During a tour of Midleton during Heritage Week at the end of August 2014, I was nearly handbagged by a group of ‘Old Midleton’ ladies who’d joined the tour. Their outrage was sparked by my use of the name ‘Midleton House’ while referring to the very first house at the southern end of Main Street. But this was not the building standing across the river from it that ThEY called Midleton House.You will be glad to know that handbags were not employed on this occasion, because I managed to deflect their collective ire by promising them a juicy piece of gossip!
One of the mysteries of Midleton is why the town has two houses, each called Midleton House, facing each other across the narrow Roxborough or Dungourney River. Now there are a lot of people in Midleton who would object that the above statement is factually incorrect – like the ladies on my tour, they would assert, beyond any fear of contradiction, that there is only ONE Midleton House. Well, let’s look at this matter more carefully.
When I lived in Limerick, I had heard a rumour that the town council had directed the owners of the house at the southern end of Main Street to remove a new house sign bearing the name Midleton House. The tale I heard was that the council asserted that the other house directly across the river was Midleton House, and that no other house was entitled to the name. Now I haven’t corroborated this tale, but I can think of a perfectly good reason why the council might have objected to a sign – but it has nothing to do with the name of the house. My concern would be that the original forged and cast iron railings might be harmed by the addition of a new sign. This, in my opinion is the ONLY proper objection that the council should have had to the sign – NOT the ‘fact’ that there was only one house entitled to the name ‘Midleton House.’
So, it’s time to examine why Midleton has two houses with the same name apparently glaring at each other across the river.
The first thing to note is that the first edition Ordnance Survey map shows both houses in the 1840s. But only one house is actually named – this is the house on the southern bank of the Roxborough or Dungourney River. It is called Lewis Place – a name that is virtually unknown in Midleton, despite the fact that the house is located next to Lewis Bridge. The lawn at the front of the house contained a well – Lewis Well, now covered over and entirely forgotten.
One might ask who was Lewis? That a house, bridge and well should be named after him suggests someone of improtance. The answer is that we simply don’t know, although Charles Smith’s History and Character of the the County and City of Cork (1750) notes that some of the monuments in St John the Baptist churchyard (C of I) bore the family name Lewis. So the family must have been resident in the town or parish into the middle of the eighteenth century. And this is important, for clearly the house is older than its earliest recorded deed from the 1790s, when it was leased to Rev Mr Greene, a onetime Sovereign of Midleton. The slope of the roof and the placement of windows and door at the front suggest that it even LOOKS older, with a bit of gentle modernisation around 1800. I suspect that a date somewhere between 1750 and 1760 is about right. At one point this house enjoyed a view right up the entire length of the Main Street towards the mill at the northern end of the town.
Sadly, the view is no longer open because the trees and shrubs planted in the front garden of the house across the river have grown up to block the vista. THAT house is clearly a much later building than Lewis Place. The size and disposition of the windows and door, as well as the shallower slope of the roof, and the good manners of the house in following line of the western side of the Main Street all suggest a building from about 1790 – 1800. Behind this building is a large yard and a huge grain store, about six to seven storeys in height. Until the 1930s the yard was known as Coppinger’s Yard thus revealing the name of the family that developed the site at the end of the eighteenth century. This house was NOT not given a name in the first edition Ordnance Survey map. It is worth noting that Coppingers Brewery stood across the Main Street from the yard.
Returning to our Ordnance Survey maps, but this time to the 1896 25-inch survey of Midleton. BOTH houses are called Midleton House on the map! This is why I believe that the former Coppinger residence at the southern end of Main Street is entitled to be called Midleton House, along with the former Lewis Place across the river. Sadly it would appear that nobody in the council bothered to look at the Ordnance Survey maps!
It might serve to give some history of the occupation of the two houses.
First, Midleton House, The Rock, formerly Lewis Place, on the southern bank of the Roxborough River. As noted this is clearly the older of the two houses by several decades. From the 1790s it was the home of the Greene family who developed most of the western side of St Mary’s Road (at one time to the dismay of Lord Midleton’s agent!)..
Pigott’s Directory of 1824 gives us the information that the Rev Wm Greene, LLD, Rector of Tullilease (in north County Cork) resided in Midleton, under the heading of ‘Nobility, Gentry and Clergy’. The name or precise address of the house is not given and there is no mention of the name Lewis Place anywhere – remember this was BEFORE the first edition Ordnance Survey map was produced. Mr Greene’s near neighbour was the Rev William Maunsell, Archdeacon of Limerick, residing at Midleton Lodge (now the council offices). In 1856, Slater’s Directory gives the detail that Rev William Greene, LLD, resided at Midleton House. Now this is the ONLY Midleton House noted in the Directory. So shortly after the Ordnance Survey completed their survey of Midleton the name Lewis Place was changed to Midleton House. It is not at present known if Viscount Midleton gave his consent to this change.
Slater’s Directory (1881) gives us Mr Michael Greene as resident at Midleton House. A solicitor who was also a ‘commissioner for taking affidavits’ and a registrar of marriages, he was the son of Rev. William Greene, Rector of Tullilease. Michael Greene was the same man who, in 1867, provided refuge tor three constables following their violent encounter with Midleton’s Fenian rebels directly in front of his own gate. During this encounter, one constable was shot dead and another was wounded, after which the rebels marched on to Castlemartyr to attack the constabulary barracks there. Mr Greene was still resident and performing the same official functions in 1893, but the house was occupied by, his son, William B Greene in 1897. This latter gentleman is recorded as a District Commissioner and town councillor in 1909. Thus in one sense the offended ladies on the tour were right – Midleton House, The Rock, previously Lewis Place, seems to have been the original Midleton House. (Note: The Rock is the part of Midleton directly south of the Roxborough River once dominated by a large outcrop of rock that has been quarriee away to provide access to the road to Youghal.)
The other house, at the southern end of Main Street, on the north bank of the Roxborough River, was built by the Coppinger family between 1790 and 1820 (more likely at the earlier part of this period). The Coppingers were the wealthiest Catholic residents of Midleton from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Thomas Stephen Coppinger is noted as a merchant in Piggot’s Directory of 1824, while John and Joseph Coppinger are identified as brewers and maltsters. Thomas Stephen lived in the unnamed house marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map, with his grain store and yard behind the house. However, by 1842, Thomas Stephen Coppinger, now a Justice of the Peace, had moved to Midleton Lodge and a Richard Coppinger, merchant, is noted as living in Midleton almost certainly in the former residence of Thomas Stephen Coppinger.
In Slater’s Directory of 1881 Thomas Coppinger Esq, JP is resident at Midleton Lodge, but we now see TS & R Coppinger, as corn merchants on Main Street – presumably in the original Coppinger residence backing on to their grain store. By 1897 TS & R Coppinger of Main Street were now coal merchants and seed and manure merchants, a business they ran into the twentieth century.. Note that the house on Main Street is not given a name in these directories, yet the name Midleton House appears attached to this house on the 1896 map. It seems highly unlikely that the Ordnance Survey made a mistake – it is far more likely that the managed to correctly ascertain the name of the Coppinger house.
Thus, according to the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, we DO have two houses on the banks of the Roxborough River bearing the name Midleton House. One clearly had the name since the mid-1850s, but the other acquired the name by 1896. Somehow I don’t think the Midleton Post Office required postcodes to ascertain which letter was destined for which house!