in 1768. Considering that the Circus was partially constructed while the Seven Years War was underway (1756-1763), it’s not that surprising that it took a while to complete; as the war sucked men and money out of the economy. Besides, one advantage to the building delays was that it gave John Wood the Younger lots of time to look at the Circus in its incomplete form. The elegant curves of the south west segment standing alone have been said to have inspired him to design his own masterpiece – the Royal Crescent. But that’s another story. Back to the Circus. 

Wood the Elder thought carefully about his design for the King’s Circus, but the details he thought for so long about are often missed. For example, Wood looked at the site of Stonehenge and used the dimensions of the stones to determine the diameter of the Circus (318 feet). This was a nod to Bath’s claims of having originally been a site for Druid activity.   

Another feature of Wood’s design was the way he divided the Circus. By having three segments of equal length Wood ensured that whichever road a visitor to the Circus came up, they would have the full impact of one of the segment’s classical façades directly in front of them. 

The decorations too deserve some recognition. Running along the top of the front doors and ground floor windows all around the Circus is a frieze which is decorated with 525 emblems, almost all of which are unique. The symbols include sickles, birds, pairs of compasses, globes, and lots of symbols to represent the arts, science and masonry. It is thought that some of them denoted the profession of the gentleman who originally lived in the Circus. While the large stone acorns which adorn the roofs of the Circus houses are there as a reference to Bath’s founding by banished King Bladud, who, at the time he first found Bath, was working as a leper swineherd whose pigs had rather a liking for acorns; which then led to Bladud’s discovery of Bath’s healing waters… 

They say that a visit to Bath is not complete unless you’ve visited the Royal Crescent, but we’d add to that that a visit to Bath is similarly not complete unless you’ve visited the Circus.

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