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St Columb Major
|Deceased||29 June 1764
|Resting place||Claverton Churchyard|
|Credit for||Quarrying of Bath Stone|
Ralph Allen (1693 – June 29, 1764) was a philanthropist, postal official and patron of the eighteenth century, intimately linked to the city of Bath. He was baptized in the mansion St Columb Major, in Cornwall, on July 24, 1693.
Ralph Allen’s Biography
Of humble origins, during his adolescence he worked in the Post Office of his county, which allowed him, in 1710, to move to Bath, where he rose to be the postmaster of Bath in 1712, at the age of 19 .
At the age of 27, his situation had prospered enough to allow him to get hold of a government concession to manage the post office in south west England for 7 years. This concession, which seemed to promise great benefits, was ruinous: after seven years, Allen not only was not richer, but was on the verge of bankruptcy. Apparently, the old English post system was highly inefficient, and it involved tremendous maintenance costs that left little benefit. Despite the failure, Allen was not discouraged, and managed to extend his concession while undertaking serious reforms of the British postal system.
Restructuring the postal system
In this sense, it can be said that in those times, in general, the postage of the letters was not paid by the sender, but by the receiver. Allen noticed that the postage of large parcels was not established, and that for them many times the receivers only paid the price of sending a letter: to prevent this, he introduced the sign-in system upon receiving the package, as a way to control that what was sent was conveniently paid. It also restructured the postal routes, preventing them from passing unnecessarily, as they used to be, through London.
The successes of the new system did not wait, and, until the end of his life, thanks to his reputation Allen was made with more and more mail concessions: in that period it is estimated that saved the State 1,500,000 of sterling pounds of the time (around 150 million of the current pounds). His fame grew also thanks to that, in 1715, and as a postal official, he denounced the existence of a Jacobite conspiracy in his native Cornuales: this earned him the valuable and useful patronage of General Wade, who helped him get his first concession .
Allen lived a good part of his life in Bath. Thanks to the fortune that was worked during that one, it became one of the great patrons of the arts in the spa town. He hired the architect John Wood to beautify the city in the Georgian neoclassical style and build a splendid mansion, Prior Park House, outside Bath, while taking ownership of the Combe Down quarries and the Bathampton Down mines, from which the characteristic stone that today can be seen in the old part of Bath would be extracted; the ownership of those quarries would be the source of much of his great fortune.
Public good works
In addition, he began to exercise philanthropy by allocating part of his fortune to the construction of housing for his employees, who were leased at a low price, or even free as part of his job. He also built the Mineral Water Hospital (Mineral Water Hospital, a charity hospital) out of his pocket in 1738. Aside from building social housing, the growing fame of the Bath resort was used by Allen to promote and dedicate himself to building , with designs by John Wood, the houses and mansions of the nobility and the gentry that came to take the waters in the city. The Georgian aspect of Bath, with its characteristic melamine ashlar masonry, is the result of the efforts of Allen, who came to buy a good part of the city to demolish it and reconstruct it according to the neoclassical model.
Allen’s mansion in Bath, built by Wood, had no paragon in his time: Prior Park House, Palladian-style mansion, was on the top of the hill northeast of the city, from which it is still today visible. In that mansion the cream of the English society of the time met. It was also followed by intellectuals of the stature of Alexander Pope, who in 1738 would dedicate to Allen a poem in which, referring to the humble origins of the philanthropist, he went on to praise him for his hospitality and social responsibility. Alexander Pope would also design the gardens of Prior Park, admired for its scenic beauty.
Throughout his life, in fact, Allen exercised charity as if it were a religion, donating very large sums of money to charities. On the other hand, he exercised patronage with many artists and writers of the time: the architect John Wood father and son, the also architect Robert Adam and William Chambers, painters such as young Joshua Reynolds, Pope himself, playwright John Gay, writer Henry Fielding (who relied on Allen to create the character of squire Allworthy in his novel Tom Jones) and his sister also writer Sarah Fielding, Lady Elizabeth Montagu, Charlotte Lennox, architect John Pepys, … were all welcomed by Allen and they received from him patronzago and help.
The respect that was won by the citizens of Bath earned him to be elected member of parliament for the city and mayor of the same in 1742, and since then he never left the municipal function of the city until just before his death at age 72 in the same city, to which he dedicated his life.
More Facts about Ralph Allen
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