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.

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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!’