Wood Family

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Wood Family. English architects and builders. John Wood the Elder (1704–54) was one of the developers of the Cavendish-Harley Estates in London, building houses in Oxford, Margaret, and Edward Streets, as well as in Cavendish Square. He was also employed at Bramham Park, Yorks., where he laid out the grounds (1722–4). His experience stood him in good stead when he returned to his birthplace, Bath, Som., then (1727) about to enjoy a building-boom. Between 1728 and 1736 he developed Queen Square, based on London exemplars, sub-leasing the sites of individual houses, but controlling the development so that the contractors had to comply with his elevations. The result was a unified Palladian palace-fronted composition on the north side. Wood followed this with further schemes for Wood, John, and Old King Streets (1729–31), the North and South Parades, with Pierrepont and Duke Streets (1740–3), and then Gay Street (from c.1750) and the Circus (begun 1754). The last was an important innovation in English town-planning, with unified façades featuring an assemblage of Orders, the whole resembling the design of the Colosseum in Rome, but on a concave instead of convex plan. His proposals for a Royal Forum were not realized, but the general idea was to re-create a mnemonic of a Roman city.

Wood's publications are more interesting for their curiosity value than for their scholarship, and indeed they stray into the realms of bizarre, even insane, speculation. They include The Origin of Building, or the Plagiarism of the Heathens Detected (1741) in which he proposed that the three main Roman Orders had been the result of Divine revelation and had been first used in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, a notion recurring in Freemasonry and in Juan Bautista Villalpando's Ezechielem Explanationes… (1596–1631). Behind this was the desire to cleanse Classical architecture of any pagan origins. Wood further fantasized about the origins of Bath in An Essay towards a Description of Bath (1742, 1749, and 1765), and also published A Description of the Exchange of Bristol (1745), Choir Gaure, vulgarly called Stonehenge… (1747), and Dissertation Upon the Orders of Columns and their Appendages (1750). His meanderings drew on a curiously dotty volume (Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728)) by none other than Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727).

Other buildings by Wood included a Classical church within the ruined nave of Llandaff Cathedral, Glamorgan (1734–5—demolished c.1850), the handsome Palladian Prior Park, near Bath (1735–48), Lilliput Castle, Lansdown, near Bath (1738), the Exchange and Market, Corn Street, Bristol (1741–3), and the Exchange (now Town Hall), Liverpool (1749–54—much altered).

The development of Bath was continued by his son, John Wood the Younger (1728–81), who supervised the building of the Liverpool Exchange and completed the building of the Circus in Bath. His greatest contribution was Royal Crescent, Bath, the climax of the handsome sequence of residential developments begun in 1727. The Crescent (1767–75), with its Giant Ionic Order rising from a plinth, was both original and influential, and was widely imitated thereafter. His new Assembly Rooms (1769–71) and Hot Bath (now Old Royal Baths) of 1773–7 were fine examples of Palladian architecture. He also designed Buckland House, Berks. (1755–8), the Infirmary, Salisbury, Wiltshire (1767–71), and the castellated Tregenna Castle, St Ives, Cornwall (1773–4). He published Description of the Hot-Bath at Bath … (1777) and A Series of Plans, for Cottages or Habitations for the Labourer (1781, 1792, 1806, and 1837). In the latter volume he demonstrated a concerned attitude to housing for the working classes unusual for the time.


ArtH, vi (1983), 301–14;
Colvin (1995);
J. Curl (2001);
E. Harris (1990);
Ison (1969);
M&E (1988);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Summerson (ed.) (1963, 1993);
Jane Turner (1996)