Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allen, Ralph

ALLEN, RALPH (1694–1764), famous for his munificence, was the son probably of John Allen, of St. Blazey, Cornwall, and Mary Elliott, of the adjoining parish of St. Austell, who were married on 10 Feb. 1687. His father kept a small inn called the ‘Duke William,’ or the ‘Old Duke,’ at St. Blazey Highway. His grandmother kept the St. Columb post-office, and the boy, whilst staying with her, attracted the notice of the post-office inspector by his shrewdness and neat-handedness. This led to an appointment in the Bath post-office. Here he distinguished himself, and gained the patronage of General Wade by detecting a Jacobite plot. Soon after, he married his first wife, Miss Earl, a natural daughter of General Wade. In 1745 he raised, and equipped at his own expense, a corps of Bath city volunteers, 100 strong. On becoming deputy-postmaster at Bath, Allen's attention was frequently drawn to the great inconveniences of the postal system, a letter from Bath for Worcester, for instance, being sent round by London. Allen devised a system of cross-posts for England and Wales, and farmed them himself. From 16 April 1720, the date on which the new scheme was announced in the ‘London Gazette,’ to 1764, his profits were on an average 12,000l. a year. (Lewins, Her Majesty's Mails, 104–112, ed. 1865), amounting to a total of about half a million of money. Allen also became an employer of labour to a very large extent as proprietor of the Combe Down quarries, near Bath, and invented a very ingenious contrivance for conveying the huge blocks of stone from the quarries down to the canal. He had thus become a man of such importance in the city that he was known as ‘The Man of Bath;’ and, although only once mayor (in 1742), his influence in the town council was so great that it gave rise to a good-humoured caricature portrait of him, long popular in Bath, entitled ‘The one-headed Corporation.’ He now left his old residence, between York Street and Liliput Alley, and built out of his own quarries a solid and magnificent mansion on the Prior Park Estate, Widcombe, some three or four miles from Bath, and near the site of his famous quarries. The building was commenced in 1736, and finished in 1743. His splendid notions as to this structure are said to have utterly confounded his architect, John Wood of Bath; but Allen carried them out, and built a very handsome structure in the Corinthian style. He also erected the picturesque modern-antique structure, known as ‘Sham Castle,’ which stands on the hill to the south-east of Bath. At Prior Park he generally resided (except for about three months annually, which he spent at Weymouth); and here for many years he entertained a continual succession of guests, including members of the royal family and other distinguished visitors to Bath. Allen also had a residence at Bathampton, to which he was fond of retiring occasionally for the sake of seclusion and repose.

Fielding has avowedly drawn his host's portrait in Squire Allworthy in ‘Tom Jones’ (Lawrence, Life of Fielding, 1855, p. 252), and has again referred to him in ‘Joseph Andrews,’ comparing him to the Man of Ross. ‘One Al— Al—; I forget his name.’ Allen is said to have presented the novelist with 200 guineas, in admiration of his genius, before he knew him personally (ib. p. 292). Fielding, moreover, dedicated his ‘Amelia’ to Allen; and, after his death, Allen took charge of his family, provided for their education, and left 100l. a year among them (ib. 370–1).

Pope's acquaintance with Allen dates from 1736. He refers to him in the Epilogue to the ‘Satires of Horace:’

  Let humble Allen, with an awkward shame,
  Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.

The friendship with Pope was interrupted for a while by the poet's attempt to foist Martha Blount upon the Prior Park family, or, according to other accounts, by her demanding Allen's chariot to take her to a Roman catholic chapel at Bath. But the intercourse between the poet and his friend was afterwards resumed; and Pope's letters prove that Allen overwhelmed him with kindnesses. Pope brought Warburton to Prior Park; and one result of this was Warburton's marriage to Gertrude Tucker, Allen's favourite niece, and his appointment, through Pitt's influence, to the bishopric of Gloucester. Sherlock, bishop of Salisbury, was also a visitor to Prior Park; and Hurd, successively bishop of Coventry, Lichfield, and Worcester—the latter commemorating his host by an inscription (now effaced) on a tower in the park: ‘Memoriæ optimi viri, Radulphi Allen, positum. Qui virtutem veram simplicemque colis, venerare hoc saxum.’ Pitt's friendship with Allen appears to have been most intimate. Pitt sat for Bath, and it seems not improbable that he had money transactions with Allen (see a letter, dated 16 Dec. 1760, in the Egerton MSS.). A slight coolness once arose between the friends on account of Pitt's refusing to join Sir John Seabright, his colleague in the representation of Bath, in presenting to the king a memorial of congratulation from the Bath Corporation on the conclusion of the peace of 1763. Pitt objected to the peace being described as ‘adequate,’ and Allen avowed himself entirely responsible for the insertion of the word. That they continued friends is, however, shown by Pitt's writing to Mrs. Allen on her husband's death, ‘I fear not all the example of his virtues will have power to raise up to the world his like again,’ and by Allen's leaving to Pitt, by his will, 1,000l., ‘as the best of friends, as well as the most upright and ablest of ministers that has adorned our country.’ Pope left Allen 150l. by his will, that sum ‘being, to the best of my calculation, the account of what I have received from him, partly for my own, and partly for charitable uses.’ Allen quietly observed, ‘He forgot to add the other 0 to the 150,’ and sent the money to the Bath Hospital. This was an institution in which he took a warm interest, giving all the stone, and 1,000l. besides. A ward of this building is called after him, and a bust portrait is preserved there, as well as another bust and an oil painting at the Guildhall. He also cased the exterior of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London with stone, at his own expense. Allen's known acts of benevolence are too numerous to mention. He gave away more than 1,000l. a year. On his way to London in 1764 he was taken ill at Maidenhead, and returned to Bath to die on 29 June in that year. A mural tablet is erected to his memory in the south aisle of Bathampton Church, a part of the structure which he rebuilt in 1754. His remains were interred in the neighbouring churchyard of Claverton, where there is a pyramid recording his age, the day of his death, and his ‘full hopes of everlasting happiness in another state.’ Ralph Allen was rather above the middle height, of stout build, ‘very grave and well-looking,’ says Derrick, extremely plain in his costume, and remarkably courteous in his behaviour. His character has been drawn in the most glowing terms, not only, as we have seen, by Pitt, but also by Warburton, Hurd, Mrs. Delany, and others, all bearing the strongest testimony to his simplicity, his benevolence, his splendid hospitality, his strong natural abilities, his superior good sense, and his domestic virtues. His second wife was a Miss Elizabeth Holder, by whom he had an only child, Ralph, who became comptroller of the Bye Letter Office, and of whom little further is known; his nephew, Thomas Daniell, was a wealthy merchant of Truro, whose son, Ralph Allen Daniell, was M.P. for West Looe from 1806 to 1813, and built the handsome mansion of Trelissick, which overlooks Falmouth harbour.

[Chatham Correspondence (1838); Thackeray's Life of Lord Chatham; Wood's Essay towards a description of Bath; Derrick's Letters written from Liverpool; Thicknesse's New Bath Guide, 1778; Hurd's Works of Bishop Warburton, vol. i. ed. 1811; Collinson's History of Somerset; Brayley and Britton's Beauties of England and Wales; Egan's Walks through Bath; Lætitia Hawkins's Anecdotes; Polwhele's Biographical Sketches; Bartlett's History of the Parish of St. Blazey; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes; Nichols's Illustrations; Cornhill Magazine, vol. xxvii.; Annual Register, 1763; Gentleman's Magazine, 1764; Kilvert's Remains, and his ‘Ralph Allen and Prior Park;’ Quarterly Review, 1875; Earle's Guide to the Knowledge of Bath; Monkland's Literature of Bath; Tunstall's Rambles about Bath; Wright's Historic Guide to Bath; Rede's Anecdotes and Biography; Autobiography of Mrs. Delany, iii. 608, ed. 1861; Calendar of Home Office Papers, 1760–65; Royal Magazine, vol. ix. 1763; Egerton MSS. British Museum, 1947 and 1955.]

W. H. T.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.5
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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311 ii 16 f.e. Allen, Ralph: for Coventry, Lichfield read Coventry and Lichfield