060219.Bath, A Room with a ViewFebruary 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Columns, Corinthian Order, Ladders, Mansion, Overcast, somerset | 6 Comments
Located southeast of the Abbey, the Ralph Allen Townhouse has an 18th Century façade built on land leased (probably for 99 years) in 1727. The pictured east-facing addition was quite elaborate and the architect can be assumed to have been John Wood the Elder who only wrote “the Designs, as well as a Model for this Addition, were made while I was in London.” The house was Allen’s primary residence until he moved to Prior Park Estate in 1745, at which point the house became his offices. To improve his view, Allen had constructed the Sham Castle from yesterday’s post.
The addition is now completely surrounded by other buildings and this small court is gated off. If you visit and want to see it, I believe you can borrow the gate key from the neighboring real estate office. (The elevation of the Town House was from Walter Ison’s Georgian Buildings of Bath.)
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.