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.

A celebration in Longford – with a Midleton link.

Longford Cathedral Fire

St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, burned down on Christmas Day 2009.  The cathedral’s museum was located in the former presbytery built into the back of the structure (on the right side of the photo).

In the early hours of Christmas morning 2009 the people of Longford woke to the horrific sight of their cathedral on fire.  They had celebrated Midnight Mass just a few hours before in the grandest building in the town, and now it was violently consumed by flames which left the building a gutted shell by daybreak.

Longford Cathedral Fire 3

Not the famous Roman basilica of Leptis Magna in Libya, but the devastated interior of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford. The heat from the fire was so great that the blue limestone columns seen here were structurally weakened and every single one of them had to be replaced!

Apart from the loss of the liturgical space, Longford also lost its important diocesan museum which was located in the former presbytery.  Such diocesan museums are an extreme rarity in Ireland.  The presbytery was built into the back of the structure according to the original plans.  Among the treasures damaged and there were items of national importance – the so-called ‘crozier of St Mel’ and the Shrine of St Caillin.  The thousand year old crozier was severely damaged but the Shrine of St Cailin survived despite considerable damage.  The collection of historic vestments was completely lost. For genealogists, there is some relief in that although the old church records were destroyed, they have been microfilmed.

St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford was begun in 1840 under the direction of Bishop William O’Higgins.  It was designed by John Benjamin Keane, a Dublin-born architect who had worked as an assistant to Richard Morrison.  Morrison’s father, John Morrison, also an architect, was based in Midleton in the 1770s and 1780s.  But that’s not the real Midleton connection with St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.  (Note: John B Keane is the name given by the Irish Architectural Archive, but recent news reports give the name as Joseph B Keane!  I’ll stick with the IAA version until I am reliably corrected!  And, no, I’m not aware of any family connection between the architect and the more recent Listowel publican and author, John B Keane.)

Anyone who knows their Irish history will be aware that 1840 was not the most auspicious timing for starting such a large project, much of it financed by the pennies of the poor.  From the autumn of 1845 to 1850 Ireland was stricken by the Great Famine caused by widespread potato blight, and the money for building the cathedral was diverted to more urgent causes.  Once the famine ended, the work resumed, but Keane had long left the scene and died in debt in 1859.  His successors included John Bourke who designed the cathedral’s belfry that has presided over over the town since 1860.

Longford Cathedral

The pride of the Irish midlands, Longford Cathedral took from the 1840s to the 1890s to complete. The tower was added in 1860, and Ashlin’s grand portico was added thirty years later.

Then in the 1880s it was decided to embellish the rather plain front, and the architect of the fine portico was none other than George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921). From 1888 to 1893 the portico was built and some interior furnishings such as altars were designed and supervised by Ashlin. This is where the Midleton connection comes in.  Ashlin was the third son of John Musson Ashlin JP (of Rush Hill, Wandsworth, Surrey, England) and Dorinda Coppinger, who came from Carrigrenane House in, Little Island near Glounthaune, County Cork.  Sadly this house no longer exists.  Dorinda was part of a clan of very influential Catholics who supplied a Bishop of Cloyne in the person of William Coppinger, and the curate of Midleton, Stephen Coppinger, who introduced the Presentation Sisters to the town.  And, yes, Dorinda Coppinger was related to the Joseph Coppinger discussed in a previous post.

George Coppinger Ashlin

George Coppinger Ashlin (1838-1921), Augustus Pugin’s son-in-law, and prolific church architect, had a brother living in Midleton. George went on to design two prominent buildings in the town.

George Ashlin became apprenticed to Edward Pugin, the son of the more celebrated Augustus WN Pugin (the man who designed the interiors of the Palace of Westminster and its clock tower (also popularly called the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).  Primarily considered an architect of the gothic revival, it turns out that Ashlin was accomplished enough to work in the classical style too.  He went on to become Edward Pugin’s business partner, and even married Edward’s sister, Mary – so he was the son-in-law of the more celebrated Augustus Pugin, who had died in 1852. With Edward Pugin and Thomas Coleman, Ashlin designed St Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh (then Queenstown), one of the last sights Irish emigrants saw when they left the country from Cork Harbour.

GC Ashlin’s mother held property in Midleton, where she had several relatives living.  Indeed the Coppingers were the wealthiest Catholics in the town in the early and middle nineteenth century.  Ashlin’s oldest brother was John Coppinger Ashlin, who lived at Castleredmond House on……Ashlin Road (!).  I walked to school along that road every day!  It was these family connections to Midleton that led Ashlin to be commissioned to design Holy Rosary Catholic Church in 1893, and to supervise its construction from 1894 to 1896, and then again when the spire was completed in 1907-1908  Between these dates GC Ashlin designed the finest bank building in Midleton – the redbrick Dutch renaissance style Munster and Leinster Bank, now the Allied Irish Bank at the northern end of Main Street.

Holy Rosary Church Midleton after 1908

Ashlin’s Holy Rosary Church in Midleton, shortly after the completion of the spire in 1908.

Midleton Main Street 1900-1918

Completed in 1902, the Munster and Leinster Bank (on the right) marks the northern end of Midleton’s Main Street. It is a distinctive red brick building in Dutch renaissance style, by George Coppinger Ashlin. Holy Rosary Church overlooks the other end of the street. I can assure you that Main Street is not this quiet today!  The point of grass in the foreground is part of the Goose’s Acre, a plot where the townspeople set their geese out to graze.  The site depicted here is now occupied by the Clonmult Monument designed by the sculptor Seamus Murphy.    

Today, Saturday 20th December 2014 will be long remembered in Longford town as the day the people of the town were allowed to enter and view their newly restored cathedral.  Five years after the fire, the Cathedral of St Mel also saw the celebration of its first Mass.  Although the interior was damaged, Ashlin’s great portico seems to have suffered only minor damage.  It now welcomes the people of Longford back into their resurrected cathedral.

Longford Cathedral Restored

The ‘Longford Phoenix’ after five years of restoration. The interior of St Mel’s Cathedral has been superbly restored and new works of art have been installed.  Prior to the fire the plaster ceiling had been painted in various colours to ‘add interest’ but I think the plain white stucco looks splendid.

 Well done to everyone who contributed to the restoration of the ‘Longford Phoenix!’

Hurricane Gonzalo blows out – and a Midleton Walking Tour blows in!

Last week I had an email from Grace Fox at SECAD (South & East Cork Area Development).  She asked me to give a tour of Midleton to a group taking a new Tourism and Heritage Programme at SECAD.   Her suggestion was to do the tour on Tuesday 21st October.  I said ‘yes’ subject to the weather – the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo was due to arrive overnight on Monday and continue into the next day.  Fortunately the worst of the storm went north, and we got away lightly here in the deep south.

I met the group of about twelve people at the Courthouse at the northern end of Main Street (and believe me the wind was bitter – thermal underwear weather!). First we looked around the Fair Green and old Goose’s Acre area with the old Workhouse (now the Community Hospital), Allen’s Mill (now apartments), Neville’s garage (formerly part of the old US Naval Air Station at Aghada – moved here in 1921!), the Courthouse (by George and Richard Pain, 1829), the Munster & Leinster Bank by George Coppinger Ashlin (now the Allied Irish Bank).

Main Street Midleton

Midleton Walking Tour

The northern end of Main Street.  Yes, that is a blue sky in the background!  The red brick structure is the Allied Irish Bank, designed in a Dutch Renaissance style by George Coppinger Ashlin and built for the Munster and Leinster Bank in 1902.  The Courthouse stands directly opposite (out of picture). The yellow building is one half of a structure that once contained the Post Office and was built in 1910.  The building now houses a bookshop on the ground floor and law offices upstairs, convenient for the Courthouse. 

It’s so nice to have an attentive group!


We then proceeded down Main Street looking Old Bank House, the predecessor of the Munster & Leinster Bank, the older of the two Market Houses in Midleton (the town is unique in having TWO Market Houses), the different building plots on Main Street, and then on to Connolly Street to look at Midleton College (founded 1696).  This is a secondary school (boarding and day school) not a third level institution. It was also the site of one of the earliest known experiments in medical anesthesia in Ireland in the 1830s.  The wind dropped and the temperature seemed more pleasant once we had the shelter of the buildings in Main Street.

From there we returned to Main Street, crossing over to Church Lane, to view St John the Baptist’s Church (Church of Ireland) and the oldest cemetery in Midleton, going back to the seveneeth century – I have ancestors buried there.  This was also the site of the Cistercian Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann in Irish, meaning the Monastery of the Weir, the weit being the most valuable asset of the monastery at the Dissolution).  At one period the settlement was known as Corabbey, until the charter of King Charles II in 1670 gave the town an official corporate identity and a new name – MIDLETON.  Even the spelling is by royal appointment!  St John the Baptist’s Church is the third Anglican church on the site since 1670 and was also designed by George and Richard Pain (1825).

Moving on to Main Street, we stopped to look at the library which is now housed in the ‘new’ Market House.  Well, it was new in 1789 when it was built – just in time for the French Revolution!  It later became known as the ‘Town Hall‘ – that is, a place used by the town as a reading room (how appropriate that it houses the library) and as a place of assembly for public meetings, dinners and even dances.  Bear in mind the shambles was on the ground floor (the butchers’ market)!  I’m sure this added a delightful aroma to the genteel proceedings upstairs.

We moved on further to look at a building designed by Augustus WN Pugin but executed under the supervision of his son Edward – now called McDaid’s Bar, but known to long established Midleton residents as the former Midleton Arms Hotel.  This structure was originally two houses (with shops on the ground floor, but Viscount Midleton didn’t have the money to complete the rebuilding of the entire street in the same fashion.  Main Street would have looked spectacular if the project had been completed.  The building was occuppied by Crown Forces during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).  There are still traces of bullet marks on the building where the IRA had fired on the British troops who were stationed there to secure the southern end of the street (the Royal Irish Constabulary were based at the Northern end of the street).

From there we went on to Brodrick Street or Coolbawn as locals call it.  In fact Coolbawn refers to the area in which Brodrick Street stands.  And no, there’s no ‘e‘ in Brodrick – despite the official street sign!  The Brodricks were the family who developed Midleton into the town we see today.  Crossing Main Street (it’s a LONG street, about eight hundred yards) we entered the old Coppinger brewery.  I had some funny looks when I told them this!  Midleton is noted for distilling whiskey, not for brewing beer.  However the Coppinger family had closed down the brewery by the time the first Ordnance Survey map of Midleton was surveyed in the late 1830s.  The business almost certainly failed because of Fr Theobald Mathew’s spectacularly successful campaign against the demon drink – the Famine drove us back to drink!  We then gathered at Distillery Walk (it should really be called Distillery Drive given all the cars parked there) to discuss the Coppingers and their importance in Midleton, with their house on the other side of Main Street. (More about that house below!)

midleton walking tour

Midleton walking tour

Holding forth about the Coppinger family at Distillery Walk, with Lewis Bridge in the background (beyond the railings).  The scene is dominated by Ashlin’s Holy Rosary Church (1896 & 1908). Just visible over the parapet of the bridge is the former  Lewis Place, now called Midleton House, one of two houses with that name in Midleton.   Later, I realized that I had forgotten to tell them about General John Joseph Coppinger (1834-1909), who fought on the Union side in the US Civil War – he’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery (yes, the one across the Potomac from DC!).  

Note the attentive note taking by most of the group.  There were plenty of questions too!

Then crossing over Lewis Bridge (which traverses the Roxborough River) we turned off to look at one of the two houses called Midleton House.  There I explained that this house was originally called Lewis Place (queue shock and surprise in the group – NOBODY had EVER heard called THAT!).  This house was probably built around 1760 (perhaps earlier!) and only later acquired the name Midleton House.  People in the town believe this is the ONLY house entitled to that name, whereas, in fact, the house directly across the Roxborough River was also called Midleton House from the 1890s.   That house was the home of the Coppinger family that I noted above.  The Coppingers were prosperous brewers, maltsters, grain merchants and bankers, and were the most important, and wealthiest, Catholic residents of Midleton in the nineteenth century.  We also considered the 1867 Fenian ‘incident’ in Midleton (I refuse to call it a rebellion, it was plain murder!) and the buildings of the area called the Rock (from a large rock that had to be cut away to create the road to Youghal).  Among the buildings there are Bank House – built by the Coppingers as the Midleton branch of the National Bank of Ireland in the 1830s, as well as Rock Terrace (1861) and some earlier terraces and a lovely pair of late Georgian townhouses to complete the scene.   We didn’t do the Holy Rosary Catholic Church because we could all see it from where we stood – this was also designed by George Coppinger Ashlin in 1894 and built in two years, opening in 1896!  The spire was added to Ashlin’s original design in 1907/08.  They knew how to build them back then!  So, curiously, the Main Street and Rock are bracketed by George Coppinger Ashlin’s buildings.

In all the tour took just over two hours – and it was the first component of the group’s tourism studies.  I hope they learned more about Midleton in those two hours than they had expected. A huge  ‘thank you’ to the group for their enthusiastic attendance on  a very chilly afternoon.  And the best of luck to them in their course.