Midleton College Founded 1696. This inscription over the great door of the original block of Midleton College is both accurate, and disingenuous. The school was indeed founded by Elizabeth Villiers in 1696, but the building itself didn’t exist at the time. Indeed, the original school house was only completed in 1717 – over two decades after the indenture of foundation was issued by Elizabeth Villiers. There are three questions to answer regarding Midleton Endowed School, as it was originally called. First, what prompted the foundation of the school in 1696? Secondly, what caused such a long delay between the foundation of the school and the completion of the school building; in 1717, when the Rev George Chinnery was appointed the first headmaster? Finally, what was the architectural source for the design of the original building?
Figure 1 The original Midleton School that was completed in 1717 is the building on the right of this photograph. The wing on the left was added in the latter part of the 19th century. The original building has lost some features, especially a cupola which originally stood on the roof over the centre of the building. The H-plan if this part survives intact. This photograph comes from the National Library of Ireland’s Eason Collection and is mislabelled ‘Barracks, Midleton!’
To understand the origins of Midleton Endowed School (its original name) we have to go back to 1660, and to the restoration of King Charles II. As soon as he was back on the throne, Charles sought to establish his younger brother, James, Duke of York, in a style befitting a royal prince. To this end, Charles granted James a huge Irish estate of over 95,649 acres which brought in almost £26,000 per annum. When James succeeded his brother as king in 1685 he retained this estate as a source of private income. However, James’s inept religious policies were sufficient to give his son-in-law, William of Orange, Stadholder of Holland, the opportunity to organize a successful invasion of England in 1688 with a fleet that was larger than anything the Spanish had ventured a century earlier. With the final defeat of Jacobite forces in Ireland, confirmed by the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, King William was in a position to award James’s private Irish estate to his wife, Queen Mary, who was the daughter of James and his first wife, Anne Hyde.
It’s intriguing to think that some of the rents from the townland of Youngrove near Midleton may have contributed to the construction, or decoration, of Kensington Palace, which was being built at the time. It was at Kensington that Mary died in 1694 having first extracted a promise from her husband that he would give up his only English-born mistress, Mary’s childhood companion, Elizabeth Villiers. On Mary’s death in 1694, her sister, the Princess Anne, might have expected to inherit her father’s Irish estate. However, William, wilful as ever, granted the estates, along with a Scottish title, to his former mistress Elizabeth Villiers, perhaps in acknowledgement of her past services to him, as he decided to end all intimate associations with her. Elizabeth Villiers was now a rich woman in her own right, and a prize for any man that married her..
This vast grant to William of Orange’s former mistress infuriated both the Irish and English parliaments, which wanted to sell off the lands to pay down the public debt. And therein lay the rub. Elizabeth, now Countess of Orkney, soon afterwards married to George Hamilton, who became known as Earl of Orkney, in right of his wife. Elizabeth needed the money from the rents to keep her in style appropriate to a noblewoman. She proposed to mollify opposition to her good fortune by using some of her Irish lands to endow a new school in Ireland. This move may have been designed to get the Irish House of Commons on her side against the English House of Commons.
To this end, before her marriage to Hamilton, Elizabeth entrusted her Irish estate to her brother, Edward, Viscount Villiers, and to one of William’s privy councillors, Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The latter was the eldest surviving son of Sir St John Brodrick, the Cromwellian soldier granted the lands of Corabbey in 1653, renamed Midleton in a charter of 1670. A year later, on 23 October 1696, Edward Villiers and Thomas Brodrick conveyed over 1,882 acres in the County Cork baronies of Kinnelea and East and West Carbery to the lawyer Alan Brodrick of Midleton, and to his brother in law, Laurence Clayton of Mallow. These men were now the trustees of the lands Elizabeth Villiers had set aside to endow her newly founded school. Alan Brodrick was, of course, the younger brother of Thomas Brodrick, one of the two trustees of Elizabeth’s great Irish estate.
All of the above suggests that Brodricks of Midleton seem to have been involved in the whole affair from the start. In fact, they even offered the site for the new school in their town of Midleton, carving out a totally new townland, called School Lands, from their townland of Town Parks. This ingenious measure kept the newly founded school firmly outside the jurisdiction and control of the Corporation of Midleton.
The political arguments over the grant of lands to Elizabeth Villiers finally culminated in the Act of Resumption passed by the English Parliament in 1700. This removed the private Irish estate of James II from Elizabeth’s hands, except for certain properties, in particular the lands she had set aside to endow her new school. A later Act in 1702, and a further indenture of 1703, confirmed the endowment of 1696. On paper, it seemed there was now nothing to stop the trustees constructing the school. Thomas Brodrick, one of the original trustees of Elizabeth’s estate and one of the original governors of the school, was specifically charged under the 1696 indenture with the task of building the school. He was to ‘frame modells, provide and contract for ground materials and other necessaries and to do all other things whatsoever in order to the erecting, building and furnishing a school, schoolhouse, and other fitting out-houses, and conveniences at Midleton aforesaid as he shall find best and most expedient.’ (Spelling as in the original.)
Yet, Brodrick did not begin to construct the school immediately after the confirmation of the endowment in 1702 and 1703. The problem was quite simply lack of money. It was due to ‘…the unsettled state of the country..‘ that the trustees of the school’s endowment, Alan Brodrick (Thomas’s brother) and Laurence Clayton (Alan and Thomas’s brother-in-law), were unable ‘…to accumulate out of the rents and profits a sufficient sum to build a School House.’
In October 1710 they finally felt the endowment was sufficiently secure to permit them to lease some of the lands to Francis Daunt, gentleman, for a fine of £300 and a yearly rent of £100. The lease was renewable for three lives, subject to perpetual renewal on payment of a fine of £25 for each life. In 1712 remaining portion of the lands were leased to Thomas Hodges and William Ware and their heirs for £100 per annum. The perpetual renewal clause was the same as that granted to Daunt. Thus the lack of funds, due to the lack of any income from the endowment, had prevented Thomas Brodrick from commencing construction until sometime after 1710, perhaps even after 1712.
The foundation indenture of 1696 also stipulated that the school master and ushers should not be appointed until the building was complete, ‘or sooner as they [the Governors] shall see occasion’. The appointment of Rev. George Chinnery MA as Master on 21 August 1717 suggests that the school was ready to accommodate the Master and his family, as well as the ushers, who were appointed at the same meeting. As an aside, the carpenter Benjamin Griffin was also granted extra payment for wainscoting the school room. All this shows that Midleton Endowed School wasn’t actually built until the second decade of the eighteenth century.
And what of the school’s architecture? Who designed it, and what were the sources of the building’s design? As noted above, Thomas Brodrick was charged in the foundation indenture with framing models. That is, he was to draw up the plans for the building. Yet, Brodrick isn’t listed as an architect on the Irish Architectural Archive’s comprehensive online Dictionary of Irish Architects. As a gentleman he certainly had some acquaintance with, and perhaps a considerable knowledge of, architecture, but it seems likely that he may have had some professional help in drafting the design of the building. One possible architectural advisor may have been the Scot, John Curl, who was reworking Beaulieu near Drogheda. His work there was done for the Tichbourne brothers who were, like the Brodricks, staunch supporters of the Williamite settlement. It’s worth noting that the plan of the somewhat earlier Beaulieu bears some resemblance to that of Midleton School.
However, the it seems very likely that the original inspiration for the school building came from a source that was, ironically, linked to King James II. We have already noted that James’s first wife was Anne Hyde (1637-1671), the mother of Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Her father, Edward Hyde (1609-1674), was created Earl of Clarendon by Charles II at the Restoration. Clarendon didn’t approve of Anne’s marriage to the Duke of York, since he hoped to arrange for the Duke to marry a suitable foreign princess. He also disapproved of the king’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, a cousin of the foundress of Midleton School. Barbara Villiers was instrumental in attempting to undermine Hyde’s position as chief minister. (There was also a family link to Dromana House in County Waterford. Edward Villiers, a cousin of both Barbara and Elizabeth, married Elizabeth Fitzgerald of Dromana, County Waterford. Elizabeth also had a sister called Barbara, which confuses some commentators.)
In the 1664, King Charles granted Clarendon an eight-acre plot of land in St James’s in London. On this Hyde built a grand and very influential mansion – Clarendon House. Designed by Roger Pratt, and completed in 1667, Clarendon House was built to a plan that followed Pratt’s belief that the family apartments should be separated from the guest apartments at the opposite end of the house by an apartment of parade. The plan was laid out as a wide H with the transom, or crossbar, being the main entrance and garden facade. The house was a double pile (at least two rooms deep) and consisted of two equal storeys over a basement, with an attic lit by dormer windows above. The main section of Clarendon House, the ‘transom’, was of nine bays in length. The side wings, of the same height as the main section, were three bays wide on their principal facades, and accommodated the family on one side and guests on the other. The whole composition was topped off by a cupola situated on the roof directly on the central axis of the building above the main entrance. This may have lit a staircase hall. Pratt’s design for Clarendon House was a Carolean baroque scheme which influenced a number of large houses in England until the 1720s, the best known example being Belton House in Lincolnshire (built 1685-1688). One advantage of Pratt’s composition was that it could be enlarged or reduced in size to suit the pocket of a patron. Note that the term Carolean is derived from Carolus for King Charles II and refers to the style of baroque architecture and decoration employed in both Britain and Ireland after the Restoration in 1660 until the 1720s when the Palladian revival took hold.
Clarendon House was sold off by Edward Hyde’s heirs in 1675 to Edward Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle, whose spendthrift ways obliged him to sell it in 1683. Bought by a consortium of property developers, including Sir Thomas Bond, Clarendon House was in such a poor state that it was promptly demolished and the site used for developing Dover Street, Albemarle Street and, of course, Bond Street between 1684 and 1720.
Given that Elizabeth Villiers’ mother, Frances, was the governess of the Princesses Mary and Anne, and that Elizabeth was herself Lady in waiting to Mary when she married William of Orange, it is likely that this link to the Hyde family and Clarendon House influenced Thomas Brodrick’s scheme of architecture. One is left wondering if Elizabeth Villiers herself might have suggested Clarendon House as a model for Midleton School. It should be noted that Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, married William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin, who owned Rostellan near Midleton. Inchiquin was one of the first school governors, and a cousin of Henry Boyle of Castlemartyr, who was another governor of the school.
Midleton School was also laid out as two equal storeys over basement on the Clarendon House H-plan. The transom presents the main (west) facade to the visitor and to the grounds (east front) with the ends of the flanking accommodation wings located to the north and south. These wings present three window bays to the front and back, as at Clarendon House, although the central windows are now blocked up. Obviously one wing accommodated the Master and his family, while the other accommodated the ushers with the pupils boarding upstairs. The single schoolroom occupied the transom, with additional dormitory accommodation overhead. It is worth noting that the transom has a frontispiece in the centre of each facade, again as at Clarendon House. That on the west facade provided the main entrance while that to the east held a large arched window to provide morning light for the schoolroom. The principal door is flanked by two high arched windows and the upper storey has round windows, or oculi. Such round windows were used on certain buildings constructed in the English baroque style in the period 1790 to about 1720, for example on Christopher Wren’s portion of Hampton Court Palace, and the later Cannons House in Middlesex, and Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight. The north and south facades were designed with a four-bay frontispiece flanked by two bay setbacks. Again, the inner bay of each setback has had the windows blocked up. These blocked up windows present a difficulty. Were they originally blind windows inserted to provide symmetry and interest to the facades, as at Belton? If so it seems very odd that they are now totally flush with the wall. There really would have been no point in making the recesses flush with the outer plane of the walls at a later stage. It seems much more likely that these windows were original openings that were blocked up during the late 1820s under the supervision of Joseph Welland, a native of Midleton who was then the architect for the Commissioners of Education. It seems likely that Welland may have remodelled the original entrance door as well.
One other detail requires mention, although it is now absent. In his book, The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (1750), Dr Charles Smith gives a description of Midleton School in which he mentions a cupola on top of the building which had been taken down some years previously. There is no reason to disbelieve Smith since he appears to have been quite diligent in his researches. Since no copy of the school’s original plan or elevation has yet come to light, we must ask what was the purpose of this cupola? At Clarendon House the cupola seems to have provided light for the staircase below. If the cupola on Midleton School was a glazed lantern, it may have been designed to draw more light into the dormitory on the upper floor. However, there exist in England examples of open arched cupolas on some houses of the period. These seem to have been intended to add dramatic flourish to the appearance of the building, emphasising the central axis. Either way, the mystery of the Midleton School cupola remains to be resolved, but whichever style of cupola was adopted it provided a dramatic flourish to emphasise the central axis of the building, just as the cupolas did on Clarendon House and on Belton and other houses built under the influence of Pratt’s design between the late 1660s and the 1720s.
All of the preceding argument shows ihat the architecture of the original building of Midleton School possesses Carolean baroque features rather than Palladian revival ideas, which came into fashion within a couple of years. The school expressed the architecture of the court of King Charles II, of William and Mary, and of Queen Anne. It is NOT Georgian architecture, despite the fact that King George I had been on the throne for three years when Midleton School was completed. In short, with its Roger Pratt style H-plan, its receding and protruding planes, its close set and varied windows (rectangular, arched and round), and its vanished cupola emphasising the central axis of the plan, the original design of Midleton School was a baroque composition rather than a Palladian design. Its architectural ancestor was clearly Roger Pratt’s Clarendon House erected in London for King Charles II’s chief minister, although the latter was a very grand townhouse. The baroque design of the school building is today obscured by the loss of the cupola, the blocking of window openings, perhaps by the alteration of the doorway, and the nineteenth century additions to the structure. Mercifully, enough survives of the original plan and elevation to support the idea that the school was a belated exercise in Carolean baroque architecture when it was completed in 1717,
Appropriately the school was approached via Charles Street, named after the monarch who granted the charter which established the Manor of Midleton and incorporated the Borough of Midleton in 1670. Charles Street, now Connolly Street, seems to have been laid out on its current triangular plan to focus on the school built between 1710 and 1717. To emphasise the baroque influence even further, the view from the school door would originally have taken in the large steeple attached to the previous St John the Baptist’s Church, a steeple that held a peal of six bells when Charles Smith visited in 1750. Thus the baroque influence wasn’t simply confined to the school building but reached out towards the town itself, although it was never fully developed there!
With five primary schools and four secondary schools, Midleton is known as a centre of education in East Cork, especially when one recalls that St Colman’s Community College also supplies opportunities for post-secondary education. This educational concentration grew from the endowment of 1696 which led to the creation of Midleton Endowed School, now entering its tercentenary of teaching as Midleton College.