Three Lost Beauties

 

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Anyone familiar with the Irish Georgian Society will know that the original organisation of that name was established in 1908 with the specific intention of creating a record of the country’s 18th century domestic architecture. Five volumes were produced over successive years, the first four devoted to Dublin while the last, which appeared in 1913, made an attempt to provide an overview of country houses. Two years later, another work, Georgian Mansions in Ireland, appeared. This book, written by barrister and genealogist Thomas U. Sadleir and architect Page L. Dickinson, both members of the now-dissolved Irish Georgian Society, was intended to correct what they believed to have been a problem with the earlier work: namely that its compilers ‘laboured under a disadvantage, for they had but slight knowledge of the existing material.’ The two authors proposed that whereas the compilers of the Irish Georgian Society volumes were well informed about historic buildings in Dublin, ‘as regards the country districts, their number, their history and their situation were alike unknown.’ For Sadleir and Dickinson, writing almost a century ago, the contrast between historic properties in Dublin and the rest of the country could not have been more stark. The former’s large houses, ‘so far from being, as they once were, the residences of the rich, are too often the dwellings of the poor; at best, hotels, offices or institutions. But the country houses present a delightful contrast. Some, no doubt, have gone through a “Castle Rackrent” stage; but – as anyone who cares to consult the long list in the fifth Georgian volume must admit – the vast majority are still family seats, often enriched with the treasures of former generations of wealthy art-lovers and travelled collectors.’
It is unlikely the authors would have been able to write such words even a decade later, and certainly not today. ‘Irish houses seldom contain valuable china,’ they advised, ‘but good pictures, plate, and eighteenth-century furniture are not uncommon. How delightful it would be to preserve the individual history of these treasures! The silver bowl on which a spinster aunt lent money to some spendthrift owner, and then returned when a more prudent heir inherited; the family pictures, by Reynolds, Romney, Battoni, or that fashionable Irish artist Hugh Hamilton, preserved by that grandmother who removed to London, and lived to be ninety; the Chippendale chairs which had lain forgotten in an attic. Even the estates themselves have often only been preserved by the saving effects of a long minority, the law of entail, or marriage with an English heiress.’
Below are three houses featured in Georgian Mansions in Ireland, with a selection of the pictures included in the book. The line drawings are by the architect Richard Orpen, who had been in partnership with Dickinson before the outbreak of the First World War.
Platten 5Platten 2Platten 1Platten 3Platten Hall, County Meath dated from c. 1700 and was built for Alderman John Graham of Drogheda: Maurice Craig proposed the architect responsible was Sir William Robinson. Built of red brick and with a tripartite nine-bay facade, it was originally three-storied but the uppermost floor was removed in the 19th century. Alderman Graham’s son William Graham married the Hon. Mary Granville, second daughter of George, Lord Lansdown and cousin of the inestimable Mrs Delaney who visited Platten on several occasions during her first marriage (when she was known as Mrs Pendarves). Sadleir and Dickinson quote one of her letters from January 1733, in which she described a ball given in the house: ‘we began at seven;  danced thirty-six dances, with only resting once, supped at twelve, everyone by their partner, at a long table which was handsomely filled with all manner of cold meats, sweetmeats, creams, and jellies. Two or three of the young ladies sang. I was asked for my song, and gave them “Hopp’d She”; that occasioned some mirth. At two we went to dancing again, most of the ladies determined not to leave Plattin till daybreak, they having three miles to go home, so we danced on till we were not able to dance any longer. Sir Thomas Prendergast is an excellent dancer – dances with great spirit, and in very good time. We did not go to bed till past eight; the company staid all that time, but part of the morning was spent in little plays. We met the next morning at twelve (very rakish indeed), went early to bed that night, and were perfectly refreshed on Saturday morning. …’ As for Platten when they knew it, Sadleir and Dickinson comment: ‘Like all early Georgian houses, the main entrance is on a level with the ground; it opens into the imposing hall, which contains a handsome grand staircase in three flights, supported by six Ionic columns, the floor being paved in black and white marble. The walls are panelled, and there are other symptoms of early construction; there is some tasteful decoration, the frieze being very richly carved, and displaying tiny figures, quite Jacobean in treatment. Note, too, the gallery, which we also illustrate, with its handsome balustrading, with ramps at the newels. Below the gallery the panels are in plaster.
Platten once afforded considerable accommodation, but one wing has been allowed to fall into disrepair, as its bricked-up windows show, and the excellent rooms in the basement are no longer utilized…the dining-room, a large apartment panelled in oak, which is to the right as we enter the hall; it has handsome high doors with brass locks, and the wainscot is ornamented with boldly carved fluted pilasters. There is a curious, probably early Georgian, mantel in white and grey marble.’
Platten Hall was demolished in the early 1950s.
Turvey 1Turvey 2Turvey 3Turvey 4
The core of Turvey, County Dublin was built in the 16th century by the lawyer Sir Christopher Barnewell and the property thereafter passed down through various branches of the family across some 400 years. In the late 17th century the property was converted into a house of nine bays and two storeys with a gabled attic: the latter became an attic storey with a parapet and three lunette windows towards the middle of the following century. Turvey had an interesting Baroque entrance door with semi-circular pediment and urns. Inside there was excellent early Georgian panelling and a splendid rococo ceiling in the library.
Sadleir and Dickinson wrote of the building: ‘This mansion, situated in County Dublin, close to the village of Donabate, is probably one of the oldest houses now standing in Ireland. It is a plain building, having, like Platten Hall, suffered in appearance through the removal of its gabled roof. As it stands it is a seventeenth-century house, though part of an earlier structure which occupied the site would appear to have been incorporated. The original plan consisted of a centre block, in which was the entrance, with wings at right-angles to it at either side. But one of these, has been entirely removed, and the rest of the building considerably altered, apparently in the second quarter of the eighteenth century, to which most of the fire-places and nearly all the joinery, including the principal staircase, may be ascribed. There is another staircase, now disused, Jacobean in plan, with twisted balusters and a central well. Here and there are specimens of seventeenth- century panelling, but the panels in the reception-rooms are early Georgian. Formerly the house had three gables in front, but…these gables have had the spaces between them filled in, and the present parapet added. The semicircular windows belong to the same transformation. The size and position of the old gables and windows can be clearly traced in the attics, which are unusually large and really fine rooms, though for some reason never finished. The Georgian roof is carried in a single span over the main roof; it is supported by huge quern post trusses. In front of the house the ground-level has been raised; and, as we have seen in other houses altered at the same period, the hall-door is on what was originally the first floor. There is a secret room, the windows of which have been built up, which was apparently reached from a sliding-panel on the old staircase; but as the opening was blocked when the panelling was removed, there is now no way of access.’
Turvey was demolished, amid some controversy, by property company the Murphy Group in 1987.
Desart 1Desart 2Desart 3Desart 4
Desart Court, County Kilkenny was built c.1733 for John Cuffe, first Lord Desart, its design attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. An example of Irish Palladian architecture, the house rose two storeys over basement and was linked to two-storey wings by niched quadrants. The centre block of seven bays was distinguished by a central feature of four superimposed engaged Doric and Ionic columns and a rusticated doorway beneath a first-floor rusticated niche; the garden front followed a somewhat similar pattern but only had engaged Ionic columns on the first storey. The interiors were notable for elaborate plasterwork ceilings in the entrance hall and drawing room, and for a pair of staircases with carved scroll balustrades.
Sadleir and Dickinson were understandably impressed with Desart Court, noting, ‘The three reception rooms facing south, of which the centre is the drawing-room, all communicate, that to the left being the boudoir. The drawing-room, a wellproportioned and nicely lighted apartment, has an elaborate rococo ceiling displaying much originality of design, and doubtless contemporary with that in the hall. Heads are introduced at intervals as well as masks; the latter an unusual feature, which we also found in the attic story at Florence Court. The colouring is cream, picked out with of the joinery has been renewed, though the window-seats remain. We cannot overlook the beautiful inlaid walnut cabinet of English or Dutch manufacture. The view from this room is particularly extensive. Another fine piece of furniture, but of Irish workmanship, is in the adjoining boudoir, which contains a Georgian mantel in Siena and white marble.
To the right of the hall lies the Library, containing some old-fashioned bookcases enriched with fluted pilasters, while to the left is the dining-room, a lofty, almost square, apartment ; neither retains any Georgian features. Desart Court is singular in its two handsome grand staircases situated at either end of the house, and corresponding in detail. Other houses, such, for instance, as Sopwell Hall, and possibly Cashel Palace, possessed this feature, but in no case in Ireland have we found the handsome carved scroll-work in oak, in lieu of balusters, such as we have here. In each case there is a dado of oak, but the decoration above is in plaster panels of early type. A lofty corridor, lighted by a lantern, gives access to the bedrooms, which, like those at Cashel, have high, narrow doors.’
Desart Court was burnt out by the IRA in February 1923 and its superlative contents all lost. Although the house was subsequently rebuilt under the supervision of Richard Orpen, this was razed to the ground in 1957.

 

 

15 comments on “Three Lost Beauties

  1. wildninja says:

    I never tire of reading your posts. Another excellent piece. Now I’d ready to dance all night!

  2. wildninja says:

    Whoops, “I’m ready,” not “I’d.”

  3. rjmackin says:

    Is there a full inventory anywhere of all the historic houses & properties destroyed during the civil war? I imagine it would be a lengthy one….

    • Thank you for your comment. Actually the list of houses destroyed during the War of Independence and the Civil War is not as long as many people imagine, altho’ many important properties were torched at that time. But far more were lost in subsequent decades as high tax and the dispersal of estates by the Land Commission made these places impossible to sustain.

  4. Mairtin D'Alton says:

    Even within Dublin County Council eyebrows were raised when George Redmond condemned the apparently intact Turvey House. I have heard this from employees who were there at the time, and an inspector who surveyed the property a week before and was well aware of its provenance. The remains currently stand about 900mm high, and, with depressing irony, are now protected under Fingal County Council’s Draft Development Plan. Platten was apparently built on the castle of the D’Arcy’s; ‘Great’ D’Arcy of Platten Hall, believed to be the tallest man in Ireland, carried Lambert Simnel through Dublin after his coronation in Christchurch. Wonderful post, as always.

    • Dear Mairtin,
      Yes indeed, I well remember the entirely unnecessary, gratuitous destruction of Turvey, a great loss to the country’s architectural heritage.
      And yes, also, Platten was built on land previously owned by the d’Arcy famly who, having supported James II, were forced to relinquish it.
      Thank you as always for your interest.

      • Mairtin D'Alton says:

        Dear Robert. Are you aware of any study of the Lords of the Pale, the afore mentioned d’Arcy’s the Flmings of Slane, the Plunketts, Barnwalls, Taafes, etc. The fates of these families would make interesting reading.

  5. Dear Mairtin,
    I am not aware of an overall study of these families, altho’ some of them have been the subject of study, the material often published by local history groups. And of course it is worth remembering that while some of them lost everything during the course of the 17th century, others survived and even managed to remain true to the Roman Catholic faith – one thinks of the Nettervilles, the Prestons (Viscounts Gormanston), the Fingall branch of the Plunketts and so forth. So the fate of the old Lords of the Pale was a mixed one…

  6. Graham Hickey says:

    There is good reason for believing that the rather lacklustre garden elevation of Desart provided the inspiration for the equally lacklustre garden elevation of the bedroom wing of State Apartments at Dublin Castle. Not only are the rusticated base storey, breakfront of semi-engaged Ionic columns and cornice-topped windows shared themes, the very position of the house, addressing terraced gardens, surely provided the impetus to Thomas Eyre/Joseph Jarratt for the similar elevated arrangement at the Castle. Sadly, what Desart makes up for with its austere Palladianism and chaste detailing, is well and truly lost in the Castle with its hamfisted conversion into early neoclassicism. Trying to be all things to all men. It doesn’t wash.

  7. jason says:

    Interesting site as it ties in a bit to my family past but not in a good way ,lol! What I mean by that is my x, x… great (not sure how many great’s, lol) grandfather robert graham was the first born son but was disinherited. )

    I have copies of these little excerpts and a letter….
    (in the the letter – dated sept 24 1860 – a father (william graham) trying to explain to his son (oliver graham) about his branch of grahams being disinherited due to his ‘bad grandfather’ ..i think as the english/wording used is a bit confusing to me..about this one related to this person and that person related to this other person etc etc etc. and hey i am just an idiot!, lol)

    …..anyway all of it about the graham family and a brief reference to the disinheritance (and about someone named gradwell – a steward i think – taking their property instead of them due to the disinheritance) and mentioning ‘platten’ and ‘meath’ as well as other grahams (of course talks about the john graham who did the disinheriting of the son, lol, mentioned above) in the past and their relations to various individuals of importance etc etc

  8. david terry says:

    You do know that Lord Desart (the house was burnt during his lifetime, and he never returned to Ireland) was the grandfather of Iris Origo (yes….the well-known writer who, along with her Italian husband, established La Foce). She spent many of her summers at her grandfather’s estate, and writes of it eloquently (and fondly) in her memoir “Images and Shadows”.

    —–david terry

    • Thank you for getting in touch. Yes indeed, I am very familiar both with the sad saga of Desart Court, having gone through much of the documentation associated with this event, and with Iris Origo’s connections, which I have discussed with her daughter Benedetta.

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