A window for every day of the year…..or so it was said.

The entrance front of Ballyedmond House faced due north, allowing the drawing room and dining room to enjoy fine views to the south over Midleton. The staircase was located behind the two windows on the right of the porch. Note the chaste late Georgian style of the central block and the slightly more elaborate decoration of the two wings.

The entrance front of Ballyedmond House faced due north, allowing the drawing room and dining room to enjoy fine views to the south over Midleton. The staircase was located behind the two windows on the right of the porch. Note the chaste late Georgian style of the central block and the slightly more elaborate details of the two wings. The wings also housed additional accommodation for the family rather than the kitchen and stable.

Growing up in Midleton, I often heard of a grand country house that once stood on the brow of a hill not two miles north of the town. This was Ballyedmond House which, I was told, had a window for every day of the year. Sadly the house was demolished before I became seriously conscious of it. With three hundred and sixty five windows it must have been huge – and I longed to see a photograph of it. Curiously, Ballyedmond never belonged to the Brodricks, the landlords of Midleton until they sold all their remaining interests in 1966. In fact Ballyedmond’s last owner was a Smith-Barry.

Many years later I had the good fortune to meet somebody who had photos of this famous house (at least it was famous locally!). Some of these photos are reproduced here. Sadly, I don’t have an image of the house from the most public viewpoint – the road to Rathcormac which runs at the bottom of the valley below the site of the house. One thing is pretty clear from the photos – somebody in Midleton couldn’t count! There was simply no way that Ballyedmond House could boast 365 windows – it simply wasn’t big enough.

The Ballyedmond estate was in the civil parish of Templenacarriga, which is in the barony of Barrymore. It was inherited by the Courtenay family through a marriage with the Browne family. It seems that the Courtenays hired the Cork architect Abraham Hargrave the elder, and his son, also called Abraham, to either build the house or to restore it. The photographs show a house with a central block and two wings. However there is a problem – the central block is very clearly a restrained, even chaste, design of circa 1790 to 1820 with no trace of anything older in the structure. The online Dictionary of Irish Architects, run by the Irish Architectural Archive, suggests a date of 1809 to 1811 for the building,which suggests an entirely new house, perhaps on an old site.

The normal approach to Ballyedmond House was by a long winding driveway from the bottom of the hill eventually approaching the house from the east.

The normal approach to Ballyedmond House was by a long winding driveway from the bottom of the hill eventually approaching the house from the east.

The entrance front of the central block faced due north. It was of six bays, with a two bay breakfront topped by a die rather than a pediment. The ground floor windows were set in shallow arches – a feature associated with the work of James Gandon. The entrance was by means of a Doric porch. Within this block, the staircase was located immediately to the right of the entrance hall and the two reception rooms were located on the garden front with splendid views south over the valley towards Midleton and beyond. The drawing room was decorated in the Louis Seize (Louis XVI) style which became quite fashionable in the early 19th century in Britain and Ireland as if to commemorate the executed King of France during the Napoleonic Wars.

The two links were given the appearance of triumphal arches on the entrance front. Complicating everything was the style of the two wings – they were more clearly more early Victorian in character, but with references to the late Georgian or Regency style. The wings presented a windowless front to the visitor. This facade was embellished with a shallow arch in the middle flanked by two niches. The sides of the wings had windows set in architraves – a detail missing from the central block. Also, the roof of each wing had a more elaborate bracketed cornice, whereas the central block had a much plainer cornice.

If the Hargraves simply restored an older house then they did such a thorough job that the evidence of the original house was almost totally subsumed in the restoration To all intents and purposes what the photos show sits perfectly within the 1809-1811 time frame – at least for the central block. It is essentially a new house. The two wings were almost of the same height as the central block and are joined to it by the somewhat more elaborate links. Curiously, the wings were not designed to perform the traditional functions of kitchen wing and stable wing respectively. (The stables and farmyard were located in a separate building further up the hill, and the was in the basement.) The wings were actually additional living quarters for the family and their guests, suggesting that that Ballyedmond was intended to accommodate plenty of house parties.

The house remained in the Courtenay family until 1861 when it passed by inheritance to a relative, Captain Richard Hugh Smith-Barry. He was the fourth son of John Smith- Barry, the builder of nearby Fota House who in 1814 married Eliza-Mary Courtenay, daughter of Robert Courtenay of Ballyedmond. The lack of male heirs on the Courtenay side later in the 19th century meant that Ballyedmond passed to the Smith-Barrys, who appropriately were directly descended from the Barrys, Earls of Barrymore.

The last resident owner was Guy Smith-Barry. He liked to take a telescope onto the roof to spy out any ships coming in to Cork Harbour at Roche’s Point (it was clearly visible from the house!). It is eighteen kilometers from Midleton to Roche’s Point by road, add some tour kilometers from Main Street in Midleton to Ballyedmond, it seems that Guy Smith-Barry was able to view ships some twenty two kilometers away! That’s about thirteen and a half miles, which gives you some idea of the view from the roof of Ballyedmond. If he was expecting guests Guy would dash down to his car and drive to Cork, arriving in time to greet his visitors as they disembarked from the ferry from England.

Sadly, in the 1960s, the cost of maintaining Ballyedmond House became prohibitive, and Guy Smith-Barry was obliged to sell off the house and demesne to a local businessman, who promptly demolished the great house. Not a trace of it remains today except for some of the demesne walls and gate lodges.

Note: Abraham Addison Hargrave (1755 – 1808) ,the elder, came from Horsforth, near Leeds in Yorkshire, and made an architectural career for himself in Cork City and County. He had four sons, three of whom became architects, while another became a civil engineer.

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An East Cork Mystery – Pugin’s missing potato house in Dungourney.

The barn at Oxenford Farm, Surrey, was designed by Pugin for George Brodrick, 5th Viscount Midleton. (1843-1844) (Photo - SovalValtos)

The barn at Oxenford Farm, Surrey, was designed by Pugin in 1843 for George Brodrick, 5th Viscount Midleton. (Photo – SovalValtos, 2014)

…I have already produced almost as many drawings for this potato house as I have for any of my churches!

AWN Pugin in a letter to Viscount Midleton, (1845-48?).

When an architect as celebrated as Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin tells you that he has put so much effort into designing a potato house in a farm complex, you’d think that the self same potato house, or farm complex, would appear on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, which officially lists all of our protected historic buildings. But Pugin’s Dungourney farm isn’t there. So we are left with a mystery. The only clue I have is that the farm was then ‘…now building….‘ near Dungourney, just a few miles north east of Midleton.

Oxenford Farm gate lodge was designed by Pugin in 1843 and, after recent restoration by the Landmark Trust, it can be hired as a weekend retreat.

The Oxenford Farm gate lodge was designed by Pugin in 1843 and, after recent restoration by the Landmark Trust, it can be hired as a weekend retreat. (Photo – Ainslie, 2013)

You might think that Pugin (1812-1852) was too busy designing churches and houses of Parliaments for him to give any attention to a farm complex, but he already had form, having designed an ornamental farm on the Peper Harow estate in Surrey for the 5th Viscount Midleton between 1843 and 1845. This was Oxenford Grange Farm which was once a grange of Waverley Abbey – so appropriately Pugin created a gothic revival farmyard, including gatehouse, barn and other farm buildings.  The (British) Landmark Trust have renovated the gatehouse and rent it out for short stays.  The Landmark Trust have also superbly restored Pugin’s home at The Grange in Ramsgate, Kent, for the same purpose.

The former Midleton Arms Hotel was designed as two town houses by Pugin, with shops on the ground floor. The building is probably older than its assumed completion date of 1851.

The former Midleton Arms Hotel was designed as two town houses by Pugin, with shops on the ground floor. The building is probably a few years older than its assumed completion date of 1851.

Midleton already has a building attributed to Pugin – two townhouses with shops on the ground floor built in a lovely understated late gothic or early Tudor style. The completion date for these is said to be 1851 – the year before Pugin’s death. But the houses may have been completed by the architect’s son, Edward Welby Pugin. However, I suspect that the pair of houses may actually be older – they were mentioned in 1845 as part of the improvements of the town by the landlord, George, 5th Viscount Midleton. It is likely that these houses were knocked into one structure as a hotel by the early 1850s. They certainly served as the Midleton Arms Hotel until the beginning of the 1980s. Sadly, to date, the structure hasn’t been researched properly.

The largest work by Pugin was his decoration for the interior of the Palace of Westminster.  Although the architect is ususally stated to be Charles Barry, I suspect Pugin's role was far greater than Barry ever admitted.

The largest work by Pugin was his decoration for the interior of the Palace of Westminster. Although the architect is usually stated to be Charles Barry, I suspect Pugin’s role was far greater than Barry ever admitted.

Augustus Pugin was famous for being a strong champion of the gothic revival style of architecture, setting new standards in design. His most famous work was the interiors of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) in London. Sadly the building was damaged by Luftwaffe bombing during the Second World War and some of his work was obliterated.  The building is usually credited to Charles Barry but Barry was a classicist and he had to enlist Pugin to give the building a romantic gothic dress. The dramatic skyline is really by Pugin as is the clock tower commonly called ‘Big Ben,’ but now officially the Queen Elizabeth II Tower.

The reason Pugin went mad in February 1852 was a nervous breakdown caused by overwork on such items as the Throne in the House of Lords in Westminster.

Clearly not a pototo house! The reason Pugin went mad in February 1852 was a nervous breakdown caused by overwork on such items as the Throne in the House of Lords in Westminster.

The other Midleton connection to Pugin is that his daughter Mary married a local lad from East Cork – George Coppinger Ashlin, who was born in Little Island.  George’s older brother, John Coppinger Ashlin, lived in Castleredmond House, just yards from my present home. The road leading from Rocky Road to the Ballinacorra road was called Ashlin Road – but the by-pass built in the 1980s obliterated part of the route and the road had to be re-routed. Happily it kept the name Ashlin Road. George Coppinger Ashlin was himself a prolific architect, especially of Catholic churches, but his style was more varied than Pugin’s.  Ashlin designed the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Midleton as well as the Munster and Leinster Bank on Main Street – now the Allied Irish Bank.

The red-brick Munster and Leinster bank designed by Pugin's son-in-law GC Ashlin still dominates the northern end of Midleton's Main Street. This photo was taken shortly after the bank opened in 1901.

The red-brick Munster and Leinster Bank (on the right, now the Allied Irish Bank, was designed by Pugin’s son-in-law GC Ashlin in 1899. It  still dominates the northern end of Midleton’s Main Street. This photo was taken a decade or two after the bank opened in 1901.

My family connection with Pugin’s architecture goes back to my grandfather, Richard Harpur, who came from Barntown in County Wexford. The local Catholic church there was designed by Pugin an is still one of his best preserved buildings – St Alphonsus, Barntown.

My grandfather worshipped in Pugin's St Alphonsus Church in Barntown, County Wexford.

My grandfather worshipped in Pugin’s perfectly preserved St Alphonsus Church in Barntown, County Wexford.

However, I’d really love to see the potato house that Pugin designed (during the Famine!) for Lord Midleton at Dungourney! Hopefully it hasn’t been demolished!  Pugin’s Dungourney farm complex needs to be listed for protection, so does anybody know where it is?  Given what Pugin said to Lord Midleton about his designs, I really want to see that potato house!

Source:- Margaret Belcher, editor: The Collected Letters of AWN Pugin. Vol 3, (1846-1848) Oxford University Press.2009.