A Skeleton

Born in Dublin in 1798, Richard Turner inherited the family ironworks which he developed to manufacture the glasshouses for which he became renowned: among the best-known examples of his work are the Palm Houses in Kew and Belfast Botanic Gardens, and the Curvilinear Range at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. His earliest commission in this area was for a conservatory at Colebrooke, County Fermanagh, believed to date from 1833. Like a giant skeleton the frame still survives but unfortunately almost all the glass has been lost, and while the present owners of the estate would much like to undertake a restoration, the cost of doing so is too prohibitive.

10 comments on “A Skeleton

  1. This is such a shame. I wonder if all avenues regarding Grant Aids have been pursued?

    • I think the owner has – he came to see us a few years ago – we had been very fortunate to get a substantial grant towards restoration of our Conservatory, but those days have now gone – it is a great shame as these Turner glasshouses are really important

  2. Vincent Delany says:

    This conservatory is important enough to warrant local authority or central government funding for a thorough renovation just like the one beautifully restored at Rokeby Hall, Co. Louth.

  3. Colette Connor says:

    Of course it must be saved. Surely the Minister for Culture and the Arts has a role to play here? No stone left unturned etc…

    • Unfortunately, it is in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, where we have no Government, no Executive and no Ministers – a state of affairs that has lasted for more than 1000 dys

      • Colette Connor says:

        It’s shameful that these heritage matters are not being attended to – perhaps a campaign on radio or television – Nationwide on RTE, or one of the culture programmes in Ulster would highlight the need for funding or Irish Americans who would contribute via something like the Go Fund Me project.

  4. Hibernophile says:

    Of course we all lament the deterioration of such structures, but the point about restoration is that it must be undertaken with a purpose.

    Hibernophile has visited many buildings throughout Ireland, North & South, which received funding from various sources (mostly the EU during the 1990’s).

    All have the faded plaques to prove the source of the grant aid, but many have since began to slip into a state of disrepair once again. I could list countless former Church of Ireland Churches which were converted to the ubiquitous ‘Heritage Centre’ and are now once again unused & dilapidated.
    Many former Market Houses converted to centres for the arts have suffered a similar fate. The Parks of many a great house were gifted over to local authorities, yet many are overgrown and poorly maintained. Of course there are exceptions, but many publicly funded projects are ill conceived on a long term basis.

    At Colebrook, with which I am acquainted, the potential restoration of the conservatory raises further questions, viz: (i) would this need to be considered as part of a larger restoration of the walled garden & offices,(ii) as Colebrook is a private estate what would be the benefit to the local area/community, (iii) what is the long term vision for the estate gardens & park?

    Lord & Lady Brookeborough have done a splendid job rescuing & maintaining the house, and this has enabled them to receive an income from guests and events. But unless they plan to grow peaches and figs in their conservatory, careful consideration must be given to how a restored building may be utilized. (Lord Dunleaths situation is slightly different as I believe the conservatory at Ballywalter Park is connected to the house.)

    Restoring any building just for the sake of it is sheer folly, there must always be a viable use secured for it. That ought to be the raison d’etre for any proposed restoration.

    • This is a well-reasoned and interesting reply. The Conservatory at Ballywalter is indeed attached to the house and we had believed that it was built some time between 1860 & 1870 and connected to the house by the Gentleman’s wing, comprising the Billiard Room & the Gents’ loos. All are faced in Glasgow sandstone and have the same sort of façade. However, last week we came across a drawing by Annie Mulholland, dated 1854/55 which shows the Conservatory as a stand alone separate structure. if it was built as such [rather than it being something on Annie’s wish list], it rather puts the cat amongst the pigeons although it would explain why the section of wall, now enclosed in the later built Smoking Room, is somewhat weathered.

      We restored the Conservatory here in 2008/9, helped by a very considerable grant from the NI Environment & Heritage Agency – those days are now sadly long gone – and by our Maintenance Fund. If we had not acted then, the Conservatory, designed by Sir Charles Lanyon would no longer be standing.

      Returning to Colebrooke, Lord Brookeborough is my cousin, and I like you applaud what he and his wife have done. When they took over the house in I think 1979 or 1980, the task of restoring it seemed insurmountable.

      In their defence, Lord Brookeborough told me that he planned to put this important glasshouse into some form of charitable trust and that it and the Walled Garden could become a place that could be shared with the local community and, in particular, with schoolchildren. Whilst I have not spoken with him recently, it sadly looks as if this plan to gain financial assistance has never come about.

      However, I have fond memories of the glasshouse from the late 1960s when it was least partially in use, being tended to by a character called Tommy Fee. It IS an important structure and I do hope that help will be forthcoming from somewhere to save it.

      • Hibernophile says:

        My Dear Lord Dunleath,

        Thank you for your insight, most interesting. I hope we do not weary The Irish Aesthete by our protracted correspondence!

        It is wonderful to have those memories of the Colebrooke from your childhood, you must cherish them, but as you will be acutely aware the issue facing owners of such estates in the twenty first century is a simple one of human resources. Great houses, parks, pleasure grounds and acres of walled garden all functioned in a well ordered way when there was an army of staff willing to blister their hands.

        I agree about the importance of the Colebrooke conservatory & that it should be restored, though I am always apprehensive when I hear ‘community project’ as such schemes rarely have longevity. Lord & Lady B therefore have a difficult quandary to solve, just what uses are there for a crumbling conservatory in rural Fermanagh?

        As things tend to be cyclical, perhaps, post Brexit (if we live to experience post Brexit), with likely price hikes on imported food & potential shortages, there will once again be a necessity to produce more on home soil. Walled gardens & conservatories would be well placed to meet this need for local communities. ‘Dig for Brexit’?

  5. My apologies – our Conservatory was of course designed by Thomas Turner. He had previously been a pupil of Sir Charles Lanyon.

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