John Wood has been sidetracked from the mainstream of architectural studies for just one reason. The most successful town-planner of English eighteenth century architects was ferociously eccentric. Most great architects cultivate the image of a well-balanced professional. Wood, in contrast, rode wildly through the night to mourn over the corpse of a lady lodger who had hung herself with a silk scarf in his front parlour. While reshaping an entire Welsh cathedral to the dimensions of Solomon's Temple, he prised open the tomb of a Celtic saint to gaze wonderingly on the mouldering remains.
A fervent Freemason, he revived certain mystical emblems of Stuart religiosity and carved them on a major building project to evoke the sun of worship of a lost Druid civilisation which owed everything to his imiagination, nothing to reality.
The very idea that Bath, his grand artefact and a byword for classical order, should owe as much to prehistoric stone circles and the Second Temple in Jerusalem strains credibility. But that is the historic truth explained here through Wood's own writing and a whole body of unpublished material. Wood was not a true Augustan. He was a first generation Romantic, a natural Goth condemned by his birth date to express himself in classical forms.
These paradoxes explain why this is the first biography of John Wood to be attempted in the two centuries since his death. His inspiration was a formidable series of improbabilities which most architectural historians have politely ignored and which his native city has deliberately rejected. To understand the man demands a re-examination of early Palladianism in England. Today, while argument rages over the morality and exact forms of revived Classicism, the time is right for an appraisal of the unconventional mind that created the most enduring of our designer cities.