Lucy Worsley looks at how, under the Prince Regent's aegis, Britain celebrated Napoleon's defeat by refashioning itself in architecture and design.
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Imagine Britain in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars.
We've been fighting the French for years.
Napoleon tightens his grip on Europe.
Closing us in, locking us down.
But the Brits fight on.
Across Europe, more than three million people die
and then in 1815, the final struggle.
The Battle of Waterloo was a decisive victory over Napoleon
and the start of a new era.
I'm at the top of a memorial
to the Commander in Chief of Britain's triumphant army.
The darkness and destruction of the Napoleonic wars were over.
In 1815, Britain emerged victorious
as the most powerful nation on Earth.
Britannia really did rule the waves.
Almost by accident, we'd acquired 17 new colonies.
Our leaders and statesmen looked around them,
asked themselves the question, "Who are we?
"Who should we be? What should a modern Britain look like?"
And all this...would be transformed.
Demolished and rebuilt in some of the most ambitious metropolitan improvements ever attempted.
Central London would be reborn,
with Regent Street slicing through the heart of the city.
This was an age of confidence, exuberance
and above all, experimentation.
It was a decade of design as wild as the '60s.
With Ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, China, France,
and India all thrown into the mix.
There was glorious light and garish colour.
New technology mixed up with ancient art.
In the decade of the Regency,
between 1811 and 1820, there was an explosion of design.
British style was lavish,
theatrical, outrageous and brilliant!
And at the heart of it all was George, the Prince Regent,
whose obsession with building left an indelible stamp on Britain.
I'm Lucy Worsley and I'm a historian.
I'm Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces
and I love poking around in Royal buildings.
I'm fascinated by the way palaces always reflect the character
of the person who built them.
The biggest builder of them all was the Prince Regent.
He had something like an addiction
for architecture and interior decoration.
He was constantly building and rebuilding his houses.
He was always hungry for change.
In 1815, he appointed the architect John Nash
to rebuild his seaside retreat,
the Marine Pavilion at Brighton.
Nash took it from being an elegant neo-classical villa
and turned it into this Indian fantasy palace.
George started this place as soon as Waterloo was won.
He'd defeated Napoleon, the Emperor of Europe, and now here he was,
building a holiday home for himself as Emperor of the World.
The pavilion captures the craziness of Regency style.
Its clashing of cultures, its boldness,
its willingness to try new things.
Together, George and his architect, John Nash,
would give us the very essence of the Regency.
This book was commissioned by John Nash
to celebrate his finished building and the amazing exuberance here,
Indian on the outside, Chinese on the inside,
was achieved with the help of some new technology.
These domes are sealed with what Nash called his patent mastic
and they're supported by an iron framework.
The building's all about illusion and theatricality.
It's by one showman for another. By John Nash for the Prince Regent,
both of them willing to break the rules of architecture.
Building was George's biggest passion, his main creative outlet.
Walking through these exotic rooms,
you get the sense that they were designed
for the naughty, no-rules lifestyle that George longed for,
with a room for each pleasure.
And for his greatest pleasure, eating,
the most luxurious rooms of all.
Trapped indoors by his gout and hardly able to climb up stairs,
the Regent planned his palace around his consolation - a love of grub.
A quarter of the building is devoted to food.
He was so pleased with his new kitchen,
he even used it as a dining room.
The cartoonists showed him gnawing on a greasy drumstick,
but his taste was a lot more sophisticated.
Is that enough wax?
'I'm in George's kitchen with the food historian, Ivan Day.'
So what you're doing is you're pressing it
-into this little impression...
-I'm making an urn.
-..of a classical urn.
-That'll be good.
Shall I start kneading my stuff?
-Yeah. If you get some of that out of there.
-What's it called again?
This is called gum paste, or pastillage,
and it's a mixture of sugar and a gum called gum tragacanth,
which makes it very elastic, like plasticine.
It's like edible plasticine.
-Is it what I put on my Christmas cake?
-Not at all.
It was used at very, very high status regal banquets,
usually to make edible table ornaments.
Originally, it was made for making cups and plates
you could actually eat off.
Once you'd finished eating,
you could then eat the plate if you wanted to save the washing up.
Squidge, squidge, squidge it in.
-You'd better start because it's drying out.
-Quick, quick, quick!
-Now, let it touch the wood first. So push it down.
Push it down hard, really hard.
-Are you going to hold still while I...?
-I'm going to hold it for you.
And then you just squeegee it backwards and forwards.
Don't break the neck!
-Oh, very good!
I'm going to get the little pointy thing
and start pulling it out.
Work your way around the sides.
Come out, little urn.
This is going to be a masterpiece.
You've done it. It's done, it'll come off.
And just let it drop that side down onto the wood.
Just flick it over and it'll just drop out.
Ooh! Look how finely decorated it is.
It's superb. And then you make another one
and you join the two together with a bit of adhesive.
And then I could put it on the top of a building like that.
My urn is a tiny bit of the most spectacular part
of a Regency Banquet - the sugar Sculpture.
The undisputed master of this arcane art was Antonin Careme,
the Regency's most celebrated chef.
He'd cooked for Napoleon, which instantly attracted George,
and in 1816 he managed to lure Careme over from France.
It turns out the Regent and his new cook had a common interest.
Tell me a bit about Antonin Careme.
The interesting thing about Careme was he studied architecture.
He went to libraries and looked at, you know, Vitruvius,
and people like that
so he could understand the classical orders.
And he defined confectionary
as being an art form because it was architecture in miniature.
So even the Regent's cook considered himself an architect.
His bestselling books were filled with diagrams of edible buildings,
reflecting all the latest architectural trends.
His style is very eclectic, and on one table
you might get an Egyptian colossus and a Greek Temple,
but you also might get a Swiss cottage or a Russian Orthodox church
made out of nougat and sugar and almonds.
And it became very much based on a really early 19th century aesthetic
of pinching forms from all kinds of architectural and artistic genres.
So when you look at his designs, they are caprices.
It's a fantasy kind of world.
Rather like this building.
In fact, this building is rather like a big sugar Careme in its own right really.
Sadly the perfect match between George and Careme, wasn't to last.
But he didn't stay for long cos I think he saw the Prince Regent
as being a little bit on the boorish side
and not really appreciative of some of the finer details
of French cuisine classique, and he moved on.
Careme wasn't the only person to fall out of love with George.
The world at large thought his pavilion looked ridiculous.
A shoddy version of an opium smoker's dream.
Satirists painted the Regent as a fat, debauched addict,
ensconced in an outrageous oriental den.
And George, oblivious, carried on building away, living the high life.
But his government was taking a rather more cautious approach
to honouring Waterloo.
How do you celebrate the glorious ending of 20 years of warfare?
Well you'd expect the government to put up a whole lot of monuments -
triumphal arches, columns, that sort of thing.
But two years after the Battle of Waterloo,
they'd only finished one monument,
and it wasn't even a proper monument at all.
It was a bridge.
Of course, the original Waterloo Bridge wasn't made of concrete,
or even of sugar.
The Regency version was a granite affair with many arches
and on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo,
it was the scene of a huge party.
The Bridge was opened on the 18th June 1817.
For the occasion, there were lots of flags flying.
The bridge was packed with veterans from the battlefield of Waterloo
and the houses all around
were described as looking as if they were roofed with people.
This feat of engineering
was proclaimed as a fitting and practical monument
to the brilliant victory of Waterloo
and it was described as one of the wonders of the age.
Waterloo's victorious general, The Duke of Wellington,
crossed over the bridge.
Smoke filled the air as cannons fired.
One shot for each of the 202 guns captured at Waterloo.
In amongst this crowd was the painter, John Constable,
and for him the occasion would turn out to be a bit of an obsession.
Constable set out to paint his grandest canvas yet -
a patriotic tour de force
recording this great moment in the life of the nation.
He slaved away at his painting for 15 years.
Finally in 1832, it was ready to be exhibited at the Royal Academy,
here at Somerset House.
In the finished canvas, we see the Prince Regent getting into a barge
up at Whitehall, with the bridge in the distance.
I think this picture meant a lot to Constable.
This was his chance to paint a historic moment -
the opening of a monument
to the greatest victory in military history.
But poor old Constable was completely upstaged by Turner
in the same exhibition.
This is Turner's effort. It's a seascape.
It's full of movement,
although apparently it's a much simpler picture,
and when Turner saw what Constable had done,
he played rather a naughty trick.
He saw how bright and busy this work was and he came back
and added just one little red buoy on the surface of his waves there.
When Constable saw what Turner had done, he knew
Turner was playing a trick on him and he said in a rage,
"Turner's been here and he's fired a gun!"
Even without Turner's mocking,
Constable's painting was a total flop.
15 years on, critics couldn't remember the event he'd painted,
or why Waterloo Bridge was supposed to be so important.
So why did the government make all this fuss about a bridge?
The real reason that a bridge ended up being the official monument
to the Battle of Waterloo was that the government was broke
and the amazing thing about Waterloo Bridge
is that it was funded entirely by private investment.
It may have cost members of the public
a penny to cross over the bridge,
but to the government, it was free.
Something free was very desirable in a post-war recession
with a huge national debt.
The Tory government needed to slash spending by a quarter
rather than spewing away public funds.
The gout-ridden Regent stands by,
his expensive projects propped up with the people's cash.
It was time for cuts...
..not for squandering money on public monuments and art...
..which is where some broken old Greek statues come in.
These are the Elgin Marbles, taken by Lord Elgin
from the Parthenon in Athens at the start of the 19th century.
These bits of somebody else's monument
would turn out to be a real emblem for a triumphant Britain.
But when they first arrived, not everybody was convinced.
Their curator, Ian Jenkins, can tell me more.
So Ian, what was new about the Elgin Marbles? Why were people excited?
Well, when they first came to Britain
and went on show in Lord Elgin's temporary museum in London,
people had never seen the like before.
They were immediately shocked
by the almost brutal naturalism
of these great colossal figures.
These were ancient Greek originals
and they weren't what people expected.
People liked their sculpture complete, white, restored, domestic.
These were not domestic, they were not tamed.
They were broken, they were stained,
they were often headless, they were unrestored
and Lord Elgin entertained for a long time
the possibility that they should be restored
and consulted the great sculptor Canova,
who said that they were real meat.
-Real flesh. I love it!
They were avant garde.
They represented the shock of the new, a new wave.
Were these frightening objects
the sort of thing we really wanted in Britain?
In 1816, Parliament held an enquiry
to decide whether to buy them for the nation.
It came down to two things
- were they any good, and what did they stand for?
It's a defining moment when all the congnoscenti, the artists,
the connoisseurs, were brought in,
each interrogated in turn, and each giving his own
account of the marbles and how they should be evaluated.
The answer came back from most of them
that these were the greatest works of art ever seen in Britain.
and yes, the enquiry concluded,
it was entirely appropriate for a triumphant Britain to own them.
Greece was seen by Britain in the 19th century as somehow pure,
an untainted society.
To have the Elgin Marbles in Britain
was to have transplanted Old Greece to London.
Even though the Government was broke,
it found £35,000 to buy the Elgin Marbles
for the British Museum.
We were the inheritors of the Greeks,
plucky little Britain, defender of freedom.
This was powerful stuff and it changed the way Britain looked.
Within a few years the home of the marbles itself
was being rebuilt as a Greek temple.
The most modern buildings after 1815
drew upon Ancient Greek originals,
like St Pancras Church in London.
Achingly cool and built for the north London intelligentsia.
These urbanites aspired to Greekness.
Like the Athenians, they hoped to change the world with ideas and art.
But a city with a greater claim to this Greek inheritance
lay north of the border - Edinburgh.
Now London didn't have a monopoly on the idea of Ancient Greece
and Edinburgh, too, wanted to be the New Athens.
I'm sitting on Britain's first monument
to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars
and clearly there's a bit of competition going on here.
Down in London they had the real Elgin Marbles,
but up here in Scotland
they were hoping to build a complete Recreation of the Parthenon.
In 1820, someone suggested reconstructing the Greek ruin
as a massive memorial,
complete with its 46 giant columns.
The Scottish people gave generously,
at least at first, and building began.
But it didn't last long.
Sadly the money ran out and it never got finished.
Construction ground to a halt after just 12 columns
and the monument became known as Scotland's shame.
Not that this put Edinburgh off the Greek theme.
The city had been the home of the big brains of the Enlightenment,
like Adam Smith, and David Hume
- the modern heirs of Ancient Greek thought.
After Waterloo the New Town's architects
turned those ideas into bricks and mortar,
earning Edinburgh its title of The Athens of the North.
But this cold Greek purity wasn't for everybody.
This is Sir John Soane.
He was one of the most important architects of the age.
A man with a very different architectural mission,
and this is his house in London.
Soane shared the Prince Regent's belief
that you should express your personality through architecture.
As we're about to see, Soane was a pretty unusual man.
# People are strange
# When you're a stranger
# Faces look ugly
# When you're alone
# Women seem wicked
# When you're unwanted
# Streets are uneven
# When you're down
# When you're strange
# Faces come out of the rain
# When you're strange
# No-one remembers your name
# When you're strange
# When you're strange
# When you're strange
# People are strange
# When you're a stranger
# Houses look ugly... #
'Jerzy Kierkuc Bielinski is a curator here.'
This is John Soane.
-And what sort of a man was he?
He was a very driven man.
Because he was driven, I think he could also be slightly difficult.
He's not short of self confidence, is he?
Placing a bust of himself so prominently.
No. Well, I think it's also a comment that he's making
about architecture and the role of the architect
because if you notice,
there are two small figures, two statuettes beneath the bust.
You have Michaelangelo representing sculpture
and Raphael with his artist's palette representing painting,
and what Soane is saying here
is that architecture, as personified by himself of course,
is greater than those two arts
because painting and sculpture ornament architecture.
So it's sort of a comment about the union of painting,
architecture and sculpture within this house as well.
So he's making a wider point than, "I am the greatest!"
-He's saying architecture is the greatest art.
Soane, a self-made man,
won social status through his skill as an architect
and he wanted to be sure people saw architecture as a proper art.
Here, he made the world's first architectural museum -
a temple to architecture with himself as high priest.
# When you're strange
# Faces come out of the rain... #
He hoarded Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Gothic fragments.
All the stylistic influences on Regency taste.
And what Soane has done here is that he's created
a type of dictionary of architecture, if you like.
He's taken casts or actual fragments of the great buildings
and he's brought them into this London townhouse.
Sort of telescoping the classical past into this incredible interior.
So there is method behind the madness, if you like.
But Soane didn't take the rules and follow them to the letter.
He liked to experiment.
# When you're strange. #
I think that one of the reasons that modern architects
are so obsessed with Soane
is because he broke the box, if you like.
If you think of a room as having four walls, a ceiling and a floor,
Soane bursts through those constraints.
-And this space here, in an ideal world
it would be just a little square in the middle here,
but he's dissolved the walls and all the energy
is taking place beyond the boundaries
of the traditional room, isn't it?
Absolutely. He's punctured this space through the use of plate glass
and he's illuminated it with this amazing skylight,
this huge ceiling rose that seems almost about to sort of crush us.
There's a lot of spacial ambiguity here.
A lot of playfulness, I think, because of that.
He's a real conjurer, isn't he?
Yes, definitely, definitely. Light and space.
He's a magician of light and space really.
Soane liked to talk about "the poetry of architecture."
He thought it should stimulate the imagination.
So Soane treated his house as a kind of laboratory
for trying out different architectural ideas
and this room is full of what he called "fanciful effects."
Let's start with this weirdly truncated dome.
You would expect it to land in the four corners of the room,
but it doesn't.
Beyond the dome there are these slots with light coming down
and it's not normal light,
it's yellow coloured
because of the coloured glass that he's put into the skylights.
We've also got more than 100 mirrors in here.
So that everywhere you look,
there's a disconcerting reflection of yourself.
We're really in the hands here of an architectural wizard.
And he didn't stop at innovating with light and reflection.
Soane's also what you might call an early adopter.
Now, although he loved antiquity,
Soane also loved all mod cons
and this is his own little dressing room
where we've got all the latest gadgets.
Firstly, we've got a nice fitted desk and drawers.
Just outside the window here we've got gas lighting.
This is a great novelty.
The first gas company is only set up in 1812.
This square was the first in London to have a gas supply
and just as soon as it was available,
Soane installed it in his courtyard.
Down here we've got a hot air central heating system.
Over here we've got a plumbed in washbasin,
and over here, best of all, we've got a flushing toilet.
But Soane didn't just rethink interiors.
He was after big commissions.
By the start of the Regency,
he'd already rebuilt the Bank of England in Roman style.
Bloated with the profits of lending money in the Napoleonic wars,
the bank needed a giant new building.
He created the pioneering Dulwich Picture Gallery -
the first national art museum.
And he also left us a funny little surprise.
This is the monument he designed for his wife, Eliza,
when she died in 1815.
He eventually joined her here.
It has a very distinctive shape,
which might remind you of something else.
In 1924, Giles Gilbert Scott
entered a competition to design the new phonebox.
This is his winning entry, inspired by the mausoleum of Sir John Soane.
It must be one of the strangest architectural legacies
of the Regency period.
If he'd had his way, Soane would've left us with much more.
This is London, Soane style.
Crammed with triumphal arches,
a Senate House, new Royal palaces, oh, and mountains.
Actually, it's all a fantasy.
These are all the buildings Soane never got to build
because the biggest patron of them all always eluded him.
An important architect like Soane
might have expected to get a big job at the royal palaces,
but it wasn't to be.
Soane had a reputation for being a bit difficult,
for bossing his clients around
and only for doing his own very distinctive style.
This isn't what the Prince Regent was after at all.
He wanted an architect to help him realise his own vision.
As he put it, someone suited to his mind.
That's why he chose John Nash.
Nash wasn't the most original designer of his day,
but he was a much easier-going guy than Soane
and happy to design in any style that took the Regent's fancy.
As well as Brighton Pavilion,
Nash worked on the Regent's official home
at the heart of London - Carlton House.
This place had already had several facelifts,
but when he became Regent in 1811,
George spent a fortune beautifying it even more
to make a palace fit for, well, a Regent.
This a book published in 1819,
showing the interiors of the different Royal Residences.
These pages show Carlton House and you can see how it had now become
the most amazingly lavish and opulent interior.
Regrettably, Carlton House is long gone,
but you can get the Carlton House experience
at another Royal Palace, Windsor.
In these rooms at Windsor Castle,
you get a real sense of what Carlton House was actually like.
In the 1820s, George remodelled this suite
and he re-used several of the fittings from Carlton House,
so here you can see tantalizing traces of the Prince's lost palace.
Fireplaces, doors, even whole floors from Carlton House ended up here.
George treated his palaces like doll's houses,
to be constantly rearranged
and filled with an ever-stranger assortment of stuff.
I've come to meet the Deputy Surveyor of the Queen's Works of Art, Rufus Bird.
Paint me a picture of what it was actually like
to walk into Carlton House, perhaps the Crimson Room.
You would have walked into a room of almost unimaginable opulence...
..with incredible gilded ceilings,
fantastically rich silk velvet on the walls,
amazing combinations of English contemporary Giltwood furniture,
with French decorative works of art...
..amazing chandeliers, he was obsessed with lighting,
huge quantities of light.
Very bright, very, very impressive rooms.
The 20 or so showy rooms in Carlton House
were designed to project George's royal magnificence to the world,
in styles that ranged from the fashionable Grecian decor
of the Old Throne Room to Nash's Gothic Dining Room,
completely gilded and perfect for George's intimate dinners of 30.
There was a real sense of exoticism.
The combinations that he chose were quite adventurous.
We've got a pretty good example of exactly what you're talking about
just here. Tell us what this one is.
Well, this is a Chinese vase.
It's a very plain blue 18th century vase,
and then it has been completely transformed
by these magnificent mounts. Here you see a satyr's head,
and then between the satyrs' heads are these swags of vine,
and the horns scroll up and twist around onto the rim of the bowl.
And it's stood on a griffin stand.
Three griffins which support the top
and they are derived from Roman fragments.
So we've got a mid-18th century Chinese vase,
we've got late 18th century French decoration,
standing on a British Regency but Roman-inspired stand.
Absolutely and that's exactly the sort of confection
that creates this wonderful mixing of styles and eras,
and shows the eclecticism and exoticism
that the Regency is really all about.
This place may look about as grand as it gets
but, in fact, for their time, George's rooms are shockingly informal.
It's all about the furniture.
A generation before it would have been lined up against the walls,
but now chairs and tables are scattered about willy nilly.
And it wasn't just the furniture that was informal.
George was shaking up behaviour too.
In 1816, a scandalous new dance was seen at court for the first time...
Waltzing scandalous? How could this be?
Well, before the Regency, people danced in groups,
only occasionally touching each other.
The waltz was a very different matter,
as the dance historian Robin Benie shows me.
This is a quite nice and romantic movement too.
It is. But it's not as good as waltzing.
-And it's only for a few seconds.
In the waltz, when I take you, I have you...
-For the whole dance.
-..for the whole dance. Just you.
When this German waltz arrived, it broke all social rules.
It's the arms that go round rather than...
Don't be fooled by the plinky plonky music, this is dirty dancing.
And we've got this wonderful close proximity.
This is one of the reasons that people thought
the waltz was a bit iffy, dodgy.
Just think of the things, that I could be whispering to you.
Well, you could be telling me all sorts of things,
but unfortunately, there's a camera just six inches away, so I advise you not to tell me now!
For polite society, this was the Regency version of a swingers party.
The cartoonist Cruikshank made this print in 1816.
He called it "Waltzing or a Peep into the Royal Brothel".
The Times called the Waltz, "An indecent foreign dance"
and drew attention to its, "Voluptuous intertwining of the limbs".
Led by the Regent's courts though,
the waltz's close embrace was gaining acceptance.
And such scandalous behaviour even began to penetrate
the peaceful country homes of the aristocracy.
Take this place, Attingham Park.
A beautiful 18th century mansion in Shropshire
that got a decadent Regency makeover.
It's a bit of a cautionary tale
about a man who indulged a lascivious taste for luxury.
We're talking shocking pinks and garish colours and gilding aplenty.
This fan of soft furnishings was Thomas Hill, Lord Berwick,
a true follower of Regency fashion.
Thomas the second Lord Berwick was a typical Regency rake.
He went on a grand tour in the 1790s,
came back with a lot of these paintings and pieces of furniture,
and then he took this house that he'd inherited
and ripped the middle out of it. He carried out a major remodelling.
And he gave the job of making over his house
to the defining architect of the Regency.
His architect was John Nash
and here in the picture gallery,
you can see Nash at his most extraordinarily inventive.
It's a really rich, bold interior.
There's quite a few novelties here, the glass roof for example.
The glazing's held in place with iron glazing bars instead of wood.
This was all very exciting but unfortunately
almost immediately it started to leak.
How very modern.
For Thomas, this house was all about displaying his personality
as a cultured gentleman.
Its curator, Sarah Kay, has been delving into his decorative secrets.
Now, it strikes me that it's very pink in here.
Is this normal for a Regency man's study?
People are not expecting to see pink in here and we've got,
as you can see, sumptuous lavish use of pink in the curtains.
We have to explain to people that pink was not
an exclusively feminine colour by any means.
It was just another lavish, opulent statement about yourself.
So what we're seeing here is the room as it was in 1813.
That's right, yes, with all his Regency bright, bold,
lavish opulent colours.
Do you like it?
Well, you can see it's making me smile.
I think it's great fun, I think it's very challenging for us today,
but I think what it does is really create this impressive, bold,
and that is what the second Lord Berwick wanted to do
and he expressed it in the way he furnished his room
and this room is the heart of his suite of spaces in the house,
so he needed to make a big impression in here and he did.
Thomas had another passion as well as interior decorating.
He was in love with a teenage courtesan named Sophia
and this amazing monkey music box was a gift that he got for her.
Sophia was actually a bit of a luxury commodity in her own right.
Her big sister was the famous Harriette Wilson,
the high class prostitute patronised by Lord Byron,
the Duke of Wellington etc.
And like her sister, Sophia was hot property in the Regent's circle.
She needed some persuasion to give it all up to marry Thomas.
She held out on him for some time
although he bought her a house in London to live in
while he was doing up Attingham Park.
He asked her to marry him several times.
Eventually she said in 1812, when he was 43 and she was 17.
This music box is supposed to be the gift that swayed her
which is a little bit creepy.
Thomas and Sophia were shunned by polite society
so they retreated to their beautiful house,
still splurging on paintings and furniture.
Lord Berwick's finances couldn't keep up
with all of this extravagance.
In 1827 he was declared bankrupt
and he had to retire ignominiously to Italy.
For people outside the Regent's charmed circle,
it must have seemed that Lord Berwick got what he deserved.
He really did live in a different world,
one where waltzing and courtesans and fancy furnishings were normal.
The top tier that included the Regent, English courtiers
and peers like Lord Berwick,
contained, according to one Regency writer, just 576 families.
In contrast, more than half of the rest of the population
were paupers or vagrants.
But there was a middle way,
a small but growing class of respectable people,
who might have lived in houses like this.
This isn't the sort of place where anyone waltzes.
It's the modest home of a particular heroine of mine.
We think the Regency's all about colour and life and vibrancy,
but there's another side to its style as well.
Simple country-dwelling people like Jane Austen
stitching away at very austere garments,
like this nice little shawl,
which is said to have been sewn by Jane Austen herself.
In her novels, Jane Austen gives us the voice of the middling sort.
Not poor, but definitely lacking money to burn.
She didn't spend all of her time in the country doing embroidery.
In fact, she even experienced
the Regent's extravagant world first-hand.
In 1815, Jane Austen visited Carlton House.
She was invited there by the Regent himself,
who was a big fan of her novels.
She didn't actually meet him face to face,
but he did make his mark on her next book.
This is the first edition of her new novel Emma
and she'd been invited to dedicate it to the Prince Regent.
The first draft of her dedication's really funny.
It says, "Dedicated by Permission to HRH The Prince Regent".
But Jane's publisher, John Murray, perhaps wisely,
suggested that she pep it up a bit.
So what was actually printed was,
"To His Royal Highness The Prince Regent
"This work is, by his Royal Highness's permission,
"most respectfully dedicated by his Royal Highness's dutiful
"and obedient humble servant, the author".
It's ironic that poor Jane was made to include this,
given her well-recorded views on the Prince Regent.
A couple of years before, she'd written to a friend
about her support of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline.
"Poor woman", Jane had written,
"I shall support her as long as I can,
"Because she is a woman, and I hate her husband".
The Regent's open separation from his wife, Caroline,
and his parading of a series of mistresses,
made him hugely unpopular with the more proper middle classes,
not least with Jane.
Although we often think of her books as a bit apolitical,
all romance and nice dresses,
her disapproving views about the morals of upper class society
are very much on show.
The Prince Regent may have been a big fan of Jane Austen's works,
but if he'd read them properly, he might have noticed
that she gave people like him a pretty hard time.
In Mansfield Park, the villain, Henry Crawford,
has quite a lot in common with the Prince Regent.
He'd been, "Ruined by bad examples set to him",
he had an uncle who openly kept a mistress.
He was superficially very charming
but this disguised a cold-blooded vanity.
And just like the Prince Regent, he was addicted to remodelling
perfectly good houses. He wanted to knock them about
and alter them in line with fashionable but frivolous ideas
of ornament and beauty.
For Jane, people's houses tell you an awful lot
about their attitude to life.
And in her final work, she fires a kind of parting shot
at some Regency trends in property development.
In 1817, Jane Austen wrote 12 chapters of quite an unusual book.
She was very ill at the time,
she would die later the same year and never finish it.
But it's not what you'd expect a dying woman to write.
It's not about melancholy or longing.
It's about the very British folly of property speculation.
It's a satire of Britain in the years following
the battle of Waterloo
and it's set in the fictional seaside village called Sanditon.
We meet the comical Mr Parker,
a man obsessed with building up his quiet seaside hamlet
into a fashionable resort.
He wasn't alone.
New seaside resorts were springing up all along the coast
in the Regency, with houses for middle class tourists
who wanted to try the health trend of sea-bathing.
In Sanditon, Mr Parker has traded in his honest, old family home
for a flimsy, fashionable residence exposed to the biting sea breezes.
He's called it Trafalgar House,
although now he regrets not calling it after the more up to date
Battle of Waterloo
His quest for modernity is clearly more than a little bit ridiculous.
Now you may personally agree with Jane that old-fashioned houses
and old fashioned values are worth preserving,
or you might be a modernizer, like Mr Parker.
Either way, what you see in the story of Sanditon
are the preoccupations of Regency Britain.
It was a country intending to transform itself
but also to chase after a profit.
The years after Waterloo saw a boom in house-building.
Property speculators spread their stucco-clad tentacles
anywhere that people might want to visit, not just the seaside.
Spa towns were another nice little earner.
There's one that really sums up the Regency building craze.
It's not the long established spas of Bath or Cheltenham.
No, in the 1810s, there was a new Spa on the rise.
This is a guide book to Regency Leamington Spa.
Leamington had been a little village but in the Regency period
it burst into life as this new spa town.
Between 1811 and 1820, its population quadrupled.
The guidebook says that this terrace of houses behind me
looked as if an invisible hand had picked it up
from a smart part of London and dropped it here in the fields.
There are all the features you'd expect from a Regency new-build.
Stucco facades and big windows, lots of classical details
these wrought iron balconies,
and plenty of columns.
The private speculators who built Leamington
threw up grand town houses, available to rent,
next door to the village's original cottages.
This was Leamington's very own Parthenon,
not a particularly Greek one.
It housed a library and assembly rooms
where you could pick up an improving book,
meet new people, maybe indulge in a bit of old-fashioned dancing.
Leamington had one of the largest hotels in Europe.
It had 100 rooms but only one bathroom.
Oh, and parking for 100 carriages.
One of the most spacious, splendid and complete hotels in the kingdom.
But, of course, the main attraction in any aspiring spa town was the water.
The mineral properties of the water are supposed to be excellent here,
much better than those at Cheltenham, that's very important,
and the diseases which they're supposed to be
particularly good for include
diseases of the kidneys,
and above all,
The pump rooms and baths where visitors paid to take the water
opened in 1814.
Now, the lucky Leamington residents get it for free.
Here we go.
That's really quite nasty.
It tastes like Alka Seltzer, I think.
I don't know if I could manage half a pint.
And I'm a bit worried now that it really is going to relax the bowels.
Fortunately, this was just what the Regency tourists were after,
and Leamington did very nicely for a while.
But then Spa towns went out of fashion
and when the profits dried up
Leamington was left with a few oddities.
The Regency property boom didn't last all that long
in Leamington Spa,
and when it was over, some projects got left unfinished.
This was supposed to be one of those long and curving Regency terraces.
They did this end, you can see, and down there,
they've also put in the other end,
but they didn't get round to filling in the middle,
so that's why, later on, the gap was filled with these Victorian villas.
Grand schemes for town planning didn't always work out
quite as intended.
In London, another incredibly ambitious project was under way,
which would really capture the tastes and aspirations
of the Regent and his country.
It all began with a farm in Marylebone.
Up until 1811, this whole area was covered with cow-sheds,
but then the lease ended and the Prince Regent
took the farmland here back into his own management.
Now his government started a really visionary piece of urban planning.
They created a great, new city park here
and they also constructed a big, new grand road, a mile long,
right through the heart of London.
The Park became Regent's Park
and the new road, Regent's Street,
London's first grand boulevard, 30 yards wide,
slicing through the small tangled streets of Soho
and linking the park straight to the Prince Regent's front door
at Carlton House.
This ceremonial route would allow the Regent, as he put it,
to, "Eclipse Napoleon",
a sign that London could equal Paris or Rome.
The brains behind it all was the Regent's architect John Nash.
First he had to design the grand urban park,
Surrounded by terraces like this one, Cumberland Terrace,
with its monumental Greek theme.
This is John Nash at his most theatrical.
Some people have laughed at this terrace
because there's nothing behind that pointed pediment,
and the plaster statues don't bear the closest of scrutiny,
but actually, he's done something quite remarkable here.
He's taken what could just be a bog standard row of terraced houses,
and he's turned them into a gigantic palace.
Nash wanted men of rank and fortune to live here,
creating the sort of exclusive neighbourhood
that would bring in plenty of cash for the Crown
and these people needed an easy link to the court and the Regent.
So this is where it starts.
The wealthy new tenants stepped from Park Crescent
onto Portland Place, already one of the best addresses in London,
on their way to the wonders of Regent Street.
Actually, before Nash had even properly begun,
he'd already run into problems.
This is John Nash,
and I'm not sure he would have been delighted to end up just here,
because this part of Regent Street gave him terrible trouble.
He wanted to come in a straight line down from the park,
but the man who lived just there,
called Sir James Langham,
he didn't want the new road going too close to his garden,
so he bought up land, forcing Nash to divert the line of the road.
He ended up with this bend but Nash made the best of a bad job.
He designed this church, All Souls,
to deal with the inconvenient bend.
It has a unique round portico,
making the whole church a kind of pivot point.
Characteristically, Nash completely ignored the rules.
He mixed different sorts of columns
and put a weird pointy tower where by rights there should be a dome.
This cartoon mocks the "Nashional Taste"
and the creator of a church that one MP called,
"A deplorable and horrible object".
But Nash was always better at the big picture than the detail.
Once the spiritual needs
of our wealthy Regent's Park resident were satisfied,
it was off across Oxford Circus to the pleasures of shopping.
There weren't any grand public buildings here.
The government didn't want to waste the cash.
It was a perfect example of a public/private partnership.
The government paid for the compulsory purchase of the land,
private builders put up the buildings
and everyone made money.
Nash was really clever
in picking this particular line for Regent's Street,
because it marks the boundary between the fashionable area
of Mayfair over here where the nobility lived,
and the meaner streets of Soho,
which were inhabited by so-called mechanics and poorer people.
This means the wealthy residents of Mayfair can get to the shops
without going outside their own zone.
It also meant that the cheap land over there
increased massively in value.
So the line of Regent Street marks the line of maximum profit.
Nash saw this as a place for the Regency elite to socialise.
He pictured the leisured classes window shopping
and buying the latest styles inspired by the Regent.
Here on the curved quadrant, there were once colonnades,
so that the rich could shop even on rainy days.
Above the shops there were terraces,
where dandy bachelors renting the upper floors could loiter
and chat to passers-by in their carriages.
Then, after all the shops, you'd reach Piccadilly Circus,
take a sharp bend, and it's about the proud victorious nation again,
with a dramatic straight approach down towards the new Waterloo Place.
Regent Street, Britain's grandest road,
taking you to the Regent himself, in Carlton House.
Except it doesn't.
Today when you reach Waterloo place, there's no Carlton House,
just a square filled with later monuments and parked cars.
So what did happen to Carlton House?
Was it destroyed in a fire? Was it demolished years later?
Well, no. Nash's grand finale to his grand street,
the obsession of the Prince Regent for so many years
was destroyed by George himself, and the reason's just over there.
Buckingham Palace, George's new obsession. Typical old George.
They'd built the grandest street in Europe to his house,
but he was bored with it.
He didn't really like living on a street.
In 1820, the Regent became King George IV.
And he commissioned Nash to create a spectacular new palace.
As usual though, Nash's design went a bit over budget.
So to help pay for it all, they pulled down Carlton House,
and developed the land.
Nash put up gentleman's clubs
and exclusive new houses where Carlton House had been.
All very nice,
but not really what you'd expect at the end of a ceremonial route.
In the end, though, perhaps it doesn't really matter
that Regent Street is a bit of a road to nowhere.
Regent Street was a hugely ambitious piece of urban design
and it was built at a time when London had the self-confidence
to try to rival Paris or Rome,
but Regent Street also sums up a very Regency sense of Britishness.
With unfinished Parthenons and demolished palaces,
Regency architecture can sometimes feel like a crazy experiment
that didn't quite work.
But because this was a style that was so ambitious,
the surviving buildings of the Regency
have proved to be the greatest legacy of the age.
Next time, the workers are revolting.
As Regency arrogance and excess pushes Britain
to the very edge of revolution.
And the Regent has to face down a coalition of radicals,
luddites and angry poets.
Even his own wife has it in for him.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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In this second episode, Lucy Worsley looks at Britain in the wake of Waterloo - and asks how this new, triumphant nation wanted to be seen and how it set about celebrating itself in its architecture and design. Again, the Regent led the way. As he grew fatter, barely able to climb stairs or walk about, architecture became his chief creative outlet - and nowhere more so than in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. At the start of his reign as Regent, this had been an elegant neoclassical villa, but working with the architect John Nash, George transformed it after 1815 into the most outrageous of palaces. In it, Lucy discovers more about the Regent's tastes, and finds out what he and his chef had in common.
But while the Regent was building away, what were his people doing? Lucy finds out why Waterloo Bridge became the official memorial to Britain's victory, and how it became an obsession for the painter John Constable. She also explores the powerful influence of the Elgin Marbles, purchased for the British Museum in 1816. These broken statues caused a revolution in Regency ideas and taste, and helped to spread the Greek revival in architecture across the British Isles - even if some buildings, like Edinburgh's very own Parthenon, didn't quite get finished.
So who was behind the Regency 'look'? Lucy finds out more about one of the most influential architects of the age, exploring Sir John Soane's strange architectural ideas and discovering some of his more unexpected legacies. But even if, to our eyes, Soane's ideas may be more exciting, it was his rival John Nash who really defined Regency style - and worked with the Regent himself.
At Windsor Castle, Lucy finds remnants of the Regent's lost palace, Carlton House. These were spaces where, increasingly, luxurious informality in design went hand-in-hand with racy lifestyles. In the Regent's world of gilding and pink velvet, anything went. The richest in society indulged in courtesans and soft furnishings in equal measure. And since one dance summed up this new moral climate, Lucy takes the opportunity to learn the then outrageously sexy waltz.
Not that everyone was living this way. Lucy goes in search of her heroine Jane Austen, who dedicated her novel Emma to the Prince Regent. Lucy discovers that Jane put a few political messages into her novels - particularly when it came to the relationship between architecture and upper class morals. She even wrote part of a novel on property speculation.
And for Lucy, speculation is at the heart of Regency architecture. Across Britain, it gave us the quintessential Regency look - the stucco terraces, the black ironwork and white columns. The newest spa town of the Regency - Leamington Spa - is a classic example. But for the most spectacular development of all, Lucy returns to London and the most ambitious project of the Regency - Regent Street. Backed by a Regent who thought it would 'eclipse Napoleon' and a government eager to cash in by developing farmland at Regent's Park, it is perhaps the most visible monument to Regency ambition. As Lucy walks its length, the street reveals itself to be at the heart of the Regency ideal and a telling expression of the Regent himself.