Flying High

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More superlative rococo plasterwork by Robert West, this time in the double cube former ballroom of Castlemartyr, County Cork. The room was added to the existing house in the second half of the 1760s by Richard Boyle, second Earl of Shannon. The house remained in the family until the beginning of the last century and more recently has become a hotel. Anyone in the area should remember that at present this room contains many of the original Boyle portraits which formerly hung here and have now temporarily returned to their former home.

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Made to Last For Ever

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‘It were also to be wished that even our gentlemen would in their country-seats imitate Colonel Newburgh, a great improver in the Co. of Cavan, who as well as several others, does not only use stucco work, instead of wainscot, but has arched his fine dwelling-house, and all his large office-houses, story over story, and even all their roofs in the most beautiful manner without any timber.’
Samuel Madden, Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland, Etc. 1738.
‘This seat, for beauty and magnificence, may vie with any in Ireland. There is an ascent to it by several terraces from the river, which are adorned with ponds, jets d’eau, fruit and flowers. The house is about 140 feet in front – it is made to last for ever – the roofs and all the apartments being vaulted, and curiously finished with stucco work; and yet scarce any house in Ireland has so brisk and lively an aspect – the just mixture of the brick and hewn stone, and the proportion of the parts adding life to one another; the large court and offices also behind it are all vaulted. It is not easy to pass by this fine seat without delaying at it, but to do justice to the house, its various apartments, gardens, vistas, avenues, circular walks, roads and plantations rising to the tops of all the hills around, would require a description that would draw me too far from my present design.’
Rev. William Henry, Upper Lough Erne, 1739.
‘The affairs of Ireland being sometime happily settled, the gentlemen of the country now began to quit their cottages, and build mansion houses, suitable to their estates and fortunes. The arts hitherto unknown in Ireland, architecture in particular, began to receive encouragement; of which no gentleman of private fortune gave juster and more useful specimens than Mr Newburgh. His dwelling house as well as offices being arched throughout, in the upper as well as lower stories are thereby of course, free from the danger and power of fire. The compliment that the late Dean Swift paid to Mr Newburgh on the planning such a singular but useful edifice, was as uncommon, as there is reason to believe it sincere, viz. That it was not only the best, but the only house he had seen in Ireland.’
Particulars relating to the Life and Character of the Late Brockhill Newburgh Esq. ,1761.

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As part of James I’s plantation of Ulster, in 1609 John Taylor of Cambridge received a grant of 1,500 acres in an area of County Cavan called Aghieduff. Here he established the town of Ballyhaise and, according to a mid-19th century report, ‘built a strong Bawn of lime and stone for his own residence, on the site of the present castle, which, from it position, commanded the ford over the river.’ Further English and Scottish settlers were encouraged to move into the area and when Nicholas Pynner undertook his government-commissioned survey of the province’s plantation in 1618-19 he found eighteen such families living at Ballyhaise ‘and everything around the infant colony appeared in the most prosperous condition.’ The disturbances of the 1640s were a setback to the enterprise but by the time of Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1660, Ballyhaise’s settlement was once more progressing. John Taylor had married the daughter and heiress of Henry Brockhill of Allington, Kent and their elder son was duly christened Brockhill Taylor; he served as Member of Parliament for the borough of Cavan in the 1630s. On his death he left no son but two daughters one of whom, Mary inherited the Cavan estate. She married Thomas Newburgh and the couple had several sons, the second of which, Colonel Brockhill Newburgh, was the next owner of Ballyhaise since his elder brother died in 1701 without heirs. During the Williamite Wars, Colonel Newburgh had raised a company of soldiers and participated in several battles in support of what would prove to be the winning side. In 1704 he was appointed High Sheriff of Cavan and served as an M.P. from 1715 to 1727, as well as acting as chairman of the local linen board. However it is for the building projects he undertook on his Ballyhaise estate that Colonel Newburgh is best remembered. In 1703 he and another local landowner rebuilt the bridge here as an eight-arched stone structure, and during the same period he also embarked on a grand scheme to lay out a new town, described after his death as being ‘in the form of a Circus, the houses all arched, with a large circular market house in the center; a building, in the opinion of some good judges, not unworthy the plan of Vitruvius or Palladio; and which (if we may be allowed to compare small things with great) bears no distant resemblance to the Pantheon at Rome, but with this difference, without the opening of the convex roof at the summit, contrived to give light to the latter.’ Unfortunately in 1736 the market house collapsed and had to be rebuilt; in 1837 it was reported to be ‘an arched edifice built of brick and of singular appearance.’ It has since gone and the present market house, with ill-considered uPVC windows, does little to improve what remains of Colonel Newburgh’s once-elegant and innovative programme of urban planning.

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The near-contemporaneous accounts carried above give us an idea of Colonel Newburgh’s ambitious developments of his own house and grounds at Ballyhaise, and the impact these made on visitors to the area. The gardens, it is clear, were an elaborate baroque arrangement of ‘ponds, jets d’eau, fruit and flowers’ spread across a sequence of terraces that descended to the river before the land rose up once more on its far side. As for the house, its architect has long been the subject of speculation. It used to be attributed to Castle, but given that Colonel Newburgh is believed to have been born c.1659 (and died in 1741) and that certain elements of the building, not least the red brick used in its construction, are associated with Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, he now seems more likely to have been responsible. Ballyhaise was probably constructed on the site and incorporated parts of an earlier dwelling dating back a century to around the time of John Taylor’s arrival; one imagines this to have been defensive in character. Colonel Newburgh’s house, on the other hand, projects its owner’s assurance and the more tranquil character of the time.
The core of the building was of two storeys over half-basement, and of seven bays. As already mentioned red brick was used except for the three centre bays which are of limestone with Ionic over Doric pilasters below a full entablature supporting a pediment. The narrow entrance is reached at the top of a flight of steps, a garland of carved flowers fitted beneath the door case’s segmental pediment containing a scallop shell. In 1746 the architect and designer Thomas Wright who was then visiting Ireland as a guest of Lord Limerick (see Do the Wright Thing, July 28th 2014) made a sketch of the front of Ballyhaise as it then was. This can be seen above and indicates the house was the centrepiece of a Palladian scheme extended on either side by quadrants before terminating in pavilion wings. None of this remains today and the interior has likewise undergone changes since first completed when it was vaulted throughout, allegedly as a precaution against fire. What remain largely unaltered are the entrance hall and rooms immediately on either side; one of these, the so-called Peacock Room, contains wall paper from the first half of the 19th century, covered in varnish at some later date but otherwise in good condition. To the rear of the entrance hall is the room which best evokes Colonel Newburgh’s house, a small oval saloon. Its walls covered in plaster panelling beneath a shallow coffered dome, the saloon contains a simple Kilkenny marble chimneypiece and two windows on either side of what surely must once have been an opening onto a balcony at the centre of the projecting bow.

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Ballyhaise remained in the possession of the Newburgh family until around 1800 when it was sold to William Humphreys, a Dublin merchant who had made his fortune in the wood trade. By then the house must have looked very old-fashioned and it was therefore subjected to a complete overhaul. The quadrants and wings were demolished and the main block extended on either side to hold drawing and dining room respectively, both lit by generous tripartite windows. The contrast between these and the original early 18th century windows is only one of a number of incongruities, accentuated on the exterior by the unmistakable difference in tone of brick. Inside rather narrow passages provide access to the main reception rooms which are large and mostly plain although the overdoors carry floral friezes. The main staircase, squeezed into too tight a space, leads to the first floor former bedrooms which are also simple although some, such as that immediately above the oval saloon, retain their Georgian decoration and chimney piece. Mr Humprheys’ heirs enjoyed the advantages of his wealth for barely a century before it ran out and the house was once more sold, this time to the state which in 1905 bought the estate to run as an agricultural college. Ballyhaise has served this purpose every since, a mixed blessing for the place. Inevitably there have been losses, not least to the surrounding parkland where no evidence of Colonel Newburgh’s fantastical gardens survive; of course, these may well have been swept away when the property was modernised by Mr Humphreys. Recent additions to the building stock in the grounds are pedestrian in design, but the old stable blocks remain and have suffered relatively little compromise. And most importantly the house itself survives and has of late benefitted from remedial works, particularly to the roof. Not all is as was when Colonel Newburgh embarked on his improvements but the words of the Rev. William Henry written in 1739 still ring true: Ballyhaise appears to have been ‘made to last for ever.’
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Virtuosic

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Part of the ceiling decoration of 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. As mentioned some weeks ago (see Highly Stylised, January 31st last), work on the house began in 1765, the architect responsible considered to be Robert West who also worked as a stuccadore. It therefore used to be thought that he was responsible for the plasterwork here, but diverse craftsmen are now deemed to have had a hand. Whoever created this convocation of swooping eagles certainly deserves recognition and praise since they are an example of virtuosic skill.

Temps Perdu

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In November 1927 Aileen Sibell Mary Guinness married the Hon Brinsley Sheridan Bushe Plunket and as a wedding present was given by her father Luttrellstown Castle, County Dublin. Situated on the outskirts of the capital, the house stood in the centre of a much-admired park: Hermann, Prince von Pückler-Muskau visited Luttrellstown while in Ireland in 1828 and wrote, ‘The entrance to the demesne is indeed the most delightful of its kind that can be imagined. Scenery, by nature most beautiful, is improved by art to the highest degree of its capability, and, without destroying its free and wild character, a variety and richness of vegetation is produced which enchants the eye…’ By this date Luttrellstown had passed out of the hands of its original owners, the Luttrells the first of whom Sir Geoffrey de Luterel had been granted the estate by King John around 1210. The original castle was built here some two centuries later and descended from one generation to the next until the late 17th century when it passed out of the ownership of Simon Luttrell, a Roman Catholic supporter of James II who, having supported the King, then emigrated to France and was killed while commanding an Irish regiment at the Battle of Lindon in 1693. His younger brother Colonel Henry Luttrell appeared likewise to support the Jacobite cause but during the Siege of Limerick was discovered to be intriguing with the Williamite forces. The new regime permitted him to keep the family estates but his treachery was not forgotten and in 1717 he was shot dead in Dublin while being carried in his sedan chair from a coffee house: despite a reward of £1,000 being offered, his assassin was never discovered. (During the 1798 Rising, his grave was broken open and the skull smashed). Thereafter the Luttrells failed to enjoy public esteem, although Henry’s younger son Simon Luttrell eventually became first Earl of Carhampton. His son Henry, second earl, was a notorious rake who, as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland made so many enemies that a plot to assassinate him was discovered in 1797. In May 1811 the Dublin Post erroneously reported his death and Lord Carhampton demanded a retraction: this was published until the headline ‘Public Disappointment.’ By then, universally reviled, the Luttrells had left the country, selling the Luttrellstown estate in 1800.

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Luttrellstown’s next owner was Luke White of whom Lady Hardwicke, wife of the Viceroy, wrote in 1803, ‘He was the servant of an auctioneer of books (some say he first cried newspapers about the streets). As he rose in his finances, he sold a few pamphlets on his own account…His talent for figures soon made him his master’s clerk, and he afterwards was taken into a lottery office, where his calculations soon procured him a partnership. Good luck attended him in every speculation, and he knew how to profit by it, but with the fairest fame. He continued his trade in books on the great scale, and was equally successful in all the train of money transactions…’ So successful indeed that he could afford to lend the government £1 million during the 1798 Rebellion and then two years later buy Luttrellstown, ‘to the great offence of all the aristocrats in Ireland,’ according to Lady Hardwicke. In an effort to dispel memories of the previous owners, White renamed the estate Woodlands but his great-grandson on inheriting the place in 1888 reverted to the original Luttrellstown. By this date the family had joined the ranks of the aristocracy, Luke White’s son having been created first Lord Annaly in 1863. Famously Queen Victoria twice visited Luttrellstown, passing through in 1844 while en route to the Duke of Leinster at Carton, County Kildare and then drinking tea by a waterfall in the grounds in 1900. In commemoration, the third Lord Annaly erected in the grounds an obelisk made from Wicklow granite. Following his death in 1922 the next generation decided to live in England and so the Luttrellstown estate was offered for sale.

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Always known by his middle name, Arthur Ernest Guinness was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. While his elder and younger brothers Rupert and Walter entered politics, Ernest, who took a degree in engineering at Cambridge, trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at the family business in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. Ten years earlier he had married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell; her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The Guinnesses had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910), in adulthood collectively known as the Golden Guinness Girls. Their Irish names reflect the fact that they spent the greater part of their time in Ireland, even though Ernest had a house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (today the Irish Embassy) as well as an estate house at Holmbury, Surrey. But the family’s main residence was Glenmaroon on the edge of Dublin’s Phoenix Park; from here Ernest would walk to his office at Guinness’ every day. Around the time of his death in 1949, Ernest’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ Glenmaroon’s features including one of the fist indoor swimming pools in Ireland but also – a reflection of Ernest’s mechanical interests – a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. A competitive yachtsman, Ernest was among the first young men of his generation to acquire a motor car, and later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence. He came to own four aeroplanes, and would often fly one of these to his estate at Ashford Castle, County Galway. Under these circumstances and after such an upbringing, it is easy to see why, when his eldest daughter married in 1927, he felt obliged to present her with Luttrellstown Castle.

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Aileen Guinness was related to her husband: his grandmother Anne Guinness had been a sister of her grandfather, the first Earl of Iveagh. (Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, heir to the third Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who would marry the next Guinness sister Maureen in 1930 was thus not only related to his wife but also a cousin of his brother-in-law Brinsley Plunket since the latter’s mother had been a sister of the first Marquess). The groom was always known as Brinny and his older brother Terence Conyngham Plunket, sixth Lord Plunket, as Teddy. The latter was a talented artist – his portrait of Brinny can be seen above – who chronicled his social life through amusing cartoons. In 1922 Teddy had married Dorothé Mabel Lewis, illegitimate daughter of another Irish peer, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry; her mother had been American actress Fannie Ward who appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s racy 1915 silent film The Cheat. Dorothé first married Captain Jack Barnato (a nephew of the mining Randlord Barney Barnato) but he had died of pneumonia within months of the wedding. She and Teddy Plunket were intimate friends of the Duke of York (later George VI) and his wife Elizabeth; the latter was godmother to the couple’s second son Robin in 1925 while the Duke was godfather to their third child Shaun six years later. Both Teddy and Dorothé would be killed in a plane crash in California in February 1938. As a younger son, Brinny had no estate and little money but his wife’s father was able to provide both. Racehorses and cars were Brinny Plunket’s chief interests and as a result, during the early years of her first marriage Aileen came to own a number of thoroughbreds, including Millennium which she regularly led into the winner’s enclosure. One contemporary later recalled bumping into Brinny, who drove a Delage sports car painted in his racing colours of black and gold, and being persuaded to come to dinner at Luttrellstown that night. Once seated at table, ‘my neighbour turned to me, “I understand you are not interested in horses. Then what are you interested in?” – a difficult question to answer in a company whose sole interest was horses.’

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IMG_0868 IMG_0863In the early years of their marriage, Aileen and Brinny Plunket hosted many house parties at Luttrellstown, occasions meticulously chronicled in her photograph albums. Sundry entertainments were laid on for them: a report in the Daily Express in December 1932 noted ‘The Luttrellstown party should be particularly gay. One of the features will be a servants’ ball, to which more than 250 butlers, cooks and housemaids have been bidden.’ Teddy and Dorothé were regulars, as was Aileen’s cousin Arthur Guinness, Viscount Elveden (heir to the second Earl of Iveagh), universally known as ‘Lump': he would be killed in action in 1945 at the age of thirty-two. His sister Honor, who in 1933 would marry Henry ‘Chips’ Channon visited, as did another of Brinny’s brothers Kiwa. Among non-family members who came to stay was the Hon Hamish St Clair-Erskine (briefly Nancy Mitford’s fiance), racing driver Sir Tim Birkin and Major Edward Metcalfe, always called ‘Fruity’, Equerry to the Duke of Windsor (and best man at his wedding to Wallis Simpson in 1937.) One of Aileen’s closest friens was the former lingerie model and chorus girl Sylvia Hawkes, then married to her first husband Anthony Ashley-Cooper, heir to the Earl of Shaftesbury. However, during the early 1930s she began an affair with Douglas Fairbanks Sr, who came to stay at Luttrellstown in November 1933: a report in the Dublin Evening Mail of the actor’s visit to a performance at the Abbey Theatre commented that although widely recognised, ‘there was no attempt to even approach the actor, and he smilingly moved through the crowd to his car, accompanied by his host and hostess…’ The following year he was cited as co-respondent in the Ashley-Coopers’ divorce. (Fairbanks went on to marry Sylvia. Following his death, she married in succession Lord Stanley of Alderley, Clark Gable and the Georgian Prince Dimitri Jorjadze). The Plunkets’ own marriage subsequently began to unravel. After having had three daughters, Neelia (which is Aileen spelt backwards), Doon and Marcia (who died at the age of three) Aileen began to seek alternative amusement to that provided by her husband. Her lovers in the pre-war years included impoverished Austrian playboy Baron Hubert von Pantz, who also had an affair with Coco Chanel (he would later marry Terry McConnell, a rich widow whose former father-in-law had founded Avon cosmetics, and create the ski resort Club Mittersill in New Hampshire). The couple finally divorced in 1940 and Brinny who had joined the RAF was killed in aerial combat over Sudan in November 1941. By this date Aileen had long settled in the United States where she remained until after the Second World War ended. Then she returned to Luttrellstown which in the early 1950s was extensively redecorated by Felix Harbord. But that story must wait for another occasion.

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Regal Sanctity

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A stained glass window in the family chapel at Glenville Park, County Cork. Designed by Stanley Tomlin, the window was commissioned by Colonel Philip Bence-Jones, a convert to Roman Catholicism, after he had bought the estate in 1949: he created the chapel by knocking together three small rooms. This portion of the window features six saints, none of them of humble origin. From left in the upper row can be seen St Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, St Margaret Queen of Scotland and St Edward the Confessor, King of England. Below them, again from left, are St Ferdinand, King of Castile, León and Galicia, St Louis King of France and St Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel.
For more on Glenville Park and the Bence-Jones family, see A Life’s Work in Ireland, November 10th 2014.

 

Highly Stylised

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The point in rococo decoration where representation blurs into abstraction: a detail of the staircase decoration at 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The house was begun in 1765 for Richard Chapel Whaley possibly to designs by Robert West, best known today as a stuccadore although he was also a master builder and merchant. The plasterwork in No.56 was formerly attributed to West but is now believed to have been executed by diverse unidentified craftsmen.