…Or as dad would point out, is it Moby?
Taking a break from the info to inform everyone that spring is in the air. We had a rare sunny day on Monday so I went out to Sydney Pleasure Gardens (c. 1795 – the last surviving 18th C pleasure garden in the world) and walked along the Kennet and Avon Canal. The trees are flowering and the flowers are now in bloom — even in my own garden. (I know, I have a garden?!) But it’s true, I now have a circle of daffodils, which have been struggling to survive the on/off sleet and snow, coming up outside my window since early January cand now actually blooming. In front of the house there are other flowering bushes and trees. Designed by Harcourt Masters at the end of the 18th century, Sydney Gardens is interesting because it not only has the Kennet and Avon Canal running through it but also I.K. Brunnel’s Great Western Railway running parallel through the garden. The place has fine stonework around the railroad (probably a condition for going through a pleasure garden) and apparently also fine flowering trees. I’ll show some more later.
Why is there a car there? Why is it a red car? Someone told me that red coloured cars are the ones most likely to be stopped by the police for speeding or other traffic infringements. (See JC’s comment.)
House of Geologist William Smith (1769-1839)
“Another claim of Monkton Combe to fame is as the starting-place of the science of geology in this west country. At the hamlet called Tucking Mill at the western extremity of the Parish on the now abandoned canal, which stands a house which bears a modest marble tablet with the inscription—
In this house lived
The father of English Geology
“This ingenious pioneer of science was born in 1769 and became a mineral surveyor and civil engineer. In 1794 he was appointed engineer to the Soon Coal Canal, the one which used to pass through Monkton Combe but is new extinct and superseded by the Railway to Hallathrow. He bought this house, now the office of the Fuller’s Earth Factory, and made it his residence, and also traveled much about the country observing strata. He was the first to lay down the important formula of the identification strata by their characteristic organic remains, the great key to unlock the definite order of organic succession in the crust of the earth. (vide Prestwhich Geology, vol. ii, p. 190). He was also the first man to frame a complete geological map of England and Wales. A reminiscence of his country home remains embedded in the nomenclature of Geology, in the name “Midford Sands,” given to a certain formation found at the top of the Upper Lias and at the base of the Oolite series. These “Sands” were exposed in the making of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, the long tunnel between Bath and Midford being cut through them. They are found also at other places in the hills around Bath.” – D. Lee Pitcairn and Alfred Richardson, An Historical Guide to Monkton Combe, Combe Down and Claverton (Bath: F. Goodall Printer, 1924) 29-30.
Clearly the original marble tablet was removed and “re-erected” in 1932 (possibly this refers to more than the plaque.)
Ironically, he was sent to King’s Bench Prison for debt after he published his famous map and others merely plagiarized his work without paying him. It’s all over the internet today, and for this post I merely lifted it off a random site without credit to the site or payment made. Thankfully dead people don’t really need royalties, and they wouldn’t be valid anymore since he’s really dead…been so for a while now. (See Barbara’s comment.)
“The church is a small structure, 50 feet in length and 16 feet in breadth, covered with tiles; at the west end in a little stone turret hangs two small bells. It is dedicated to St. Michael.” -John Collinson, History of Somerset, 1791.
The original structure in the 1924 area guide was considered to be an “ancient Norman” one, and the parish minutes of 1757 give a glimpse of the small church structure having a chancel with at least two pews in it. “About the beginning of the XIX century,, when this little old church, after long neglect, needed extensive repairs, the inhabitant instead of repairing it, pulled it down and out of its materials build a new church of about the same size, seating only 95 persons, but to their minds no doubt more comfortable. It was erected in 1814 and did not last long. The Rev. Francis Pocock, being appointed vicar of Monkton Combe in 1863, found this church in a dilapidated state, and…for the needs for the parish, and had the courage to undertake the entire rebuilding of the sacred edifice.”– D. Lee Pitcairn and Alfred Richardson, An Historical Guide to Monkton Combe, Combe Down and Claverton (Bath: F. Goodall Printer, 1924) 28-29.
“It was first suggested that an aisle should be added to the edifice, but this, it was found, could not be done, and it was finally decided to raze the old structure and erect and entirely new building. Mr. C. E. Giles, of London, designer of St. John’s, Bathwick, was the architect, and the builder was Mr. S. G. Mitchell of this city [Bath]. The church was opened on Tuesday, July 4th…capable of seating 300 worshipers.” —Bath Chronicle, July 6, 1865.
“St. Michael. 1865, by C. E. Giles, enlarged in 1886 (GR), rather terrible piece of architecture. Inside a Venetian later C16 painting attributed to Schiavone (on loan). –Plate. Chalice and Cover 1634; Spoon 1797.” – Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1958), 229.
Typically unforunate with Victorian churches and other structures is its Welsh Slate roof. If I may add something to this list of quotes it is that I agree with Pevsner here. This is why the people of Monkton Combe can’t have nice things….
I’m not sure who designed this mausoleum for Ralph Allen and various other family members but this is where he lies. He did not have children so his estate went to distant relatives, which is why his house ended up belonging to a rich Roman Catholic cardinal and then became a Catholic school. This is in the small parish churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin in Claverton, which is below Claverton Down. Again, I don’t know why he was buried here in this town versus Combe Down or Bath proper, but true to his life, he used his death to advertise his life in stone. As you can see, the pyramid has required many tie rods over the years, the repair supports almost become a structure in themselves. (The structure was recently restored in 1965.)
So yesterday we visited the boss-man’s second house…er, mansion. Today, we’ll see the utopian housing Ralph Allen built for his masons, which provided part of the incentive to work for him since he didn’t pay them as much as they would have been paid elsewhere.
These eleven terrace houses are part of the early “model” housing scheme of De Montalt Place, which almost sounds sinister. It’s dated 1729 and was designed by John Wood the Elder, one of his first commissions in this city after finishing his apprenticeship in London (he was a Yorkshireman by birth). Built by Richard Jones, Ralph Allen’s foreman and later clerk of works, his house (Dial House) lies in the centre surmounted by a pediment and the 1729 date but retains the same number of windows as each of the other houses (although it is clearly a bit wider, has a porch and a private chapel.) Jones would go on to complete (and claim to have designed / co-designed) Prior Park and the Sham Castle of previous posts.
Born in Cornwall, Ralph Allen (1693 – June 29, 1764), transferred from a post office there at age 17 to one in Bath. Two years later in 1712, he became the Post Master of the city. He shortly reorganized the entire postal service and became very wealthy doing so. Surprisingly, however, he saved his money and refused to invest in the quarries that surrounded Bath (and that he would become famous from) until the completion of the Kennet and Avon Canal, which allowed stone to be shipped to the Thames.
Shortly, He owned nearly all of Combe Down, creating a cart rail-track that took the stones down the hill from the quarries to the canal warf in Bath’s Dolmeads section where it would be shipped out. He was also able to keep costs down by paying his workers less. This was not necessarily cruel since he, unlike most other quarry employers, employed year-round, and had John Wood the Elder build model terrace housing for them in 1729.
In addition to these organized and economical applications to selling stone, he promoted the creamy-colored stone through his own constructions, such as this Sham Castle (1767), his Palladian Mansion of Prior Park (1742) with its Palladian Bridge, and in supplying it for free for prominent public buildings such as the General Hospital (1738-1742). To introduce stone to new markets, such as lucrative London, he sold it at a discount with guarantees that he would personally cover the cost of replacing the stone if it failed. Unfortunately, it often did and London’s smoggy environment frequently caused him to empty his pockets.
He died at age 71 and is buried in a mausoleum in Claverton (down the opposite slope from Bath of the Claverton Down hill). The old rail line that went from his quarries, past his mansion, and down to his warf is now Ralph Allen Drive, as well as one of the city’s secondary schools. A statue for the Lower Assembly Rooms was also carved in his honor (not sure where the statue is since the structure was demolished), paid for by the City of Bath Corporation.
“Built as his villa in 1735-c.1750 for Ralph Allen. It is built of Bath stone and was meant to be Allen’s proof of the suitability of the product of his Combe Down quarry for work of the highest order. Prior Park certainly is a composition in the Grand Manner, the most ambitious and the most complete re-creation of Palladio’s villas on English soil. The architect was John Wood the Elder. But after a quarrel between him and Allen, the completion was entrusted to Allen’s clerk of works Richard Jones. The house was to consist of a corps de logis connected by galleries with two pairs of pavilions. It lies on the hillside, and its grounds extend down a green combe to the old village of Widcombe whose church is the final closing accent of the vista. Halfway down however the vista is crossed by the Palladian Bridge, a copy made in 1750 by Jones of Palladio’s famous bridge design in the Burlington-Devonshire Collection at the R.I.B.A. This was later published in Bertotti-Scamozzi’s Palladio edition. The drawing had been copied before (in 1736) at Wilton. The bridge is roofed and has two pedimented end pavilions with arched openings and an open colonnade of four Ionic columns between.” – Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1958), 114.
The house (not featured in this post) was based on Colen Campbell’s first design for Wanstead House in Essex (labeled Wanstead I) and was a giant showcase for Bath stone. Allen had made his money by reorganizing the postal system and then investing that capital in Combe Down, Bath quarries, where the soft cream colored stone was found. The material was not favored in fashionable circles, which is why he constructed his mansion to the popular design published by Campbell, insisting that John Wood the Elder design the column diameters to 1.5x those at the actual Wanstead.
After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the structure was purchased by Bishop Baines, who used the mansion as his humble abode. When it burned in 1836, the bishop raised funds to restore his house by purchasing another mansion, Hunt Street House on the Mendips, which had been mothballed near its completion in 1770s after the owners ran went bankrupt. Had this mansion been completed, it would have been in the top three of Georgian mansions. The bishop stripped this newly purchased abandoned house and moved its grand staircase, plasterwork, and several other architectural features to his mansion, heavily subsidizing them. It has since become a Roman Catholic college.
First two plans are from Walter Ison’s Georgian Buildings of Bath (the second being one by John Wood the Elder on the relationship between the three buildings and the valley) and the final five plans of Wanstead-based mansions with Prior Park second from the bottom is from Summerson’s Architecture in Britain: 1530-1830.
Well, it must be DP Sweeps Week because Santa Clara made a guest appearance here at Bath’s local Starbucks. Should anyone think that Bath is just filled with old historic buildings frequently found here on this photo blog, you can now see we also have a Starbucks (Bond Street in New Town). An embarrassing fact is that apart from the old buildings, I don’t really know the city too well, other than the fact that everything in it closes early.
I figured it’d be best to meet in the Abbey Yard, our Times Square during New Years and our Grand Central Terminal Clock for general meetings, because there were coffee shops and tables nearby. I was totally oblivious to the fact that in Bath by five o’clock the tables are brought back into stores and the city suddenly dies. (This isn’t true during the Christmas season but it sure is true now….) It’s worse up here on Claverton Down at the university where the NatWest bank opens at 10:30 and closes at 2! Why even bother in the first place?
Anyway, the big news was that I finally got to meet the great Ame from Santa Clara and her husband. They were great and had just come from Bristol and before that from London — and they brought the California sun. It’s rained or been overcast over here for three weeks straight. The night before they came it poured but while they were here we actually had sun. Apparently they had sunny conditions in Bristol and London too! When I went to London for a week, it rained and was overcast the entire time! Recently, every time I travel it’s doom and gloom. It was even warmer! How do they bring the California weather with them?
Today, now that they’ve left it is raining.