Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Monday, 1 July 2013
Have I shown you this hidden, Bath architectural gem before? It is Ralph Allen's town house and very few visitors get to see it these days, because it is surrounded by later buildings, when once it stood on it's own, a short walk from the first Assembly Rooms from which he could stagger back at night, too tired to go to his proper house up the hill - Prior Park.
Ralph Allen was a lowly, Cornish post-office assistant with very high ambitions indeed, and made more money from Bath than pretty much anyone in the 18th century. This little town house is the size of a large cottage, despite the apparent grand scale. It was the first house I ever worked on as a fledgling mason, and when we entered it, we found the original bell-pull tassels hanging by the fire-places, and the original crystal chandeliers boxed up in small cupboards nearby. I wonder what happened to them.
Every time there is a bit of a blip in the finances of Britain, the sore subject of second homes crops up again, and elderly, rural ladies bemoan the fact that their villages are being killed-off by owners who only visit their houses for one week of the year. The houses are dark and depressing at night, they say.
Ralph Allen came from the biggest, modern-day second home area in Britain outside Wales - Cornwall - when the Cornish were thought of as renegade outlaws by the London central government, so that was just the first mould he broke, at the age of 24.
I would love a second, or even third home. A little gaff in Berkeley Square or Dean Street in Soho would be first choice, and a modest castle in Argyleshire would do for Christmas breaks as well. We are quite lucky to have our only home here in Bath, though.
An old girlfriend of mine owns an entire village in the Highlands, and the estate includes one huge sea-loch and two castles. How - you may ask - did the family acquire the resources to purchase these thousands of acres of prime deer-stalking country, as well as country houses in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere?
Banking. But don't get me wrong - I do not resent them for it, because they were the old-fashioned sort of bankers who were very polite toward you whilst milking docile, little old you. Not like the latest sort. They must have known what they were doing with other people's money to make so much out of it - also not like the latest sort.