Regency houses

Regency houses

To accompany our guide to Regency costume, here is an overview of some of the social trends which affected architecture of the period. Words and illustrations by Trevor Yorke

Trevor Yorke, author and illustrator

Trevor Yorke

author and illustrator

The way people spent the money they earned began to change from the late 18th century. For the majority of the population, holidays, as we know them today, did not exist. People did not travel outside their local area but instead relied upon visiting fairs, wakes, and other seasonal events for their entertainment. Wealthier families, though, had far greater choice. They could enjoy trips to the theatre, to the assembly rooms, visit spas and have holidays at the seaside.

The taking of medicinal waters was an opportunity to cleanse the body and be entertained. A visit by a member of the royal family to an unassuming spring often initiated a wave of new housing, hostelries, theatres, and shops, thus resulting in the creation of a new spa town. It was also believed by some doctors that bathing in and even drinking sea water was good for one’s health and a number of resorts for the wealthy began to develop.

It is in the Regency spa towns of places like Cheltenham and Leamington and seaside resorts most notably Brighton, therefore, where some of the finest housing from the period can be found.

Many of the buildings in our cities and town centres today began to appear or develop on a large scale during the early 19th century as the growing middle classes and more mobile gentry were encouraged to spend money on fashion and entertainment. New shops began to line the high street, with larger panes of glass through which to view the products, as for example in London where Oxford Street began to attract leading manufacturers to establish stores in which to display their goods.

Banks, shopping arcades, theatres, halls and assembly rooms were built or rebuilt; offices, factories and mills were erected; and new municipal structures like town halls, prisons, court rooms and workhouses became dominant features within the urban landscape. As public institutions became permanent fixtures and employment focused on new areas so the demand grew for new housing. Hotels and luxurious apartments were built at seaside resorts and spa towns, whilst spacious villas and tall terraces for the well-to-do were erected in the new industrial cities and ports, and formal squares and elegant streets developed in the capital to cope with its rapid expansion.

With such a diverse range of new buildings and sources of inspiration coming from ever more distant countries and times, combined with the availability of a wealth of new materials, the architecture of Regency Britain had a refreshing variety missing from the earlier more formal Georgian period. This sometimes extraordinary, eclectic mix of styles was best seen on the country houses, urban mansions and holiday retreats for the rich. These large houses, designed by leading architects, represent the key character of Regency style.

The key parts of typical regency houses
A cutaway view of a large Regency terrace. The ground floor rooms could include a dining room, library and a morning room, while the drawing room was usually still on the wider first floor
Scarborough developed in the early 18th century as an exclusive spa and became the first seaside resort
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne, with its imposing Regency buildings subtly curving down towards the river, was developed from the 1820s by Robert Grainger

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