In January 1799 Isaac Corry was appointed Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, and five months later, in order to raise money for Britain’s war against France, he introduced a property tax, based on the number of windows in any building, which for obvious reasons made him deeply unpopular throughout the country. Born in Newry in 1753, Corry was the descendant of a Scotsman who had settled in Ireland in the first quarter of the previous century. The family flourished (Rockcorry, County Monaghan derives its name from one of them), not least thanks to their involvement in trade: Isaac Corry’s father was both a merchant and an MP for Newry, his son succeeding him in the latter position. Although called to the bar, Corry does not seem to have practised much as a lawyer, preferring political life although he had limited private means during a period when election campaigns could be expensive affairs and candidates therefore needed to be wealthy. In 1788 he became Clerk of the Irish Ordnance, and the following year a Commissioner of the Revenue before being made a Privy Counsellor in 1795. As the 18th century came to a close, Corry became an ardent supporter of the union with Britain, bringing him into conflict with Henry Grattan who, on one occasion, described him in the House of Commons as ‘a half-bred lawyer, a half-bred statesman, a mock patriot, a swaggering bully and finished coxcomb, a coward, a liar and a rascal.’ The two men subsequently fought a duel, one of a number in which Corry participated during his lifetime and on this occasion he was wounded. It has been claimed that the actual Act of Union was drafted in the drawing room of Corry’s country house, Derrymore, County Armagh.
A substantial thatched cottage orné, Derrymore dates from c.1777. The architect is unknown, although it has been proposed that the landscape designer John Sutherland was responsible, since Sir Charles Coote wrote in 1804 that Sutherland had been responsible for laying out the surrounding demesne; Coote also described the house as ‘the most elegant summer lodge I have ever seen.’ Although of one storey over basement, Derrymore is more substantial than might initially appear to be the case, since it consists of an elongated U, two substantial wings projecting back from the central block, creating a slim courtyard between them. The main entrance is at the top of the courtyard, a fanlit doorcase leading to a hallway on either side of which are domed and curved vestibules that give access to the wings. Directly in front is the drawing room, a plain space notable for its exceptionally large bay window that runs almost the full height of the building flanked by quatrefoils under hood mouldings. The bay is composed of 82 panes of glass and there are further mullioned windows on each of the wings, which ought to have left Corry paying a very substantial tax bill following the introduction of his own legislation in 1799 – except that a clause in the bill allowed for any window, no matter how big, to be considered as just one provided each pane did not exceed 12 inches in width. Nevertheless, financial difficulties eventually obliged him to sell the property some years before his death in 1813. Derrymore then passed through several hands before being donated to the National Trust in 1952. Today the wings are occupied by tenants and the drawing room only intermittently open to visitors.
Robert, Thank you for that post on Derrymore. It’s a fairly unique house and there is little written about its architecture. Hope you’re well. Best wishes Diarmuid
Thank you Robert. Interesting to see the downpipes and plain hoppers, cleverly minimised at the bay.
Taxation on window and glass manufacturing always was punitive in Ireland – the Navigation Acts 1651-1663 killed off most, and even as late as 1814 an Act of George III required every Irish glass maker to employ a clerk to keep a record of all glass made and to declare it on oath monthly to the Collector of Excise. If payment was not made within seven days of month-end there was an automatic fine of £100 and the amount due was doubled.
Window tax commenced and ended at different dates in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tax bands were based on >10, 15 or 20 windows. In England William Pitt tripled the tax in 1797, causing thousands of windows to be bricked or boarded up almost overnight, giving rise to the expression ‘daylight robbery’. There was a thesis/article published some years ago showing that about 50% of new-builds of the era had tax-efficient 9, 14 or 19 windows.
The older houses on the Georgian squares of Fitzwilliam and Mountjoy typically have three bays, while those completed in the first decades of the 19th century are almost all of two bays, supposedly to avoid increased taxation. Another means of circumventing the tax was the tripartite window, made popular by Robert Wyatt, hence its common name. Provided the pillars between the individual windows were less than 12 inches wide, it was taxed as a single window. Derrymore’s large bay window would benefit from this.
The constant dance between governments trying to gain funds and the taxpayer trying to avoid paying. When I found the farm in Glenboy, County Meath, my great grandfather bought about 1892, I used the number of windows in the census to see if it might still be the building they occupied.
[…] thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful […]