We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Prior Park · 10 September 05

Boyce’s biography of Ralph Allen is titled The Benevolent Man. Allen has had a good press, for a man who made a fortune during the eighteenth century. Perhaps some of that is due to his having been a Friend to Genius and Learning. He used some of that fortune to build a house near Bath, Prior Park. The house itself is nowadays a school for boys, but the National Trust has taken over the gardens and is (slowly) restoring them to their picturesque origins. The grounds cover one side of a steeply sloping hill, facing Bath. One enters near the top of the hill.

The upper slopes of the grounds have not yet been restored. The grotto, modelled on Pope’s at Twickenham (with Pope’s advice) is still in ruins and the Sham Bridge is now some distance from its pool. It was originally adjacent to the pool, so really did appear to be a bridge over it, until one got up close and saw there was no water behind it:


Allen may have been benevolent, but the house is not. It dominates its surroundings, looming over the walker on the path just below it:


The view from the house across to Bath:


All that beautiful Bath stone, and all from Allen’s quarries. In the center of the picture is Camden Crescent, with St. Swithin’s Church below it.

Looking down the hill:


Three lakes. Between the upper lake and the middle lake is a Palladian bridge. It is a really gorgeous piece of architecture. Here it is closer from above:


And from below:


where you can see that the bridge is just as sham as the Sham Bridge. It isn’t built across a stretch of water, but it’s actually the top of a dam which separates the upper and middle lakes. It, too, is built of Bath stone and when it catches the sunlight the effect is magical:


The lower lakes are peaceful. There are many vantage points from which they can be seen. A striking view is from between the columns of the Palladian bridge:


From beside the lower lake, you can look back up the hill, past the bridge to the house:


Bushes weep into the water of the lower lake:


And there’s a pathway behind them:


Ellen mentioned earlier that we fed the ducks


before we went out into a side street down to Widcombe where we came across Horace Vachell’s "Golden House:"


From the narrow street between the Golden House and Widcombe church, Prior Park can be seen nestled on its hilltop:


and looking far more benevolent than from up close.

Posted by: Jim

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  1. Very nice indeed, Jim & Ellen. Wish we had had the sense to try that tour when we last were in Bath. I became preoccupied with the actual Bath waters and the structure itself, which is fascinating. Now that I know more about your huge website, I’ll be looking into it.

    Best wishes,

    Irwin Primer    Sep 10, 6:09pm    #
  2. These are beautiful photos. Thanks for posting them.
    Bob    Sep 11, 10:53am    #
  3. These photos brought back memories of living in Bath till the early 1980s, especially the mention of Camden Crescent. If you look closely you can see that the triangular pediment is NOT in the centre of Camden Crescent. There was a landslide when the crescent was being built so it was never completed.It also has an uneven number of columns under the pediment – not quite right classically – should be an even number.
    Ruth    Sep 11, 1:56pm    #
  4. Lovely .pictures. Thanks
    Kevin Berland    Sep 11, 3:02pm    #

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