‘What was on the site before the hotel was built?’
The question was posed to me last week in anticipation of the relaunch of the refurbished Midleton Park Hotel. The hotel is unlikely to win architectural prizes for it is a redevelopment of two buildings on the site. The fabric of these two premises are still incorporated in the modern hotel. At first glance it looks like a building that was constructed in the last decade of the twentieth century, but the actual history is hidden by the current appearance.
We have to go back to 1787 and the appointment of Rev Robert Law DD as Rector of Midleton in succession to Rev Robert Berkeley DD, the younger brother of George Berkeley, the famous philosopher Bishop of Cloyne who gave his name to Berkeley College in California! Dr Law was already Rector of St Mary’s parish in Dublin, but pluralism was quite common in the Established Church at the time. With a titheable valuation of £897 16s 7d by 1820, the Rectory of Midleton was quite lucrative. However, there was a problem. Dr Law discovered that while the parish church of St John the Baptist had been rebuilt in 1784, there was no designated residence provided by the parish for the incumbent rector! Rev Dr Robert Berkeley had lived in Ballinacurra House and when Law became the incumbent he discovered that this house was no longer available. Ballinacurra House was not parochial property for it belonged to the Earl of Shannon in Castlemartyr and was now leased to someone else. The glebe lands of Midleton, a property that belonged to the parish, lay on the right, or western, bank of the Owenacurra River, at the entrance to the town from Cork. This property of some eleven acres of good land was a good location for a rectory or glebe-house, so in the spring of 1788 Law began to build a new residence.
One question arises – since the appointment of the rector was in the gift of the bishop, was Law given instructions by the bishop to build a rectory in his new parish? For the moment this question must be posed. We’ll have to tease it out to discover an answer. However, building a new rectory would certainly have had the approval of the absentee landlord of the town, George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton, who had already commissioned the building of the present Market House as the seat of the Corporation or municipal government. Lord Midleton had already set in train further improvements, including the building of a fever hospital near the Fair Green at the northern end of the town, as well as probably setting out new conditions for building on the sites he leased on the Main Street. It was at this period that Midleton gained the appearance that it mostly shows today.
In the middle of September 1788, the Rector of Navan in County Meath, Rev Daniel Augustus Beaufort, visited Midleton and viewed the new glebe-house as it was being built. Beaufort is the source of our information that the house was begun in the spring and by September the attic storey had been completed. But the amateur architect in Beaufort was unhappy with the lack of a central door on the front – he thought it didn’t do the house justice to have the principal entrance to one side. Given the amount of time it takes to finish any newly built house even today, it is unlikely that Dr Law ever inhabited his new house, for he died on 11th June 1789 – just over a month before the storming of the Bastille in Paris!
Law was succeeded by the younger brother of Viscount Midleton – Rev the Honourable Charles Brodrick. In 1791, Charles Brodrick paid out £2,123 for the glebe-house. Was this in compensation to the heirs of Robert Law for the expense of building the glebe-house? The situation is complicated by the existence of the Board of First Fruits. When Johnathan Swift wrote about the appearance of the Irish landscape in the early 1700s he was scathing about the appallingly bad houses of the squirearchy and of the clergy of the Established Church. He was also brutally dismissive of the churches he encountered – almost uniformly they were in atrocious condition. Swift was instrumental in persuading the government of Queen Anne to create the Board of First Fruits to improve the accommodation of the clergy and to improve the churches for worshippers. The Board was established in 1711 and was endowed with the first year’s annates of every clergyman appointed to a living in Ireland. The money was used to buy back impropriate rectories and to establish glebe lands as well as erecting new glebe-houses and churches. The board squestered the entire first year’s income from a parish of every newly appointed rector or vicar for its income. The expenditure had to be approved by the Irish parliament and it took seventy years to get that expenditure up to a reasonable level. Money was either granted or gifted or, more rarely, loaned to a parish for appropriate purposes. In 1781-82 the Board paid out £6,000, the following year some £3,000 was paid out and from 1785 to 1800 the Board dispensed £5,000 per annum. These were considerable sums of money and it is very likely that the newly rebuilt St John the Baptist Church in Midleton was a beneficiary of the Board’s funds. The Board was certainly involved in funding the replacement church on the same site in 1825!
It is likely that Dr Law also obtained funds from the Board to build the new glebe-house, which seems to have cost £2,123 – a considerable sum that supports Daniel Beaufort’s suggestion of a handsome house. But I do wonder if this sum also included the purchase of the eleven acres of glebe lands? It seems possible that the Board paid for the glebe lands and gave funds towards the construction of the house, but Law had funded most of the house himself. Hence Charles Brodrick had to compensate Law’s estate in 1791. This was quite usual at the time when a new clergyman took up the living he compensated his predecessor, or his heirs, for costs incurred in any works undertaken. Brodrick waited until 1791 to pay because although he had a small living elsewhere in the neighbourhood, his income was not sufficient to pay the costs. Once his ‘First Fruits year’ was ended, Brodrick had the considerable income from his new parish, as well as his older parish. More importantly, Brodrick resided in the new glebe house – only a few miles from his father-in-law, Bishop Richard Woodward. In 1795, Charles Brodrick became Bishop of Clonfert (mostly in County Galway). A year later he was transferred to the see of Kilmore and in 1801 he became Archbishop of Cashel. As archbishop, Brodrick was in a position to lease Cahermone House just east of Midleton. This allowed him to keep a close eye on his brother’s estates in Midleton whenever he was in residence. He also administered the diocese of Dublin while Archbishop Cleaver was mentally indisposed! Charles Brodrick was buried in a fine mausoleum in the graveyard of St John the Baptist Church in Midleton when he died in 1822. Two of his sons became successive Viscounts Midleton, and the present Viscount is a descendent.
In Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) the glebe-house of Midleton is described as ‘a large and handsome residence……pleasantly situated.’ This is a view supported by the first edition Ordnance Survey map of Midleton, showing the house set in mature and well-wooded gardens. The glebe-house continued as the residence of the Rectors of Midleton even after the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870. Not until about 1890 was the present Rectory, or Deanery as we know it, built on the Dungourney Road. Then the old glebe was sold off as a private residence known as the Grange. At times it was used by Viscount Midleton on his visits to his Irish estates.
In the 1950s the Grange became the property of William Dwyer, a Fine Gael supporter and industrialist. Dwyer set up the Midleton Worsted Mills and Woolcombers Company on lands adjoining the Grange and began the development of the road linking the woollen factory to the Cork Road as a residential area. Importing wool from Australia and New Zealand, this company was a very important development in the industrial history of the town. Sadly, cheaper competition and labour relations difficulties eventually forced the company to close. However the road leading to the old factory was named after Dwyer. A supporter of the East Cork Motorcycle Club, Dwyer permitted motorcycle races on his lands on St Stephen’s Day (26th December) for some years!
In the 1970s, the Grange was sold to a hotelier and was redeveloped as the Keane County Hotel – Midleton’s first hotel since the Tara Hotel had collapsed in the late 1960s! Regrettably there was nothing to celebrate in the architecture of this hotel – it looked more like a factory than a hotel, in my opinion. Fortunately, the 1990s saw a total redevelopment under new owners as the Midleton Park Hotel. Portions of the glebe-house built in 1788 are still embedded in the present building, although so many changes have taken place that the original features are unrecognisable! .