Prior Park’s Grotto and Graffiti

The best folly in  Prior Park has not survived the passage of time well. It is the Grotto. See these links to get a glimpse of the Prior Park Grotto. Prior Park Grotto 1, Picture 2,

As I said last week, Ralph Allen owned and designed Prior Park with his friend, the poet, Alexander Pope, and undoubtedly the grotto was developed with Alexander’s influence due to its similarity to the one in Alexander’s property in Twickenham.

The development of Alexander’s own grotto took a lifetime. He gained permission to tunnel beneath the road in Twickenham, having built a Palladian Villa facing the river so that he might develop a garden on the far side. And here he built his best grotto, which was out of sheer fortune blessed by a spring which he describes in a letter in 1725,

‘I have put the last hand to my works…happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru’ the Cavern day and night. …When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.’

It was never finished, because of the eclectic nature of the grotto – he was constantly adding things to it.

It became a mixture of two 18th century gentlemanly pursuits, one to build and design and one to collect precious things.

So much so that Alexander changed the description of his grotto to a museum of mineralogy and mining as he filled it with precious stones from Cornwall, fossils, a stalagmite from Wookey Hole and stone from across the globe, including a section of basalt from the Giant’s Causeway,Ireland.

And as you can see from the links to the pictures of Prior Park’s Grotto above, Ralph Allen’s Grotto mimicked this, with its intact eclectic floor of ammonites, crushed bone and pebbles.

The Grotto at Prior Park was built about 1740 and was Lady Elizabeth Allen’s retreat.

Her beloved dog, a Great Dane named ‘Miss Bounce’, given to her by Alexander Pope in 1739, and named after Alexander’s own Great Dane, is buried beneath the floor. Her epitaph survives;

 ‘Weep not, Tread lightly my grave, Call me Pet.’

Prior Park’s grotto was described in 1836 by a student of the Seminary Prior Park had become;

 ‘the roof and sides of this sweet retreat presented to the eye such a dazzling assemblage shells, fossils, minerals etc as perfectly astonished us,… The floor was almost as beautiful as the roof, being composed of a curious kind of stone perforated and inlaid with pie cones, fragments of bone etc, arranged in tasteful forms and the whole place exhibiting such a profusion of ornament and such a combination of taste and skill as I had never before witnessed.’

 And so to another of my secret fascinations – historic graffiti.

The best graffiti I have seen is in the Tower of London, and dates from the Tudor times of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, when men were locked away for months to years and had numerous hours to carve elaborate graffiti in the tower’s walls.

It inspires my imagination to picture the person seated or standing there carving it, and makes me wonder what their story was – what their history was.

I am sure that Prior Park’s transformation from a family home to a Seminary, and later a Roman Catholic public school, following Ralph Allen’s death in 1764, explains the graffiti at Prior Park, as it crudely defaces the Palladian Bridge.

Yet, despite the fact that it despoils the soft Bath stone façade it is still fascinating to think of the 19th century students, gossiping, laughing and misbehaving as they carved their marks.

Or perhaps they were alone, silent and contemplative as they carved their name to memory, as previously Pope must have once sat in the garden and silently crafted poetry. Images of the graffiti, spanning centuries.

For more information on Alexander Pope’s grotto see;

For information on the restoration of the grotto at Prior Park go to;

Graffiti 8


Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

Is the City of Bath just a folly? From the view at Prior Park it is

Prior Park is positioned on a hill looking down onto the City of Bath. It is the ultimate example of landscape gardening. It was developed by Ralph Allen, an 18th Century entrepreneur. Ralph Allen made his money by establishing the postal service in Great Britain, which enabled him to rise from a mere Postmaster in Bath in 1712 to the owner of the longest Palladian mansion in Britain at the time, by 1752. His beautiful house still stands, perched on the hill, with Bath as the feature of his ornamental garden.

Ralph also invested the money he had made from the postal system into the purchasing of local quarries to supply Bath with its distinctive pale yellow stone; making a further fortune by establishing a railway and clearing the river Avon to Bristol to enable the stone to be transported more widely. Prior Park mansion and its follies, is a showcase for the stone which he quarried and transported.

Ralph Allen was a popular man of his era, with many influential friends and a penchant for the cultured clique, including Alexander Pope who was a close friend and frequent visitor at Prior Park and who helped Ralph design the garden. Also among this group was the author Henry Fielding, the actor David Garrick and William Pitt the elder (a man whom I have recently discovered my husband may be a descendent of – exciting).

Pope’s interest in the art of designing nature was shown in the Epistle IV he addressed to another friend, Lord Burlington;

Consult the genius of the place in all;

That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;

Of helps th’ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,

Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;

Call in the country, catches opening glades,

Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,

Now breaks, or now directs, th’intending lines;

Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.


  There was once a Gothic Temple in the garden, among other follies, but as Ralph Allen had no  heir and the estate was sold off after his death, eventually becoming a school, the garden features were not all preserved. One folly, The Sham Bridge, has recently been restored. I have included a picture of this at the head of a formal lake.

However the most impressive architectural folly in the Garden is the Palladian Bridge stretching across and damming the lower ornamental lakes. It is a focal point for nearly every view and with the City of Bath as its backdrop, if you look down from the house, it would have been a perfect picture to constantly enjoy.

Ralph Allen opened the park to visitors on Thursday afternoon, but as he died in 1764, and Jane Austen was not born until 1775 and she did not come to Bath until the early 1800’s when Prior Park was a Seminary, I cannot say for certain whether she ever walked the Prior Park paths.

More on Prior Park, its Grotto and Graffiti next week.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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