070208.Combe Down, “Alice is a sexy sl*t” Was Here: Modern vs. Historical Graffiti

February 8, 2007 at 12:11 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Columns, Combe Down, doorways, Gardens & Parks, Ionic Order, Mansion, Monuments and Memorials, people, Pevsner, Restoration, Ruins, somerset, University of Bath | 5 Comments

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Prior Park Mansion burned down around 1989 and was restored from 1989 to 1992. The company that rebuilt and redecorated it also cleaned off the graffiti that had been painted and carved into the walls of the classical garden buildings Grade I Listed landscapes. In so doing they had to match the patina of the old stone but were also given a lit of what had to be removed and what had to stay. Here, on the left pier an erased inscription can still be read “** F**k FOX.” The letters appear to have been painted large and are still somewhat discernable. Underneath that, however, was “D.H. 1945,” which remained. The whole structure is littered with grafitti, which I’m sure other Daily Photo sites would have found some artistic merit in. Name a public monument that hasn’t had something carved into it? What makes it historical, and therefore possible to preserve?

(Again, in the second photo above,) More than halfway up the right pier where now only the white dot-dot-dots remain was inscribed “Alice is a sexy slut.” What remains are the best efforts to match the patina of the stone after removing the line. The Managing Director of St. Blaise’s, Ian Constantinides, responsible for the restoration joked to our class yesterday that it “was air-braised out of existence into a spiritual purity that she didn’t maintain on Earth.” He joked whether this was part of the history of the bridge and determined if it had been an equally crude Georgian inscription it would have been protected. (Constantinides gave a great lecture on materials, going an hour and a half past the regular end time. Last year, he apparently talked well into the night but I guess our year wasn’t as interesting to him. Somewhat eccentric, he’s the one in the red pants and he brings millions of slides and just asks the class what they want him to lecture on. We got the run down on lime mortar repairs, stone and plasterwork. Apart form Prior Park, he worked on Windsor Castle and countless other historic buildings—a very interesting person. One classmate said he’s been featured on several television shows. )

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“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.

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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.
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Here’s the wonderful University of Bath arcade and I should mention that the Prior Park photos were taken in October 2006, and just happened to feature the “Alice is a…” that he referred to.

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