The Ralph Allen Town House

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: I

List Entry Number: 1395830

Date first listed: 12-Jun-1950

Date of most recent amendment: 22-Dec-2016

Statutory Address: The Ralph Allen Town House, York Street, Bath, BA1 1NL

Map

Ordnance survey map of The Ralph Allen Town House
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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Location

Statutory Address: The Ralph Allen Town House, York Street, Bath, BA1 1NL

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

District: Bath and North East Somerset (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: ST7513964702

Summary

A part of the former town house of Ralph Allen created in 1727, with possibly earlier origins, in a highly decorative Palladian style attributed to John Wood the Elder.

Reasons for Designation

The Ralph Allen Town House, York Street, Bath, formerly part of the early C18 town house of Ralph Allen, in a highly decorative Palladian style attributed to John Wood the Elder, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: as an exceptionally important example of an early C18 building, in a highly decorated Palladian style, with architectural detailing and proportions of exceptional quality; * Historic interest: for its strong historic interest through its nationally important association with Ralph Allen and John Wood the Elder; * Group value: for its strong group value with 1 North Parade Passage (Grade II) and 2 North Parade Passage (Grade II*).

History

The building now referred to as the Ralph Allen Town House formed part of Ralph Allen's town house in North Parade Passage (then known as Lilliput Alley), which included the current 1 North Parade Passage (Grade II) and 2 North Parade Passage (Grade II*). The Ralph Allen Town House is now accessed via 7 York Street.

A building lease for a plot of land occupied by the current 1 and 2 North Parade Passage (John Hall to Thomas Cotterell), dates back to 11 January 1620 (Holland, 2007). In 1718 the Countess of Kingston granted a lease of the Post House on Lilliput Alley, comprising the current 1 and 2 North Parade Passage. Ralph Allen was a subtenant from 1718, but in 1727 the lease was assigned to him.

Ralph Allen (1693-1764) came to Bath in c1710-12, where between 1719 and 1748 he served as its Post Master, running his business from the Post House. With the wealth gained from the successful postal reforms he introduced, he acquired land around Bath and established the famous Bath stone quarries. He frequently commissioned the architect John Wood the Elder (1704-1754).

In 1727 Ralph Allen commissioned John Wood the Elder to alter it. In 1742, Wood states in 'An Essay towards a Description of the City of Bath', that 'Whilst Mr Allen was making the Addition to the North Part of his House in Lilliput Alley, he new fronted and raised the old Building a full Story higher; it consists of a Basement Story sustaining a double Story under the Crowning; and this is surmounted by an Attick, which created a Sixth Rate House, and a sample for the greatest Magnificence that was ever proposed by me for our City Houses'.

There is debate amongst historians as to which part(s) of Ralph Allen's house this refers to, some claiming that it refers to the building comprising 1 and 2 North Parade Passage (Peach, 1893, Holland, 2007) rather than the building now called the Ralph Allen Town House, which has been widely has been attributed to Wood (Mowl and Earnshaw, 1988).

It is uncertain how 1 and 2 North Parade Passage and the Ralph Allen Town House historically related to each other in the early C18, and how the building was used by Ralph Allen at that time. It has been suggested that it was built as 'a prestige project, a business base as well as a home' and was designed as a showcase for a new fashion in architecture (Mowl and Earnshaw, 1988).

A pen and ink drawing of Ralph Allen's town house dated by Christies as C18 (sold at auction by them in 2011), and a very similar later view of 1855 by the artist Henry Venn Lansdown, show it as a large U-shaped mansion surrounding a forecourt, with a central block with projecting bay (the current Ralph Allen Town House) and full height wings to either side (that to the S being the rear elevation of the current 2 North Parade Passage). The accuracy of these views has been questioned. Holland (2007) claims that the N wing on the opposite side was never built: she notes that the land on which it supposedly stood had been granted to Jelly and Fisher for development in 1762. Current stonework at the S corner of the Ralph Allen Town House and to the rear elevation of 2 North Parade Passage does suggest both these buildings were linked at some stage.

Ralph Allen continued to own the building on Lilliput Alley until his death in 1764. By 1766 it was occupied by the sculptor Prince Hoare (1711-1769) and between 1785 and 1790 by the silhouettist Jacob Sponberg.

As suggested by Cotterell's map of Bath of 1852, Ralph Allen's town house had by then been subdivided into three properties: 1 and 2 North Parade Passage and what is now called the Ralph Allen Town House. The three properties are also shown on the 1:500 Ordnance Survey Town Map for Bath published in 1886. There are a number of C19 and early C20 drawings and photographs of the current Ralph Allen Town House.

The building is now accessed via the offices on 7 York Street (listed separately) and can be viewed from the enclosed courtyard accessed from York Street. The Ralph Allen Town House is currently not in use.

Details

A part of the former town house of Ralph Allen created in 1727, possibly with earlier origins, in a highly decorative Palladian style attributed to John Wood the Elder.

MATERIALS: Limestone ashlar with pantile roof.

PLAN: Built as single depth extension, square in plan, behind an elaborate facade.

EXTERIOR: a three storey, three bay opulent frontis, with Classical order of giant Corinthian half columns over rusticated basement. Basement was originally an open loggia to Ralph Allen's garden, but now filled in. Central arched opening with keystone, nine over nine pane sash window with nine over nine with glazing bars. Flanked by narrow flat-headed keyed openings with four over six sashes. First floor conceived as a Serliana but with openings separated by giant columns. A huge central sash window, thirty over twenty-four pane, with radiating fan head, flanked by narrow sashes, six over six, with balustraded aprons. Upper floor has six over six sash flanked by four over four, relief swags on outer aprons. Pediment with oculus surrounded by elaborate wreathing, with balls on blocks at apexes in place of acroteria. Ridge stacks with pots.

INTERIOR: Not inspected. Believed to have been much altered. Contains a large C16 fireplace with a four-centred arch in the basement.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 511238

Legacy System: LBS

Sources

Books and journals
Frost, A (author), Spence, C (author), Mowl, T (editor / author), Obsession. John Wood and the Creation of Bath, (2004)
Holland, E, The Kingston Estate Within the Walled City of Bath, (1992)
Ison, W, The Georgian Buildings of Bath, (1948)
Mowl, T, Earnshaw, B, John Wood Architect of Obsession, (1988)
Peach, R E M, Street Lore of Bath. A Record of Changes in the Highways and Byways of the City, (1893)
Wood, J, An Essay towards a Description of Bath, (1742)
Holland, E, 'The Creation of North Parade Passage' in The Journal of the Survey of Old Bath and its Associates, , Vol. 22, (Oct 2007), 38-44
Websites
Christies website, showing lot 384, March 2011, an C18 pen and ink drawing with colour wash of Ralph Allen's town house, English School, accessed 17/10/2016 from http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/drawings-watercolors/english-school-18th-century-mr-ralph-allens-5410970-details.aspx?intobjectid=5410970&lid=1
Historic views and photographs of Ralph Allen's town house held by Bath and North East Somerset Council, accessed 17/10/2016 from http://www.bathintime.co.uk/search/keywords/Ralp%20Allen's%20Town%20House

End of official listing