Last Saturday, 27 July 2013, as part of the Festival of Archaeology we took over the National Trust's lovely Prior Park for a day of fun and learning for all ages. There were 8 activities held throughout the park, all focusing on different aspects of archaeology.
Ralph Allen made his fortune reforming the British postal system in the early 1700s and is famous for his transformation of mining in the Bath area. Allen invested in the stone quarries of the Combe Down Stone Mines in the Bath area. Using stone mined in his quarries, Allen built Prior Park for his residence in 1742. His vision for Prior Park was to showcase the beauty of the limestone house overlooking Bath with extensive gardens housing numerous unique buildings. Allen hired renowned architect John Wood, the Elder, to create the plans for the house, and landscape gardener and poet, Alexander Pope to design the gardens.
The Grotto was the first place to explore for the festival; here you could see the reconstructed grotto, built for Mrs Allen, which became her favourite place in the grounds to read and relax. The Grotto was constructed to show off rocks and designs on the ground made from bones and fossils.
Fun fact: The Grotto is the resting place of the family’s beloved dog, ‘Miss Bounce.’
The second stop was the Gothic Temple was built in 1742 in the wilderness part of the park. Here, Allen would provide light refreshments for his friends while they were visiting the park.
Fun fact: In 1921, the Gothic Temple was purchased and moved to Rainbow Wood House, just two miles from Prior Park.
Allen designed the Serpentine Lake to snake through the wilderness part of the park, culminating in a cascading waterfall, which Allen would release for visitor’s delight in the Cabinet before beginning the evening’s festivities. At this third stop, visitors could view before and after photographs of the excavation with a local archaeologist.
Fun fact: The Serpentine Lake was excavated between 2006-2007 by local archaeologist, Marek Lewcun, and his team.
The Summerhouse was reconstructed in 2004 by a volunteer team to its original 1912 design. It was copied from the photograph that was donated. Here, visitors could watch local stonemason, Laurence Tindall carve Bath stone.
For the festival, the staff room was opened to the public to show a short film about the Combe Down Stones Mines excavation and stabilization. There were also objects from the archaeological dig at the mine for visitors to handle.
Fun fact: To save the graffiti in the mines before they were filled in, archaeologists developed techniques that removed the graffiti and then they were mounted on slabs to save them.
Natural Play Area
Down by the lake, visitors were able to be an archaeologist, identifying pottery, clay pipes, coins and look at objects through history.
Fun fact: The lakes surrounding the Palladian Bridge were designed to appear as an optical allusion that made the three lakes look like one from the house.
Allen constructed the Thatched Cottage and Ice House on the park grounds in the mid-eighteenth century. Ice from the Ice House was transported to the house on the railway used by Allen for the mines. Visitors were able to discover how archaeologist surveys the land with Richard Sermon.
Fun fact: The Ice House was used as an ammunition bunker in the Second World War.
The Palladian Bridge was built by Allen, and is only one of four Palladian bridges remaining. Visitors were able to learn about the history of the architecture of the bridges, have a go at a Palladian bridge puzzle, learn about the graffiti on the bridge and how it relates to the graffiti in the Combe Down Stone Mines, and try making their own graffiti in a craft activity.
Fun fact: The Palladian Bridge is on the cover of the death metal band Opeth’s album, Morningrise.
Overall, even with the threat of rain, the Festival of Archaeology proved to be a fun day out for visitors of all ages learning about archaeology. We thank the great Prior Park team for all their help and hospitality. Amy - Leicester University MA placement