Midleton College – a School from Scandal.

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?

Midleton College

Midleton Endowed School was founded by Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney in 1696. However the main building (on the right) wasn’t completed until 1717 under the direction of Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The wing on the left was added in the second half of the 19th century.

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..

Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney

Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, was a childhood companion of Princess Mary, and later mistress of William of Orange, Mary’s husband. Elizabeth founded Midleton Endowed School in 1696.

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.


Alan Brodrick (1656?-1727), 1st Viscount Midleton from 1717. He was the key legal advisor to Elizabeth Villiers during her struggles to found Midleton College. A Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Brodrick became Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1715.

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.

Midleton College facade

The original Midleton Endowed School (centre and right) is built entirely of locally quarried limestone. The central windows in each wing were blocked at some stage. The single largeschoolroom was the large room lit by the two arched windows. The circular upper windows light the dormitory. The original cupola over the centre was removed before 1750. On the left is the later 19th century wing with brick window surrounds.

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.)


Clarendon House, St James’s, London, was designed by Roger Pratt for Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. The Earl of Clarendon was the grandfather of Queen Mary and Queen Anne.

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.

Belton House

Belton House in Lincolnshire (built in 1685-1688)  is the best surviving imitation of Clarendon House, which was demolished at the same time. Belton is attributed to the architect William Winde.Enter a caption

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.

Belton cupola

The glazed cupola on Belton House closely resembles that depicted on Clarendon House and probably represents the best surviving model of the cupola that originally adorned Midleton School.Enter a caption

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.


‘Happy Birthday, Midleton!’ The Charter of Midleton was issued 345 years ago by King Charles II.

King Charles II granted the Charter of Midleton to Sir St John Brodrick in 1670.

King Charles II granted the Charter of Midleton to Sir St John Brodrick in 1670. He also gave his name to the former Charles Street in Midleton, now Connolly Street.

‘…constitute, ordain and appoint the said Castle, Town & Lands of CastleRedmond & Corabby aforesaid, with the appurtenances in the County of Corke aforesaid, shall from henceforth forever be a free Borrough & Corporation & shall be called by the name of Borrough & Town of Middleton.….’,

These are the words that give the town of Midleton in County Cork its modern name. As you can observe, spelling was rather flexible in those days. The above statement is buried within the charter issued by King Charles II to Sir St John Brodrick in June 1670. We have already noted in a previous post that the date of the charter ( ‘…the Tenth day of June in the Two and twentyeth year of our Reign & in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Six hundred and Seventy…‘, 10 June 1670) was actually ten days behind the corrected calendar authorised by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, but the British, being suspicious of any ‘papist’ innovations, preferred to stick to the old Julian calendar until 1752.  So the correct date for the issuing of the Charter of Midleton is 20 June 1670, which is why I’m discussing it now.

On Thursday 18 June I spent the morning at the Cork Archives examining the only copy of the charter to have survived. This is a manuscript copy made by Rev Mr Verney Lovett on Saturday, 7 February 1784 and copied ‘verbatim’ from the text then preserved in the Rolls Office in Dublin. Anyone familiar with Irish history will know that the Public Record Office in Dublin was destroyed at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1922, thus incinerating centuries of Irish historical records – including the text which Mr Lovett consulted. The fact that Lovett made a copy of the charter suggests that the original Charles II charter document given to St John Brodrick had already vanished. The Rev Mr Lovett, being a burgess of Midleton, was obliged to make a fair copy from the surviving record, which he had neatly bound in a soft leather cover with the inscription Charter of Middleton 1670 embossed on it. Clearly this was intended to be a working document for the charter only takes up thirty pages, with most of the folio being blank.

John, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton was the co-founder of New Jersey with George Carteret. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland when Sir St John Brodrick applied for a charter. Despite is relaxed attitude to Catholics, Berkeley got on very well with the staunchly Protestant Brodrick.

John, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton was the co-founder of New Jersey with George Carteret. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland when Sir St John Brodrick applied for a charter. Despite is relaxed attitude to Catholics, Berkeley got on very well with the staunchly Protestant Brodrick.

The charter was issued by the king on the suit of Sir St John Brodrick (or Broderick, as the text has it) on the advice and consent of ‘our Right & well beloved cousin John Lord Berkeley Lieutenant General & General Governor of our said Kingdom of Ireland‘. This was John, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, who with Sir George Carteret founded the Province of New Jersey in North America in 1664-1674.  Berkeley had fought for Charles I in the Civil War and was exiled during the Commonwealth.  Appointed Lord President of Connaught for life in 1661, he appointed a deputy to do his work there shortly thereafter. Berkeley was sent back to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant in 1670 and stayed in office until 1672. He was  considered very pro-Catholic (not surprising given his French and Spanish-Netherlands exile under Cromwell). This apparent pro-Catholic stance makes Berkeley’s friendship with Sir St John Brodrick all the more surprising, for Brodrick was a staunch low-church Protestant.

The sprawling Whitehall Palace was originally Cardinal Wolsey's London residence, then the home of Henry VIII. More of a town than a coherent palace, it burned down in the 1690s, to the relief of William of Orange who hated its damp atmosphere.  It was from here that Charles II issued Letters Patent to Berkeley to draw up the Charter of Midleton.

The sprawling Whitehall Palace was originally Cardinal Wolsey’s London residence, then the residence of Henry VIII. More of a town than a coherent palace, it burned down in the 1690s, to the relief of William of Orange who hated its damp atmosphere. It was from here that Charles II issued Letters Patent to Berkeley to draw up the Charter of Midleton.

The charter was issued from Whitehall Palace under letters bearing the king’s privy signet and sign manual (the king’s personal seal and signature) but was formally registered in the rolls of the High Court of Chancery of Ireland on 3 January 1671. This was a month overdue since the king had commanded that the charter be enrolled within six months of issuance – so it should have been enrolled in early December 1670. The legal profession’s Christmas break must have delayed matters.

Charter of King Charles Ii to the colony of Rhode Island, 1663. This is what an actual charter document looks like. Sadly the Midleton charter seems to have vanished by 1784 when Rev Verney Lovett made his copy from the Chancery Rolls copy.

Charter of King Charles Ii to the colony of Rhode Island, 1663. This is what an actual charter document looks like. Sadly the Midleton charter seems to have vanished by 1784 when Rev Verney Lovett made his copy from the Chancery Rolls copy.

So what exactly was a charter and what did the it do?  A charter is a legal document that could be issued by an authorising authority (the king) under its seal granting certain legal rights and privileges to a person, or a group of persons, or to a place or estate. This particular charter did three things. Firstly, as we’ve already discovered, the charter named the town formerly known as Mainistir na Corann or Corabbey as Middleton. To be honest, I was intrigued to note that the spelling Middleton appeared to apply only to the town, with the spelling Midleton applying only to the manor or estate of Sir St John Brodrick – until the spelling of the town’s new name changed near the end of the document – Middleton or Midleton were used for the name of both the town and the manor interchangeably. Perhaps there was a change of clerk during the drafting of the charter? it should be noted that this new name for the town is the only part of the charter still in force.

However the charter actually opens with the erection of the estates of Sir St John Brodrick into a manor, or Mannor, as it is sometimes spelled. A manor was an estate with specific identity bearing clear legal rights and powers. These rights and powers would apply to specific denominations of land. In the case of Midleton these were spread over four baronies. grouped by barony the denominations were the townlands of Castle-Redmond, Corraby, Killeagh, Knocknagoure, Knockgriffin, Curtistowne, Cahirmoan, Storm.Cotter, Carrigbane, Coppingerstown, Butlerstowne, BallyBane, Ballyrarla, Ballysimon,Ballymartin, Ballyknock & Coolerath, Rathcannon, Donigmore,& Kippane, Monemerrig, Bridgefield, Carrignasheny & Lictur Dowre, & Coolcurrig, Dromfaranie in the barony of Imokilly. Clearly the Imokilly lands constituted the larger part of the manor.

Then came Garriduff, Knocknacottig, Ballyannan, East Ballyvodick, West Ballyvodick, Ballintubber, Ballinecurrig, Ballyhasna, & Glanawillin in the barony of Barrymore.The outlying denominations were Donivally Ballygreggin, Temple Roane & Killehenisk in the barony of Fermoy, with Gallinguile and Kilbrony in the barony of Orrery in North Cork.  All of these denominations were in the county of Cork. All of these lands were to be constituted an ‘intire Manor‘ with all the rights and privileges attached to a manor. Clearly the intention was that the estate should remain complete and intact for evermore.

The most important right attached to a manor was the right to hold manorial courts. There were three such courts in the Manor of Midleton: a Court Leet and View of Frank Pledge, and a Court Baron, and a Court of Record. Sir St John Brodrick could exercise his rights to hold these manorial courts by appointing one or more seneschals and a recorder to preside over these courts. The Court of Record was given jurisdiction over actions ot the value of £200 in English currency! This was a surprisingly large sum at the time.  A Bailiff Minister was to serve as the agent of the Court of Record. In addition to keeping his manor courts, Sir St John Brodrick was given the right to keep and maintain a prison and to appoint a keeper to serve the Court of Record.

St John Brodrick was also granted the right to create a demesne of 800 acres for his exclusive use and to enclose a ‘park venery’ (deer park) and rabbit warren of 800 acres ‘more or less’!  Indeed he did create a deer park at Cahermone which ran right up to the edge of the town (hence the two townlands of Park North and Park South). This park existed right up until the estate was sold off under the Land Acts of the late 1800s and early 1900s, although by then it was much reduced in size. And just in case anyone didn’t understand how powerful Brodrick had become, the lord of the manor was to ‘…have, receive, perceive, seize, Enjoy & convert….’ all ‘…waifs, strays, ffelons, goods of fugitives, & Deodands, ffishings, weers, Royalties, free warren & privileges…‘ for his own benefit, profit, use and enjoyment!

It was the Lord of the Manor who controlled the town’s market – he was obliged to appoint a ‘clerk of the Markett‘ to keep order in the market and to collect the dues owed to him by the stall-holders.

Seal of the Corporation of Midleton as illustrated by Samuel Lewis in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland.

Seal of the Corporation of Midleton as illustrated by Samuel Lewis in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. The spelling of Midleton was amended in the 19th century to prevent the mails from going astray!

The final major decision under the charter was to constitute the town on the estate as a borough as noted at the head of this post. The borough would ‘…extend into the said county of Corke every way from the middle of the said town one hundred acres in the whole….‘ Within the town there was to be a ‘..body Pollitick & Corporate consisting of one Sovereign, Two Bailiffs & two Burgesses.‘  This posed a problem for Mr Verney Love, because a few lines later we find that the Corporation would consist of .’…a Sovereign, Two bailiffs & TWELVE Burgesses.’  Mr Lovett underlined the word ‘twelve’ in his text, and, indeed, this was the structure of the Corporation thereafter, the same Corporation that Mr Lovett served on. This group of men would thereafter be called ‘The Sovereign, Bailiffs and Burgesses of the Burrough and Town of Middleton.‘.

The charter names William Hutchings as ‘.. a free burgess & first & modern Sovereign.‘  He was to hold office until ‘…the Thursday next after the Feast of St Michael the Archangel...’ in 1672!  Hutchings was obliged to be sworn into office ‘…before 29th September next before the Justices of Assizes of County Corke…’ taking the Oath of Supremacy, and other oaths as required by law, including the ‘Corporal Oath‘ of Midleton. September 29th is Michaelmas or the Feast of St Michael, an important date in the legal and academic calendar since it marked the start of the autumn law term. The sovereign was to be the sole coroner for Midleton and would serve as a Justice of the Peace for one year after the conclusion of his term of office. From 1730, the sovereign was usually the agent for the absentee Viscount Midleton, often holding office of sovereign for many years in succession.

John Downing and John Gemings were appointed free burgesses and bailiffs of Midleton, also holding office until the Thursday following Michaelmas 1672.  The burgesses were named as: Adam Wener, Peter Bettesworth, Richard Downing, Richard Walkham, Edward Laundy, Thomas Guard, John Wally, Nicholas Seward, Robert Cole, Thomas Knight, William Kinnagh, & Richard Hargrove.

Cooper Penrose of Cork was a burgess of Midleton in 1784. He commissioned this portrait of himself from Jacques-Louis David in 1802. This is the only portrait of an Irish subject by David. Sadly this superb portrait was sold by the family to a museum in San Diego.   A huge loss to our artistic patrimony.

Cooper Penrose of Cork was a burgess of Midleton in 1784. He commissioned this portrait of himself from Jacques-Louis David in 1802. This is the only portrait of an Irish subject by David. Sadly this superb portrait was sold by the family to a museum in San Diego. A huge loss to our artistic patrimony.

Rev Verney Lovett usefully supplied the names of most of his colleagues on the Corporation in 1784: Martin Delany and Thomas Wigmore were the bailiffs that year. The burgesses were: George Courteney, George Courteney of Ballycrenan, the Earl of Shannon, Broderick Chinnery, Aubrey (?) McCarthy, Cooper Penrose, William Garde of Broomfield, Rev Verney Lovett himself, and Rev Laurence Broderick.  The Courteneys were cousins, the Earl of Shannon’s Irish seat was at Castlemartyr, just a few miles east of Midleton, Brodrick Chinnery was descended from the first and second headmasters of Midleton College and was related to the Brodricks, Cooper Penrose was a wealthy Cork merchant, Rev Laurence Broderick was a cousin of the fourth Viscount Midleton at the time.  Sadly Mr Lovett didn’t give us the name of the sovereign, but it might have been Rev Mr Green, Rector of Tullylease in north Cork – but this is uncertain.

Built or rebuilt by George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton, in 1789, the Market House is the most important building on Main Street.  It replaced a market house dating from the 1680s and was the location for the Corporation's meetings and elections, as well as being the Borough and  manorial courthouse. It's now the town library.

Built or rebuilt by George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton, in 1789, the Market House is the most important building on Main Street. It replaced a market house dating from the 1680s and was the location for the Corporation’s meetings and elections, as well as being the Borough and manorial courthouse. It’s now the town library. Historically only the central arch of the arcade was open – the rest were shops.

Elections for the sovereign and bailiffs were to be held annually on the Thursday following the Feast of St James the Apostle, which fell on 25 July, with the officers taking office on the Thursday after Michaelmas. The sovereign, as noted above, rarely changed, but the bailiffs were changed almost every year. The sovereign, bailiffs and burgesses were to elect ‘two discreet burgesses‘ as members of Parliament to sit in the Irish House of Commons whenever a general election or a by-election was called. Furthermore, the sovereign, bailiffs and burgesses could admit any number of freemen to the town on payment of a 5 shilling fee to be used for the benefit of the Corporation. Sadly, there’s no surviving list of freemen.

The Corporation was also free to possess and use a common seal for authorising Corporation business, with a design and inscription of their choice. They were also permitted to ‘…build or cause to be built in some convenient place in the said town of Middleton a common hall or Tholsell to be called the Tholsell of Middleton….’ wherein they might conduct the business of the Corporation.  And to think we called it a market house or town hall all along! The Corporation was also permitted to organize a guild of merchants for the regulation of trade in the town (except the market) – but there’s no evidence that they bothered with this provision.

Not mentioned in the Charter, the Midleton Mace was almost certainly made by Robert Goble of Cork around 1700 to symbolise the Corporation's authority. It shows the Royal Crown on top with the arms of the Brodricks on the head. The mace is now preserved in the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Not mentioned in the Charter, the silver Midleton Mace was almost certainly made by Robert Goble, a Huguenot goldsmith of Cork, around 1700 to symbolise the Corporation’s authority. It shows the Royal Crown on top with the arms of the Brodricks on the head. The mace is now preserved in the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

What exactly did the Corporation do?  Well, it seems that it did very little – but that’s because the minute books and court records haven’t survived. Thus we can’t really say if the Corporation really did anything to turn Midleton into the town it is today – I suspect that the Lord of the Manor had more say in those developments since he benefited from the rents. The two bailiffs were required to maintain order in the town, but that basically was it. The loss of the two parliamentary seats in the Act of Union stripped Midleton of its unique parliamentary franchise. From 1801 the town was now represented by the MPs for the county! The most damning indictment of the Corporation of Midleton came in the First Report of the Commissioners on Municipal Corporations in Ireland in 1835:

‘...the Corporation has been kept up, and the annual election of officers has been held, but for what purpose it is not easy to discover; the members having no duties to discharge, nor any privileges or emoluments, except the occasional presence of a local justice of the peace within the town, who seldom acts as such…..

The commissioners noted that even the manor courts had ceased to function, presumably because the courthouse built to the designs of Richard Pain in 1829 now hosted regular Petty Sessions of the County Court, which was much more independent of the landlord and Corporation.

The Corporation of Midleton, along with many others in Ireland, was abolished in 1840. The manor had effectively ceased to exist as such after 1850 when the whole Midleton estate was spit in an inheritance dispute. From then on, all that remained, apart from hunting and fishing rights, was the name given to the town 345 years ago – Midleton.  And to think that the place could have been called Charleville! But St John Brodrick’s friend, Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill and Earl of Orrery, had already appropriated that name in 1661 for his new town at Rathgoggan in Orrery barony in north Cork.  So Brodrick’s town was named prosaically for its position half-way between Cork and Youghal.

So today it might be fair to say……Happy Birthday, Midleton!  

Before Midleton there was……Mainistir na Corann.

New Signs Midleton

Sign erected at the Waterford/Youghal entrance to Midleton in autumn 2014. The Cistercian monk weilding a sickle makes sense for the foundation of the abbey in 1180 , but the Anglo-Norman knight suggests a lack of research.  Is he the mythical ‘Redmond Barry’ who supposedly founded the abbey?  A figure in Cromwellian or Restoration costume might make more sense for the Charter of 1670. The sheaf of wheat or barley on the main sign represents the distilling tradition of the town.  The coat of arms was only granted in the late 20th century to the town council, which was abolished in a local government ‘reform’ in 2014.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Midleton became the name of a a settlement in eastern County Cork only in 1670 when King Charles II granted a charter of incorporation to St John Brodrick, the local landlord, and thereby set up the town of Midleton as a parliamentary borough.  Today as you approach Midleton from either Cork or Waterford, the visitor will notice large signs giving two names – Mainistir na Corann 1180 and Midleton 1670.  It seems odd that a town should have two foundation dates, but actually the town only has one foundation date – 1670. The other date refers to the foundation of a Cistercian monastery on the site in 1180.

As a schoolboy in Midleton one of the earliest things I learned was the name of the town in Irish – Mainistir na Corann.  We were told that this meant ‘the monastery of the weir.’  It was explained that there was a monastery where the town was now built and, to my great disappointment, it had disappeared long ago.

Thomas Crofton Cloyne Round Tower

Cloyne Round Tower is the last remnant of the early Christian monastery that dominated the religious life of much of East Cork before 1200. This illustration by Mariane Nicholson was published in Thomas Crofton’s book ‘Researches in the South of Ireland’ (1824).

Much later I learned that the monastery was not as old as St Colman’s monastery at nearby Cloyne, St Declan’s monastery in Ardmore, County Waterford, or St Carthage’s important monastery at Lismore, also in County Waterford.  Midleton only really paid attention to the pre-1670 heritage in 1980 when the parish celebrated the foundation of the monastery eight centuries earlier, in 1180.  There was an exhibition of books and manuscripts from the library of the nearest Cistercian monastery – Mount Mellary in County Waterford.  A small monument was put up in the town and a booklet published to commemorate the foundation.  And that, basically, was it.

One thing we didn’t do was highlight the remains of the monastery because there is nothing left of it.  It seems that the last remnants were swept away to pay for building St John the Baptist Church (Anglican) in the 1820s. Quite literally the Cistercian abbey has, it seems, been wiped from the face of the earth and is only commemorated in the Irish name of the town.  But to confuse matters, when the Christian Brothers came to Midleton to run a school in the 1860s, they were settled at part of the former Hackett’s Distillery on the Mill Road.  It was remarked then, and since, that this was the site of the medieval monastery.  Certainly there’s a weir nearby, and the Cistercians had owned the site at Broomfield up to the Reformation.  But I’m suspicious – did someone get their facts about the precise location of the abbey mixed up, or did the facts arrive after the arrival of the Christian Brothers?  When your town or locality doesn’t have a local history society to promote considered and careful research (and knowledge) then stories will come about that make no sense.

St John's Midleton

The present Church of St John the Baptist in Midleton is the third or fourth one on the site. It is believed to stand on the site of the Cistercian abbey that gave us the name Mainistir na Corann – the Irish name for Midleton. The present Anglican church was built in 1825 to designs by James and Richard Pain.

The foundation of the Cistercian abbey is also repeatedly ascribed to the Anglo-Normans (my paternal ancestors), who arrived in Ireland in 1169 and only took Cork in the later 1170s.  So the foundation by ‘Redmond Barry’ was thought to be correct – it’s given by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837).  This is specious nonsense – but it is repeated ad nauseam, even on the Wikipedia entry for Midleton. This early period is little studied due to lack of surviving documents – but in the 1940s this myth of a Norman foundation was firmly debunked by Denis O’Sullivan in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

Midleton Bridge

The five arched bridge over the Owenacurra River in Midleton in the evening sunlight. This bridge carries the road to Cork. The river is not especially deep here – I stood in the middle of it just below the bridge last summer, without getting my feet wet (and there was water flowing around me). The Owenacurra can be particularly shallow after a dry spell, but it can transform into a raging torrent after heavy rains.

 What I am going to do is explore Midleton before Midleton, just to set the record straight, and throw in a few ideas of my own. If I upset anyone still clinging to outmoded ideas, tough!  History is about revision – not for the mere sake of revision, but to gain a more accurate picture of the past.  I do hope you’ll join me on this exploration.