Tiles on the entrance hall floor of Temple House, County Sligo. The original early 19th century house here was greatly enlarged and embellished c.1860 for Alexander Perceval who employed the firm of Johnstone & Jeanes. Based at 67 New Bond Street, London the company was better known for its furniture (of which many examples remain in the house) than as an architectural practice: this appears to be the only instance of its work in Ireland.
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.
Writing of the fashion for Gothic and Tudor-Revival architecture among early 19th century Irish landowners, in 1982 Maurice Craig quoted Victorian political theorist and historian William Lecky who declared that the power and property of Ireland had been conferred by successive British monarchs ‘upon an English colony, composed of three sets of English adventurers who poured into this country at the termination of three successive rebellions.’ While considering Lecky’s remarks ‘a gross overstatement’ nevertheless, Craig believed that in the aftermath of the 1800 Union ‘the landed class were haunted by these words and did not want to believe them. By castellating their houses, or adding castellated wings to them, or in extremes replacing them by sham castles, they sought – at the sub-conscious level no doubt – to convince themselves and others that they had been there a long time and that their houses, like so many in England, reflected the vicissitudes of centuries. As it happens, the romantic fashion for irregularity was just now hitting European architecture (having affected gardening a couple of generations earlier, so that, once again, if only for a moment, Ireland was bang up to date.’ Such was the case with Narrow Water Castle, County Down designed in the early 1830s by Newry architect Thomas J Duff for local landowner Roger Hall.
Myles Campbell’s 2014 doctoral thesis Building British Identity: British Architects and the Tudor-Revival Country House in Ulster, 1825-50 does not discuss Narrow Water Castle, since the house’s architect was Irish. Nevertheless, many of the points he makes are relevant to Narrow Water in particular his consideration of the reasons why the Tudor-Revival style, incorporating elements of earlier Gothic, should have proved so popular in this country. Dr Campbell has discovered that at least 127 country houses in the same style were built in Ireland in the 19th century, the vast majority of them prior to 1845 and the onset of the Great Famine (which understandably put an end to almost all country house construction). Fifty, or 39 per cent of the houses either built or remodeled in the Tudor-Revival style were in Ulster (the lowest number, just ten, were in Connacht, but this generally had fewer country houses and they were more widely dispersed about the province). Campbell proposes that ‘The group of Ulster patrons concerned were characterized by a common loyalty to the Union between Ireland and Britain, a deep commitment to their Anglican faith and an unstinting preference for British goods and services.’ Combine the desire to demonstrate loyalty to Britain with the need to emphasise (cf. Craig) longevity of residence, and one understands why Tudor-Revival became so popular. After all, there were no original Tudor buildings in this style extant in Ireland, and so versions of it had to be imported. And they were very much versions, or interpretations: in Ballantyne and Law’s Tudoresque: In Pursuit of the Ideal Home (2011) the authors note that Tudor-Revival architecture was not very specific in its detailing and could be ‘vague about the distinction between the Middle Ages and the Tudor era.’ Furthermore, as Campbell comments, given the hybrid character of the original, ‘it is unsurprising that Tudor-Revival architecture possessed a similarly imprecise stylistic pedigree and reflected the influence of both modest and grand examples. Many features of early Tudor houses such as emphatically horizontal elevations, small casement windows, crenellated parapets and Perpendicular tracery, were revisited. Their great mullioned glass windows, projecting bays and rather chaste ashlar walls served as a source of inspiration for the architects of the Tudor Revival. These architects were not reluctant to add gables, Tudor arches, turrets and label mouldings to these basic elements in the pursuit of authenticity.’
Narrow Water Castle was built to replace an earlier residence called Mount Hall which dated from the early 18th century and, judging from a surviving stableblock, was classical in manner. Like many other landed families, the Halls were of settler stock, the first member arriving in Ireland in 1603. Roger Hall’s precise reasons for commissioning a new house in the Tudor-Revival manner are unknown; by the time work began, he was in his forties and had been married for twenty years. The explanation is likely to be that given above, a desire to emphasise the family’s antiquity (through such details as incorporating heraldic crests into the main staircase window). There was also another factor at play in choosing this style over others, and that was comfort. 18th century houses, while grand, could be cold and austere with little consideration given to the occupants’ well-being. Improved building techniques and better insulation were available by the onset of the 19th century. A purist approach to Gothic, as would develop later thanks to the influence of architects like Pugin, could also lead to somewhat austere interiors. The Tudor style, on the other hand, not only implied antiquity but also offered the opportunity for domesticity: rooms could be cosy. Ballantyne and Law observe that Tudor-Revival country houses were ‘comfortable, and could be composed freely, so as to allow the convenient arrangement of rooms.’ The more formal aspects of the classical house were dispensed with in preference for a relaxed approach to layout, although the enfilade of public rooms remained. Campbell explains, ‘This suite usually contained a minimum of three formal rooms; drawing room, dining room, library or saloon, and represented the primary focus of formal social activity in the house. It was customary for the entrance front to face east and this front was almost invariably asymmetrical. There were usually service quarters to the north and, in many cases, a private family wing to the west…The emphasis here was on comfort rather than ostentation. This convenient plan, in addition to a recognizably indigenous stylistic vocabulary, transformed the country house into “a temple not of taste but of the domestic virtues.’ And because Tudor-Revival was not bound by strict rules, other stylistic features could be incorporated: hence in Narrow Water Castle, the walls of one room are covered with Chinese paper.
‘When Hubert and I were children and after we grew up, we lived at Temple Alice. Temple Alice had been built by Mummie’s ancestor, before he inherited his title and estates. He built the house for his bride, and he gave it her name. Now, the title extinct and the estates entirely dissipated, Temple Alice, after several generations as a dower house, came to Mummie when her mother died. Papa farmed the miserably few hundred acres that remained of the property. Mummie loved gardening. On fine days she would work in the woodland garden, taking the gardener away from his proper duties among the vegetables. On wet days, she spent hours of time in the endless, heatless, tumbling-down greenhouses, which had once sheltered peaches and nectarines and stephanotis. One vine survived – she knew how to prune it and thin its grapes, muscatels. Papa loved them.’
From Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (1981)
When Molly Keane’s novel Good Behaviour was adapted for television in 1983, Coolmore, County Cork – shown in today’s photographs – served as the fictional Temple Alice. A castle was first built here in the 12th century by the Anglo-Norman de Cogans after they had settled in this part of the country. In the 1650s the land on which the castle stood passed into the ownership of William Hodder who lived in the building. Subsequently it came into the possession of John Newenham, who may have bought the estate or inherited it as his wife Jane was a member of the Hodder family. The Newenhams are also of Norman origin: an ancestor John Newenham de Newenham, was one of the commissioners who carried out the Domesday survey for William the Conqueror in the 1080s. John Newenham settled in Cork in the 17th century, serving as Sheriff of Cork in 1665 and Mayor of the city six years later. After acquiring Coolmore, he seems to have demolished the old castle and replaced it with a more comfortable house. An extant estate map dated 1760 shows this to have been of five bays and two storeys over dormered attic. On either side, long service blocks ran forward to create a substantial forecourt. The next couple of generations prospered after making judicious family connections. John and Jane Newenham’s son Thomas married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Blackhall, one-time Lord Mayor of Dublin, after whom Blackhall Place in the capital is named. In turn their son William married Dorothea, daughter and heiress of Edward Worth, a physician, politician and bibliophile: in 1733 his library was bequeathed to Dr Steevens’ Hospital, where it remains to the present day. The next generation also married well (and twice) which meant that there were ample funds in the 1780s for the old building at Coolmore to be demolished and replaced by the present, larger house of six bays with a two-bay breakfront, and of three storeys over raised basement, the whole centred on a pedimented doorcase flanked by Doric columns and with the family arms carved into the tympanum.
One of William and Dorothea Newenham’s younger children was the 18th century politician Sir Edward Newenham, remembered today for his ardent support of the American colonists. As a result of the latter he came into contact and had extensive correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de la Fayette and Washington. The last of these Newenham especially admired, calling him ‘the Greatest ornament of this century.’ Likewise Washington wrote ‘To stand well in the estimation of good men, & honest patriots, whether of this or that clime, or of this or that political way of thinking, has ever been a favorite wish of mine; & to have obtained, by such pursuits as duty to my Country; & the rights of mankind rendered indispensably necessary, the plaudit of Sir Edwd Newenham, will not be among my smallest felicities.’ Despite aspirations to do so, the two men never met (although one of Newenham’s sons-in-law did stay with Washington at his country estate, Mount Vernon, Virginia in 1786) but the Irishman commemorated the American at his own residence, Belcamp on the outskirts of Dublin. Here he not only had a room containing busts of, among others, Washington and la Fayette but in the grounds of the house he raised a monument to Washington. Dating from 1778 and believed to be the earliest such tribute to the general (and the only one erected in his lifetime), it is a two-storey square tower with crenellations bearing the following, now-lost inscription: ‘Oh, ill-fated Britain! The folly of Lexington and Concord will rend asunder and forever disjoin America from thy empire.’ Belcamp and its Washington monument are themselves today in as perilous condition as was the link between America and Britain: the house and grounds have been extensively vandalized in recent years, thereby imperiling this critical association between the respective campaigns for independent government on either side of the Atlantic. As for Coolmore, County Cork – the estate where Sir Edward was raised – ironically the year after Good Behaviour was filmed there, the Newenhams, unable to manage the building any longer, sold its contents and moved into a smaller property elsewhere on their land. It has sat empty for the past thirty years and today an old television series offers the best opportunity to appreciate how the house once looked.
In June 1732 the indefatigable Mary Delany (then still Mrs Pendarves following the death eight years earlier of her first husband) was staying in Killala, County Mayo with her friends Robert and Katherine Clayton: at the time he was Bishop of Killala. Writing to her sister Mrs Granville, she remarked, ‘About half-a-mile from hence there is a very pretty green hill, one side of it covered with nut wood; on the summit of the hill is a natural grotto, with seats in it that will hold four people. We go every morning at seven o’clock to that place to adorn it with shells – the Bishop has a large collection of very fine ones; Phill [Mrs Clayton’s sister Anne Donnellan] and I are the engineers, the men fetch and carry for us what we want, and think themselves highly honoured.’ It was the onset of a lifelong interest in shellwork that continued after she married Dr Delany in 1743 and moved to Delville on the outskirts of Dublin. Here Mrs Delany decorated various items, including urns and chandeliers, with shells and then in 1750 she turned her attention to the chapel attached to her husband’s house, eventually covering its ceiling with shell ornamentation. In December 1750 she wrote that during the evening, while another great friend Letitia Bushe read aloud, ‘I go on making shell flowers for the ceiling of the chapel. I have made 86 large flowers and about 30 small ones.’ The following month, ‘I am going on making shell flowers, six of the festoons are finished and fastened on; I have ten more to do, and a wreath to go around the window over the communion table.’ Later that summer a little grotto in the garden of Delville received the same treatment. In this activity, Mrs Delany was reflecting the fashion of her age.
Inspired by examples from ancient Greece and Rome, the origin of the modern era Shell House can be found in the grottoes that were a feature of 16th century Mannerist gardens in Italy. The Buontalenti Grotto in Florence’s Boboli Gardens for example which dates from 1583-93 has walls covered with stalactites and stalagmites, sponges, stones, and shells; in fact these are not real but were carved by the sculptor Pietro Mati. The fashion for such follies soon spread and in 1624 James I had a ‘shell grotto’ created in the undercroft of the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. It has long since disappeared and today the oldest extant shell grotto in England is at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire which dates from the late 1620s onwards. By the start of the 18th century, the Shell House obsession was widespread and unlike the artifice of the Boboli Gardens, these used real shells. In 1725 poet Alexander Pope built a grotto in the tunnel linking his house and garden at Twickenham. Decorated with shells, glass and mirror shards when completed the grotto was so lovely that the poet sighed, ‘Were it to have nymphs as well it would be complete in everything.’ No wonder therefore that around this time the creation of Shell Houses also began to be popular in Ireland.
One of the few extant 18th century Shell Houses in Ireland can be found in the grounds of Curraghmore, County Waterford. As was so often the case, the exterior of the building gives little indication of the richness found within. It has, as noted by James Howley (The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland, 1993) the cruciform plan of a miniature baroque church, with walls built of uncut but slightly rounded stones and a stone-flagged roof. As Howley goes on to explain, the interior ‘contains an Aladdin’s cave of rich, shell-encrusted detail on a series of interlocking domed spaces. These are arranged axially around the largest central space, with three circular apses, each containing a window and a small rectangular entrance lobby. Niches are placed between the entrances to the apses and the entire plan is knitted together by an elaborate floor pattern of great intricacy worked in pebbles.’ In the centre of the shell house stands a life-size white marble statue by John van Nost representing the woman responsible for its creation: Catherine, Countess of Tyrone. Most helpfully, a scroll carried in her right hand (her left appropriately holds a conch shell) informs readers ‘In two hundred & sixty one days these shells were put up by the proper hands of the Rt. Hon. Cathne Countess of Tyrone 1754.’ Finding the shells was a time-consuming, and potentially expensive, business, and involved liaising with sea captains and ship owners whose vessels would have returned from overseas voyages. Many of those used at Curraghmore are believed to have been acquired in the port of nearby Waterford city. And planning the design so that it formed a coherent whole would also have been an arduous process: only when sufficient materials had been gathered could the work of putting them into place commence. Seemingly the glue used for fixing the shells into place was a mixture of ox blood and hooves (presumably boiled down). It served the purpose well since most of them remain in place, thereby allowing us to appreciate this rare surviving example of a Irish Georgian shell house.
In ancient Greek mythology, Erato was the Muse of Lyric or Love Poetry, her name often proposed as deriving from Eros, the God of Sexual Attraction. Here they both are on a wall panel in the ground floor Apollo Room of 85 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin which was decorated by the Ticinese sibling stuccodores Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini in the late 1730s/early 1740s. Like her eight sisters within the same space, the inspiration for Erato’s appearance came from an engraving by Domenico de’ Rossi published in Paolo Alessandro Maffei’s Raccolta di statue antiche e moderne (Rome, 1704). These in turn represented statues formerly in the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden. The Lafranchinis’ version follows de’ Rossi quite closely, although Eros looks to have what might be described as an old head on young shoulders: perhaps that is the consequence of his knowing too much about love.
The Irish Aesthete wishes all friends and followers a Happy St Valentine’s Day.
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.