Ralph Allen

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Ralph Allen
Ralphallen.jpg
Born1693
Died29 June 1764
Resting placeClaverton Churchyard
NationalityBritish
OccupationPostmaster
Known forQuarrying of Bath Stone

Ralph Allen (1693 – 29 June 1764)[1] was an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who was notable for his reforms to the British postal system.

Allen was born in Cornwall but moved to Bath to work in the post office, becoming the postmaster at the age of 19. He made the system more efficient and took over contracts for the mail system to cover England to the borders of Scotland and into South Wales. He bought local stone mines from his postal profits and had Prior Park built as his house to show off the versatility of the local Bath stone, using the old post office as his town house. With the architect John Wood the Elder, the stone he mined was used in the building work for the development of the Georgian city. However, the mines did not consistently make a profit and Allen subsidised them from his postal profits.

After his death, he was buried in a pyramid-topped tomb in Claverton churchyard. He is commemorated in the names of streets and schools in the city of Bath and was the model for Squire Allworthy in the novel Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.

Early life[edit]

Much is unknown or obscure regarding Allen's early life. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives his father as Philip Allen, reputed to be an innkeeper.[1] As a teenager, Allen worked at the Post Office at St Columb, run by his grandmother. He moved in 1710 to Bath, where he became a post office clerk, and at the age of 19, in 1712, became the Postmaster of Bath.[2] In 1742 he was elected Mayor of Bath.[3]

Involvement in the postal system[edit]

At the age of 27 Allen took control of the Cross and Bye Posts in the South West under a seven-year contract with the General Post Office, although he had no official title.[4] At the end of this period he had not made a profit, only breaking even.[3] But he had the courage to continue – with breathtaking success.[5]

Over the next few years, he reformed the postal service. He realised that post boys were delivering items of mail along their route without them being declared and that this was lost profit. He introduced a "signed for system" that prevented the malpractice.[6] He also improved efficiency by not requiring mail to go via London.

Ralph Allen's reputation grew and he took over more and more of the English postal system, signing contracts every seven years until he died aged 71. It is estimated that he saved the Post Office £1,500,000 over a 40-year period.[7] He won the patronage of General Wade in 1715, when he disclosed details of a Jacobite uprising in Cornwall.[8]

Quarrying of Bath stone[edit]

With the arrival of John Wood in Bath, Allen used the wealth gained from his postal reforms to acquire the stone quarries at Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines.[3][9] Hitherto, the quarry masons had always hewn stone roughly providing blocks of varying size. The resulting uneven surface is known as "rubble" and buildings of this type – built during the Stuart period – are visible throughout the older parts of Bath.[10]

The distinctive honey-coloured Bath stone, used to build the Georgian city, made Allen a second fortune. The building in Lilliput Alley, Bath (now North Parade Passage), which he used as a post office, became his Town House[11] and in 1727 he refronted the southern rubble wall, extended the house to the north and added a new storey.[12] John Wood the Elder refers to this in his "Essay towards the future of Bath". Allen was astute at marketing the qualities of Bath stone and erected an elaborately ornate building a few feet to the north of his house to demonstrate its qualities. The extension (as Wood refers to it) has become known as "Ralph Allen's Town House", though whether it was designed by Wood is unproven and many local historians consider it unlikely.[13][14][15] Allen continued to live there until 1745, when he moved to Prior Park, and the townhouse became his offices.[16]

Prior Park House, home of Ralph Allen

Allen had the Palladian mansion of Prior Park built (1742) on a hill overlooking the city, "To see all Bath, and for all Bath to see".[9] He gave money and the stone for the building of the Mineral Water Hospital in central Bath 1738.[17] In 1758 he bought Claverton Manor, just east of Bath.[18]

Allen had a summer home built in the coastal town of Weymouth in Dorset, overlooking the harbour at number 2 Trinity street, opposite the Customs House.[19] There is a plaque on the house to commemorate Allen. His Bath stone was used in the Georgian buildings of Weymouth.[20]

Commemoration[edit]

Ralph Allen is buried in a pyramid-topped tomb in Claverton churchyard, on the outskirts of Bath.[21] A marble bust stood in the Mineral Water Hospital (later the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases) and was moved to the hospital's new building at Combe Park in 2019.[22]

His name is commemorated in Ralph Allen Drive which runs past his former home at Prior Park. Now a busy road from Combe Down village to Bath city centre, this was the route by which the stone from his quarries at Combe Down was sent on wooden sledges down to the River Avon. Prior Park College, a private school for 11- to 18-year-olds, is housed in Allen's former home and incorporates a boys' boarding house named Allen House.[23] The Prior Park Landscape Garden and Palladian bridge are cared for by the National Trust, who brought the garden back from dereliction in 1993.[24][25] He is also remembered in Ralph Allen School, one of the city's state secondary schools.[26]

The Ralph Allen CornerStone in Combe Down village opened in the autumn of 2013. This houses the archives of the Combe Down Heritage Society and provides a community hub and information centre as part of the legacy of the project to infill the stone mines underneath the village.[27]

Henry Fielding used Allen as the model for Squire Allworthy in the novel Tom Jones.[3]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Boyce, B. (1967). The benevolent man: a life of Ralph Allen of Bath.
  • Peach, R.E.M. (1895). The life and times of Ralph Allen.
  • Hopkins, A.E. (ed.) (1960) Ralph Allen's own narrative, 1720–1761
  • Erskine-Hill, Howard (1975). 'Low-Born Allen': Ralph Allen (1693–1764) in: The Social Milieu of Alexander Pope.
  • Davis, S. (1985). Ralph Allen: benefactor and postal reformer. [Bath Postal Museum booklet].

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Buchanan, Brenda J. "Allen, Ralph". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/386. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Staff, Frank (1966). The Penny Post, 1680–1918, p. 57. London: Lutterworth Press
  3. ^ a b c d "Ralph Allen Biography". Bath Postal Museum. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  4. ^ "Ralph Allen". St Mary the Virgin, Claverton. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Ralph Allen's Postal Contract". A History of the World. BBC. Archived from the original on 7 November 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  6. ^ "Ralph Allen (1693–1764)". Royal Mail. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Ralph Allen of Prior Park". National Trust. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Ralph Allen". Jane Austen Centre. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Ralph Allen". Bath UK. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  10. ^ Greenwood, Charles (1977). Famous houses of the West Country. Bath: Kingsmead Press. pp. 70–74. ISBN 978-0-901571-87-8.
  11. ^ "060219.Bath, A Room with a View". Bath Daily Photos. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  12. ^ Historic England. "The Ralph Allen Town House (1395830)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  13. ^ Ross, Kay. "Building Report on The Friends Meeting House, York Street, Bath" (PDF). The House Historians. Bath and North East Somerset. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  14. ^ Holland, Elizabeth (1992). The Kingston Estate Within the Walled City of Bath: A Composite Plan of the 1740s Showing the Work of John Wood and Others. Blackett Press. ASIN B00ILBPT60.
  15. ^ "Ralph Allen's House, Terrace Walk, Bath". Images of England. English Heritage. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  16. ^ "060219.Bath, A Room with a View". Bath Daily Photos. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
  17. ^ "Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases". Bath Heritage. Archived from the original on 13 November 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  18. ^ "The History of Claverton Manor". American Museum & Gardens. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  19. ^ Knowles, Rachel. "Ralph Allen - Weymouth's first Georgian tourist". Regency History. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Ralph Allen black plaque in Weymouth". Blue Plaques. Archived from the original on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  21. ^ Historic England. "Mausoleum to Ralph Allen, in churchyard to south of St Mary's Church (1214536)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
  22. ^ "Mineral Water Hospital history makes its way to the RUH's Combe Park site". Bath Echo. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  23. ^ "Our History". Prior Park College. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  24. ^ "History: Prior Park, Bath, England". Parks and Gardens UK. Parks and Gardens Data Services Ltd. Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  25. ^ "Development of the garden at Prior Park". National Trust. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  26. ^ "About our School". Ralph Allen School. Archived from the original on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  27. ^ "Ralph Allen CornerStone". Ralph Allen CornerStone. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2018.

External links[edit]