Ralph Allen: 1693-1764 Of the three men generally held to have been responsible for the city of Bath’s sensational eighteenth-century development—Ralph Allen, Beau Nash and John Wood the Elder—Allen is arguably the most remarkable. He came to the city in 1710 from Cornwall, as assistant to the postmistress: and, after succeeding her two years later, he became the youngest postmaster in the kingdom, at a salary of £25 per annum. He won the patronage of General Wade in 1715, when he disclosed details of a Jacobite plot in the South West; and with the General’s financial support, he was able to institute a system of ‘cross posts’ that completely revolutionised the inadequate postal system, and made him a personal fortune. In 1726 he bought the stone quarries at Combe Down, and built an ingenious railway to carry the huge blocks down the Bath, where the building renaissance, inspired by the genius of John Wood the Elder, was just beginning. This very astute enterprise earned him another fortune: and in 1735 he commissioned Wood to build Prior Park, a superb Palladian mansion overlooking the Widcombe valley and city. The quarrelsome eccentric, Philip Thicknesse, described the house, perhaps with some justification, as ‘a noble seat which sees all Bath, and which was built, probably for all Bath to see’. Allen was now a very wealthy man, and at Prior Park he entertained many of the famous poets, politicians, artists and men of letters of his time, including Pope, Gainsborough, David Garrick, Henry
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