Getting to the Bottom of It

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A limestone chimney piece and plaster overmantel located in the basement of Strokestown Park, County Roscommon. As now constituted, the house is mostly the work of Richard Castle in the 18th century and John Lynn in the 19th. We do know however, that an earlier building existed on the site, dating from the late 1700s. The survival of this chimneypiece, and indeed entire room, at the bottom of the present main block suggest that it was originally one of the main reception rooms. Thus when Strokestown was initially aggrandised, probably in the 1730s, additional storeys were added and what had been the ground floor became a basement.

After the Horses Have Bolted

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So much attention is paid to country houses, their owners, contents and staff that the importance of auxiliary buildings on an estate can be overlooked. One thinks, for example, of a television series like the ubiquitous Downton Abbey in which all scenes are filmed either within or in close proximity to the main house. Scarcely any notice is paid to the people and properties required to sustain this seemingly contained world. Yet a country house required a vast range of services, and premises in which these could take place, if it were to operate satisfactorily. In this way, the place would resemble a self-sustaining village – and require just as much working space.
Even if we insufficiently appreciate an estate’s outlying buildings today, this was certainly not the case in previous centuries, as can be testified by how well designed and constructed are the majority of farm and stable blocks. Indeed frequently when the main house has fallen down, supposedly secondary complexes remain standing. This is not surprising given their primary purpose was functional rather than decorative. Nevertheless, because these structures were substantial and potentially visible in the landscape, an architect was commonly commissioned for their design. And just as much care had to be taken over their layout as was the case with the main house: an ill-considered scheme could hinder the smooth running of an estate. Externally and internally all had to be fit for purpose. Of course, the problem now for many owners of such properties is finding what that purpose might be. What is to be done after the horses have, so to speak, bolted?

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In 1762 James Fitzgerald, first Duke of Leinster wrote to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, then living on the outskirts of London, offering him £1,000 to cross the Irish Sea and create a picturesque garden at Carton, County Kildare. The invitation was declined, Brown allegedly replying ‘he had not yet finished England.’ It should not be imagined, however,  that as a result of his refusal to make the journey this country missed the opportunity for its parklands to undergo what a contemporary admirer called ‘Brownifications.’ The links between Brown’s English patrons and Ireland were plentiful: one of his earliest supporters, the sixth Earl of Coventry for whom he worked at Croome Court, Worcestershire from 1751 onwards, was married to the beautiful Maria Gunning from County Roscommon. Twenty years after he had started in the gardens of Stowe, Buckinghamshire in 1741 on an annual salary of £25, Brown’s gross income was £6,000 a year, allowing him to send his sons to Eton and later to underwrite the cost of one of them becoming an MP. And he was besieged by requests for his services, hence the inability ever to cross the Irish Sea. Landowners sought Brown not just for the redesign of their parks, but also of their buildings: beginning with Croome he was the architect of several country houses in England. But even more, in his capacity as a landscape designer he frequently produced drawings for the offices and yards which were needed to sustain an estate. And so, although he never saw it in person, one example of such an endeavour can be found in Ireland: the stables at Slane Castle, County Meath.

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The lands on which Slane Castle stands have belonged to the same family since 1701 when they were bought by General Henry Conyngham, veteran in the service of William III at the Battle of the Boyne eleven years earlier. Soon afterwards General Conyngham built himself a residence, Conyngham Hall, on the foundations of an older castle formerly belonging to the Flemings. It was his grandson, another Henry Conyngham who, although largely absent from his Irish estates, around 1770 invited Capability Brown to produce a design both for the landscaping of the parkland at Slane, and also for a new stable block. In the collection of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin a drawing survives of Brown’s proposal for the latter. It is not unlike the finished building, but more elaborate than what we see today. For estate buildings Brown often liked to use the Gothick mode which he would likely have first seen at Stowe where James Gibbs’ Gothic Temple was begun around the time he started to work there. So at Slane he proposed, for example, quatrefoil windows above the arched openings on either side of the entrance, a line of gothic corbels beneath the breakfront cornice, and finials on top of the two extreme and centre castellations, not unlike those he designed a decade earlier for the Bath House at Corsham Court, Wiltshire. Minus those additional decorative elements and built of local limestone, the eventual stable block facade is a simplified version of Brown’s proposal but still clearly reflects his engagement with Gothick. Meanwhile the yard behind, for which an unattributed design also exists in the IAA is scrupulously utilitarian both externally and internally, but at the same time highly attractive.

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At some date after he had commissioned the stables at Slane, Henry Conyngham asked Brown to come up with a design for the house in order to make it likewise more gothic in spirit. Perhaps this happened around the time he was created Earl of Mount Charles in January 1781, but unfortunately he died two months later (as did Brown two years after) and while a number of drawings exist (also in the IAA’s collection), the proposal was not executed. Conyngham’s nephew and heir, Francis Burton, second Baron Conyngham, subsequently invited James Wyatt to design the exterior of Slane Castle as it is today, and in turn his son (the first Marquess Conyngham) employed Francis Johnston to design the main rooms. Thus the only completed example of Capability Brown’s architectural practice at Slane, and indeed in Ireland, is the stable block. Unfortunately, like many such complexes on estates throughout the country, over the past century this one became increasingly redundant and began falling into disrepair. The good news is that the stables at Slane are about to find a new use: housing a whiskey distillery and visitors’ centre. Restoration work has already begun and the premises are expected to open by 2016. As his nickname suggests, Capability Brown would be delighted to see that a range of buildings he designed to serve one practical purpose have found another, and will thus continue to help keep an estate functioning successfully.

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Spot the Difference

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A mural above the drawing room chimney piece of Mount Ievers Court, County Clare showing the house and its surrounding parkland. Mount Ievers was built between 1733 and 1737 for Henry Ievers to the design of John Rothery who seems to have been a local architect and who died before the building’s completion. Depicting the north facade of the house, the mural is usually considered to have been painted not long after work finished and to be an accurate record of Mount Ievers. Yet a quick look at images of the building then and now shows one crucial difference. In the picture, the entrance is shown as accessed via a horseshoe staircase, whereas today, as can be seen below,  a double-flight of stone steps runs directly up to the door. So did the painting show what was intended but not executed, or what was constructed but subsequently altered?
(For more on Mount Ievers, see A Place of Magic, December 16th 2013).

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Quays to the City

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Camden Quay in Cork derives its name from John Pratt, second Earl Camden who, following his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795, visited the city in August of that year. Around 1885 a large commercial premises was erected on the corner of the quay and Pine Street. This takes the form of a Ruskinian-Venetian palazzo with a double-height arcade incorporating the first floor and then a continuous arcade on the second. Four arched windows feature elaborate cast-iron balconies with an Hibernian note introduced by the inclusion of a shamrock motif. After serving diverse purposes, for the past five years the building has served as an independent arts centre. Given its prominent location overlooking the Lee, it is a pity the façade has not been better maintained.

Let’s Talk of Graves, of Worms and Epitaphs

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‘Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.’
From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard (1750)

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‘…Now, fond Man!
Behold thy pictur’d Life: pass some few Years,
Thy flow’ring SPRING, thy short-liv’d SUMMER’s Strength,
Thy sober AUTUMN, fading into Age,
And pale, concluding, WINTER shuts thy Scene,
And shrouds Thee in the Grave — where now, are fled
Those Dreams of Greatness? those unsolid
Hopes Of Happiness? those Longings after Fame?
Those restless Cares? those busy, bustling Days?
Those Nights of secret Guilt? those veering Thoughts,
Flutt’ring ‘twixt Good, and Ill, that shar’d thy Life?
All, now, are vanish’d! Vertue, sole, survives,
Immortal, Mankind’s never-failing Friend,
His Guide to Happiness on high…’
From James Thomson’s The Seasons, first part Winter (1726)

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‘Those Graves, with bending Osier bound,
That nameless heave the crumbled Ground,
Quick to the glancing Thought disclose
Where Toil and Poverty repose.
The flat smooth Stones that bear a Name,
The Chissels slender help to Fame,
(Which e’er our Sett of Friends decay
Their frequent Steps may wear away.)
A middle Race of Mortals own,
Men, half ambitious, all unknown.
The Marble Tombs that rise on high,
Whose Dead in vaulted Arches lye,
Whose Pillars swell with sculptur’d Stones,
Arms, Angels, Epitaphs and Bones,
These (all the poor Remains of State)
Adorn the Rich, or praise the Great;
Who while on Earth in Fame they live,
Are sensless of the Fame they give. ‘
From the Rev. Thomas Parnell’s A Night-Piece on Death (1722)

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‘Dull Grave! Thou spoil’st the dance of youthful blood,
Strik’st out the dimple from the cheek of mirth,
And every smirking feature from the face;
Branding our laughter with the name of madness.
Where are the jesters now? The men of health
Complexionally pleasant? Where the droll,
Whose every look and gesture was a joke
To clapping theatres and shouting crowds,
And made even thick-lipp’d musing Melancholy
To gather up her face into a smile
Before she was aware? Ah! sullen now,
And dumb as the green turf that covers them.’
From Robert Blair’s The Grave (1743)

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All the pictures shown here were taken in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Kilkenny. Located to the immediate west of High Street, it was already sufficiently well established by 1205 for Hugh de Rous, Bishop of Ossory to convene an ecclesiastical court on the premises. The church was substantially rebuilt in 1739 and much of its present form dates from that period. It was deconsecrated in the 1950s and has since been used for various uses; there are now plans for its restoration and conversion into a civic museum.
The establishment of a graveyard here seems to be contemporaneous with the church, and it was always a burial place for the rich mercantile families of Kilkenny such as the Rothes and Shees. Within its original boundaries are probably the finest single collection of Renaissance-style and later tombs in Ireland, including a number of arcaded altar monuments, a reflection of the affluence of the citizens who commissioned them.

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Fire and Water

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The facade of 3 Henrietta Street, Dublin. Of four bays and four storeys over basement, the house dates from c.1754 when Owen Wynne of Hazelwood, County Sligo married the Hon Anne Maxwell, daughter of John, first Lord Farnham who occupied the building next door. (For more information on Hazelwood, see Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata*, February 25th 2013). Like many other properties along the street, in the late 19th century No. 3 was divided into tenements and has yet to recover from this fate; in more recent times, it has suffered from water ingress and subsequent timber decay. Its circumstances were not helped by a recent fire immediately outside the property: while the relevant services were able to train their hoses to a certain height, they did not reach the upper section, hence the evidence of smoke damage on already highly vulnerable brickwork.

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Unmissable

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Travelling along a minor road in County Kilkenny, one suddenly sees what looks like the ruins of an immense castle on the horizon. Only when in the immediate vicinity does it become apparent that this is, in fact, an industrial building the original purpose of which has been disguised. Erected on the banks of the river Barrow primarily of limestone with a cut-granite battlemented parapet, the early 19th century six-storey flour mill at Barraghcore dates testifies to the prosperity of this part of the country during that period. Subsequently becoming a malthouse, it continued in operation until the early 1970s when the roof was removed to avoid payment of rates. So sturdily was it built that even after more than forty years in this condition the mill remains standing, but cracks are beginning to appear especially arond the corner turret and its future could yet be in jeopardy.

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