Ralph Allen

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Prior Park around 1750, in the foreground Allen's railroad. Engraving by Antony Walker

Ralph Allen (born 1693 in St Columb Major in Cornwall , † June 29, 1764 in Bath ) was a British entrepreneur. Together with Beau Nash and the architect John Wood the Elder , he made a significant contribution to the expansion of Bath into a fashionable health resort in the 18th century.


Ralph Allen was born in St Columb Major, Cornwall in 1693. He came from a humble background; his parents ran a small inn in St Blazey . His grandmother ran the post office in St Columb Major, where he helped out as a teenager. His skill and shrewdness caught a mail overseer, so that he got a job in the post office of Exeter in 1708 and in 1710 became deputy postmaster of Bath. At the age of 19 he became postmaster of Bath in 1712.

At the time, the postal routes were all via London , and this delay and corruption made the postal service slow and unreliable. In 1720 Allen leased the Cross and Bye Posts from the General Post Office and introduced a new system of direct mail connections in England and Wales . This reform of the postal system brought him considerable profits, and he always extended the lease until his death. After successfully reforming the postal system, he bought the Bath Stone quarries, which had previously been operated as a small business, and ran them as a whole. To transport the stone blocks, he built a railroad, with the help of a natural gradient the blocks could be transported from the quarries to Bath and to the loading point on the Avon . The building boom in Bath in the 18th century, when almost all new buildings were built with stones from Allen's quarries, and the distribution of the stones throughout England made Allen one of the richest men in England. In addition to his spacious town house in Bath, he had John Wood build his new country estate, Prior Park , from 1735 to 1748 . The house, built from Bath Stone, is located on the top of a hill and was thus a symbol of the wealth of its builder, visible from afar, but also of the quality of its stones. On another hill south of Bath, he built Sham Castle in 1762 , an artificial ruined castle that is in line of sight to his townhouse.

Sham Castle, a
folly built for Ralph Allen in 1762

Allen was one of the most influential citizens of Bath. In Prior Park he received numerous guests, including his friends Henry Fielding and Alexander Pope and statesmen such as William Pitt . Allen had been elected to Bath City Council as early as 1725, and in 1742 he was Mayor of Bath. He was considered charitable and donated both money and stones as building materials for the construction of the Mineral Water Hospital in Bath, today's Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Disease and for the new construction of St Bartholomew's Hospital in London.


Allen married Miss Earl , an illegitimate daughter of his sponsor George Wade , in 1718 . His wife died in 1722. In his second marriage on March 24, 1737, he married Elizabeth Holder , with whom he had a son, Ralph .

Allen died after a brief illness on June 29, 1764 in Bath.


With the character of the benevolent Squire Allworthy in his novel Tom Jones , Henry Fielding set him a literary monument.


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