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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

An Architectural Gem

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When we build, let us think that we build forever

John Ruskin

This Victorian Gothic Revival house is Grade I listed and situated near Wraxall, North Somerset. At the heart of this picturesque building is a Georgian house which over the course of several years was transformed and emerged as something befitting a family of the richest commoner in England.

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William Gibb (1790-1875)

William Gibbs convinced British farmers of the merits of using the nitrate rich guano as a fertiliser. This was achieved with his pamphlet published in 1843 after he had brought the first shipment to Britain from South America. This risky business venture was a success and made him incredibly rich. It was these proceeds which allowed him to purchase Tynes Place, finance its alterations as well as acquiring surrounding land. The property became his country home because of its proximity to Bristol for easy access to London. He retained a London home and carried on conducting his business from the capital.

When Gibbs married Matilda Blanche Crawley-Boevey (known as Blanche), he joined a family who were ardent followers of the Oxford Movement (Tractarian Movement), this was to play an important part in their lives. This influence was evident in the remodelling of their country home and their philanthropic work. They built or extended churches, educational buildings and institutions. Many of these projects they fully funded and actively participated in their design.

In 1854 Gibbs commissioned John Gregory Crace to undertake the redecoration of their London home as well as Tyntesfield House, as it was now called. Crace’s firm had a excellent reputation, Crace and his father had worked on Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. John Crace later worked with Pugin on the interiors of the Palace of Westminster. This Gothic style was what Gibbs wanted. The work on the interior involved cleaning, repairing, painting, wallpapering and supplying new items of furniture. Gibbs negotiated a 7% discount and paid by instalments, which were completed January 1856.

In 1860 Gibbs invited the architect John Norton to Tyntesfield this lead to a commission to enlarge the house. The builder George Plucknett of William Cubitt & Co joined the team in 1861 and the planning process took the next two years. Norton was known for his Gothic architecture, he had designed several churches and was commissioned to use his talents on large country houses. His brief was to extend the house by seemlessly joining the old with the new, the work started in 1863.

Staircase Hall

John Norton’s remodelling of the Staircase Hall produced a statement piece for the house. He insterted a glazed Gothic lantern supported with English Oak beams in the roof in order to lighten this otherwise dark space. The newel posts  are of griotte and green Irish marble, ophicalcite from County Galway. The balustrade glided wrought iron’s Gothic pattern is similar to the grille surrounding the organ pipes in the Chapel at Exeter College Oxford. Crace stencilled the walls with a geometric floral patterns in green tones.

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The Staircase Hall’s incredible Gothic fireplace designed by Norton of carved Mansfield stone. The statues are of Maltese stone depicting Temperance, Fortitude, Justice and Prudence.

Library

Norton’s design for the library was based Giles Gilbert Scott’s Upper Library at Exeter College Oxford. The clear glass Gothic window stones are edged with Minton tiles. Unfortunately they can not be seen in this photo as the blinds are kept drawn to protect the interior. The fireplace is of Bath Stone with native polished stones. In the centre is an ogee arch carved with leaves, and on either side are a pair of twisted dark-red Cornish Serpentine columns.

Chapel

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O.N. Thwaite’s model of the Chapel

At last in 1873 work began on the their own chapel designed by the eminent church architect Sir Arthur Blomfield and built by the trusted George Plucknett of William Cubitt & Co, which would hopefully insure continuity with the original extension. Unfortunately they were later replaced by G. W. Booth as builders.

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The stained glass windows were designed by Henry Ellis Wooldridge and made by James Powell & Sons of Whitefriars. They also made the marble mosaic floor of blue faience, Mexican onyx and bluejohn from Blomfield’s design. The mosaics behind the altar are by Salviati & Co of Venice depicting St Paul, St Peter, St John and St James. The brass eagle lectern, chandeliers and communion rail are by James Laver of Maidenhead.

Blomfield’s design was based on the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle in the Palais de la Cite in Paris. It was consecrated just before Gibbs died in 1875 and it was left to Blanche to complete the work in 1876-7. Sadly though the Chapel had a Crypt for the family burials it has never been used. Seen as a possible rival to the local church the Bishop of Bath and Wells withheld consecration, until William Gibbs agreed that regular parochial services would not take place and no one could be buried in the Crypt, but memorials could be hung on the walls.

Blanche carried on with the building work until her death in 1887, and then the  estate passed to their son Antony. Each generation continued to work on the house and fill the interior with furniture and beautiful works of art. As with all country houses the two world wars and death duties took their toll. Antony’s grandson George Richard, known as Richard Gibbs, 2nd Baron Wraxall, was the last family to live in the house, he did not marry or have any children. The property suffered bomb damage during the war and was turned down for a repair grant. Over the next fifty years the house deteriorated and eventually Richard was living in just three rooms until his death in 2001. Richard left the estate and money to the children of his brother and half sister, who by majority could decide whether it should be sold. The National Trust launched an appeal and raised funds to buy and secure the future of the house, kitchen garden and the park. The remaining land and properties were purchased by various organisations and individuals.

 

The photos are from the author’s own collection.

 

 

 

 

 

An Oasis of Calm

Nestling amongst the angular shapes of 20th century architecture is a haven of peace   brought about by war.

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Temple Church

“The City of Churches had in one night become the city of ruins.”

Lord Mayor, Alderman Thomas Underwood

During World War II Bristol become a target for the Luftwaffe. As one of the main ports with rail connections and an important industrial centre it was the victim of six major bombing raids between the 24th November 1940 and 11th April 1941. 89,080 buildings were damaged or destroyed, 1,299 people were killed and 1,303 were seriously injured.

On Sunday 24th November 1940, 148 aircraft of the Luftwaffe left Northern France en route for the city docks and the aeroplane factory. 135 aircraft reached Bristol dropping 156,250 kg of high explosive bombs, 4,750 kg oil bombs and 12,500 incendiaries. The Mediaeval centre was the victim of this six hour raid, four ancient churches were reduced to ruins, including the Temple Church.

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View from Temple Gardens

In the 1130s the Order of the Knights Templar, a monastic order founded for the protection of pilgrims while on route to Jerusalem, built a monastery in Bristol on land donated by Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The Templars built their churches round in homage to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Though round church architecture was not unique to Templars. The Round Church in Bristol was known as the Holy Cross and the capital for the Order in the South West.

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Excavated foundation location of the original 12th century Rotunda

During the Crusades the Templars travelled from Bristol to Europe and the Mediterranean as financiers, entrepreneurs and military. The church was enlarged and the area was an important business centre for the woollen trade. By the early 14th century the Knights Templar had lost their reputation and fallen out of favour. In 1313 the Holy Cross Church was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, another military order. They carried out new building work on the church, transforming it into a rectangular church and adding two rectangular chapels. St Nicholas on the South side and St Catherine on the North side. It was Edward I who granted the Bristol Company of Weavers their own chapel in the Temple Church, St Catherine is the patron saint of weavers. St Catherine was also a saint venerated by the Templars.

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The first three stages of the bell tower were built in the late 1390s but unfortunately it began to lean westwards, due to the alluvial clay subsoil, as a result work stopped. In 1460 the stone masons strengthened the foundations and completed the final stage, allowing for the lean so that it would appear vertical. Their work has proved to be unsuccessful and the tower leans 1.6 meters from the vertical.

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View the of the leaning tower and the Portland stone Gothic Revival archway  located on Temple Street off of Victoria Street 

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 Rear view of the Portland stone Gothic Revival archway

The porch of the church can be found via a grade II listed Portland Stone Gothic Revival archway, with a pair of wrought iron gates in the wider central arch. Above the centre arch is a carving of the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, on a shield hanging from a ring. This visual imagery denotes a past connection to both military orders.

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An octagonal stair turret on the left between the north aisle and the nave, extending up behind the round-arched doorway 

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Mid-Georgian porch to the nave with Corinthian pilasters. Round-arched doorway with an acanthus key

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Above the Corinthian pilasters is a segmental pediments with a cartouche inside and an urn on the top

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Decorated traceried windows in the long Chancel with the St Catherine’s chapel to right and St Nicholas to the left

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The embattled south aisle with large early perpendicular windows

The church was built of Pennant rubble, a native stone of the Bristol area. The exterior walls are dressed with Bath stone ashlar and is now preserved as an open shell; the roof and the glass perished in the Blitz. The only relics savaged from the ruins were a medieval candelabrum, one of only fifteen surviving from this period. It now resides in the Berkeley Chapel Bristol Cathedral. The font and a 15th century bell are located at the Holy Cross Church (21st C) Filwood Park Bristol. The 18th century Sword-Rest and the wrought-iron parclose screens from the side chapels can be found in the Lord Mayor’s chapel of St Mark’s Hospital Church Bristol. These items were made by William Edney the renowned Bristol blacksmith, his work can also be seen in St Mary Redcliffe.

The Temple Church was the first parish church to be owned by the Ministry of Works as an Ancient Monument and listed as Grade II*. The management of the church was transferred to English Heritage in 1984. The churchyard was given to the City of  Bristol as a public park in 1955. It contains the remnants of a lime tree avenue, which was planted in the 18th century when the church was refurbished. The Temple Gardens with its roses and trees is an oasis of calm to escape the busy city.

 

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