Ralph Allen (1693 - June 29, 1764) was baptised at St Columb Major, Cornwall on July 24, 1693. As a teenager he worked at the Post Office. He moved to Bath in 1710 where he became a post office clerk in Bath, and at the age of 19, in 1712, became the Post Master of Bath, He ran his affairs from a house in Lilliput Alley - later to be renamed North Parade Passage. The entrance to his Post Office is now the door to Demuth's restaurant.
At the age of 27 Allen took control of the Cross and Bye Posts in the South West under a seven year contract to the General Post Office. Although he had no official title, at the end of this period he had not made a profit, only breaking even. But he had the courage to continue, - with breathtaking success.
In the next few years he reformed the postal service. He realised that post boys were delivering packets along their route without the packet being declared and that this was lost profit. He introduced a "signed for system" that prevented the scam. He also improved efficiency by not requiring packets to go via London.
Ralph Allen's reputation grew and he took over more and more of the English Postal system signing contracts every 7 years until he died aged 71. It is estimated that he saved the Post Office £1,500,000 over a 40 year period. He won the patronage of General Wade in 1715, when he disclosed details of a Jacobite uprising in Cornwall.
With the arrival of John Wood in Bath, Allen used the wealth gained from his postal reforms to acquire the stone quarries at Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines. Hitherto, the quarry masons had always hewn stone roughly providing blocks of varying size. The resulting uneven surface is known as "rubble" and buildings of this type, - built during the Stuart period, - are visible throughout the older parts of Bath.
Wood required stone blocks to be cut with crisp clean edges for his distinctive classical facades. Ralph Allen and John Wood had some difficulty persuading the Bath masons to comply with these new practices. Many got the sack and Allen brought in more willing labour from Wood's native Yorkshire. Allen built many cottages for his workers, - but it was not an act of benevolent goodwill for local men as is often thought, - it was a practical solution to house the strangers from Yorkshire who, as black leg labour, were not welcome in Bath.
The distinctive honey coloured "Bath stone" used to build the Georgian city, made Allen a second fortune. He was extremely astute at marketing the qualities of Bath Stone. In 1727 he asked John Wood to remodel his Post House in Lilliput Alley. He removed the 100 year old rubble front and renewed it in crisp faced blocks. He tore off the entire North half of the house rebuilding it with lofty rooms in the fashionable classical style. To balance the roof heights, he added an entire new floor on the South side.
Over the next year or two Allen built what is now known as "The Ralph Allen Town House" to the North of the Post House in Lilliput Alley, but the "Town House" is a conundrum. Although it is highly ornate - and looks like it SHOULD have been the home of somebody very important - it is actually very small with only one room per floor on each of the ground, first and second floors. It's just not grand enough to be the home of a man as important as Allen so it's very unlikely that he actually lived there.
Many attribute the architecture of the Town House to John Wood. Although the exterior details are a fantastic testimonial to the capabilities of Bath Stone, there is no evidence to support the idea that Wood had any hand in its design. The ornate decoration is much more flashy than anything else he built in Bath. Wood was Ralph Allen's close friend and business associate. In his essay on Bath, Wood barely mentions the Town House whilst referring to Mr Allen's house in Lilliput Alley as "a sample for the greatest magnificence".
He had the Palladian mansion Prior Park built for himself (1742) on a hill overlooking the city, "To see all Bath, and for all Bath to see". He gave money and the stone for the building of the Mineral Water Hospital in 1738.
In 1725 he was elected to the town council, and in 1742 was elected Mayor.
Alexander Pope somewhat patronisingly referred to him in a poem of 1738 as "low-born", though later amending the epithet to "humble", treating him as a type of old-fashioned hospitality and social responsibility.
Ralph Allen died at the age of seventy-one and is buried in a pyramid-topped tomb in Claverton churchyard, on the outskirts of Bath.