London has been full of anticipation and celebration this week as we welcomed a future King. One day that little bundle of joy will be King George VII. But what of his ancestral namesakes.
His parents are probably hoping he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the famed George IV (4th). Known (and hated) for his frivolous lifestyle; he valued wine, women and fun at the expense of his people, and owing to his fathers ill health (also a King George) was put in charge of the state sooner than the title came to him.
He is better known as The Prince Regent..
If you’ve ever watched Blackadder the Third, its that same dim prince, except in real life he was far more exuberant (and somewhat larger owing to his love for rich foods).
He was a very unpopular ruler.
However us Londoner’s have a lot to thank him for, it was King George’s extravagant lifestyle that, surprisingly, has left us with some our most famed and loved London landmarks today.
The King’s Parks
The King’s favourite architect was a man by the name of John Nash. His first big project for the Prince Regent was the construction of Brighton’s famous Pavilion (an example perhaps of George’s extravagance). So impressed by his work George asked Nash to develop some of his royal hunting ground near Marylebone into parkland. And so a massive transformation began to take place in our city and Regent’s Park was created.
This beautiful park land was carefully designed by Nash, including the lakes, canal routes (Regent’s Canal) and some of the stunning Georgian buildings around the edges, most famously the beautiful Park Crescent. Later in his career he also developed the land that today we know as St James’s Park.
The King’s Street
The Young Prince knew he would one day be King, and began to prepare for a lavish life as sovereign, with his architect designer Nash to help him. Nash planned a beautiful grand parade to run directly from the King’s new park to the King’s grand home situated on the North side of St Jame’s Park; Carlton House.
It was a grand plan indeed one that would shape London forever. Today we know and love this grand street which we know better as Regent’s Street. It actually starts at Nash’s Park Crescent (just by at the Regent’s Park Tube Stop). It run’s down the wide Portland Place into Regent’s Street (by the Langham Hotel & BBC HQ). It stops briefly at Oxford Circus – Nash’s stunning intersection of the ancient Oxford Road.
It continues along the beautiful curve of Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus (another of Nash’s interchanges) and then on down to Waterloo Place, the grand steps where today stands Carlton House Terrace.
Nash was semi successful in his grand plan, all the way he faced growing opposition from a people who hated the King and therefore hated the architect who was spending the nation’s money on his indulgence.
We see this at Langham Place. The former Mr Langham loved his beautiful mansion at the end of Portland Place (the width of this street owing to Mr Langham’s insistence that his views of the parkland not be interrupted) and he refused to budge for the King’s architect. Nash had to wind his road past the Langham mansion, and we see this in the twist of the road which today passes by the new BBC HQ, and Langham Hotel.
To make the curve more attractive Nash built the All Soul’s Church just there (you can see a marble bust of Nash himself outside the church). The public considered the church ugly and a famous caricature was published on Nash impaled on its sharp spire (a reflection of the public’s dislike for him and his plans).
Nash also faced set backs from the fickle King himself. When he came to the culmination of his grand road the King’s great palace Carlton House the Prince Regent had changed his mind about where to live. He had finally been crowned King George IV by this point and he no longer wanted to live in Carlton House and had it demolished. Instead he chose a nearby stately home for his Kingly residence. This had previously been home to the Duke of Buckingham, and today it remains a loved home of the Royals and one of London’s most famous houses – Buckingham Palace.
It wasn’t quite impressive enough for the King however and he invited Nash to transform it into a home fit for a King. They set about it with another grand plan, a great dome to cover the court yard, and a grand marble entrance.
Within a few years of taking the throne the New King George was dead, succeeded by his more conservative younger brother William.
By the time King William moved into Buckingham Palace it was said that Nash and George had left it uninhabitable by their crazy designs. And work was started at once to turn it back into a modest home. One of the first major changes was the removal of Nash’s grand marble entrance, this was moved to a corner of Hyde Park, and it still there today – our beautiful Marble Arch.
It wasn’t the only change made, Regent’s Street was also modified. On the curve of Regents Street Nash had included a covered walkway with grand Corinthian columns – the intention to protect shoppers from the inclement weather. These column’s were removed, but not entirely disposed of; they were placed outside what is today the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. By the early 1900s all of Regent’s Street had been rebuilt but the grandure of Nash’s royal scheme remains.
King George has gone down in our history as one of the more extravagant and disliked Kings, however his impact of the shape of the London we know and love today cannot be ignored.
We hope the new Prince George will leave a grand legacy for a beautiful city, but let’s hope he doesn’t cause too much upset along the way as his grand ancestor George VI.
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