Step back in time in the grotto

The 18th century grotto at Prior Park has needed attention for some time. Whilst much of the original structure has been lost to the centuries, the remains had been under a scaffold intended to be temporary over a decade ago, with a turkey oak growing through the middle.

The 18th century grotto at Prior Park has been in a sad state of repairs for many years, but now, with work in collaboration with the University of Bath and Enlightened Lighting, it's got a new lease of life. 

The grotto dates from the 1740s and was originally a hideaway for Elizabeth, the wife of Ralph Allen, the entrepreneur who landscaped and created Prior Park into the natural masterpiece it is today.

The artificial cave was built as an elaborate feature, on the recommendation of poet Alexander  Pope, a frequent visitor to the Allen home, who himself installed a very opulent grotto at his own home in Twickenham.

Like Pope’s secret hideaway, the grotto at Prior Park consisted of archways built of limestone from Ralph Allen’s mines and was originally encrusted with gems and rare minerals, many from Allen's home in Cornwall.

Within the grotto is also buried Mrs Allen’s puppy, Miss Bounce, a Great Dane given to the couple by Pope in 1739, for whom an epitaph is inscribed on a stone slab in the floor.

The partial structure previously had ivy and a large oak tree growing through the middle, which first had to be removed. After this work, blackout curtains and atmospheric uplighting were installed by the specialists at Enlightened Lighting to highlight the architecture within the remaining structure.

A computerised walk through the garden was created by John Tredinnick at the Univeristy of Bath, and it follows a path through the garden to structures such as the gothic temple, thatched cottage and mysterious pineapple house.

The project was helped with support from The Bath Centre for National Trust, and Panasonic.