Read All About It


One of the most significant restoration projects in Ireland over recent years has involved not a grand country house or an important public building, but a modest retail premises in central Dublin. We retain so little material evidence of our commercial history that it is difficult to imagine the vibrant economic life of the country in former centuries. That is why the restoration of 3-4 Parliament Street deserves applause. The thoroughfare was opened up by the Wide Street Commissioners in 1762 in order to provide a suitably grand approach from Essex Bridge to Dublin Castle. Almost all the houses lining the street have undergone considerable change over the past 250-plus years but this building retains its original appearance both inside and out, having served for much of the intervening period as Read’s Cutlers.



The interior of Read’s has altered little since first being fitted out in the 1760s. The ground floor shop, where once swords, as well as knives and forks were once sold, still contains its original counters, display cases and fitted wall cabinets, while upstairs is laid out as a family residence. Some years ago, the building having lain empty and neglected, this was all at risk of being lost but thankfully Read’s latest owner Clem Kenny appreciated its value and engaged in a through and meticulous restoration, a private initiative for which he deserves universal applause and appreciation. Next Thursday, November 15th, Dublin Civic Trust – which has long engaged in similarly valiant enterprises – is offering a tour of Read’s for which tickets can be booked on eventbrite.ie Rather than spoil the surprise of what lies behind that modest façade, these pictures are intended simply to whet appetites. Anyone who has not yet had an opportunity to see inside Read’s is urged to do so (and thereby also assist the Dublin Civic Trust’s worthy work).

A Tour-de-Force




Robert Rochfort, first Earl of Belvedere is rightly notorious for having imprisoned his wife for over thirty years on the grounds of adultery with one of his brothers: she was only released after his death in 1774. At some date before then, the earl had embarked on building a new residence for himself in Dublin. Located on Great Denmark Street and looking down North Great Georges Street, the incomplete Belvedere House was inherited by the second earl who initially sought to dispose of the property, offering it for sale in 1777. However, either he was unable to find a buyer, or he decided to retain the house, work on which was finished in 1786. Since 1841 it has been owned by the Jesuit Order which runs a secondary school on the site. In plan and composition Belvedere House closely resembles 86 St Stephen’s Green, begun in 1765, the design of which is now attributed to Robert West who, in addition to being a fine stuccodore was also a part-time architect and property developer. When Belvedere House was offered for sale in 1777, interested parties were directed to West, thereby indicating that similarities between this building and 86 St Stephen’s Green were not accidental.




The attribution of Belvedere House’s design to Robert West is of significance because of the building’s remarkable interior decoration. The staircase hall and first-floor reception rooms contain some of Dublin’s most elaborate plasterwork, and divining who was responsible for this tour-de-force has been the subject of much analysis. In 1967 C.P. Curran’s Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the 17th and 18th centuries noted in the collection of drawings left by stuccodore Michael Stapleton several items directly relating to the design of ceilings in Belvedere House. Accordingly, this work was assigned to Stapleton. However, the fact that West was responsible for designing the house complicates matters, and the consensus now appears to be that both he and Stapleton had a hand in the plasterwork. Conor Lucey (in The Stapleton Collection, 2007) suggests that Stapleton may have been apprenticed to, or trained with, West and the fact that he was named the sole executor of the latter’s will in 1790 indicates the two men were close. The source material for the stucco work is diverse, that in the stair hall deriving in part from a plate in Robert Adam’s Works in Architecture, but the first-floor rooms feature a wider range of inspiration, much of it from France and Italy. The main reception room at the front of the building has an oval in the centre of its ceiling, which seemingly held a scene of Venus wounded by Love taken from Francois Boucher’s painting of the same name. However, when the Jesuits assumed responsibility for the house, the saucy nature of the work led to its removal. The adjacent room’s ceiling contains a roundel showing Diana in a chariot drawn by two stags: this was allowed to remain. In recent years a full restoration of these rooms has been undertaken by RKD Architects, allowing us better to appreciate how they must have looked when first completed, a tribute to the remarkable craftsmanship that existed in 18th century Ireland.




Eminent Men


The light may be dim but the subject of this sculpture certainly wasn’t. Visitors to the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin tend to be so engaged with the architecture of the space that they don’t notice the plinths holding busts that line either side of the room. The all-male gathering features classical philosophers, distinguished figures associated with the college and also, rightly, a number of famous Irishmen. This is scientist Robert Boyle, discoverer of Boyle’s Law (which explains how pressure is inversely proportional to volume) as represented by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In 1743 he was commissioned by the college authorities to produce the first 14 busts in the library. Nearby can be seen Dean Swift by Louis-François Roubiliac which dates from c.1748/49 and is the finest item in the collection.

Well Oaked


An oak chimneypiece in the former Director’s Office of the National Library of Ireland, Dublin. It is one of ten designed for the building by architect Thomas Manly Deane in 1890 and carved by Carlo Cambi in Siena, much to the chagrin of Irish craftsmen who believed they should have been given this and similar commissions for the National Museum and National Gallery. The chimneypiece, and its companion on the opposite side of the library’s entrance hall in what was originally the Trustees’ Room, are judged to be the library’s two best, both featuring herms with flowing locks supporting an architrave scattered with birds and gryphons, the whole centred on a smiling putto.

 

 

Well Red


It is now half a century since Castletown, County Kildare opened to the public. Constructed during the 1720s as one of our earliest and still greatest extant country houses, the building might have been lost had it not been for the plucky vision of the Hon Desmond Guinness in purchasing Castletown, and then the sterling work of the Irish Georgian Society in undertaking restoration work so that it could welcome visitors. Since 1994 Castletown has been in state ownership and the Office of Public Works, together with the Castletown Foundation, supports an ongoing programme of further improvements to house and contents.



One of the latest projects undertaken inside Castletown has been the conservation of the Red Drawing Room, part of an enfilade on the northside of the ground floor. The design of this space dates from the second half of the 1760s when much work was being undertaken in the house by Tom and Lady Louisa Conolly but the walls were hung in crimson hand-woven damask probably in the late 1860s/early 1870s. An early decision was made not to replace this much-weathered material but to preserve it in situ, carrying out necessary repairs while leaving evidence of age and wear-and-tear. This work is now complete and the room returned to inspection by visitors who will be able to admire a rehang of pictures and other additions to the decorative scheme, not least new curtains of damask woven to match that on the walls. An essay on the Red Drawing Room’s conservation by Christopher Moore is included in Volume XX of the Irish Georgian Society’s Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies journal which has just been published.

A Fall from Grace


A detail of the ceiling in the former St Paul’s Church, Cork. The building dates from 1723 when on instructions of the corporation a new parish was created in this part of the city. Fitted out with now-lost gallery and box pews, the interior still boasts this ceiling. According to the Journal of Cork Historical And Archaeological Society (Vol. XLVIII, No. 167, 1943) the stuccowork is was believed to have been ‘the work of Italian prisoners taken during the Napoleonic Wars.’ The church remained in use for services until 1949/50 and thereafter served for some time as a factory. More recently, it has been turned into retail premises.

The Surviving Twin


Around 1720 Algernon Coote, sixth Earl of Mountrath agreed to take a lease on a house due to be built at 30 Old Burlington Street, London. Erected over the next few years this property was designed by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington (and also fourth Earl of Cork), together with his protégé the Scottish architect Colen Campbell. In the event, Lord Mountrath never occupied the building, which was demolished in 1935. However, what might be described as its twin can be found in Dublin, at 9 Henrietta Street, which dates from c.1731.
Why this similarity of design between the two houses (especially since images of 30 Old Burlington Street were neither engraved nor published)? The original owner of 9 Henrietta Street was one Thomas Carter, an ambitious politician who would serve as Master of the Rolls in Ireland and Secretary of State for Ireland. Known for his opposition to English government interference in the affairs of Ireland, Carter’s great ally in the Dublin parliament was Henry Boyle, future first Earl of Shannon and a cousin of Lord Burlington (whose Irish affairs he managed). Furthermore in 1719 Carter married Mary Claxton, first cousin of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, to whom the design of 9 Henrietta Street is attributed (in turn, Pearce’s uncle was Thomas Coote of Cootehill, a cousin of Lord Mountrath). It will also be remembered that Pearce was the architect who designed the new parliament building in Dublin. Family connections were as helpful in 18th century Ireland as they are today.





Aside from certain details, 9 Henrietta Street follows the design of the Old Burlington Street house both inside and out. The exterior is of five bays and three storeys over basement, of brick other than rusticated rendering on the ground floor (unlike the London property which was all faced in brick). The entrance is through a doorcase with blocked Ionic columns rising to a pediment centred on a massive keystone. Directly above, as with London, is an arched window, flanked by Ionic pilasters.
Likewise internally the plan differs little from the London house, notably in the entrance hall which is the finest extant on Henrietta Street (so many of the other staircases were pulled out when buildings were converted into tenements). On entering the property, one sees a screen of Corinthian columns (of marbleized timber) to the right of which is the double-height staircase, taking up a quarter of the entire space. Beneath an elaborate wrought-iron balustrade with mahogany handrail, cantilevered Portland stone stairs climb around three walls to reach the first floor. The walls retain their original plasterwork panelling, beneath a compartmentalised and coffered ceiling. Thanks to its scale and quality of finish, this is one of the most dramatic 18th century interiors in Dublin.
9 Henrietta Street’s other important room is to the rear of the ground floor, which, like the entrance/staircase hall has been little altered (although in line with changing fashion the windows here were lowered c.1800). Once more the walls are plaster panelled and the ceiling compartmentalised. The chimneypiece, of painted wood and marble, features a lion’s head with foliate garlands to either side; above is an aedicule with Corinthian pilasters and a gilded eagle occupying the pediment. The main doorcase, leading to the room in front, is likewise pedimented and flanked by Corinthian columns.




Unlike many other houses on Henrietta Street, No.9 had a relatively benign history over the past three centuries, which explains why its appearance has changed so little. Following Thomas Carter’s death in 1763, his two sons lived in the building, after which it was occupied by John, first Viscount O’Neill who was killed by rebel forces during the Battle of Antrim in June 1798. For some four decades in the first half of the 19th century, the house was residence to Arthur Moore, a former member of the Irish parliament (and opponent of the Act of Union), later Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Ireland. Following his death it was used as the Queens Inns Barristers’ Chambers. At the start of the last century the building was acquired by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul who also owned the neighbouring 10 Henrietta Street (see Shedding Light on a Subject, March 20th 2017). It remains in their care to the present time. 9 Henrietta Street was restored some twenty years ago by Paul Arnold Architects and is now used as a resource and education centre for the local community.