Ralph Allen

Ralph Allen

01_ralph_allen
Ralph Allen

Ralph Allen (1693-1764) is generally recognised as being one of the key figures in the creation of Georgian Bath. He was baptised in St. Columb Major, Cornwall in 1693.

Showing an early talent for business he came to Bath in 1712, becoming deputy postmaster. He devised a scheme for improving the efficiency of the postal system and, winning the contract for the south-west, by the early 1720s was turning a £12000 a year profit. Marrying Elizabeth Buckridge, the daughter of a London merchant in 1721, he used a house near the Abbey as both a home and an office before purchasing land in Combe Down for the site of his mansion, Prior Park. To develop the area's mines and transport the stone down the hill to the riverside, a wooden railway almost 2 miles long was constructed at a cost of £10,000. It enabled Allen to achieve a near monopoly in Bath building stone, cutting its cost and stimulated a small export trade. In 1725 Allen became chief treasurer of the Avon navigation scheme that enabled the movement of materials along the river allowing Bath to expand into a major spa resort. Not surprisingly he was soon a major employer in the city. By the mid-1730s Allen had cemented a professional partnership with the architect John Wood the elder, creating the showpiece mansion at Prior Park, ready for occupation by 1741. Prior Park proved to be a fine example of English Palladianism and situated in its elevated position overlooking the city, advertised the virtues of the Bath stone from Allen's Combe Down quarries. It became a centre of culture with writers, poets and painters amongst the regular visitors. Allen acquired a reputation as a philanthropist and it is estimated that he gave away more than £1000 a year to causes such as Bath General Hospital. This reputation was celebrated in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749) where a fictionalised Allen appears as Squire Alworthy and Jones' 1751 novel, Amelia, was dedicated to him. Allen served as mayor of Bath in 1742 and acted as a justice of the peace for Somerset from 1749. He died at Prior Park in June 1764 and is buried at Claverton Church.