070224.Combe Down, Where the Other Half LivesFebruary 24, 2007 at 12:46 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Combe Down, Overcast, somerset | 3 Comments
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.