ralph allen townhouse

The Ralph Allen Townhouse – what’s the story behind this Bath landmark?

26 June 2019

Any fan of architecture will have a field day when visiting Bath, as it boasts the very finest Georgian and Palladian architecture on virtually every street. 

Many keen visitors make a beeline for a rather hidden yet remarkable landmark – the Ralph Allen Town House, tucked away behind Bath Abbey. But what is the history of this mysterious building that attracts so many visitors, and who was Ralph Allen? 

One of Bath’s most famous residents

Ralph Allen was one of Bath’s most important and influential residents, living in the city until he died in June 1764. He was a philanthropist and entrepreneur, with a reputation for two key achievements – reforming the British postal system and making Bath’s distinctive honey-coloured stone famous throughout the world. 

During his work with the Post Office, he vastly improved the efficiency of mail routes and managed to make millions of pounds of savings over a 40-year-period.

On the back of the wealth and fame from his work in the postal service, Ralph Allen bought the stone quarries surrounding Bath and set to work popularising Bath stone. Working with famous architect John Wood the Elder, who designed many of Bath’s most distinctive landmarks, he used his marketing skills to ensure that Bath stone was used city-wide. Modern-day visitors to the city will see it absolutely everywhere they look. 

The Ralph Allen townhouse on York Street 

The house where Ralph Allen was rumoured to have built, used as a Post Office and later lived in, is now a Grade I Listed Building. It’s quite difficult to find, on the corner of York Street and Church Street. There is a ‘special historical and architectural interest’ plaque on display but it’s easy to miss. 

Tragically, the impressive frontage of the house owned by Ralph Allen, the architect of which is rumoured to be John Wood himself, is hidden away around the back. Peep down the alley next to the Bath Quaker meeting house with its huge columns, and you’ll get a tantalising glimpse of its impressive proportions, beautiful windows, columns and other impressive decorative features. Unfortunately, it’s a private property now, but architecture fans still like to snap a picture of the exterior when touring Bath’s most famous buildings. 

Further exploration – Prior Park 

If you’d like to continue your trail of landmarks associated with Ralph Allen, Prior Park Bath should be the next place on your list to visit. 

Allen had the Palladian mansion built for himself in 1742, the building again made out of that wonderful Bath stone. It sits on a hill overlooking the city, with some of the most impressive and expansive gardens in the region. 

Prior Park is a wonderful day out for all the family, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re heading to Bath soon. You can even stay nearby at a choice of idyllic Bath Holiday Rentals self-catering properties, including the beautiful Church Street House, The Looking Glass House and Crescent Cottage.