Ever walk along Royal York Crescent? Admiring the views, the architectural facades of past wealth, maybe peering in through the windows to get a peek at life on the otherside? (I’m yet to see James McAvoy or Rebecca Hall clatter onto the paving – bonus points if you get the reference).
There is a lot to see, it’s a long old terrace, reputed by many to be the longest of its kind in Europe. 46 Houses in fact. But only 45 numbers as the builders seem to have had a rather superstitious streak, deciding to skip ol’ unlucky 13 and jump on to 12a instead.
Maybe there was a reason for this cautionary move? The crescent was started in 1791 by the builder Thomas Paty (a member of builder family who are responsible for most for Clifton’s off kilter Palladianism). However it was dogged with financial problems and progress was impeded by wars with the French – the site and unfinished houses were even used as a barracks for a short time -before finally being completed in 1820.
Taking the best part of 30 years to complete by the hands of many different builders the designs of the houses vary slightly. (I quite like to think the slight quirks and eccentricities within the repetition soften its feel and make it all the more pleasing, a rag tag younger sibling to the perfectly uniform and coiffed crescents of Bath).
Rose tinted glasses removed – Once completed these houses were home to the Regency elite. City escapes from where the new owners could gaze out over the Somerset hills and, with the barely perceptible downward movement of the eye, could also be surveying the docks and their fortunes.
Who were these people? Merchants, army generals – royalty? The ‘Clifton Improvement Committee’ decided to honor 3 people.
With some element of irony, given the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on the construction of the crescent, one of the famous former inhabitants was Princess Eugenie, wife of Napolean III, who attended school here. While another memorial is also left to Abraham Roberts, a ‘distinguished Indian General’ and his Field Marshall son.
I’ll make my way below stairs now. Conveniently the old wine cellars……