When writing of Waterford architect John Roberts here on Monday, notice was made that his death occurred in 1796 when, at the age of 84, he fell asleep in the city’s unfinished Roman Catholic cathedral – which he had designed – and caught a chill. Four years earlier, Waterford Corporation had been presented with a petition from members of that faith requesting that a plot of land be provided so that a suitable place of worship might be built, more than three and a half decades before all Penal legislation was reformed. The site given was that already occupied by a Catholic chapel, but the new cathedral occupied much more space than had its predecessor. As mentioned, Roberts was the architect responsible, as he had been 20 years before for the Church of Ireland’s new cathedral in the same city. The two buildings share certain characteristics, borrowed from James Gibbs, such as the great line of Corinthian columns running down the nave. Also like Christ Church, it has been subject to alterations (not least the addition of a new facade in the late 19th century) and no longer looks exactly as Roberts intended, but these two cathedrals are unique in having been designed by the same architect, the father of two siblings whose common characteristics cannot be denied.
Category Archives: Waterford
The Finest 18th century Ecclesiastical Building in Ireland
‘The new church in this city is a very beautiful one, the body of it is in the same stile exactly as that of Belfast already described; the total length 170 feet, the breadth 58. The length of’the body of the church 92, the height 40, breadth between the pillars 26. The isle (which I do not remember at Belfast) is 58 by 45.
A room on one side the steeple space for the bishop’s court, 24 by 18; on the other side a room of the same size for the vestry, and 28 feet square left for a steeple when their funds will permit. The whole is light and beautiful, it was built by subscription and there is a fine organ bespoke at London.’
Description of Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford from Arthur Young’s A Tour in Ireland, 1776-1779.
There has been a Christian place of worship on the site of Christ Church Cathedral since the 11th century and famously in 1170 this was the venue for the marriage of Strongbow (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke) and Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough. In 1210, the original building was replaced by a new cathedral which survived until the 18th century when the city’s corporation expressed a desire to erect a modern structure. However, the bishop of the time, Richard Chevenix, was reluctant to allow the old cathedral’s destruction so, according to local legend, it was arranged that one morning, as he walked past the building, a quantity of rubble and dust would be dropped from the roof onto his path, thereby encouraging him to agree with the corporation’s proposal. The first plans for a new cathedral were drawn up in 1739 by William Halfpenny (to whom the design of the original hunting lodge at Castlecor, County Longford is also attributed, see: A Worthy Recipient « The Irish Aesthete) but these were not carried out. In 1773 Dublin architect Thornas Ivory was asked to report on the condition of the cathedral and recommended that it be rebuilt. Nevertheless, he did not get the commission, this going instead to a local man, John Roberts.
John Roberts was born in Waterford in either 1712 or 1714, son of architect and builder Thomas Roberts whose own father, also called Thomas and described as ‘a Welshman of property and beauty’ had settled in the city in 1680. It is believed that as a young man, John Roberts spent some time in London, although nothing is known of what he did there and to whom, if anyone, he was apprenticed. Returning to Waterford around 1744, he fell in love, and eloped, with Mary Susannagh Sautelle, daughter of a well-to-do Huguenot family who did not approve of the relationship; as a result, she was disinherited and the couple’s first couple of years were difficult (they were, on the other hand, very happy together and went on to have 22 children, of which eight survived to adulthood). In 1746 the aforementioned Bishop Richard Chenevix, who knew both the Roberts and Sautelle families, gave the young architect his first great opportunity, inviting him to complete the episcopal palace, originally designed by Richard Castle but left unfinished at the time of the latter’s death. Thereafter, other commissions followed, although not all of them can be confirmed. Among those outside Waterford city which have been attributed to Roberts are the great forecourt at Curraghmore (see Now Available « The Irish Aesthete) and Cappoquin (see Risen from the Ashes « The Irish Aesthete), both in County Waterford, as well as Tyrone House, County Galway (see A High House on High Ground « The Irish Aesthete) and Moore Hall, County Mayo (see When Moore is Less « The Irish Aesthete). Within and in the immediate vicinity of Waterford city, Roberts – who took a long lease on the old bishop’s palace beside the cathedral – designed several other buildings such as the Assembly Rooms and Playhouse (1783), a new Leper Hospital (1785, now an apartment complex), Newtown House (1786, now Newtown School) and a private residence for William Morris (1795, today the Chamber of Commerce). Famously, 20 years after designing Christ Church, in 1793 he was commissioned to design a second cathedral in Waterford: dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, this was the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in Ireland since the Reformation. The commission also proved to be the death of Roberts. Accustomed to rising daily at 6am, one morning he mistakenly got up at three and, going to inspect work at the cathedral, he found the place empty: sitting down, he fell asleep and as a result caught a serious chill that resulted in his demise in May 1796 at the age of 84. Popularly known as ‘Honest John Roberts’, it was later written that ‘to all in his employment he was especially kind and thoughtful, He was in the habit of paying half the wages to the wives on Saturday rnorn:ing, that they might purchase to advantage at the early market and he always gave to each the exact money and thus to some extent prevented a visit to the publichouse for change.’ He was also the founder of a remarkable dynasty, two of his sons being the artists Thomas Roberts and Thomas Sautelle Roberts, a grandson being Abraham Roberts, a general in the East India Company, and the latter’s son being Field Marshall Frederick Roberts, first Earl Roberts.
On January 17th 1774 the committee of Christ Church Cathedral met to consider the best method of either taking down and reconstructing or repairing the building. The members agreed that ‘the plain plan omitting the rustik work laid before the committee by Mr. John Roberts for re-building the cathedral appears to be the most eligible of any as yet produced to us. Estimate 23,704- 5s-6d. The old steeple to be taken down and the bells placed in the French church.’ (Evidently Roberts’ original design suggested a degree of rustication on the exterior of the cathedral, its exclusion being most likely on the grounds of cost). Work soon began and most of it was completed by 1779 at a cost of £5,397, somewhat higher than the original estimate, and even as late as 1783 subscriptions were still being raised for the steeple. Built using as much stone as was possible from its demolished predecessor, the new Christ Church’s design is much indebted to the churches of James Gibbs which Roberts would have seen during his time in London as a young man. Here, for example, as in the case of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the limestone spire rises at the west end of the building, directly behind the portico, graduating from a square base in three stages up to the octagonal steeple; much of the detailing here is indebted to Gibbs’s spire for St Mary le Strand. Unlike the portico of St Martin-in-the-Fields with its six great Corinthian columns, that of Christ Church has just four of the Doric order, thereby making less of an impact than might otherwise be the case, but the side elevations and arrangement of windows clearly borrows from the London church. So too does the interior, even after being considerably re-ordered in the late 19th century. Entering through the west end portico, the visitor first steps into an open ante-chapel, separated from the main body of the cathedral by a screen supporting the organ; in this space, some funerary monuments salvaged from the old cathedral were installed (including a rather fine one to the brothers Nicholas and John FitzGerald by John van Nost). Beyond the screen, the nave, 80 feet long, is separated from the aisles by a splendid line of Corinthian columns supporting the barrel-vaulted ceiling. The checkerboard floor of white marble and black limestone is original, as is the reredos at the east end with its pedestalled Corinthian columns and pilasters on either side of a centre panel with sunburst. The reredos was once topped by a line of urns, but these have since gone, along with other elements of Roberts’s scheme. We know how the interior once looked thanks to a print published in 1806. This shows that the nave was lined on either side by galleries resting on rusticated pedestals supporting the Corinthian columns; at ground level, there were the customary box pews. The ceiling decoration was somewhat different to that seen today, owing to a fire in October 1815, ‘occasioned by the neglect of some persons who were employed to attend a stove placed in the organ loft, for the purpose of airing it.’ Not only were the organ and surrounding woodwork destroyed but the ceiling so badly damaged that it had to be redecorated, but the result is unquestionably splendid. In 1889-91, the architect Thomas Drew carried out extensive alterations to the interior, including the galleries’ removal, new choir fittings, pulpit, lectern, the addition of architraves & mullions to windows, and the closing up of lower windows (the absence of galleries rendering these redundant). In addition, the rusticated column pedestals were taken away and replaced with others of red Cork marble and carved Caen stone. So this is what we see today: a somewhat bastardised version of John Roberts’s design but still one beautiful enough to merit Mark Girouard’s 1992 description of Christ Church Cathedral as ‘the finest 18th century ecclesiastical building in Ireland.’
A Right Pair
The village of Villierstown, County Waterford was established in the 1740s by John Villiers, first Earl Grandison who wished to have a settlement for weavers and other personnel working in the linen industry he was then establishing in the area. The industry has long-since gone, but two monuments still stand in the centre of the village recalling later members of the family. In front of the church (constructed by Lord Grandison in 1748) is a High Cross erected by Henry Villiers-Stuart in memory of his parents, Henry, Baron Stuart de Decies and his Austrian-born wife Pauline. Due to doubts over the validity of their marriage, following Lord Stuart de Decies’ death in 1874 the title was not inherited by the next generation. To the immediate west is a second monument, this one a public fountain in rock-faced limestone ashlar; it was erected in 1910 by the younger Henry’s children in memory of their mother Mary who had died three years earlier.
Sixty-five years ago, in July 1957, the Irish Times announced that the gardens of Mount Congreve, County Waterford ‘are to be open to the public for the first time’ on three afternoons each week over the following two months. The unnamed writer declared that few finer gardens of their kind were to be found on either side of the Irish Sea, those at Mount Congreve including a large 18th century conservatory and a walled garden where the quarter-mile of herbaceous borders held some 15,000 plants in hundreds of varieties ‘timed to flower in the coming weeks.’ In addition, there were rare trees and shrubs, and lawns offering attractive views of the adjacent river Suir. The owner of this property, the Irish Times correspondent explained, was Ambrose Congreve, then-Chairman of Humphreys & Glasgow Limited, the London fuel and chemical engineers ‘who are marketing small nuclear power plants.’
Originally from Staffordshire (and collaterally related to the Restoration playwright William Congreve), members of the Congreve family first came to Ireland in the 17th century, one of them, the Rev. John Congreve, settling in County Waterford. His grandson, another John, was responsible for building Mount Congreve c.1760, its design sometimes attributed to local architect John Roberts but this is conjectural. As built, the house was of three storeys and seven bays, with slightly projecting two-storey wings on either side beyond which lay the service yards. Successive generations of the family lived there, alternating the first names John and Ambrose until the last of these, Ambrose Christian Congreve who died in 2011 at the age of 104 leaving no heir. Thanks to his considerable wealth, he was responsible for transforming both the house and surrounding gardens. The former he enlarged in the 1960s, not least by the addition of a substantial bow at the centre of the entrance front, centred on a rather modest Baroque limestone doorcase. Additions were also made to the wings and yards which were given cupolas and more limestone doorcases. Mr Congreve had a plutocrat’s taste: he liked everything large and abundant and almost to the end of his life he was making changes to the building and its contents, both of which might be described as plush. Outdoors, as a young man he was inspired by what he saw Lionel de Rothschild had created in his own garden at Exbury in Hampshire. From the early 1930s onwards Mr Congreve set about emulating this example, not least by planting the same species in large groups. ‘When one plants anything,’ he declared, ‘whether it involves five or fifty plants, they should be planted together and not dotted here and there’: as a result, at Mount Congreve, enormous numbers of one variety of magnolia or azalea can be found in the same location to spectacular effect. Thanks to its size – it runs to some 70 acres – Mount Congreve’s garden holds over 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 Rhododendrons, 600 Camellias, 300 Acer cultivars, 600 conifers, 250 climbers and 1,500 herbaceous plants.
In 1979, recognising that he had no direct heir, Ambrose Congreve transferred ownership of his family house and some 71 surrounding acres to a charitable organisation, the Mount Congreve Trust with the understanding that all of this property would eventually pass to the Irish state. However, part of the arrangement was that 66 acres of gardens would only become national property 21 years after his death, and the house and immediate five acres only in 2059. Thus, when he died in 2011, it appeared that the greater part of the gardens would not be taken under state care until 2032 – and the house and balance of land still not for a further 27 years. Inevitably, dispute followed, with unfortunate consequences, not least that the contents of the house – including a library dating back to the 18th century – were dispersed in a number of auctions, leaving the place empty. Meanwhile, the gardens on which he had lavished so much care and expense also deteriorated – today a very large 18th century greenhouse is in very poor condition – as discussions took place over who should be responsible for their upkeep. Only in 2019 was agreement reached whereby the trust transferred both the house and gardens to the local authority, which subsequently received a grant of €3.7 million from a Department for Rural and Community Development programme targeting regional development to restore and improve Mount Congreve. At the moment, the entire site is closed to the public (the house itself swathed in scaffolding, hence no pictures of it today), while necessary work takes place. It appears a couple of rooms on the ground floor of the main building will be accessible when the project is completed, along with one of the adjacent yards used to welcome visitors. But what will become of the rest of what is a very substantial house, which for more than a decade has sat vacant and shuttered? It remains to be seen if some new purpose is proposed for the place.
The Old Man of Lismore
Located in the nave of one of the Irish Aesthete’s favourite buildings, St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, this early Christian carving of a man holding a book was discovered in the 19th century when the old well near Lismore Castle was being cleared. The figure likely formed some part of a support for the monastery that once stood on that site. St Carthage’s needs funds at present to improve the lighting, heating and sound and so, determined to ensure the cathedral has a viable future, not just as a place of worship but also a venue for other events, a number of locals have come together with a clever initiative. Verso Arts is an online auction which will be held two weeks’ hence on Saturday November 6th and feature more than 800 postcard-sized works by artists, some well-known (who would have guessed Joanna Lumley was such a dab hand with the paintbrush), others less familiar. All are being offered for the same price of €50 and all are listed anonymously, on a first-bid, first-secure basis. (They are all on exhibition at present in Lismore Castle Art Gallery). Absolutely all proceeds from the auction will go to St Carthage’s Cathedral, thereby helping to guarantee the old man above will still be visible for many years to come, as well as the wonderful McGrath Tomb below, dating from 1543 and without doubt one of the finest surviving examples of 16th century carving in Ireland.
All works included in the Verso Art auction are currently on view in Lismore Castle Arts Gallery, County Waterford until October 31st. For more information on the auction and how to bid, please see: Verso Art – VersoArt
The Age of Improvement
Another abandoned Church of Ireland church, this one in Affane, County Waterford. Set in the midst of a substantial graveyard, the building dates from 1819 when erected at a cost of £500 with the usual support from the Board of First Fruits. This was a period when considerable numbers of such churches were being either built or restored across the country as part of an effort by the Church of Ireland to provide better facilities for worshippers and, it was hoped, increase the number of persons attending services: Affane church could accommodate 200 people although it is unlikely it did so very often. Already by 1874 the parish had been united with that of Cappoquin and by the condition of the building – today a relic from the Anglican Church’s age of improvement – it looks to have been long out of use.
An entrance into the former demesne of Affane, County Waterford. The core of the house here dated from the 17th century but had a new front added in the first half of the 19th century with canted bows on either side of the entrance. These ashlar gateposts with screen walls on either side and arched pedestrian openings on either side were probably erected around the same time. Once leading towards the main building, now they go nowhere but provide a reminder of what used to be here: the house itself is a ruined shell.
Awaiting the Day of Judgement
The little church at Clonagam, County Waterford sits on high ground almost directly north of Curraghmore, with superlative views from the graveyard down to the house and gardens. The present building dates from 1741 when on the instructions of Marcus Beresford, Earl of Tyrone and his heiress wife Catherine de la Poer it replaced an older building on the site. Although there were subsequent alterations, essentially this is still the same structure, taking the form of a simple Roman barn, the rendered entrance front relieved only by a cut-stone Gibbsian doorcase and diagonal stepped buttresses on either corner topped with crocketed pinnacles. Round-headed windows on either side and on the east front were probably of clear glass originally but now contain some stained glass panels. Otherwise there is nothing to distinguish the church from many others throughout the country. The real interest lies inside, where generations of the de la Poer Beresford family are remembered.
Two of Clonagam church’s most prominent monuments are located at the east end of the building, that on the north wall carrying the following inscription: To the Memory of Marcus Beresford, Earl, and Viscount of Tyrone, Baron Beresford, and Baronet who departed this life on the 4th of April 1763 in the 69th year of his Age, and of Catherine, Baroness Le Poer in Fee, his Countess, Daughter and Heiress to James Power, Earl of Tyrone, Viscount Decies, and Baron Le Poer, who dyed in the 68th year of her Age on the 16th of July 1769 this Monument is Erected by their Son, George de la Poer Beresford, Marquis of Waterford, in Testimony of his Duty, Gratitude and Affection. In front of a polished limestone pyramid, the white marble monument features portrait busts of the couple, similar to those seen in Imperial Roman tombs, their deaths mourned by a pair of disconsolate putti. Unfortunately the sculptor responsible for the work is not known, unlike the monument on the opposite wall which recalls Florence Grosvenor Rowley, who in August 1872 married John Henry de la Poer Beresford, fifth Marquess of Waterford: the following April she died in childbirth. Set into the wall of the church and dramatically lit by a concealed window, the sculpture shows both the deceased marchioness as though asleep and cradling her baby, who also did not survive. This work was created by the Viennese-born Vienna-born Joseph Edgar Boehm, who had settled in London in the early 1860s, exhibiting at the Royal Academy (where he was elected a member in 1782) and becoming the favourite sculptor of Queen Victoria who awarded him a knighthood. Boehm was also responsible for the St Hubert stag that sits atop the façade of the main house at Curraghmore.
The body of the church at Clonagam is dominated by two lifesize recumbent figures, that on the north side representing Henry de la Poer Beresford, third Marquess of Waterford who was killed in a hunting accident in March 1859. In polished granite, it shows the deceased clad in his robes as a Knight of the Order of St Patrick. Since the third marquess and his wife Louisa had no children, the title and Curraghmore estate were inherited by his brother, John de la Poer Beresford. Before becoming the fourth Marquess, he had served as a Church of Ireland clergyman and so the white marble monument shows him in clerical robes; he died just six years after his elder brother. Several other members of the family also became clergymen, and one of them is similarly commemorated in the church: the Most Rev. John George de la Poer Beresford, a younger son of the first marquess. He briefly served as Archbishop of Dublin before becoming Archbishop of Armagh in 1822, holding the position for the next forty years. In Armagh, he was responsible for undertaking the restoration of the ancient cathedral of St Patrick, then in a perilous state of disrepair. There he was buried, but the monument on the south wall of Clonagam church was erected in his memory by the wives of the third and fourth marquesses. Incidentally, he was succeeded as Archbishop of Armagh by a cousin, Marcus Gervais Beresford. Finally, one other curious sculpture deserves attention. This is a semi-recumbent male figure looking to date from the late 17th century, his right hand resting on a knee (from which a stocking has untidily slipped) his left supporting his head as he leans backwards. His present position is on a shelf inside the church’s marble baroque chimney piece, but this appears not to be the original setting. Elsewhere in the building a number of wall plaques were repositioned after the Church of Ireland church in Carrick-on-Suir, their original home, closed its doors in the early 1980s. Presumably this figure was moved here at the same time and tucked inside the chimney piece. Who he represents is unclear but one of the plaques commemorates John Power, second Earl of Tyrone who died in 1693 at the age of 29: might he be the reclining figure? Whatever the answer, like the others inside the church – and indeed in the graveyard outside – he awaits the Day of Judgement.
The Rise – and Fall – of a House of Ussher
A stretch of the Dublin quays on the south side of the river Liffey known as Usher’s Island takes its name from what was once a prominent family in the fields of both commerce and religion. The Ushers/Usshers liked to believe they were descended from Gilbert de Neville, admiral of William the Conqueror’s fleet in 1066. Whatever their origins, in the 14th century John le Uscher was made Constable of Dublin Castle by Edward I, held the office for several years, and was reappointed to the same position by Edward II (who seems to have been his friend or patron, the original appointment having been given “at the instance of King Edward’s son”). Although he returned to his native Yorkshire on retirement, a presumed grandson Arland Ussher (born c. 1420) settled in Dublin, where he became one of the city’s leading merchants; in 1461, he was bailiff of Dublin and, in 1469, mayor. It was from two sons of his second marriage, John and Christopher Ussher that later Irish Usshers were descended. In the late 16th century, John Ussher built a fine residence for himself called Bridgefoot House: where this once stood is now called Bridgefoot Street, while its former riverside gardens are today covered by the buildings of Usher’s Island and Usher’s Quay. It was on this property that the very first book printed in the Gaelic language, containing an alphabet and Christian catechism, was produced. Its title page contains the following information: ‘Printed in Irish in the town of the Ford of the Hurdles, at the cost of Master John Ussher, alderman, at the head of the Bridge, the 20th day of June 1571.” John Usher’s son, Sir William Usher, paid for the publication of the first New Testament printed in the Irish language; this appeared in 1602. Given their strong adherence to the Protestant faith, it is not surprising the family produced several distinguished Anglican clerics, notably Henry Ussher (c. 1550–1613), one of the founders of Trinity College Dublin and, from 1595, Archbishop of Armagh. One of his nephews, James Ussher (1581–1656), held the same position from 1625 onward. Archbishop James Ussher’s scrupulous study of the Bible and early history led him to write the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (‘Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world’), which first appeared in 1650, together with its continuation, Annalium pars posterior published four years later. Famously his research allowed him to calculate the moment of Earth’s creation: around 6pm on 22 October 4004 BC.
As was so often the case, with the passage of time the Usshers distanced themselves from trade and became increasingly gentrified, acquiring land in different parts of the country, and forming advantageous familial alliances. For example, in 1695 a grandson of Sir William Ussher of Dublin, also called William, married Lettice, daughter and co heiress of Sir Henry Waddington; as a result, part of the Waddington estates in county Galway passed into the possession of the Ussher family. Meanwhile, another of Sir William’s grandsons, Beverley Ussher moved south to County Waterford where he made two successive marriages to heiresses, one being a daughter of Sir Percy Smyth of Ballynatray and the other a daughter of Sir Richard Osborne of Ballintaylor. As a result, a branch of the family settled in the south east of the country, where they built up estates and properties in which to live. Cappagh was one of those houses, constructed during the first decade of the 19th century by Beverley Ussher’s great-grandson Richard Ussher. However, in 1875 the old house was abandoned by Richard’s son, Richard John Ussher in favour of a newer residence on higher grounds and with better views across the surrounding landscape. This building was designed by James Otway and Robert Watt, architects and railway engineers who were also responsible for the line that linked Dungarvan to Mallow, County Cork. A keen fossil hunter, Richard John Ussher was seemingly the first person to discover the remains of a mammoth and a saber-tooth cat in Ireland, as well as that of a Great Auk (the last of these excavated in the sand dunes of Tramore, Co. Waterford). He also developed a passionate interest in ornithology and was a keen collector of bird’s eggs. With co-author Robert Warren, the results of his extensive research were published in 1906 as The Birds of Ireland. However, just a few decades later, the Usshers sold what remained of the Cappagh estate to the family of the present owners.
As can be seen in these photographs, old Cappagh is a most curious building, one that suggests a disparity between ambition and income. The front of the house forms the southern portion of a courtyard. At either end of the façade, the building rises two storeys but then, after just one bay, it becomes single storey and turns into a long, narrow villa. Evidently the Usshers embarked on its construction intending the central portion to be of the same dimensions as those at either end, but then – presumably for economic reasons – this project was abandoned and a more modest scheme accepted. Seemingly its builder, the elder Richard Ussher, participated in the Napoleonic Wars and perhaps on returning from these he realized that he needed to re-evaluate the project. Whatever the explanation, it makes for an unusual frontage. The rear of the building is almost as odd, since a high wall soon cuts off the house – centred on a bow which contains its main staircase – from the rest of the courtyard. The latter features all the usual elements found in proximity to a country house, stables, storerooms, staff accommodation and so forth. Inside old Cappagh, the main entrance leads to a hall at the rear of which climbs the aforementioned principle staircase, with reception rooms to left and right; a number of bedrooms upstairs are accessed either by the main staircase or by other flights of steps at either end of the building. Given its unfinished state, it is easy to understand why the Usshers chose to move to another site and start again in the 1870s, leaving the old house to be used for various purposes. It has stood empty for many years and while the present owners of the property resolutely do their best to maintain the site, inevitably the condition of old Cappagh has deteriorated.