Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wood, John (1705?-1754)

WOOD, JOHN (1705?–1754), architect, known as ‘Wood of Bath,’ born about 1705, was probably a Yorkshireman, and, though he visited Bath occasionally between 1719 and 1727, did not settle there till the latter date.

His fame as an architect of the Palladian school rests not merely upon his designs for particular buildings, but even more upon his success in the composition of streets and groups of houses, in which art, though anticipated by Inigo Jones at Covent Garden, he may be regarded as the forerunner of the brothers Adam [see Adam, Robert]. Originally engaged upon the construction of roads under the acts of 1707 and 1721, he first displayed his powers of design in the North and South Parades, which have suffered by modern alterations, including the removal of the stone balustrades. To the same period belong North Parade Buildings, Chapel Court, and Church Buildings. Dame Lindsey's Rooms, begun by Wood in 1728 (opened 1730), and subsequently known as the Lower Rooms, were a speculation of Humphrey Thayer (d. 1737), druggist, of London, and occupied, till burnt in 1820, the site of the Royal Literary Institution, in which the lecture-room, known as Nash's Assembly Room, is attributable to Wood.

At the same period (1727–8) Wood restored St. John's Hospital for the Duke of Chandos, who also employed him upon Chandos Court and upon the canalisation of the Avon between Bath and Bristol, a work for which he engaged experienced diggers from the Chelsea waterworks.

Queen Square, one of Wood's important enterprises, was begun in 1729. His design was imperfectly realised owing to the difficulty of obtaining three sites on the west side. St. Mary's Chapel, designed by Wood in 1732, stood formerly in this square, where also (at No. 24) Wood himself resided until he and his son John removed to Eagle House at Batheaston, a characteristic building by the father. Wood is also said to have occupied the house, 41 Gay Street, but he retained or returned to 24 Queen Square, as it was there that he died. In 1729, at the expense of Millard, an innkeeper, the poorhouse of Lyncombe and Widcombe was built from Wood's design, with a handsome columnar entrance and a watergate opposite. The building did not long survive the present poor law. In 1734 Wood designed, for Francis Yerbury, Belcomb Brook Villa at ‘the south end of the King's down,’ and in 1735, besides erecting a villa on Lansdown, he began a series of restorations at Llandaff Cathedral.

Wood's best patron was Ralph Allen [q. v.] Allen's house in Bath, now enclosed in an obscure alley, was designed by Wood in the early part of 1727, but a larger and more magnificent design was Allen's residence at Prior Park outside the city. The great hexastyle portico, the Corinthian columns of which have a diameter of over three feet, is one of the finest compositions of its epoch. In this house (designed in 1736, built in 1737–43) Allen intended to exhibit as favourably as possible the local stone from his quarries, which had for some time been worked under Wood's superintendence. The flight of steps on the north side, the east wing, and the Palladian bridge are not by Wood.

The Royal Mineral Water Hospital, which really owes its origin as much to Allen and Wood as to Beau Nash, must be assigned to the same date (1738–42). The scheme was first promoted in 1716 by Lady Elizabeth Hastings and Henry Hoare, banker, but its accomplishment was largely due to Wood's energetic and gratuitous services. Wood made other designs in connection with the local springs—a small square pavilion (1746) to cover the source at Bathford, an elegant duodecastyle for the Lyncombe Spa (not erected because the spring disappeared), and a portico for the Limekiln Spa, which afterwards ceased to flow. Lilliput Castle, a small house four miles north-west of Bath, is described as having been built presumably by Wood in 1738 (Wood, Description of Bath).

In 1745 he built, for Southwell Pigott, Titanbarrow logia on Kingsdown (Bathford) with a Corinthian façade, and he is said to have designed in 1752 the rebuilding of the Bath grammar school.

Wood's work was not confined to the neighbourhood of Bath. He designed Redland Court, Bristol, and the exchanges of Bristol (1740–3) and Liverpool (1748–55), the latter in conjunction with his son. He died on 23 May 1754, and was buried at Swainswick.

Wood's writings consist of: 1. ‘The Origin of Building, or the Plagiarisms of the Heathens detected,’ fol., Bath, 1741: a whimsical attempt to identify the origin of the orders with the architecture divinely revealed to the Jews. 2. ‘Description of the Exchange at Bristol,’ Bath, 1745, 8vo. 3. ‘Choir Gaure, vulgarly called Stonehenge; described, restored, and explained,’ 1747, 8vo. 4. ‘Essay towards a Description of Bath,’ London, 1742, 2 vols. 8vo; 1749, 1765. This work contains much information as to Wood's buildings, and several illustrations of them. 5. ‘Dissertation upon the Orders of Columns and their Appendages,’ Bath, 1750, 8vo. He also left in manuscript descriptions of Stanton Drew and of Stonehenge, 1740 (Harl. MSS. 7354, 7355).

His son, John Wood (d. 1782), was associated with many of his father's works, and the streets laid out in Bath by the younger Wood were largely schemed by the elder. He brought to completion in 1764 the Circus which his father had designed, and in 1767–9 built the Royal Crescent, an ellipse containing thirty houses of the Ionic order. The upper or new assembly rooms were begun by him in 1769 (completed in 1771 at a cost of 20,000l.), and in 1776 he built the Hot Bath and the Royal Private Baths in Hot Bath Street. He was also engaged upon York Buildings, of which the York House Hotel is the chief part (1753), Brock Street (1765), St. Margaret's Chapel (1773, since a skating rink), Edgar Buildings (1762), Princes Buildings (1766), Alfred Street (1768), Russell Street (1775), Belmont (1770), and Kelston Park (1764), sometimes attributed to the elder Wood. Outside Bath he executed Buckland, Berkshire, for Sir R. Throckmorton; and Standlynch for James Dawkins (Woolfe and Gandon, Vitr. Britannicus, 1767, i. pl. 93–7, ib. 1771, ii. pl. 81–4). The church of Langridge, near Bath, is erroneously associated with his name in the ‘Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary.’ He appears to have designed the church of Woolley and that of Hardenhuish, near Chippenham (consecrated 1779). He died on 18 June 1782, and was buried near his father in the chancel of Swainswick church.

[Peach's Bath Old and New, 1888; notes and information from Mr. R. E. M. Peach and the Rev. C. W. Shickle; Arch. Publ. Society's Dict.; Builder, 1856 xiv. 386, 1858 xvi. 550; Britten's Bath and Bristol, 1829, pp. 13, 38; Building News, 1858, iv. 773.]

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