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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bath and North East Somerset (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
ST 76219 62887


PRIOR PARK 656-1//67/1283

Prior Park College: the mansion with link arcades (Formerly Listed as: PRIOR PARK Prior Park (now Prior Park College)) 12/06/50


School, formerly large house in grounds, with arcade links, see also Church of St Paul, and East wing (qqv). 1735-1748, architect John Wood the Elder, completed by Richard Jones, for Ralph Allen; portico steps c1834, by HE Goodridge. MATERIALS: Fine Combe Down ashlar, Westmorland slate roof. PLAN: Central block linked by arcades with quadrants to substantial wings (listed separately). Palladian plan, with four main cross walls creating five compartments, and lateral central corridor with principal rooms on either side, at east end chapel occupies full depth through two storeys. EXTERIOR: Two storeys, attic and basement. Entrance front, to south, severely plain, with three groups of five windows, all twelve-pane sash in plain reveals, ground floor to podium band, and with heavily barred sashes to basement in narrow area. Centre slightly stepped with hexastyle portico of giant unfluted Ionic half-columns, with plain pediment, and full entablature with modillion cornice across full width and returned to remaining three fronts. Basement level V-joint rusticated, and parapet has plain panels between dies, but has baluster panels to other fronts. Low pitched hipped roof, completely reconstructed after 1991 fire, has four very narrow but deep chimney stacks to ridge, outer ones deeper than inner, and that to east with central open arch over bell. Balustrade in panels contains basement area, returned to portico, returns at east end to broad pathway to former east entrance. Returned ends each in five bays, with central Palladian window at first floor, all windows are glazed, but some blind, and detailed as to north front including alternating segmental and straight pediments at ground floor. East end glazing bars earlier and thicker than elsewhere, and central pedimented porch with `in-antis' unfluted Ionic columns, former door blocked, but plain fanlight remains above, and at basement level arched doorway. Principal north front, facing garden and landscape view, central deep pedimented hexastyle portico with giant unfluted Corinthian columns, returned double at ends. Three groups of five windows, all twelve-pane sashes, with moulded architraves and bracketed sills, and ground floor with alternate segmental and straight pediments, also with sill balustrades. Central doorway has glazed doors and fanlight in pilaster doorcase with archivolt. Rusticated basement fully exposed on this side, with small square sashes. Attached to portico grand external staircase with wide stone treads and balustraded handrails with piers carrying urns or carved figures, and all taken down to swept flights at bottom level. Attached to each side at basement level arcade of seventeen arches, eighth bay from house brought forward, and with pediment, surmounted by gladiatorial figure, walling heavily V-joint rusticated, rustication taken to returns to deep reveals, and with prominent keystones, with some casements and some sashes. Outer end arcades swept forward in quadrants and stopped to straight bay with blind arch, originally they connected with porte-cocheres, from which access could be had to house. Whole carries balustraded parapet on deep plain blocking course. Bays adjoining mansion each side have raised flat lead roof at parapet level. Rear walls of arcades are severely plain, with square lights, some containing broad stone glazing bars, and others blind, and some doorways. No balustrade this side, but high plain parapets. Areas behind colonnades contained by retaining walls, ramped down at east end, and on west side continued at upper level to contain driveway, part of wall has added concrete glacis to lower third. INTERIOR: Much of Wood's detail had been removed by 1764, but major losses occurred in the 1836 fire. Principal element remaining from Wood's work is chapel, but work in his long cross-gallery also can be seen. Basement fully vaulted in ashlar. Piano nobile has central through hall, with eight large painted Corinthian columns and responds, stone floor, and deep fifteen-compartment ceiling. Each side central doors have rich pilaster cases and friezes with pediments. Former dining room and parlour, flanking north end, have fine plaster drops to wood pilasters, and coved ceilings. Former drawing room has fine paired fluted wooden Composite pilasters, modillion cornice and central plaster rosette. Principal staircase dogleg open-well stair, from Hunstrete House, not accessible at time of inspection. At first floor has central through-room, corresponding with hall below. Fine restored modillion cornice and deep coved ceiling with delicate plasterwork panels in various designs, including musical instruments, and stag's head, in high relief. Central doorcases, flanked by deep plain niches, have fluted Corinthian three-quarter columns with anthemion friezes. In corners are four doorcases with pediments and pulvinated friezes. Room in north-east corner, formerly Bishop Baines' library, also has enriched coved ceiling, central rosette. Long gallery, which formerly ran across central three section of north front, now in three separate rooms, but Wood's original paired stone pilasters are still mainly exposed, or visible at inserted partitions. Chapel, with half-domed apse to south, much as Wood left it, in two storeys, with paired pilasters, Ionic below Corinthian, and including gallery at north end, with central arched opening. Attic floor completely restructured in 1991-1995 restoration. HISTORY: A major Palladian house, derived in inspiration from Colen Campbell¿s first design for Wanstead House, Essex. The thousand foot long front and grandiose portico to each front show Ralph Allen building a major architectural statement, using stone from his own local quarries, having suffered reverses in trying to get Bath stone accepted as a respectable building material: he intended his seat to be a rebuff to critics, and a demonstration of his own achievement, visible from the city below. Wood¿s original scheme for a range of detached blocks was modified during execution on Allen¿s insistence, and his account of the conception behind `Mr Allen¿s great house¿ as given in his `An Essay Towards a Description of Bath¿ is problematic. During Allen¿s lifetime it became a renowned seat, frequently visited by Alexander Pope, who advised on the landscape setting. The house was acquired in 1829 by Dr Baines, Roman Catholic Bishop for the Western District for use as a seminary (in the east wing) and a boys¿ school (in the west). Baines¿s vision for a major Catholic cathedral here was only partly realised. The mansion, used as the Bishop¿s residence and altered by H.E. Goodridge, was severely fire damaged in 1836; during reconstruction substantial elements from the recently demolished Hunstrete House, were incorporated into the interior. The seminary and school closed in 1856, having exhausted their limited means. The Catholic Bishop of Clifton bought back the seat in 1867. The Christian Brothers acquired an interest in 1895 and bought it outright in 1922, transferring the running of the school here to a trust in 1981. Having suffered from bomb damage, it suffered a second major fire in 1991, leading to a major campaign of restoration. The gardens were transferred to the National Trust in 1993. Prior Park is of outstanding importance as an example of Palladian country house architecture; as the residence of Ralph Allen; for its relationship with its dramatic landscape setting; for its sheer scale; and for its 1830s embellishments, showing the revival of English Catholicism. SOURCES: James Shepherd, Reminiscences of Prior Park (1894); Bryan Little, Prior Park. Its History and Description (1975); Ison W: The Georgian Buildings of Bath: London: 1948-: 135-143; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 113; Mowl T and Earnshaw B: John Wood Architect of Obsession: Bath: 1988-: 1OI-118; Clarke G: Prior Park - A Compleat Landscape: Bath: 1987-: 25.

Listing NGR: ST7621962887


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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