Too Large for Modern Rural Life

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During the reign of James I the splendidly named Sir Faithful Fortescue whose family originated in Devon came to this country where prior to his death in 1666 he bought an estate in County Louth. From him descended several branches of the Fortescues, one of which eventually acquired the titles of Viscount and Earl of Clermont. Meanwhile the parcel of land first acquired by Sir Faithful was further supplemented by various successors and came to include an estate called Stephenstown close to the village of Knockbridge. Here sometime around 1785-90, Matthew Fortescue built a new house to mark his marriage to Mary-Anne McClintock whose own Louth-based family had, through her mother (a Foster), already inter-married with the Fortescues.

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Stephenstown is a large, square house of two storeys over raised basement and with five bays to each side. Around 1820, the next generation of Fortescues added single-storey over basement wings to either side but that to the south was subsequently demolished. At some other date seemingly the building’s windows were given Tudor-revival hood mouldings, probably not unlike the make-over given during the same period to nearby Glyde Court (see The Scattering, April 20th 2015). However later again these openings reverted to a classical model, with classical pediments on the ground floor and entablatures on the first, the whole covered in cement render. A single storey porch on the entrance front was the only other alteration. From what remains, it would appear the interior had delicate neo-classical plasterwork, perhaps on the ceilings (none of which survive) and certainly on friezes below the cornice in diverse rooms.

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It is not easy to piece together the history of Stephenstown in the last century. The last direct descendant of the original builder was another Matthew Fortescue who in 1894 married a cousin, Edith Fairlie-Cuninghame. He died twenty years later without a direct heir, after which his widow married an Australian clergyman, the Rev. Henry Pyke who took on the Fortescue surname to become Pyke-Fortescue. Curiously the couple are listed as dying on the same day, 24th September 1936, upon which Stephenstown seemingly passed to another relative, Digby Hamilton. He sold up in the 1970s after which the house stood empty (and the trees in the surrounding parkland were all cut down). When Alistair Rowan and Christine Casey published their volume on the buildings of North Leinster in 1993, they noted that Stephenstown was ‘an elegant house, too large for modern rural life, empty in 1985, and likely to become derelict.’ That likelihood has since become a reality.

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On a Date

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A date stone beneath one of the windows on the façade of the Old Rectory at Glenarm, County Antrim. It carries the year 1838 but the house is believed to be much older than this, a section to the rear likely having been built in the 17th century by a settler in the area, so perhaps the house was originally occupied by a tenant farmer before becoming a residence for the local Church of Ireland clergyman. Another date stone over the main entrance is inscribed with the year 1858, indicating further work was carried out then. The same stone reports the house was restored in 1990 by its present owner, the artist Hector McDonnell.

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Waiting in the Wings

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When it comes to country houses, architectural historians and conservationists often, and understandably, focus their attention on the main property. But it is usually only one part of a larger conglomerate of buildings, all of which interact with each other and are also worthy of study – and preservation. Here are the two stable blocks at Bantry House, County Cork, added to the estate by Richard White, Viscount Berehaven (later second Earl of Bantry) around 1845 and very much intended to be seen as part of the site’s architectural ensemble. Distinguished by their copper-domed cupolas, from sufficient distance the pair appear to serve as free-standing wings to the house between them. While one has found alternative use in recent years, the other sadly awaits attention (and thus for the present is best seen from the aforementioned distance).

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Burnt Out

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Although the Everard family is said to have come to Ireland around 1177, only from the fifteenth century onwards does it come to prominence as effective owner of the town of Fethard, County Tipperary, and of the surrounding territory. In 1578 John Everard entered the Inner Temple and twelve years later was called to the Bar, being appointed justice of the  Court of King’s Bench (Ireland)  in 1602 and subsequently knighted. As evidence of his authority in this part of the country, in 1608 he secured the new charter for Fethard from the English crown, according to the terms of which the town’s Corporation was renewed and enlarged, ‘and was endowed with such liberties and privileges as were needed to draw more people to the town and to increase its trade and commerce.’ The previous year Sir John had surrendered all his property to the English authorities, and then received it back again, evidence of the esteem in which he was held. What makes this notable is that the Everards were, and remained, adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. As a judge he was expected to take the Oath of Allegiance to the crown but, his conscience making this impossible, he resigned the position. Ultimately the Everards’ loyalty to the old religion would lead to tragedy, but first came farce. In 1613 the only Irish Parliament  held during the reign of James I was called, to which Sir Jhn was returned as member of the House of Commons for Tipperary.  He was the Catholic choice for the position of Speaker of the House of Commons, but they were iin a minority, the government’s choice being Sir John Davies, Attorney General for Ireland. When the vote was taken, Sir John Everard installed himself in the Speaker’s chair and refused to move. According to a contemporary source, ‘Sir Thomas Ridgway, Sir Richard Wingfield, Sir Oliver St John and others, brought Sir John Davies to the chair, and lifted him into Sir John Everard’s lap; the Knights perceiving Sir John Everard would not give place to their speaker, they lifted Sir John Everard out of the chair, and some of Sir John Everard’s part holding him by the collar of the gown to keep him in the chair…’ Ultimately this undignified incident ended in Everard’s defeat, not least because Sir John Davies was a much heavier man who literally crushed his opponent by sitting on top of him.

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Despite his embarrassing setback over occupation of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons – after which he was temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London – Sir John Everard continued to flourish, to remain in possession of his lands, and of a judicial pension, and to practice as a Roman Catholic until his death in 1624. He had three sons, the most prominent being the middle child Richard who even while his father was still alive was created a baronet. Like his father Sir Richard remained resolutely Roman Catholic, and as before this brought him into difficulties with the English authorities, especially after the Confederate War began in Ireland in 1641. It seems that initially Sir Richard ‘kept aloof from both parties; but for not joining with them, the “old” Irish took away from him “160 cows, 33 stud mares, and 2,000 sheep.” The tenants on his Estate were subject to similar treatment: the richest of whom with their flocks and goods Sir Richard conveyed to “safe quarters”.’ This account continues, ‘Later on, when the object of the Catholic Confederation was clearly known and defined, Sir Richard readily joined the popular movement, and in 1646 was one of the Confederate Catholics who sat in what might be designated the “Irish Parliament at Kilkenny”.’ Following Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in this country in 1649, Sir Richard was one of the leaders of the opposing Confederate army. He was involved in defending Limerick against the Cromwellian forces but following the city’s surrender was one of those hanged by Henry Ireton.

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Before strife once again overwhelmed Ireland, Sir Richard embarked on building a new residence in the midst of a fertile plain lying between the Galtee Mountains and the small town of Clogheen, County Tipperary. Commonly called Everard’s Castle, this has at its centre a substantial four-bay, three-storey over basement rectangular block with square flanking towers of four storeys (again over basement) at each of the corners. This is the last of a group of such semi-fortified houses, beginning with Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin built for Archbishop Adam Loftus in the late 1580s (see A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013) and taking in others like Kanturk Castle, County Cork (see An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Leamaneagh Castle, County Clare and Portumna Castle, County Galway. However, whereas many of these were castellated, Everard’s Castle is notable for its gables, all twenty six of them: it would also have had seven chimney stacks. It is, therefore, closer to the English model of manor house than the familiar Irish tower house, and suggests Sir Richard was expecting years of peace, not war, to follow. On the other hand, deep corbels above the first-floor windows were intended to carry a defensive wooden gallery, so he must have reckoned with the possibility that his new property would be subject to attack. The front has a low door placed asymmetrically which again suggests certain caution on the part of the original builder. However one of the other sides of the house features a finer and larger cut stone doorcase with hood mould and carved decoration. And there are many two- and three-mullioned windows throughout the structure, which would have made it much lighter and airier than was the norm in this country at the time.

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A stone formerly over the entrance but now elsewhere on the site carries the date 1641, presumably the year in which work on Everard’s Castle was completed. The family was not to enjoy occupation for long. After a couple of years Sir Richard became embroiled in the Confederate Wars and, as has been mentioned, was hanged by Ireton in 1651. The year before, as Cromwell’s army advanced south Lady Everard set the house on fire, rather than allow it fall into enemy hands: it has stood a ruin ever since, and became known as Burncourt (or sometimes Burntcourt). Legend has it the building took seven years to build, was occupied for seven years and took seven days to burn. As for the family, following Sir Richard’s death they forfeited their lands but these were restored to his eldest son Sir Redmond Everard following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. In turn his son, Sir John Everard, was attainted for supporting James II, and although some of the family property was subsequently returned, their baronetcy and presence in this part of Ireland ended with the death of another Sir Redmond Everard around 1740. In 1751 the Fethard territories were sold to wealthy Bordeaux wine merchant Thomas Barton, while the area around Burncourt was acquired by a Dublin lawyer, Cornelius O’Callaghan. His great-grandson, another Cornelius O’Callaghan who was created first Viscount Lismore, was responsible for building another immense castle nearby: Shanbally designed by John Nash. Notoriously this was blown up by the Irish Land Commission in 1960. So while Shanbally is gone, Burncourt remains, thereby providing a partial memory of Tipperary’s architectural heritage.

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A Central Idea Beautifully Phrased

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A few miles off the coast of north Dublin lies Lambay Island, extending to almost 600 acres and at its highest point rising some 416 feet. In 1904 the island was bought for £5,250 by Cecil Baring, later third Lord Revelstoke, a scion of the English banking family. As is well known, some years earlier Baring had created a stir in Anglo-American society by eloping with Maude Lorillard (whose father created Tuxedo Park in upstate New York) then wife of a business partner. Under these circumstances, it is understandable the couple welcomed a retreat on Lambay, although conditions when they first arrived there were primitive. The main accommodation consisted of a small stone blockhouse likely built in the fifteenth century to deter pirates but by the early 1900s occupied by lifestock. Bad storms in the year immediately previous had devastated the surrounding woodland, making the building even more inhospitable. Accordingly in 1905 the Barings commissioned the architect Edwin Lutyens to overhaul and extend the entire site. The original block is constructed from an indigenous blue-green porphyry flecked with feldspar crystals: this was retained for the newer sections but cut limestone used for window and door cases. Lutyens’ additions are wonderfully sensitive, respectful of what was already there, gracefully understated yet still able to make a powerful impression. The old building was extended and a new, larger wing added but set into rising ground so that it does not overwhelm: as though to maintain their separate origins, the two sections are linked internally only by a ground-level passage.

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Lambay’s quay lies on the western side of the island, close to which are a line of cottages and another, larger residence known as the White House, as well as an open air tennis court and, further away, a small chapel. Access to the main house, Lambay Castle is reached after a short walk across a meadow. One then reaches a pair of oak gates set into a stone encircling rampart. There was always some kind of defensive wall here, but Lutyens raised its height to create a battlemented walkway around which one can perambulate. The ramparts also provide shelter against the elements, necessary in such an exposed site, and they have allowed trees and vegetation to flourish within the enclosure more successfully than would probably otherwise have been the case. Within the walls and to the left is a large altar-tomb, again designed by Lutyens and erected by Cecil Baring to the memory of his wife following her early death in 1922. The other side of this section of the enclosed garden is mostly a plantation of trees serving as a further protective belt against high winds. This means that behind the main house there can be spacious lawns and, to the south, a walled kitchen garden.

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East of the old house Lutyens not only added additional accommodation but also a series of service and farm buildings. Lying immediately adjacent to the property, these might be intrusive but their impact has, once more, been softened by clever landscaping. Here the architect worked with his frequent collaborator, garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Together they devised a series of compartmentalised spaces beginning with a courtyard, once more accessed via a pair of oak gates, that leads up to the front of the old building.  A stone path runs through the lawn and is in turn bisected by a narrow water course with small pools at either end. To one side another gateway opens into a further courtyard with views of the extension unobtrusively tucked behind terraced beds and flights of stone steps. So it goes on, with one space gracefully giving way to the next, none especially large, all complementing what has gone before, and what will come after. The planting in each case is slightly different but the entirety conforms to an observation made by Lutyens at the time that, ‘a garden scheme should have a backbone, a central idea beautifully phrased. Every wall, path, stone and flower should have its relationship to the central idea.’ More than a century after its creation, Lambay Island retains the same beautiful phrase, as clear and as welcome as when first uttered.

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The Theory of Evolution

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Increasing study of country houses, here and elsewhere, has led to better understanding of these properties’ decorative histories. Almost without exception the process has been one of consistent change as successive generations adapt buildings for their own specific needs and uses, and reflect differences in taste. There can be no absolutes, nor notions that a particular style of decoration is ‘right’, only a willingness to respond to the present while respecting the past. Above is a view of the dining room in Borris, County Carlow as it was until recently, and below a view of the same room as it is now. A new wall colour and a re-hang of pictures has brought forth another aspect of the space’s character.

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…To New

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As mentioned in the last post, when the Musgraves gave up living in the old tower house and its additions at Tourin, County Waterford, they moved into a new residence on higher ground. Dating from the early 1840s the house’s rendered exterior, its design sometimes attributed to local architect Abraham Denny, is relieved by wonderfully crisp limestone used for window and door cases, quoins, pilasters, cornice and stringcourse . Here is the garden front, centred on a single storey bow.

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