Prior Park and the American Museum


We finally managed to visit the American Museum this week but I am sorry to say that we were not very impressed.

The American Museum
The American Museum

It is housed in a lovely old house with views over the rolling countryside, it has a good café (using the National Trust cafes as a benchmark) that has very pleasant views and very pleasant gardens to stroll in but the display rooms set out as recreations of various period rooms from American history just can’t cut it when compared to the extraordinary wealth of mansions, palaces, castles and country homes found in Britain.

To be fair it does have a very nice collection of Quilts, that rather quaint and folksy American craft, but not much else to inspire.  Sorry American Museum.

View from the lawn of the American Museum
View from the lawn of the American Museum

Entrance to arboretum
Entrance to arboretum

Washington Garden
Washington Garden

Prior Park on the other hand, is an extremely imposing house built high on the southern valley ridge line overlooking the city where it can clearly be seen from much of the city in the valley.  This was a deliberate act designed to show off the beautiful stone from the owner’s, Ralph Allen’s, own quarry.  The house is now a private school, of which there are more than Bath’s fair share in the locality, but the Prior Park landscape gardens are in the hands of the trusty National Trust which looks after them very well.

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As so often with these mansion houses Prior Park was the result of an individual making a fortune in some form of business.  In this case Ralph Allen had control of the postal service outside of London from which he made his first fortune.  He then bought a stone quarry and built his show house and promptly made a second from selling the stone to the good burghers of Bath to build their Georgian town.  Here we see the use of marketing in the mid-18th century that was just as shrewd as anything we might see today.  He may not have had television to advertise his quarry but he did have the natural topography instead to display his product in full view of its potential market.

Prior Park just visible in the distance from Hedgemeade Park
Prior Park just visible in the distance

The gardens are in the English style and include lakes and a grand Palladian bridge. Owing to the fact that there is no parking at the gardens there are never many visitors at any one time.  As a result it was extremely pleasant to amble around the grounds and enjoy the bucolic scenery.  I have added a new gallery to accompany this post to highlight gardens.  Below is an example of the National Trust’s modern day marketing which uses the idea of an 18th century letter, such as might have been delivered by Ralph Allen’s postal service, as the guide leaflet.

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