070723.Combe Down, Tunnel Vision

July 23, 2007 at 2:04 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Bridges, Combe Down, Light and Shadow, somerset | 5 Comments

There are great little moments in Bath and the area. Here, through this tunnel of foliage, lies a sunlight-lit house at the end. When 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?
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Over the hedge: 1, 2.

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070720.Combe Down, Weathered Timber Throughout the Day

July 20, 2007 at 2:36 PM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Combe Down, countryside, Light and Shadow, somerset | 4 Comments

070629.071.SO.Bath.CombeDown.PriorPark.FishpondCottage
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070629.073.SO.Bath.CombeDown.PriorPark.FishpondCottage One of Bath’s joys is its incredible stone. Containing just a bit of iron, the stone has a warm creamy color that positively glows at sunrise and sunset. Like Italy, almost the entire place is constructed with the same material, so the color surrounds the viewer and makes the whole rigorously ordered, individualistic, and finely executed pieces of architecture feel as if all part of one piece. As such, Bath is a World Heritage site, rightfully treated as one entity but this singularity on the wealth of Georgian architecture and its unique building material discriminates against the other materials of bath, such as the brick Gothic Cottage of Sion Hill and this engaging more or less modern timber structure, just off Prior Park. Rebel materials in this Bath stone town have enjoyed brief periods of popularity. For instance, when before the Kennet and Avon canal, brick (imported) was far more expensive than finely cut ashlar Bath stone! There is at least one example of a Bath stone house with a one brick thick front facade. I enjoy this house for the same reason, mainly its surrounding Bath stone wall, which you find throughout the city and countryside here. Besides, it has a great view!

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070224.Combe Down, Where the Other Half Lives

February 24, 2007 at 12:46 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Combe Down, Overcast, somerset | 3 Comments

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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.

Here’s another recap of Ralph Allen Week thus far:
070213.30.Somset.Bath.Bath Before Beau Nash.Ralph Allen

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.

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.
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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.

070221.Dolmeads, Former Ralph Allen Wharf

February 21, 2007 at 1:55 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Bridges, Canals, Chisel Marks, Combe Down, Light and Shadow, river, River Avon, somerset, Waterfront, Widcombe | 5 Comments

Copy of 061216.066.Somset.Bath.WidcombeThis is the former wharf at the base of Combe Down hill between Widcombe and the Dolmeads where Ralph Allen sent his stone to. The locks connect the Kennet and Avon Canal with the River Avon. The river could transport his stone to Bristol and the canal could carry the stone via connections to the Thames. The site is now the Bath Hotel, I believe.
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070220.Combe Down, The Blob — Quarry

February 20, 2007 at 12:03 AM | Posted in Bath, Chisel Marks, Combe Down, Overcast, roofs, somerset, University of Bath | 8 Comments

061022.009.Somset.Bath.Combe Down.Quarry Houses

Combe Down is littered with former quarry sites–mostly dating from Ralph Allen’s time. Everyone seems to have one in their backyard. Sometimes they appear overnight. “Mom, am I imagining things or did the hill face move closer to the house?” You get the picture.

Bath has several different types of oolitic limestone, each named for the hill it was quarried on but I’m not going to get into details now. Most of the quarries in Bath, however, are underground. In fact, Combe Down is mostly tunnels and the quarries were more or less labyrinth underground cities with the stone being carted out by horses (leading to the tunnels being filled with stone-carved water troughs.) Even part of the U of Bath campus on neighboring Claverton Down hill used to be a quarry.

Technically, if a quarry is underground then it becomes a mine (even though the tunnels aren’t for metal) but the Combe Down tunnels retained their “quarry” name to avoid mine legislation.Today, however, these quarry tunnels are legally mines and the larger concern facing the government is filling them in.

Sinkholes used to constantly appear and collapse roads and structures on this hill, so that now the government is spending millions of pounds to secure and fill the tunnels, so I hear. It’s an odd cycle.

Tune in tomorrow for more Ralph Allen Week on Bath DP.

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. )

061026.064.Somset.CombeDown.Prior Park061026.062.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.

061026.065.Somset.CombeDown.Prior Parkba 003

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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