070222.Combe Down, Steep Grassy Slope of Prior Park

February 23, 2007 at 1:38 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Combe Down, Gardens & Parks, Light and Shadow, Mansion, Pevsner, somerset | 6 Comments

061026.024.Somset.CombeDown.Prior Park
“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.
Ison 075Ison 070

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.



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  1. cet immeuble est tres beau, et toujours autant de precision dans tes explications, merci de prendre tout ce temps pour tout nous expliquer.
    je te souhaite un bon weekend

    this building is very beautiful, and always as much of precision in your explanations, thank you to take all this time for all to explain us. I wish you a good weekend

  2. wow! love all the greens!

  3. I think Olivier phrased it better than I ever could. “Precision of your explanations.” Damn. I want to roll down that hill.

  4. i wanted to roll down too!! come on josy!

  5. […] you get there and gaze out where its windows overlook, you find that you’re at the base of Prior Park and can see the famous Paladian bridge there. Isn’t that amazing? Over the hedge: 1, […]

  6. hi i’m from mallorca spain and i wod lik to know if priorpark is a good school

    i’m going to go there this summer
    ok thanks

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