Ralph Allen of Prior Park

Prior Park College and the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park

Ralph Allen was first and foremost a businessman. From humble beginnings, he rose to be one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Born in Cornwall in 1693, he learned all about the postal system, while helping his grandmother and uncle in the local office.

It was all rather ‘hit and miss’ at the time with no certainty that letters would reach their destination, and much corruption along the way.

Allen improves the postal service

In 1712 Allen became Postmaster of Bath. Here he saw an opportunity to improve the postal system. He created a network of postal roads that didn't have to pass through London.

It's estimated that he saved the Post Office £1,500,000 over a 40-year period. The young Allen became very wealthy and started to look around for another business venture.

Allen invests in stone

Stone had been mined and quarried on the southern slopes of Bath since Roman times. There were a number of individually owned outfits producing the limestone for which Bath was to become famous.

A building boom was under way, and here was Allen’s opportunity. He bought out all the small mines and combined them into a single operation, capable of keeping up with demand and bringing in a fortune.

Always looking for maximum efficiency, Allen installed a railway to run from the mines up on Combe Down in Bath to a large area of sheds. Here the stone was dressed, or prepared, ready for use in the many fine buildings that were being put up at the time.

Railways were a new innovation, only recently invented, and engines didn't yet run on them. The stone would be loaded onto the carriages and sent down the hill by gravity, a brakeman controlling the descent.

The beginnings of Prior Park

The money rolled in and Allen decided to have a mansion built overlooking Bath, both to show off the qualities of the stone and also his wealth and fine taste.

Prior Park commands fine views of the city and beyond. It would have left the observer in no doubt as to the wealth and importance of its inhabitant.