The Holt Society
Pictures of Holt

Georgian Holt

Scale and Proportion

Georgian townhouses of the type found in Holt were designed according to strict building regulations, based on the idea of building a group of houses to look as if they were one great house joined to other terraces within the street. In cities such as Bath and Edinburgh this idea was expanded into the grand square and circuses for the smartest houses, with the smaller ones radiating out and diminishing in scale in the streets behind. The principle is that every house in the street and every design detail, such as a window, shopfront or a sign, is proportionally related to another to create an integrated, harmonious visual effect.

The whole plan was worked out with mathematical precision using formulae based on the three design elements of the classical column (plinth, column, capital) to find proportions which were pleasing to the eye. Published pattern books were used to copy details and designs and these would have been used by the architects and builders of eighteenth century Holt.

Building legislation introduced in the eighteenth century, particularly the Building Act of 1774, was intended to improve standards of construction and reduce fire risk by eliminating highly combustible materials.

Houses were coded according to 'Rates' (the origin of the rates system), the First Rate house being the grandest, valued at over £850 and occupying 900 square feet, whilst the simplest was the Fourth Rate house, occupying less than 350 square feet. But all had to conform to specified design proportions.

Depending on the height of the house, the elevation might have two, three or four storeys, but in each case the windows and their detailing would reduce in height and width towards the top of the building to achieve an effect of visual lightness and elegance. Sliding sash windows, introduced from Holland in the late seventeenth century, were divided by window bars into six or eight panes, depending on their position on the facade. The amount of detail on the window sills and balconies would vary according to the Rating but, once again, in each case it would follow a strict proportional design relationship to maintain a visual unity.

Commercial signage, whether painted fascia boards or hanging signs, were designed to match the scale and detailing of the building. During the early eighteenth century, shopfronts were simply front rooms of merchants' houses with enlarged sash window openings, and markets were streets or squares with booths. But in the Regency period, elaborate double-bowed sashes were popular, requiring a high degree of joinery skills, as can be seen today on the lower sash window of The King's Head in Holt. It is satisfying to note that some shopfronts in Holt have been rescued from the mediocrity of inappropriate plate glass windows and have been sensitively restored to resemble their Georgian heritage, as is the case with Manor House in the High Street.