Monuments to Enterprise

In 1693 a man was born who would change the country’s postal service and create the City of Bath as we know it.

IMG_1049

Ralph Allen

Ralph Allen was from Cornwall and from a very early age he helped his grandmother run the St Columb’s post office. In 1708 he went to work for Joseph Quash, the Exeter post master. About a year later Quash was granted the contract to extend the cross post between Exeter and Oxford via Bath. When Mrs Mary Collins, the post mistress of Bath, resigned in 1712 over allegations of nepotism, Allen was appointed in her place. Allen built his reputation on hard work and honesty, gaining the friendship and backing of notable people. In 1715 Allen came across a Jacobite plot and informed General George Wade who successfully confiscated a shipment of arms and horse from the West. Wade built a house in Bath and was elected MP for Bath in 1722.

IMG_0109

General George Wade’s House with the later Regency Shop Front 

Wade’s house dates from about 1720 and is architecturally important as it is the first house in Bath to use the Palladian giant order. There is no documentary evidence as to who was the original architect, various names have been put forward such Thomas Greenway who was probably responsible for an adjoining property. Lord Burlington has also been mentioned simply because he designed Wade’s house in Cork Street London.

In 1718 the Countess of Kingston was granted the lease of the Post House in Lilliput Alley, on a property dating from c1620. Ralph Allen became the subtenant in the same year and ran his business from the building. In 1720 he successfully negotiated his first contract with the General Post Office for taking over the cross post between Exeter and Oxford and all bye-posts. The contracts were renewable every seven years, which he did up until his death. He completely reformed the postal service, opening up more routes, allowing mail to be delivered efficiently and securely throughout England, eventually without having to go via London. In the beginning he ran the business at a loss, but as time went on and he introduced his new methods he became a wealthy man.

Allen a young man with a head for business, created his own luck, he was the right person in the right place at the right time. He married his first wife in 1721, Elizabeth the daughter of a London merchant and his fortunes were on the rise. When Wade became MP, he was able to help Allen, as a result Allen became chief treasurer of the Avon Navigation Scheme in 1725. The scheme was to improve access between the Port of Bristol and Bath by deepening the river, bringing down the cost and ease of transporting goods. It would also provide an alternative means of transport for potential visitors to the spa resort, especially when the road system was dangerous and impassable at times. The same year saw him become freeman of the city and a member of the council.

Ralph Allen’s Town House

In 1722 Ralph Allen acquired the lease on the Post House in Lilliput Alley. He built a north wing, which was originally attached, at a right angle so its principal front faces east and overlooked a large garden. The new Palladian front contained a rusticated ground floor with a central wide arch with narrow arched openings on either side. Above this is a large central arched window with rectangular windows on either side there are blind balustrades at the base of each window. There are three smaller windows on the second floor, sandwiched by four columns with moulded bases on plain pedestals with Corinthian capitals. The steeply pitched triangular pediment is framed by a modillioned cornice with three acroterial ornaments of stone balls. The centre contains a small circular opening surrendered by elaborate scrolled foliage. From the windows he could view Claverton Down. There is a pen and ink 18th century drawing showing the town house as a U shaped mansion with wings on either side, this has been disputed for making the property grander and larger than it actually was. At a later date it was subdivided into three properties, the original Post House became 1 and 2 North Parade Passage; the detached north wing is now known as the Ralph Allen Town House.

In 1726 Allen bought land south of the River Avon, which included the Combe Down followed by Bathampton Down mines in 1727. These underground workings had been used since Roman times to extract Oolite limestone for building. The stone had to be mined rather than quarried, this hilly area around Bath was a mass of honeycombed excavations. The top layer of stone was suitable for paving and the Lower layers could be used for building, but the process was not straightforward. Though the stone is relatively easy to extract, because it is soft and can be sawn in any direction, it needs after care. The honey coloured stone must be allowed to mature in the open air for weeks so the water drains away. The stone dries out and becomes a pale white or grey colour. When building a wall the stone must be laid in the same position as it was extracted from the mine or otherwise it will crack and decay.

Allen experienced a very negative response to Bath stone when he tried to obtain the contract to supply building material for Greenwich Hospital in 1728. The Governors preferred the cheaper Portland Stone. To counteract this negativity he needed to undertake a large building project to show off the versatility of the stone closer to home.

20150518_110454 2

Principal Front of Prior Park

Prior Park was designed by John Wood the Elder based on designs by Andrea Palladio. The property would consist of a central house with wings on either side connected by arcades. The wings would be used for administration of his postal business and stables. The principal front is the north facade overlooking the park where the ground falls away down to lake. The Portico has six giant columns with an additional full column on either return and a half column against the building wall. The columns have moulded bases and the plain shafts are topped with Roman Corinthian capitals. These support an entablature with a triangular pediment. The balustrade on the parapet flanks either side of the triangular pediment and is above each window, which is segmented by a plain solid section.  The whole house would be used to publicise the wonders of Bath stone. Every Thursday afternoon he opened the grounds to the public to showcase the wonders of Bath Stone. The beautiful gardens were full of ornate features and statues as examples of the stones versatility.

Bath Stone can vary in type and from quarry to quarry, therefore the stone proved to be versatile. Once the Kennet and Avon canal was completed in November 1810, it enabled a more efficient and cost effective means of transporting the quarried stone to London. Its use for building in London and beyond became more wide spread.

Unfortunately Prior Park ended Allen and Wood’s friendship and working relationship. Wood’s design was in the style of a Palladian villa and based to some extent on Colen Campbell’s Wanstead House design, which appeared in Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), and was never built. Wood’s design was altered by Richard Jones the Clerk of Works, causing an argument between Wood and Allen, resulting in Wood’s dismissal. Jones completed to his own design the east wing as one pavilion instead of two, and completely changed the west wing’s intended appearance as a Palladian agricultural building.

Allen purchased the lower slopes in 1743 and created the lakes and Richard Jones built a Palladian Bridge in 1755. This is a copy of the bridge at Wilton Wiltshire designed by Robert Morris (1737), and to a lesser extent the bridge at Stowe in Aylesbury Vale Buckinghamshire attributed to James Gibbs (1738). The roofed bridge has two end pavilions with an open colonnade with four Ionic columns on either side. Unlike Wilton the width between the middle columns on either side is wider. Also the ceiling is plain plaster with a simple entablature, whereas Wilton’s ceiling is coffered and the entablature is carved.

20150518_110257

Palladian Bridge

The Open Colonnade and the Ionic Columns

In 1830 Prior Park became a Catholic College it has endured two fires, the first severely damaged the interior in 1836, which was rebuilt using the salvaged interior of Huntstrete House, Marksbury Somerset. The major damage to the building was a result of the 1991 fire. It started in the roof and the downward destruction eventually obliterated the roof, third floor and a majority of the second floor. Half of the first floor and two thirds of the ground floor survived. The massive work of reconstructing the building was undertaken and completed in 1995.

Prior Park college is a Catholic independent co-educational public school and the  28 acres of landscaped gardens and pleasure grounds have been the property of the National Trust since 1993.

Allen moved into Prior Park in 1735 living in one wing while the work progressed on the main block. Two years later he purchased Bathampton Manor the home of his second wife’s family, it became the residence of his brother Philip Allen (1694-1765). Later he built a house in Weymouth as a summer residence for his wife. The final edition to his property portfolio was Claverton Manor. Ralph Allen purchased Claverton Manor for £18,000 in 1752 as it adjoined Prior Park and consisted of 1300 acres, a great edition to his landscaped park. Though he did not live in the Elizabethan manor House he occasionally used it as a entertainment venue.

IMG_1025

The American Museum

In 1817 John Vivian, a barrister purchased the manor and built a large house above the village. This new Claverton Manor is now the American Museum. The original property was not maintained and ultimately demolished in 1823. The remains of the original manor house’s terrace garden is grade 11* listed. The lower terraces still retain the garden walls of pierced strap work stone, with two balustrades. There are gate piers with pierced stone obelisks and iron gates.

Pierced Strap Work Stone Wall

Pierced Stone Obelisks and Garden View

In 1764 Robert Parsons recorded in his commonplace book of a meeting with Ralph Allen to discuss designs for tombstones and memorials, the next day Allen died. It is believed that Allen’s mausoleum in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Claverton is the work of Robert Parsons.

IMG_1066

St Mary’s Church Claverton 

Robert Parsons was a stonemason who made his living carving garden vases, ornaments and chimneys from Bath stone, though he also worked in marble producing chimneypieces and monuments. In 1751 he became a Baptist minister in Bath, and a year later he built a meeting house in Southgate Street. He also built a meeting house for the Anabaptists in Horse Street. He was employed by both John Wood the Elder and Sanderson Miller, working on the Bristol Exchange and the new gothic hall at Laycock Abbey.

Ralph Allen’s Mausoleum

Ralph Allen’s mausoleum is a square grade 11* structure of ashlar raised on two steps. The walls comprised of three arches each side, which were originally open, but at a later date railings were inserted. Behind the ashlar parapet the stone slab roof rises to a pyramidal shape. Below the parapet is a moulded cornice echoing the moulding on the arches piers and the tombs cornice.

View of Arches and Pyramidal Shape Roof

On the interior the pyramid has a vaulted ceiling, and the mausoleum contains a stone chest tomb with inscribed marble inserts. The tomb contains not only Allen and his second wife, but later members of the family, the last interned was in 1993. The mausoleum was restored in 1975 by Bath Preservation Trust.

Interior Vaulted Roof and the Stone Chest Tomb

 

The photos are from the author’s own collection.

Gateway To A Scheme

 

IMG_0534

When John Wood the Elder was building Bath he was aware of Bathwick’s 600 acres, a prime location on the other side of the river Avon. In 1726 the land was purchased by William Pulteney MP for Hedon in Yorkshire, who later became the Earl of Bath. The land had sitting tenants who held life leases, these were gradually transferred to short leases, which took time. When Pulteney died sixteen years later the land was still a rural parish. The land and his wealth passed to his brother General Henry Pulteney, as his son and heir had died the previous year. Henry died three years later and his second cousin Frances Johnstone, daughter of Daniel Pulteney MP, inherited everything except for the title which became extinct.

Frances had married William Johnstone on the 10 November 1760. They had met when Johnstone had arrived in London and secured a post in Customs and Excise. He was the son of a Scottish Baronet from Dumfries, a successful Edinburgh lawyer and partner in the Dumfries bank. They returned to Edinburgh living an ordinary life with their daughter Henrietta Laura, until Frances inherited this immense fortune.

Johnstone changed their name to Pulteney and moved back to London taking up residence in Bath House, Piccadilly. Pulteney entered Parliament spending his time in politics and managing his wife’s London and Bath estates. He now took on a new role as property developer in Bath.

Bath Corporation had plans for the city which included a new guildhall and market space; Pulteney believed it was his opportunity to increase the value of his wife’s land on the other side of the river. He entered into negotiations with the Corporation to discuss his idea for a bridge linking Bath with the Bathwick estate. On 2nd January 1769 they gave their consent. After obtaining a private Act of Parliament as the land was held in trust, he was able to proceed. He purchased some land north of the area designated for development by the Corporation, this would ultimately be the location for the access point for Pulteney’s bridge across the river.

IMG_0712

Robert Adam’s Design for Pulteney Bridge

After obtaining an initial low key design from Thomas Paty, Pulteney approached Robert Adam. Adam together with his brothers John, James and William were working on the Adelphi Buildings, a large neoclassical scheme in London between the Strand and the River Thames. The Adam brothers were sons of the very successful Scottish architect William Adam. Robert and James travelled abroad visiting Italy. Robert spent nearly four years studying with Charles-Louis Clerisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The Adam brothers set up their practice in London designing complete schemes, designing every detail of the finished project. Pulteney believed Robert Adam was the architect capable of producing spectacular plans for the bridge and a development on the east side of the river.

The influence for Adam’s design came from his time in Italy visiting Florence and Venice. The Ponte Vecchio and the Ponte di Rialto are two beautiful shop lined bridges. His design was inspired by Andrea Palladio’s rejected plan for the Rialto. Adam’s produced a symmetrical design striped of unnecessary ornamentation but included practical features. The circular windows to provide light for the shop cellars. The middle arch of the bridge is crowned by a large Venetian window. On the road side the corresponding Venetian window contained a glass door, so as preserve the overall design. On either side of this large central window are a row of uniform rectangular windows allowing light to enter the interior space.

IMG_0737

Robert Adam’s Design for the Roadside Shop Fronts

The roadside design was very similar to the riverside view. On either side of the large central Venetian window were three arched openings, containing solid windows and Doric pilasters. Each shop front consisted of a large bay with a narrow bay on either side. The entrance doors were set between each shop front.

The bridge was officially completed in early 1774. Unfortunately work to develop the Bathwick estate and other building work in Bath had to be halted due to more pressing matters such as the American War of Independence.

The building of the Bridge was set with controversy due to Adam being favoured over local architects, the decision to include shops and also the overall cost. When building work resumed in 1788 it was Pulteney’s daughter Henrietta  Laura who employed the City Surveyor Thomas Baldwin to undertake the development on the east side of the river. His designs were mainly in the Palladian style and paid homage to Adam. Building was rapid, which ended in bankruptcy for the builders and again the development was halted.

Originally when the bridge was completed the north and the south side were identical. In 1792 shortly after the death of Adam, work began to alter the bridge. The small shop units were converted into larger units. The roof line was raised to provide higher ceilings and larger windows. This marked the start of many alterations the bridge was to endure.

IMG_0556

View of Pulteney Bridge from the south side

The high floods at the end of September 1799 put a strain on the piers of the centre arch. Buildings over the fracture were removed and contrary to some people’s wishes to fully open up the bridge, Henrietta Laura (now Baroness Bath), employed John Pinch the Elder to repair the damage. Just days after completing the work on the foundation to one of the piers, the other pier collapsed due to further heavy flooding. The damage only effected the north side. Another Act of Parliament was required to rebuild the bridge. Pinch undertook the work in his own style rather than recreating Adam’s design.

IMG_0551

View from West looking towards Great Pulteney Street and Holburne Museum. The Bowed Shop Front left of picture and rebuilt Pavilion on the right

Robert Adam’s original bridge had the four end pavilions with porticoes of Doric columns, arranged in pairs with a wider central opening, the outside columns were closed with balustrades at the base of the column. At some point the columns were removed. When Pinch rebuilt the north side, the pavilions disappeared and one was replaced with a bowed shop front.

IMG_0671

View of Pulteney Bridge from the north side

Over the years the bridge was neglected and shopkeepers built wooden structures to their own design over hanging the river. These structures served as toilets allowing the waste to be deposited directly into the river. The bridge was now an eyesore.

By 1900 there was a new appreciation for Adam and his work. Pulteney Bridge was not an acceptable advertisement for Bath and Adam. In 1903 the Corporation decided the bridge needed to be shortened on the South Side as it protruded to far into the Grand Parade. They purchased and demolished the three shops at the west end. Gill and Morris designed a new pavilion with Adam style recessed arched windows to three sides. This new pavilion was positioned over the end pier.

IMG_0514

The Gill and Morris Pavilion 

The west end section of the bridge was restored, and by 1916 Bath City Council had purchased the east end, though it remained dilapidated. In 1936 the bridge became a scheduled national monument. Plans were put in place to restore the south side to Adam’s design, but this work had to be postponed until well after the war. In 1955 the bridge became Grade 1 listed.

IMG_0525

View of Shops on South Side

IMG_0527

View of Shops on North Side

IMG_0666 2

North Side of Pulteney Bridge

Sadly the north side remains a mess, but you can still see part of Adam’s design of the triangular pediment over an unmoulded arch.

 

The photos and artwork are from the author’s own collection.