060218.Bathampton Down, A View to a KillingFebruary 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Castles, Chisel Marks, Claverton Down, doorways, Gardens & Parks, Light and Shadow, Mansion, Monuments and Memorials, Overcast, Peephole Views, Preservation, Restoration, Ruins, somerset, Towers, towns, Trees, University of Bath | 9 Comments
Walked by this two days ago after I picked up a package from the mailroom. It’s surrounded by the University of Bath‘s campus but is still somewhat difficult to reach. This is more of an excuse since I’ve never posted a shot of it and it’s a five minutes walk away from my house.
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.
The “Sham Castle” was built by Allen’s Clerk of Works Richard Jones (the same person who completed John Wood the Elder’s designs for Prior Park after the latter’s dismissal) in 1762 as an eye-catcher for Allen’s town house mansion in Bath proper. That house, which is now hemmed in with other buildings, faces this hill (it was probably designed by John Wood the Elder, although his account of its design is cryptic.) In many ways, this castle is the equivalent of the Palladian Bridge on Allen’s Prior Park Estate. It can still be seen from the city when lit up at night (although it is very very small). Jones claimed the design for the façade structure was his, but Sanderson Miller had been approached to design it seven years earlier and Jones has a record for accepting credit for designs that he merely supervised (Prior Park). The structure replaced “Antsey’s Lodge.”
Tune in tomorrow for more of Ralph Allen Week at Bath Daily Photo.