The Myth-Maker

by Kirsten Elliott
mythmaker cover hi res

This book, which commemorates the tercentenary of John Wood’s birth, examines how old myths inspired John Wood, and how new myths grew up about him. In the 18th century – the Age of Enlightenment – long-held beliefs on religion, history, and science were all in turmoil. Old theories were challenged, discarded and reinvented. Many and varied were the hypotheses put forward by thinkers of the age. Among those who put their minds to work on these problems was a young architect from Bath – John Wood. From ideas then current about the Druids and Stonehenge, he built a mythical history for the City of Bath, based around the legendary King Bladud. From being a minor figure, Wood promoted him into being a genius, savant and magician, descended from the Trojans. These myths were to inspire John Wood’s buildings. Little is known of Wood’s early life, and as interest in him grew over the years, speculations became facts – yet many were just as mythical as Wood’s own fables. This is the story of THE MYTH-MAKER.

It has long been known that John Wood, the creator of eighteenth-century Bath, thought of himself not just as a Georgian figure but as one building on centuries of history. He built up a mythical history of Bath based on the legendary King Bladud, founder of a Druid university which he based at Stanton Drew with a school for harpists at West Harptree and a manmade cavern at Wookey Hole for secret ceremonies. For him Lansdown was the legendary Mons Badonica, the site of Arthur’s last stand. Unsurprisingly, like so many before him, including Inigo Jones and William Stukeley, he became obsessed with Stonehenge, his reconstruction of which is reproduced here. Kirsten Elliott is a Bath guide who takes the job sufficiently seriously to have gone back to John Wood’s own writing to test how much of his romantic but wayward interpretation of history underlines much of the town planning of this Augustan city, as well as the carved emblems on the Circus. Was the Crescent really mean to be a temple to the moon? … A pleasing pot pourri of a book with signposts, cul de sacs and a fascination for the myths that drive great men.
Ancient Monuments Society