Another World


Powerscourt, 1925

Frank Browne, better known as Fr Browne, was without doubt the finest photographer working in Ireland during the middle decades of the last century. Taking some 42,000 pictures, all of which he carefully catalogued before his death in 1960, he left behind an astonishingly rich record of daily life throughout the country over that period. Even more remarkably, photography began, and remained, an extra-curricular hobby because Frank Browne was first and foremost a Jesuit priest. His activities as a photographer had to be fitted in – and sometimes set aside – as and when was required by his superiors in the order. This makes his achievement in the medium all the more impressive. It is clear that he could have made a comfortable living from his work, but chose not to do so. All financial compensation he received for his work, and during certain busy periods the amounts were substantial, he was not permitted to retain: the money was immediately forwarded to the Provincial Treasurer of the Jesuit order. Among the payments he received were those for a series of images of Ireland’s country houses, commissioned by the Irish Tatler & Sketch. Published monthly, the photographs were accompanied by Browne’s own texts, in which he discussed the building in question and its history. It says a great deal about the man’s character that he managed to gain the trust of so many owners, who allowed him access to their properties, which were then still private and not open to the public. The pictures he took on these occasions are a fantastic but hitherto insufficiently explored resource, since they show interiors of many houses either since lost or radically altered. What’s particularly interesting is to look at how such buildings, still occupied by their original families, were then furnished as it is indicative of decorative taste at the time, often little altered from the 19th century. The pictures also provide viewers with a wistful awareness of what has been lost, usually sold at auction and frequently taken out of the country. Some of these images are included in a newly-published book, Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne, and they are shown here.





Killruddery, 1947

Killruddery, County Wicklow is today one of Ireland’s most popular and visited country houses, enjoying the benefits of being located on the edge of Dublin. It has been home to successive generations of the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath, since the early 17th century. The core of the building dates from that period, but heavily encased in a number of later additions, the most substantial being made by father and son architects Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison during the 1820s when they greatly enlarged the house and transformed its exterior to resemble an immense Tudor mansion, further alterations being made some forty years later when William Slater added a Dutch gable and Oriel window to the south front. A decade earlier, the present conservatory was constructed, replacing an earlier one that was part of the Morrisons’ contribution. Browne’s photographs were taken in 1947 when all of this was still in place. But just a few years later, extensive dry rot was discovered in parts of the building and the fourteenth Earl of Meath took the decision that demolition was the only option. Accordingly, in the early 1950s the entire entrance front on the north side was pulled down and the remainder remodelled by Claud Phillimore. At least a third of the house was lost including the double-height entrance hall seen here, along with an equally monumental dining room and other spaces. Browne’s pictures provide an invaluable record of how Killruddery appeared before these revolutionary changes were instigated.





Shelton Abbey, 1947

The Howard family came from the village of Shelton in Nottinghamshire, and remembered this when they chose to name their Irish house Shelton Abbey. The original building here is thought to have been constructed for Ralph Howard, first Viscount Wicklow, in the mid-1750s, its design attributed to English architect Matthew Brettingham. In 1819 Howard’s grandson, William-Forward Howard, 4th Earl of Wicklow invited the Morrisons père et fils to remodel the building so that it might resemble ‘an Abbey erected in the fourteenth century, and…formed into a baronial residence shortly after the Reformation’ although the architects complained the result was less perfect than they might have wished since the owner wished to retain as much as possible of the original fabric. Some of the interiors, such as the library and dining room, retained their classical decoration but others, not least the main drawing room, were made over in Tudor Gothic style with wonderful fan vaulted ceilings. During the 1740s the first Ralph Howard had undertaken a Grand Tour during which he was painted by Pompeo Batoni and acquired a number of old master works and antiquities. Subsequent further generations of the family married well and added to Shelton Abbey’s contents so that by the time the eighth, and last, Earl of Wicklow inherited the place it was filled with treasures. Unfortunately, his bank balance was less well stocked and in 1947 he decided to open his home as an hotel. Just before this happened, Browne was invited to photograph the building, the first such job he undertook for Irish Tatler & Sketch. His pictures therefore show Shelton Abbey when still a private property. Sadly, the earl’s scheme was not a success  – it was perhaps too early for the allure of a country house hotel to be appreciated – and in 1950 he made the decision to sell the estate. A sale of the contents duly followed and took an astonishing 13 days, an indication of how impressive they were, with dealers coming from England and the United States to snatch up many bargains. Today Shelton Abbey is an open prison and its interiors, bereft of their former contents, have suffered from indifferent maintenance. This gives Browne’s pictures a particular poignancy, not least one showing Mr Virtue, the house’s long-serving butler, looking apprehensively out the front door as he awaits the arrival of paying guests.


Humewood, 1947

Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne is published by Messenger Publications (www.messenger.ie) and now available in all good bookshops.

 

Charm and Merit



The market house in the centre of Dunlavin, County Wicklow The building dates from 1743 when constructed for local landlord Robert Tynte who was keen to improve the economic prospects of the town. Entirely of granite, the market house is cruciform in shape, the base rising up to a cylindrical tower topped with fluted dome; each of the four corners is occupied by Doric colonnades. Originally the arches around the building were open, but these have since been filled in and today it serves as a library. The market house’s design was attributed by the Knight of Glin to Richard Castle, but Maurice Craig begged to differ, declaring ‘it seems to me for all its charm and merit too clumsy to be the work of an academically accomplished designer.’


Back and Front


Fortgranite, County Wicklow was discussed here a month ago (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/04/15/fortgranite). The estate’s best-known gatelodge takes the form of a rusticated toy castle, but this one greets visitors at the start of another drive. Of local granite, of course, and dating from c.1840, it is unusual in presenting identical facades both front and rear: on both sides, there is a canted breakfront at the centre of the building featuring a doorcase. Other than for reasons of symmetry, one wonders why the necessity for two entrances in such a small lodge?

A Swift Exit


Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin and author of sundry celebrated works including Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, is associated with Fortgranite, a County Wicklow house, the contents of which are being sold tomorrow. The Swift family’s rise in fortune originated with an earlier cleric, the Rev Thomas Swift who in 1566 became vicar of St Andrew’s church in Canterbury, Kent and subsequently married the heiress daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Godwin. The latter was recalled in the first name of the Rev Thomas’ eldest great-grandson, Godwin Swift, a lawyer who after 1660 served as Attorney General to the Viceroy the Duke of Ormonde, and was duly rewarded for his service with an estate in County Kilkenny, Swifte’s Heath. One of Godwin Swift’s younger brothers, Jonathan, also moved to Ireland but died within a year, aged only 27. He left a pregnant wife who seven months later gave birth to a son, also called Jonathan, the future dean. He benefitted from the support of his uncle Godwin (who incidentally had fifteen sons and four daughters by four wives), and then from the latter’s son Willoughby (Jonathan Swift’s cousin) who paid for his education and secured employment as secretary with Sir William Temple. His later clerical and literary careers are well known. What has any of this to do with Rockgranite? In 1711, Godwin Swift’s grandson Thomas Swift married Frances Dennis, heiress of a timber merchant from Kinsale, County Cork: the couple had two sons, the Rev. Meade Swift-Dennis and John Swift-Dennis. In 1782, these two men were joint beneficiaries of the substantial estate left by their late uncle, James Dennis, former Chief Baron of the Exchequer and first (and last) Lord Tracton. The only condition was that they adopt the arms and name of Dennis. They duly did so, the Rev. Meade Dennis subsequently acquiring the Fortgranite estate which was left to his son Thomas Stratford Dennis. As the latter’s middle name indicates, he was related to the Stratford family, his grandmother being a daughter of the first Earl of Aldborough, a name that has been discussed here more than once (see in particular Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017).






Fortgranite is a house originally dating from c.1730, although sections of the basement suggest that there might already have been a tower house on the site, a not-unusual circumstance. The house was built for one George Pendred, whose family may have been Cornish in origin. He married an heiress Cordelia Saunders, daughter of lawyer and politician Morley Saunders, who c.1716 built a splendid house in County Wicklow, Saunders Grove (burnt 1923). As elsewhere in this take, the son of George and Cordelia Pendred changed his surname to Saunders in order to benefit from a family legacy, and was called Morley Pendred Saunders. His daughter Delia married the Rev. Meade Swift (later Dennis) and in turn their eldest son Thomas Stratford Dennis married his cousin Katherine Saunders. Thus two generations of one family benefitted from marrying two generations of another. In turn Fortgranite appears to have gone through two remodellings in the 19th century, the first c.1810-15 following the marriage of Thomas Dennis to Katherine Saunders, the second undertaken by the couple’s eldest son Meade Dennis in the early 1870s, the last occasion when such enterprises were made before the onset of the Land Wars and consequent decline of Big House estates in the following decade. As a result of these two refurbishments, Fortgranite shows little evidence of its earlier manifestations, displaying the gravitas typical of a high-Victorian country house. Still, until recently the interior was filled with evidence of former eras, and of the diverse families who had both inherited the place and, through marriage and other connections, bequeathed items to it. All either now gone, or about to do so following tomorrow’s contents sale. With them are dispersed the collective links to Patrick Swift, to the Earls of Aldborough, to timber merchants of Cork and Anglican clergy of Westmeath, to an entire history of Ireland’s gentry. All scattered, never to be brought together again.



For further information on tomorrow’s sale at Fortgranite, County Wicklow, see https://fonsiemealy.ie

Scant Evidence


The bungalow-strewn village of Stratford on Slaney, County Wicklow looks as though it could be a modern suburb almost anywhere. However a handful of houses indicate the place has an older pedigree. The name derives from founder Edward Stratford, second Earl of Aldborough whose architectural ambitions have been discussed here before (see Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017). He developed the village during the last quarter of the 18th century, intending it to be a centre for the textile industry, specifically cotton and printing works. At its height in the 1830s, Stratford on Slaney contained 104 houses (and thirteen public houses) with a population of 2,833 people, 1,00o of them employed in the fabric factory. Lord Aldborough built places of worship for Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, a dispensary and several shops. The famine and its attendant woes in the following decade put an end to the business, and so to Stratford where the factory closed and people moved away: in the census of 2016, the village had a population of just 241 persons. These few houses, dating from c.1840 are all that remain of Lord Aldborough’s ambitions.

Relics of Auld Decency



The remains of Tober House, County Wicklow. The building is believed to date from c.1720 when constructed for a branch of the Powell family (not Power, as is often stated) It appears the house originally rose two storeys over basement but an additional floor was later added above the moulded string course. It’s curious to note that the windows on the ground floor are not symmetrically spaced: one of them on the ground floor being much closer to the entrance than the other. Parts of the slate cladding on the south wall survive, as does the handsome limestone lugged doorcase. Tober is said to have been gutted by fire at the end of the 18th century, perhaps during the time of the 1798 Rebellion when this part of the country was engulfed by violence. It has stood a ruin ever since.



Reconciled to Ruin


Inside the rear section of the former army barracks at Glencree, County Wicklow. In the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion when this part of the country proved difficult for the authorities to control, a route still called the Military Road was constructed through the Wicklow Mountains, and these buildings erected in 1806 to house 100 troops. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars they vacated the barracks which during the second half of the 19th century was converted into a boy’s reformatory, being used for this purpose until 1940. The site then served as a prison for captured German military personnel (a small cemetery holding the remains of those who died during that period remains close by) and since the mid-1970s one block has been the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. However, as can be seen, the buildings immediately behind have been left to fall into their present state of disrepair.

By the Banks of the Slaney


A pyramid by the banks not of the Nile but the river Slaney, this is the Aldborough Mausoleum in Baltinglass, County Wicklow. The Earls of Aldborough have been discussed here before, both in relation to Belan, County Kildare (see Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013) and Aldborough House, Dublin (see A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017). The family’s architectural ambitions are reflected in this tomb, which dates from 1832 and was built to the immediate south of the chancel of the former Cistercian abbey church in Baltinglass, a curious juxtaposition of two different styles. The monastery had been suppressed in 1536 but the chancel here was later converted into a parochial church for the Church of Ireland, remaining in use for this purpose until 1883. The Aldborough Mausoleum is similar to but smaller than the Howard Mausoleum elsewhere in County Wicklow (see A Fitting Memorial, January 10th 2018). Both take the form of a pyramid on a square base and both are constructed from local granite. A door on the north side of the Baltinglass monument gave access to the interior, now stripped of any contents (the pyramids of Egypt not being the only ones subject to grave robbers…)

Giving Credit Where Due


The drawing room ceiling in Killruddery, County Wicklow. This part of the house was designed for the tenth Earl of Meath by Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison in the 1820s. Usually the names of craftsmen employed in such tasks remain unknown but specific information has been found about this ceiling. The principal plasterer was Henry Pobje of Dublin but he didn’t work alone. Fifty years ago in 1968 when Elizabeth, Countess of Meath was repainting the room, she discovered on top of one section of the cornice the name of Simon Gilligan, together with the date 24th April 1824, which was presumably when the plasterwork was completed.

A Lakeside Lament

 

The shore of Lough Tay, County Wicklow into which the ashes of the Hon Garech Browne were committed yesterday in the company of family and friends. The devoted custodian of the Luggala estate for half a century, his generous cultural patronage, not least through the creation of Claddagh Records, were deservedly eulogised during the afternoon in words and music alike. While Garech has gone, he leaves rich memories and a legacy certain to last as long as water laps on Lough Tay’s shore.