Learn more about Georgian Britain with our historic guide which explores this elegant period and lists some of the best Georgian places to visit in the UK.
When was the Georgian Period?
The Georgian era took place between 1714-1830. A time when the industrial revolution changed the face of the country as our cities grew, so did some people’s fortunes. It drove many people to seek solace beyond the urban sprawl, either in nature or palatial stately homes.
Historic about the Georgian period
- The Georgian period encompasses the reign of four kings: Georges I, II, III and IV
- England’s population rose rapidly in the later decades, growing from around 5.7 million in 1751 to 8.7 million by 1801
- Between 1760-1799, enclosures brought two to three million acres of land into cultivation. By the 1790s, around 75% of the land was cultivated by tenant-farmers who occupied it but didn’t own it
- Wars were waged throughout the period. Conflicts included the Seven year’s War (1756-1763); French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) and Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)
- Aristocrats’ annual incomes were in excess of £10,000 while the average labourer or servant lived on £4-£10 per year.
The countryside as a refuge
A time of dramatic transformation, Britain waged war abroad, both with old enemy France and newly independent America, while at home there was unrest. Radical ideals fermented and people struggled with dramatic economic fluctuations. There was also innovation, as new kinds of products – from watches to steam technology – made their mark on everyday life.
The countryside was regarded by many as the calming tonic to such social, political and economic upheaval. A veneration of the pastoral went hand in hand with concerns about its future loss as towns mushroomed in size. The Georgians fretted about London’s accelerating growth. Even the bucolic villages of Chelsea and Kensington to the west and Hackney to the east looked like they would soon be overwhelmed by the expanding girth of this ‘great wen’, as it was described by William Cobbett, champion of country life, in 1820. Yet the rapid industrialisation that created belching cities by the late 19th century was still to come.
How did the Georgian period have a dramatic impact on Britain’s landscape?
Privatisation of land
Uncultivated land was wrestled into production to feed a growing population. Views were entirely remade as vast open fields, wasteland and common land were enclosed and brought under private control. Britain’s patchwork landscape of straight-edged fields flanked by hedgerows and dry-stone walls was the visual result of this change. Land enclosures supported the emergence of large, tenanted farms that yielded more crops and plumper stock. Of course, such reallocation of land came at a cost. Ordinary people lost access to open grazing that had enabled them to keep a pig or hens as a supplement. The poorest, who had relied on squatting rights and gleaning to get by, were dispossessed.
A perfecting and mastering of nature
At the top of the social ladder, an appetite for remodelling the land extended beyond the productivity of agricultural reform, and the very wealthy carved out fashionable new vistas at their sprawling country estates. As with all good makeovers, the artifice had to masquerade as nature. None were more skilled in this alchemy than Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Many of the parklands surrounding 18th-century country houses aren’t the work of nature at all, but of Georgian grand design.
Perhaps, it was this remodelling of Britain’s map for profit and pleasure that made its natural landscapes all the more alluring in the closing decades of the Georgian era.
Georgian’s cultural interest in the natural world: a time of romantic poems and paintings or of vigorous analysis?
Many Georgian painters and poets turned to commune with nature, who in Wordsworth’s words, “never did betray the heart that loved her”. From Scotland’s ancient lochs to the Lake District’s soaring peaks, Georgian romantic artists were lured to to create their works from these environments. By the end of the Georgian age, John Constable’s paintings of babbling brooks and grazing cattle, William Turner’s fog-strewn hills and crashing waves, and William Wordsworth’s poetic passion for the ‘dizzy raptures’ of rural beauty, showcased a Britain composed of majestic panoramas, over which nature ruled supreme.
However, the Georgian’s relationship with the natural world wasn’t just romantic. While some gazed in awe across epic landscapes, others focused in on the tiniest elements of it and scrutinised the details. A time of analysis as well as art, citizen scientists attempted to catalogue natural history just as vigorously as artists tried to capture its beauty. Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, had a natural history collection so large she employed a curator among her staff. Fossils, feathers, shells, flora and fauna were collected by life-long experts and fashion-following amateurs alike. As a result, even the newly built townhouses that ranged down Georgian terraces contained specimens of nature, with shells adorning small boxes or large, purpose-built grottos and flowers painted onto canvas or pressed and ordered into books.
Best Georgian places to visit in Britain
1. A la Ronde Devon
This remarkable 16-sided Georgian property was built for cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter. Like others living on the coast, the cousins feared a French invasion, so they had hidden escape routes built into their house.
£9.50. Open daily until 28 Oct. Exmouth,
EX8 5BD. 01395 265514
2. The Lake District, Cumbria
The inspiration for William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Visit their childhood home in Cockermouth or go to Glencoyne Bay and see
the flowers said to have inspired William’s poem Daffodils. £7.90. Open daily (except Friday)
until 28 October. Cockermouth, CA13 9RX.
3. Studley Royal Water garden, North Yorkshire
After losing his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Aislabie created this formal garden from a wild valley and later purchased the neighbouring ruin of Fountains Abbey.
£15. Open daily. Ripon, HG4 3DY.
4. Trelissick Manor, Cornwall
Aspects of Georgian innovation and industry are dotted all over Cornwall. Trelissick Manor, built in the late 18th century by the Daniell family who made their fortune from mines, overlooks the coastal landscape where it meets the sea.
£11.60. Open daily. Truro, TR3 6QL.
5. Chatsworth, Derbyshire
Set in the majestic Peak District with the
family name emblazoned in gold letters across
its top is Chatsworth, one of the grandest surviving houses of the Georgian era and
still home to the Dukes of Devonshire.
£23. Open daily. Bakewell, DE45 1PP.
01246 565 300
6. Cragg Vale, West Yorkshire
This area was notorious in the 1770s as being home to a large network of coiners and counterfeiters who plied their trade in hilltop cottages. The Hepstonstall Museum displays artefacts and information about the coiners.
Free. Open daily until 31 Oct. Heptonstall, HX7 7PL. 01422 843738
The home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge from 1797. It’s said that his famous poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner was inspired by the nearby Watchet harbour, while Frost at Midnight was written on a cold night in the cottage.
£6.60. Open daily until 4 Nov. Nether Stowey, TA5 1NQ. 01278 732662
8. Bath, Somerset
The archetypal Georgian town has the famous Assembly Rooms and surviving Georgian theatre, which evoke the essence of Georgian sociability. No 1 Royal Crescent is a house refurbished in
the style of the period from 1776 to 1796.
£10.30. Open daily. Bath, BA1 2LR.
9. Paxton House, Berwickshire
Architect Robert Adam was at the forefront of the classical revival in England and Scotland from 1760 and built this elegant mansion. Much of the beautiful furniture inside was made for the house by master craftsman Thomas Chippendale.
£5. Open daily until 4 Nov. Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1SZ. 01289 386291