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Parkstead House + University of Roehampton London

Quotation Marks

Architectural historian Joan Alcock wrote an authoritative guide to the architecture of Parkstead House in 1980: “The main block, which faces Richmond Park, was built by Sir William Chambers as Parkstead House in the 1760s for William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough: this building is illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus and described in the principal histories of Surrey. The Earl used the building as a country house, but on the marriage of his son Frederick, Viscount Duncannon, to Henrietta, daughter of Earl Spencer, he allowed the young couple to live there. Bessborough House, later Parkstead House, became the centre of their social and political life and this continued after Frederick had succeeded to his father’s title in 1793 and had inherited the principal residence in Cavendish Square.” The third Lady Bessborough’s scandalous daughter Caroline would marry William Lamb before pursuing Lord Byron. The 5th Earl sold the property and after a time as a Jesuit college it has been in educational use ever since.

She explains, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa. The prototypes appear to be Colen Campbell’s Mereworth and Isaac Ware’s villa which he built in 1754 for the financier, Bourchier Cleeve, at Foots Cray, Kent, which was a severer version of Mereworth. The first design for the façade lacks an attic storey but its row of Ionic columns and arrangements of windows on the first floor was clearly inspired by Foots Cray. The drawing of the house in Vitruvius Britannicus reveals only two windows on the attic floor. In this case the centre front room would be lit entirely by skylights. One circular skylight still survives, having its original decoration round the rim. The room, however, is a large one and the skylight is needed to give extra light to the rear. The façade certainly has more attractive proportions without the windows, which appear to be rather uncomfortably situated above the portico but they are functionally necessary and were probably part of the original design.”

Joan sums up Parkstead House, “The treatment of the façade is strictly in accordance with Palladian principles as laid down by Lord Burlington and Colen Campbell. If anything, Chambers was more severe, reducing his ornament to a minimum.” Only the façade overlooking the parkland is faced in stone: all other elevations are of dark grey brickwork with stone quoins. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner record in The Buildings of South London (1983), “It was the first of several Palladian villas designed by Chambers in the early 1760s. They belong to the second generation of Palladian houses in England … The prototype for the façade appears to have been Bourchier Cleeve’s Foots Cray, built in imitation of the Villa Rotunda circa 1756; but the obvious inspiration for a villa in the London countryside, that is a relatively modest rural retreat rather than a full scale country house, was of course Chiswick House … In the garden is a circular entablature from the portico of a circa 18th century garden temple (the rest in store).” The simple plan of the piano nobile is replicated on the bedroom floor above. A central three bay room behind the portico is flanked by single bay rooms. These three rooms are three bays deep with shallower rooms to the rear. A square staircase hall is behind the portico room.

Nobody is better qualified to critique Sir William Chambers’ work than architect John O’Connell. One of his many professional achievements was brilliantly restoring the Casino Marino in Dublin, arguably Ireland’s greatest neoclassical building. This distinguished design may appear as a single bay single storey structure but as Jeremy Musson, architectural historian for Country Life, enlightens: “Casino Marino is a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Depending how you count them, there are some 13 rooms inside.”

John declares, “Sir William Chambers’ work at Parkstead House is about refinement, rebooted Palladianism. There is a real sensitivity and finesse at play. The elevations need a parapet though as there is a certain squatness without one. Everything has been sacrificed for the pediment and the fully expressed portico. The ironwork is painted Somerset House blue. That was his first essay in town planning. It is devalued now being away from the River Thames where once it was rather like a Venetian palace. The Embankment cutting it off from the river was the solution to water stagnation.”

Indoors he observes the plasterwork in one room, “That is a very correct cornice and four fantastic urns. It’s so delicately handled.” In another, “The frieze isn’t right and speaks of later Edwardian modillions. There’s a solecism – the garland should be central.” And as a whole, “This house demonstrates a commitment to good materials following the French noble material hierarchy, from the state rooms on the piano nobile to the rustic rooms in the raised basement. The house as temple on a robust scale.” A framed sign dated 1980 on a corridor wall sets out:

  • Parkstead built as a Palladian villa or summer residence by Sir William Chambers for the 2nd earl of Bessborough. The 3rd Earl lived here for much of his life until the death of his wife Henrietta in 1821.
  • The 3rd Earl leased the house to a banker, Abraham Robarts, who made it his permanent home until his death in 1858. Robarts made many improvements, including constructing a well and pump to provide a water supply.
  • The 5th Earl sold the house and estate to the Conservative Land Society for division into smallholdings. However, it was eventually sold, in conditions of some secrecy, to the Society of Jesus for use as their Noviciate.
  • The Jesuits moved in and this began the occupancy which was to last for nearly 100 years. The name of the house was changed to Manresa in commemoration of the place in Spain where the founder of the Society, St Ignatius Loyola, composed the Spiritual Exercises which form the basis of the Jesuit rule. Many additions were made to the house during this period leaving it much as it can be seen today.
  • The Society left Manresa and among their reasons for doing so were the invasion of their privacy by high rise flats and the compulsory purchase of much of their land by the Greater London Council. The house now became part of Battersea College of Domestic Science and it was officially opened by the Right Honourable Shirley Williams MP, who also signed the order for its subsequent closure in 1979.
  • Manresa became jointly occupied by Garnett College and the Putney Adult Education Institute. In the early days, Lady Bessborough had run a small school here for local Roehampton children. The house has been associated with education for the best part of 200 years.”

Lady Bessborough’s educational legacy continues to seep through the walls of Parkstead House: it is now part of the University of Roehampton.

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McCausland’s Hotel + Malmaison Hotel Belfast


Two decades ago Belfast’s first boutique hotel disappeared. McCausland’s – the scene of lively lunches for a few years – may be missed but thankfully from its ashes arose the phoenix that is Malmaison. But hey, halcyon days are back to stay, today’s the future’s heyday. Malmaison’s trademark extensive use of black allows the architecture to speak. And speak it does. Dropping a consonant (remember the amusing Lost Consonants cartoon in the Saturday Guardian when it used to come with a shelf load of supplements?) between editions, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society published Marcus Patton’s Central Belfast A Historical Gazetteer in 1993 and 22 years later Central Belfast An Historical Gazetteer. Going with the earlier version:

“1867 to 1868 by William Hastings with sculpture by Thomas Fitzpatrick. A pair of four storey stone warehouses built as a pair but with varied detail to suit the two clients: the rival seed merchants John Lytle and Sons and Samuel McCausland. Lytle’s warehouse has a five bay ground floor with arches springing from columns with varied capitals and standing birds at the springing of the arches; a massive rope moulding forms a cil course to the second floor windows, which are grouped as a triple light flanked by duples, with red granite colonettes and freely carved almost Celtic arches and keystones; over the third floor windows, grotesque heads with long tongues form corbels for the cornice brackets which are interspersed with strapwork panels; at the centre of the parapet is a little pediment over a crown and harp (Lytle’s trademark).”

Malmaison is really a pair of semi detached warehouses forming one architectural composition. Looking up from Victoria Street, the lefthand five bays are Lytle’s; the righthand six bays, McCausland’s. Round the corner on Marlborough Street, over a carriageway entrance into Lytle’s warehouse is a carved Chinaman stone head. Complete with coolie hat, drooping moustache and pigtail he is very Fu Manchu. An African stone head rescued from nearby demolished sugar stores forms an unusual talking piece in Malmaison reception.

But it’s McCausland’s warehouse which really goes to town, shouting out its international credentials. Peering over the top of the five ground floor piers along Victoria Street are carved stone heads placed above clusters of fruit and vegetables. They represent the five continents, a conscious and highly visible display linking this business to the great trading houses of the past, demonstrating global trading connections and pride in the Empire. Africa has wavy hair and wears earrings. Asia is turbaned. Oceania is the only female. Europe is whiskered. America wears a feathered headdress.

For two decades before McCausland’s Hotel opened, Belfast’s loudest façade almost disappeared. It was blighted as part of one of the city’s many unexecuted 20th century road widening schemes.

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Café Parisien + Robinson + Cleaver Belfast

Starboard Home

An English visitor to Northern Ireland recently remarked to us how two of Belfast’s key tourism drivers are based on tragedies: Titanic and the Troubles. On a downbeat note, we do miss all the Edwardian department stores in the city that disappeared decades ago: Robinson and Cleaver, Brands and Normans, Anderson and McAuley. On an upbeat note, the thriving city has since become a foodie destination. Manchester, with a population almost twice the size of Belfast, has one restaurant with a Michelin star. Belfast has three. Famously, Robinson and Cleaver had a grand sweeping Sicilian marble staircase with a mezzanine arch leading into a silvery tearoom. Maids in their monochromatic finery served coffee in individual pots. Infamously, the staircase was auctioned and shipped off to the late entrepreneur Eddie Haughey’s Ballyedmond Castle in County Down.

Fortunately the former department store is still intact on the outside. The six storey stone building with its distinctive copper cupolas began life in 1886 as the Royal Irish Linen Warehouse designed by Young and Mackenzie. All is not lost inside. Café Parisien is a two storey restaurant occupying the frontage overlooking Belfast City Hall. Taking its name from one of the eateries on the doomed ocean liner, the restaurant is all saloon class and no steerage.

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Dumpling Library + St Anne’s Square Belfast

Deep Love

Sunday morning opens with a cacophony of hymns on the drawing room family piano deep in the wild west. Things can only get better, as the Belfast singer D:Ream famously once hoped. Eucharist is just sliding into memory at Belfast Cathedral by the time we glide up to the east coast bright lights. Sunday lunch is just a block away in St Anne’s Square. Dumpling Library is a gourmet rather than literary experience. Gucci clad model Janice Blakley joins us for lunch.

Covering most Oriental bases our waitress confirms, “The Dumpling Library is Asian, Canton, Chinese and Malaysian fusion. Sundays are our busiest day.” A solitary unbusy unhurried diner sitting at an island table is reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss under a crimson heart dangling from the ceiling. Fried spinach wontons, Japanese tofu, prawn avocado tempura, salt chilli tofu, sweet potato chips … we’re on a (kimchi) roll at our window table.

Pastiche. Yawn. The most unoriginal cliché. An architectural criticism crime. Every glass building is a Meisian copy you might as well say. Neo Geo is neo Geo is neo Geo which sounds dogmatically Gertrude Steinian and rightly so. An accusation of pastiche – and St Anne’s Square has had more than its unjust desserts – is about as original as claiming somewhere has been “restored to its former glory”. What glory? When? Really? The only glory left is in knickerbocker glory. Jonathan Meades gets it spot on as always in his essay France in the collection Pedro and Ricky Come Again, 2020, “… worldwide scream of accusatory architects: ‘Pastiche!’ The architectural doxa decrees that pastiche is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The collective convention forgets the history of architecture is the history of pastiche and theft: von Klenze’s Walhalla above the Danube is based on the Parthenon; G G Scott’s St Pancras borrows from Flemish cloth halls; Arras’s great squares are imitations of themselves.”

The brilliant critic rants on in his essay Obituaries in the same collection, “Architecture like poetry is founded in copyism and plagiarism – both vertical, looting the past; and horizontal, stealing from the present. The obscure past, of course, and the geographically distant present.” St Anne’s Square has proved an easy target for lazy uneducated reviewers. Completed in 2010, it is Taggarts Architects’ Portland stone and red brick clad with whimsically oversized foray into late postmodernist neo Georgianism. Giant quoins have form in this quarter: Sir Charles Lanyon’s Northern Bank, Thomas Jackson’s Scottish Amicable Life Building and Corn Exchange Building all belong to the bigger is better school. Funky, not fashionable. The buildings of St Anne’s Square are just tall enough and wide enough to create an intimate public realm with a floorplate gap perfectly framing the chamfered ambulatory of the cathedral and its 2007 stainless steel spirelet. Dumpling Library is one of several ground floor courtyard facing restaurants below apartments. This mixed use development also includes a 168 bedroom Ramada Hotel.

At least St Anne’s Cathedral has never been accused of being pastiche. Ever since Belfast architects Thomas Drew and William Henry Lynn drew up its Romanesque origins in 1868, this building evolved over the next 139 years into something quite unique, slightly hard to place yet paradoxically somehow of its place and time(s). Idiosyncratic, not imitative. “The cathedral is a huge moment,” declares Ireland’s leading neoclassical architect John O’Connell. In another church in another country in another discipline Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Oystermouth, tells us at Westminster Cathedral, “The deepest of the gifts to exchange is love.” We’re loving the new Belfast, especially the next generation murals.

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Luminair Bar Double Tree by Hilton Amsterdam +

Leef Met Je Kop Omhoog

We’re knocking it out of the park with Our Tribe. Here comes Missy ridin’ that train. Such a doll. Fancy illuminating Luminair? There’ll be a bit of sport on the cards with that offer. Multiplicity for the multihyphenates. Now we’re talking. Sometimes The Weekend really is plain sailing. We’re off to the boat races.

Soon, it will all seem so long ago.

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Eastern Docklands Amsterdam + Aaron Betsky

Nether Regions

Way back in 2005 we visited a snow covered Amsterdam to report on the newly redeveloped Eastern Docklands for Ulster Architect. The following year historian Jaap Evert Abrahamse published Eastern Docklands District Amsterdam: Urbanism and Architecture. He summarises, “The transformation of the Eastern Harbour District in Amsterdam was completed in 2003. More than 8,000 dwellings have definitively taken over from hangars, transhipment installations, rails, contains and goods trains. All of the Netherlands’ top architects have built here, as well as a large number of renowned foreigners.” So a revisit is long overdue. Particularly on a breezily sunny day.

Just about every city with a river running through it seeks to capitalise on its docklands with varying degrees of success. Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Cork, Dublin and Düsseldorf have all jumped on the bandwagon. Planning students of the late Nineties were treated to lectures and tours on the topic. The Netherlands, the country that gave us Van Dyke and Van Gogh and Van Rijn, now gives us fine art of another kind: housing.

Oostelijk Havengebied, the regenerated Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, is built on four slim former island wharves. A €10 ride from Centraal Station, each island, or rather peninsula, is planned as a neighbourhood relying on an urban design strategy to provide a sense of local identity. Density averages 100 dwellings per hectare. If that all sounds like, well, first year undergrad palaver, go see the results. This is town planning progressing beyond glossy booklets and pushy press launches.

First, there’s KSNM Island. The initials stand for the Royal Dutch Steamship Company, the previous occupier of the site. It now accommodates 1,250 dwellings. Rows of harbour scale apartment blocks straddle the quaysides. Cars are confined to an arterial route which dissects the central strip of parkland. The plan is a result of collaboration between Amsterdam City Council planners and architect Jo Coenen.

Next comes Java Island, a former industrial area. It’s mixed use now: 1,350 dwellings and 500 square metres of commercial floorspace. Architect Sjoerd Soeter’s plan is like a photo negative of KSNM. Quayside roads encircle a cliff face of nine storey blocks that soars above pedestrian friendly courtyards.

Borneo Sporenburg is the third island. It’s really a pair of interconnected peninsulae linked by call girl red pedestrian bridges designed by Adriaan Geuze. A former railway shunting area, it has been engulfed by a sea of 2,500 three storey houses and apartments interrupted by three high rise blocks. Again, the public sector collaborated with private consultants, this time Rudy Uytenhaak and Adriaan Geuze and his firm West 8. The smaller units are designed by hip architects like Bjarne Mastenbrock, Christian Rapp, Dick van Gameren and Heren 5.

Hoop, Liefde en Fortun is one of the three high rise pieces of architectural eye candy. Designed by Rudy Uytenhaak, it’s a cascading ski slope of a building, clad on the north side with a gargantuan hole punched Norwegian marble screen produced in cooperation with the artist Willem Oorebeek. This multipurpose block is named after three windmills that once occupied the site: Hope, Love and fortune.

Anglo Swedish architect Ralph Erskine who died earlier this year could easily have had Borneo Sporenburg in mind when he wrote, “Architecture, like the shaft of an axe, must beautifully and precisely symbolise its own good reasons for its necessary existence. Insight and sincerity will tell you which reasons are good.”

Amsterdam has the funkiest street names of any European capital. You don’t have to spend the afternoon in a brown café either to appreciate them. Try Kattenburgerstraat, Regulierdwarstraat and Voorplein Spaarneziekenhuis for a start. Borneo Sporenburg continues the trippy tradition. Scheepstimmermanstraat is the name of the main drag. Lined with domestic temples to Mondrian modernity, it’s become something of a household name in planning circles.

Architect Sebastian Kaal from Dick van Gameren informs us, “West 8’s masterplan called for three storey terraced units. This usually results in a streetscape dominated by parked cars. Here the section has been reversed to create an internal street with garages. Patios have been slung on top of the garages so that even the north facing houses can enjoy the sun.”

Each plot is 30 to 50 percent void. Juliet balconies, car lifts, courtyards and roof gardens … they’re all here. Plots are a standard 16 metres deep, 4.2 to six metres wide and a maximum height of 9.5 metres. A delectable Dutch trend – that of impossibly high ground floor ceiling heights – is adhered to. Even the leggy Dutch moving around in their living quarters framed by double height windows look like The Borrowers.

Dick van Gameren has punctuated the corner of Scheepstimmermanstraat and Stuurmankade with nothing short of a translucent on white visual exclamation mark. Drawing on simple geometrical forms in a far from doctrinaire manner, coloured glass modules suspended mid air increase the cubic capacity of the apartments without encroaching on the footprint.

Innovative design is matched by avant garde materials. Take Kavel 37 on Scheepstimmermanstraat, designed by Heren 5. It lifts the Dutch townhouse to a whole new level, taking the concept of an Amsterdam vernacular and blowing it out of the water. “The rusted steel façade is in harmony with the surroundings of brick and the former harbour identity,” explains architect Jan Klomp. “Transparency and bringing the daylight inside is typical for Dutch canalside houses and also for Heren 5.” Glass floors in the upper apartment allow daylight to flow down to the ground floor and illuminate the entrance from above.

We spoke to Aaron Betsky, the recently appointed Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, about his views on Borneo Sporenburg. The former Architecture and Design Curator of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, Aaron is one of the big players in contemporary design discourse. His CV – architect, author, critic, curator and lecturer – has guaranteed him that position.

“As Director of the NAI, I oversee and coordinate the many different aspects of this active centre for architecture,” he says. “It’s the second largest architecture museum in the world and is the archive of all Dutch architecture post 1800.” Meanwhile, Aaron’s literary output includes: The Best Buildings by Young Architects in the Netherlands, Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles, Why Dutch Design is So Good, Zaha Hadid The Complete Buildings and Projects. The list goes on, 40 hits to be precise.

Born in Montana USA, but raised in the Netherlands, Aaron reckons, “There’s no one correct way to approach docklands regeneration. Given the situation in the Eastern Docklands, this was a very inventive and productive planning strategy.” He believes, “West 8 have tried to make the new look familiar and the familiar new which is exactly what architecture should do. Many of the compositions, materials and proportions are based on traditional Amsterdam housing types, but they have opened up, recombined, slid apart and otherwise messed with them, to allow completely new constellations of living to appear.”

“The building at the end of island by Dick van Gameren,” Aaron confirms is his favourite. “I especially like the way the whole is decomposed into the open spaces of the River Ij. But it’s the variety, rather than one particular building, that is the great contribution of Borneo Sporenburg to the city of Amsterdam. The point is that all the buildings play with Dutch variations and discover new spaces within very tight economic and physical straitjackets.”

Is it perfect? Not quite. “I would have made the streets of Borneo Sporenburg less strong. As built, they tend to become wind tunnels that overemphasise the traditional 19th century slum layout that is the point West 8, I believe, were trying to make.” Finally, we ask Aaron if he would like to live in Borneo Sporenburg. “Absolutely!” he exclaims. “Especially if I could afford a house designed by Masterbroek or Van Gameren. What about Jan? “Oh yes, I’d like to live there. Along the watersides would be great.”

In 2023, Scheepstimmermanstraat continues to be the standout street in the Eastern Docklands. It is aging gracefully: the private amenity spaces of the 60 freehold adjoining sites are well used and planted. A couple descend from their canalside living quarters in the middle of the terrace into a speedboat for an afternoon’s riding the waves of the River Ij.

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Coastal Path Moville Donegal + Liam McCormick

Signs to Mark Sacred Times

“Yonder is Lough Foyle, debouching into the ocean,” John Weir gloriously thrills in The Ulster Awakening, 1859. St Colmcille’s Day is an appropriate day to visit Moville on the western shore of Lough Foyle, County Donegal. A coastal walk connects Moville to Greencastle, the next village to the north. It starts out as a winding path which graduates into crossing sandy coves then climbing over walls and finally clambering through gorse. On one side the lough, on the other, splendid villas, several owned at one time by prominent figures. A white painted well marks the spot where St Colmcille stopped for water before leaving Ireland for Scotland. Modernist seating pavilions, painted white of course, punctuate the path at regular intervals. Lights in the vaults of the sky.

The Ark House: Noachian named, the first residence to admire is right on the water’s edge overlooking the stone pier which extends into the quay opening into Lough Foyle. Like all the period houses to follow it is rendered and painted white with a dark slate roof. Three bay three storey with attics, this house looks like it could be an end of terrace rather than standalone. It was built by a Captain John Ramsay who bought an old brig, the original ark, and dragged it up onto this site, converting it into a dwelling in the 1820s. He later broke up this brig and used the timbers in the construction of the current building.

Ravenscliff: dating from the 1830s, it was once a hotel. The main house is a multi gabled one and a half storey mildly Tudoresque affair. A long unusually crenellated single storey wall extending out to one side encloses a garden that originally contained exotic plants. Like the following houses, Ravenscliff is separated from the coastal walk by generous lawns fringed by woods.

Gorgowan House: similar in scale and date to the main block of its neighbour Ravenscliff, it was designed by an English architect James Malton. A projecting gable containing a semilunar window rests on two columns and the chamfered bay windows on either side of the entrance door. Two 19th century residents include Reverend Charles Galway, Rector of the Church of Ireland in neighbouring Greencastle, and later, Captain Ernest Cochrane of the Royal Navy.

Carnagrave House: built as a fishing lodge in the 18th century, it was extended in three stages. A bulbous conservatory protrudes out from between a pair of chamfered bay windows. Carnagrave House and grounds are currently undergoing an extensive and expensive restoration. This estate in miniature is the grandest of all the houses and will soon be even grander.

Lafferty’s Lane: this links the coastal walk up to the main road between Moville and Greencastle. It is lined with several discreet 20th century bungalows in wooded grounds. One of the bungalows was the home of politician John Hume. The Nobel Peace Prize winner regularly entertained the good and the great at his beachside home. There is a sandy cove at the shore end of Lafferty’s Lane.

Glenburnie House: a Scottish sounding name for a Scottish looking residence. A baronial turret rises above the double fronted beach elevation of this 1830s house. It was once owned by the Marquess of Donegall. These days it can only be glimpsed through a cast iron gate propped up in the deep vegetation separating the private garden from the public access.

Ballybrack Lodge: this was another Marquess of Donegall property. He lived up to his name at least in ownership terms. It is of lower architectural pretension that the preceding villas, displaying something of the air of a farmhouse with a red painted entrance door. Ballybrack Lodge is set further back from the coastline than some of the other houses, overlooking a long stretch of garden and backing onto dense woodland.

Friel’s: this was the seaside retreat of one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights. Brian Friel was born outside Omagh but in his life and work became synonymous with Donegal. He was friendly with that other literary Irish colossus, Seamus Heaney, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Plenty of chamfered bay windows capture views of the sea or as Seamus Heaney would call it, “The Flaggy Shore”.

Portchapel: a decent sized house masquerading as a dinky cottage. Single bays flanking a large gabled porch protrude with mini gables into the low eaves level. Single storey wings to the side and rear expand the accommodation of the main two storey block. A previous resident was Dr Thomas Terence Baird, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland 1968 to 1973.

Brooklyn House: built in 1830 by the great grandfather of Donegal’s celebrated 20th century architect Liam McCormick. The house has passed down the family line. Liam McCormick may have designed modernist masterpieces but he was happy to reside on holidays at this substantial Victorian villa. Like Friel’s, chamfered bay windows maximise the unbroken sea views. It is located on the edge of Greencastle.

Anne Davey Orr, Publisher and Editor of Ulster Architect, Ireland’s longest running and most read architecture magazine, invited architects Sir Hugh Casson, Michael Scott and Liam McCormick to judge the Building of the Year launch in 1985. Later judges of the awards would include architect Max Glendinning and architectural critic Martin Pawley. Magazine alumni include the journalist Leo McKinstry, the writer Sir Charles Brett and the columnist Stuart Blakley.

One of the last articles Stuart Blakley wrote and photographed for Ulster Architect was on Carton LeVert House in Rathmullan, County Donegal. Published in February 2007, it included an interview with Tarla MacGabhann who runs the second generation practice with his brother Antoin. “I would call the house a reinterpretation of the vernacular cottage which has been formed, shaped and developed by the specifics of the site and climate.” Employing a language of skewed angles, non Euclidean geometries and shards, this building may be single storey but isn’t exactly a typical bungalow. Tarla’s five years experience working in the 1990s in the office of Daniel Libeskind working on the Berlin Jewish Museum clearly paid off. MacGabhann Architects also designed Brian Friel’s widow’s house Teach Annie in this county. They smoothly took on Liam McCormick’s mantle as Donegal’s best architectural practice.

Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa was one of the highlights of The Lyric Theatre Belfast programme when Anne Davey Orr was Chair. She explains, “The theatre company which originally produced Translations by Brian Friel was called the Field Day Theatre Company. It was founded by Friel and the actor Stephen Rae in 1980 specifically to produce Irish plays in an attempt to build a new theatre audience in the midst of the Troubles. Other people involved were Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane.”

Rudyard Kipling ponders in his poem The Sea and the Hills, 1903, “Who hath desired the sea? – the sight of salt water unbounded.” Clive Staples Lewis wrote in his 1955 diary about Donegal and “the monstrous, emerald, deafening waves”. A robin is perched on the sill of one of the coastal path pavilions. Signs and wonders. Wonders and signs. Signs and great wonders. Signs and symbols. Great signs from heaven. Wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below.

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St Aengus Catholic Church Burt Donegal + Liam McCormick

The Unbroken Circle

It’s one of the most photographed churches in Ireland. Dr Paul Larmour, who lectured in architecture at Queen’s University Belfast, is the latest to publish a review of Burt Church in County Donegal. His 2022 publication Architects of Ulster 1920s to 1970s features 21 architects – Liam McCormick is the best known one. Paul states, “McCormick was eventually converted to the Modernist cause during a college trip to Paris in 1937 to see the World’s Fair. There he was impressed by the various national pavilions in modern style, notably those representing Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. The most rewarding experiences of his Parisian trip, as he later recalled, were a visit to Le Corbusier’s Pavilion Suisse at the Cité Universitaire and a visit to Beaudouin and Lods’ school at Suresnes.”

He adds, “The church of St Aengus at Burt in County Donegal (1964 to 1967) brought unprecedented fame to McCormick. Its circular plan was a new and original concept in Ireland at the time, and it stands as a landmark not only in its physical setting but also in the development of modern Irish church architecture.” The building is high enough on a hillside off the Derry City to Letterkenny road to allow traffic to disappear into a fold in the topography like a giant haha. The isolation of the church is appropriate: St Aengus was famous for his love of solitude.

The ancient round tower, that most enigmatic of Irish structures, had long provided inspiration to ecclesiastical architects. St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church in Jordanstown, County Antrim, by William Henry Lynn (1876) is a prime example with its 22 metre tall round tower next to the entrance porch. Liam McCormick looked to another enigmatic Irish structure and one to hand – the ancient circular fort. Grianán of Aileach was just such a fort, located higher up the hill from what become the site of Burt Church. As in his other Donegal churches, the stained glass is by Helen Moloney and the sculptures by Oisin Kelly.

In the 2011 Annual of the County Donegal Historical Society 2011 Liam McLaughlin writes, “The Church of St Aengus at Burt (1965 to 1967) is among the earliest of the new churches built in Ireland in response to the changes in the Liturgy initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Beautifully situated on an elevated site selected by the architect, it has panoramic views of sweeping countryside, Lough Swilly and the Inishowen hills. It appears at once bold and assured, and very much at ease with the landscape. This is achieved by its form and materials: the colour and texture of its natural stone wall of Claudy schist, rounded and battered in sympathy with the character of the ancient fort, and the spired copper clad roof that appears to float over a band of clerestory glazing encircling the building.” The white interior resembles a cave – again appropriate for the hermetic leanings of St Aengus.

Many, many circular churches in Ireland would follow, some by Liam, some by lesser mortals. Liam McCormick was a pioneer of indigenous design.

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Spring Restaurant Somerset House The Strand London + Skye Gyngell

Summer at Spring

Breaking the fourth wall, to use Housewives of New York franchise parlance, this article originally recorded the first visit to the restaurant eight years ago. The Park Lane ambassadress is now an Ascot lady of leisure, the Green Park restaurateur is taking Riyadh by sandstorm and the Beverly Hills realtor is still selling Sunset Boulevard dreams. This second visit focuses on an architecture and food photoshoot – and a decent excuse to enjoy Thursday lunch.

The set menu isn’t daylight robbery: three courses for £33. And it’s hyper seasonal having been just launched today never mind being pescatarian to perfection. Salt baked beetroot with crème fraîche and herbs. Grilled mackerel with slow cooked fennel and salsa rossa. Lemon verbena with rye shortbread and blackcurrant sauce. Lunch for under £100 (including obligatory Viognier and even a £5 donation to the Felix Project food charity)! We’re full again and so is Spring. There’s deflation for you. Rewinding back nearly a decade …

At a Lavender’s Blue dinner with a Park Lane ambassadress, a Green Park restaurateur and a Beverly Hills realtor, the conversation naturally turned to Lisa Vanderpump. But it was the combination of the interior and food – good taste and tastes good – that proved the hot topic in the cool surroundings of Spring. Even if Ruby Wax was within earshot of our table. Spring is the best of the six dining rooms in the people’s palace of London, Somerset House on The Strand. That’s why it’s full and we’re full on a Monday night.

Somerset House has a surprisingly coherent architecture considering Sir William Chambers’ 1770s masterpiece has been tinkered with ever since he laid the cornerstone. James Wyatt to Sir Robert Smirke to Sir Albert Richardson have all had a go at it. Five wings spread out from the Strand Block like a cyclopean crustacean (crab with nduja and yellow polenta £16 or grilled lobster with curry leaves, tomato and bhatura £34). Spring is in the New Wing. Newness is relative – it was designed by James Pennethorne in 1849. The restaurant is chef Skye Gyngell’s latest enterprise in London. Australian born Skye was previously head chef of Petersham Nurseries, the restaurant with a garden centre attached.

Horses for courses although we’d prefer not for main course (halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing £32) and course after course at Spring is not coarse of course but rather seasonal – and sensational. Crisp but not autumnal (fritto misto of prawns with lemon pinwheels and foraged herbs £16). Cold but not wintry (rhubarb and rye tart with crème fraîche £8). Pantaloon and stripy sweater clad waiters resemble – dare we say – Venetian robbers. Perhaps later they’ll find a gondola to steal away home down the Thames.

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Moville Donegal +

Mary and Music in May

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of County Donegal I 1833 to 1835 record, “Principal market town: the town of Bonyfoble or Moville is situated in the townland of Ballynelly. It has a market on a Thursday, chiefly for grain and potatoes, being otherwise but badly supplied. The market place is a square space walled in with lean-to open sheds on two sides and a thoroughfare opening on the road. The shops are small and bad and few of any sort. The town is nearly new and is becoming more important every year as a bathing place for the wealthier inhabitants of Derry, who resort to it during the summer months.” Moville continues to be popular as a seaside resort.

Father Eddie Gallagher, Parish Priest of St Pius X Church in the heart of the town, explains, “The tradition of dedicating the month of May to Mary came about in the 13th century. Some say it was created to replace various pagan cults. The actual reason is that this month is the time when spring is at the height of its beauty. Spring is also connected with nature renewing itself. In her way, Mary gave new life to the world when she gave birth to our saviour Jesus Christ.”

The church is an unusual building balancing its design between historicist and modernist. This landmark was the last work by the illustrious Derry City architect William O’Doherty. The severe windowless modernist monochromatic entrance front is clad in rock faced ashlar granite and randomly coursed rubblestone masonry with concrete quoins and a granite cross. The other elevations are finished in roughcast render. The large side elevation transom and mullion windows are loosely Elizabethan; the rear elevation sash windows are loosely Georgian. The dodecagonal copper clad timber lined roof lantern over the balcony seating is vaguely Victorian. A sycamore St Pius statue greets worshippers in the entrance lobby. Beyond, a Turkish delight rose and lemon hued floral arrangement in front of the altar matches the double height stained glass windows.

A few doors down from St Pius X Church is The Cosy Cottage which gets its name from a garden mural rather than the building itself. It’s a ground floor café with five guest rooms on the upper two floors of a three bay three storey gaily painted townhouse typical of the town. Owners Declan and Sadie Carey relate, “We first opened The Cosy Cottage as a café in 2003 and built up the business to add bed and breakfast and self catering accommodation just 10 years later. Friendly, welcoming, helpful and with everything from food and accommodation to adventure and exploration, that’s The Cost Cottage.” Old postcards show how little Moville has changed since Victorian times.

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Frederic Leighton + Leighton House Kensington London

Lordship Lane

A lunchtime private tour one week, a drinks soirée the next. Restored, revived, renewed, Leighton House is Kensington’s largest one bedroom residence. It was built as a place for partying and painting; one of those activities continues apace. A cigar brown sitting room; a peacock blue staircase hall. Beauty is the absolute priority. Opulence evokes emotions. The original studio house was enlarged through four edits, all succumbing to the allure of aestheticism. A commercial architect, George Aitchison, was chosen to give the owner maximum design input. That owner, Frederic Leighton, following Victorian polite society tradition, operated At Home from 3pm to 5pm. Those hours have been widely extended these days.

Scarborough born Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton, was a leading artist of his time. His portraits speak of love and connection. His landscapes speak of devotion to experience of the setting, portraying a palpable sense of play, often studying Mediterranean light. So very evocative. His sketches carry a sense of abandonment, a loose spontaneity. This solitary socialite undertook solo travel to Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Syria. Leighton House was in a group of celebrity artist owned studio houses known as The Holland Park Circle. The other names, save for architect William Burges, have faded into the mists of time. Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, Colin Hunter, Valentine Cameron Prinsep, Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Herbert Schmalz, Marcus Stone, the Thornycrofts, George Frederic Watts.

There’s a new edit. Kensington and Chelsea Council, who now own the house, have replaced the brick with punched windows undercroft of the Winter Studio with a fully glazed café spilling onto a garden terrace. It slots nicely between the cast iron columns supporting the Winter Studio, augmenting the transparency of this wing in comparison to the solidity of the Arab Hall at the far end of the building. Restored, revived, renewed – that’s the visitor experience too.

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Swatragh Londonderry + Joseph Welland

Lowe Country

The best place names in Ireland are derived from Gaelic. Swatragh is an anglicisation of Baile an tSuaitrigh meaning “townland of the billeted solder”. On the edge of the Sperrin Mountains, this village is a cluster of buildings lining the Carthill Road leading to Garvagh to the north and Maghera to the south. A little piece of (mid) Victorian architecture and a little piece of (very late) Georgian architecture greet motorists at either entrance to the village. One architect designed, one vernacular.

Killelagh Parish Church stands above a field at the southern entrance to Swatragh. This Church of Ireland building is well documented: architect Joseph Welland’s drawings dated February 1852 are archived in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin. The black ink elevation drawings include such details as the chancel arch jamb. Joseph was born in Midleton, County Cork, in 1798. His father was agent to the 4th Viscount Midleton whose brother was Archbishop of Cashel. This connection introduced Joseph as an assistant John Bowden architect to the Board of First Fruits. Joseph would become his master’s successor. He designed over 100 new churches and took over finishing St Stephen’s on Mount Street Crescent, the ‘pepper pot church’, in Dublin, after his master had died.

In contrast to the Greek Revivalism of St Stephen’s, Killelagh Parish Church is gothic. The neat compact rough and cut stone architecture is all about high pitched gables, pointed arches, buttresses and a small square tower supporting an even smaller octagonal tower topped by a spirelet. A stone family gravestone opposite the entrance porch is inscribed: “Erected in memory of Robert Lowe who died 20 May 1872 aged 68 years. Also his wife Mary who died 5 May 1878 aged 75 years. Also their son Robert who died 10 February 1866 aged 30 years. Samuel Lowe who died 14 December 1892 aged 62 years.”

Friel’s Bar and Restaurant stands close to Carthill Road at the northern entrance to Swatragh. It is of a similar style to the townhouses of the County Down towns of Hillsborough and Moira. Basalt rough stone walls, red brick camber headed and quoined window surrounds, 12 pane sash windows, pitched natural slate roof … a familiar picturesque provincial composition. The entrance door with plain sidelights and an oblong fanlight is set in a white painted rendered arched recess. A symmetrical five bay single storey block appears as a floating villa partly balancing over a lower floor wedged into the sloping ground. Built in 1835, the coaching inn was later used for various purposes before being bought by John Friel in 1903. Dermot and Caitriona, the fifth generation of the Friel family, run the bar and restaurant.

Architecture Art Country Houses Design

Derek Hill + Glebe House Church Hill Donegal

Following a Pattern

A townhouse in Hampstead London and a country retreat in Church Hill County Donegal. The reclusive socialite had it all. The 20th century artist Derek Hill, whether painting the Duke of Abercorn at Baronscourt or teaching the Tory Island Painters including King Patsy Dan Rodgers, was versatile. In 1988 the artist commented on his rural idyll, “The house was built as a glebe in 1826 and later became a small fishing hotel for gentlemen until I bought it from the last proprietor. In 1953 I paid £1,000 for the hotel and the 20 acres of lakeside land surrounding it. I felt I was meant to live there having noticed, three years previously, the house’s superb position surrounded by great trees and the Donegal hills on every side. It was also on a tongue of land jutting out onto the water, and I love to be near water.”

Glebe House, the two storey former rectory of St Columba’s Church of Ireland, represents the zenith of undemonstrative domestic architecture. The north facing entrance front, the east facing lake front and the south facing garden front are all three bays wide. A fanlight arches over the entrance door and sidelights. Trellis in the ground floor central bay of the other two principal elevations creates the effect of a fanlight and doorcase. The reddish burnt terracotta painted roughcast walls lend the house a Mediterranean air while the grassland falling down to the 2.7 kilometre long Gartan Lough heightens a sense of the bucolic.

Built in 1826, Glebe House could easily be a half century older or newer. Beautiful as it is, the architecture of Glebe House is not unique. Au contraire, it is a type that can be seen throughout Ireland decades before and after. Other three bay fronted roughcast examples with a central fanlight over the doorcase in the north of Ireland include The Rectory, Aghalee, County Armagh (1826); Willowbank, Keady, County Armagh (1834); The Old Rectory, Killyleagh, County Down (1815); and St Elizabeth’s Court, Dundonald, County Down (1819). Minus a fanlight over the doorcase are The Glebe, Finvoy, County Antrim (1820) and The Grange, Salter’s Grange, County Armagh (1781). The Rectory and The Grange both have lower first floors with six pane bedroom windows. Glebe House is slightly different as it is a three bay square in shape – most are only two bays deep.

Maurice Craig’s seminal work Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, 1976, summarises the genre: “The glebe houses of the (formerly established) Church of Ireland are an important category of house, because of their ubiquity, their charm, and the influence which they undoubtedly had on other buildings. According to Donald Akenson, following the Reverend Daniel Augustus Beaufort’s Memoir of a Map of Ireland, there were only 354 glebe houses in 1787, and 829 in 1832. This programme was in large part financed by Parliament – first the Irish Parliament, after 1800 that of the United Kingdom – through the Board of First Fruits, and went pari passu with a programme of church building. The years of the greatest government assistance were 1810 to 1816.”

Plate 11 from the Reverend John Payne’s 12 Designs for Country Houses published in Dublin in 1757 is of a three bay two storey hipped roof detached house with small first floor windows similar to Aghalee Rectory and The Grange. Pattern books were a great source of reference for architects and surveyors ranging from James Gibbs’ 1728 publication to Sir Richard Morrison’s a century later. Scottish landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon (1783 to 1843) topped them all with his encyclopaedic 1,100 page doorstopper of a manual. No building form was safe from his diktats from doghouses to limekilns. Nothing was too detailed to warrant his attention from kitchens of country inns to sliding fire screens for drawing rooms.

John Claudius Loudon’s ambition was “to improve the dwellings of the great mass of society”. Illustrations 458, 459 and 460 portray three versions of a three bay two storey hipped roof house. The façade of 458 is plain; 459 has quoins; and 460 has full height pilasters between each bay and at the elevation corners. Illustration 1449 (they go up to 2038!) is a grander three bay two storey hipped roof villa with a miniature portico and lower single bay wings. While these prototypes are not specifically glebe houses, the Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture and Furniture was so widely distributed and read it influenced all types and sizes throughout the British Isles.

Dr Michael O’Neill wrote an article A Roof Over Clerical Heads: Visual Insight to Glebe House Drawing in 2017 for the Representative Church Body Library. It goes into historical detail: “A glebe house is a residence provided in each parish (or parish union) for the clergy man or woman and his or her family. In the past glebe land (farmland) was also provided for the rector/vicar/curate of rural parishes, the clergyman up to the late 19th century was often also a farmer or leased out farmland. The poverty of much of the clergy of the established church led to Queen Anne setting up the Board of First Fruits in Ireland in 1711. This initiative (similar to the Queen Anne’s Bounty of 1704 for the Church of England) redirected first fruits or annates (the first year’s income of a clergyman to any new post due to the Crown) into a fund for building new churches, glebes and glebe houses.”

He adds, “In the first 70 years or so the Board of First Fruits purchased glebe land worth £3,500. It also assisted building 45 glebe houses with gifts worth £4,000. Annual parliamentary grants during the period 1791–1803 allowed the Board to spent £55,600 towards building 88 churches and 116 glebe houses. Significantly larger grants in the 20 years following the Act of Union meant a total of £807,648 was paid out in grants to purchases glebe lands in 193 benefices, building 550 glebe houses, and building, rebuilding and enlargement of 697 churches. By 1832 some 829 glebe houses had been built. Small wonder then that hall and tower ‘First Fruits’ churches and glebe houses are such a prominent feature of the Irish rural landscape.”

So what’s the modern equivalent of the pattern book? Volume housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey have their own standard house types but these are company guides and not for wider use. Perhaps the Daily Mail Book of Home Plans was the last vestige of the pattern book? Back to Glebe House and the last words go to Derek Hill, “So often people say, ‘Don’t you get lonely when you are over in Donegal?’ Remembering Emily Dickinson’s letter to a friend whose sons had died in which she wrote: ‘One can never be alone with a thronged heaven above’, I feel it is the same with a house.”

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Dress + Stair

A Flirtation with the Baroque

People Restaurants

Terre à Terre + VBites Brighton East Sussex

Be Right On

There are knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Yes, but is it art? No, it’s Fancy Nancy. That is, coco cardamom fired spiced rice with spring onion and yuzu palm bean shoots served with a salad of lychee, coriander, mint and pickled lotus root and pinda peanut laksa, finished with yuzu crème fraîche, panang pickled chilli sambai and chilli fried egg, peanut cumin and onion seed crumble, and tapioca sea salad cracker (£14.95). Complemented by sizzly chips, truffle Mornay sauce and truffle with pickled quail’s egg mimosa (£7.65). Only in Brighton would vegetarians be in the majority. And so, on a cold rainy winter afternoon, Terre à Terre, one of Clapham-Junction-on-Sea’s best meat-free restaurants is jammers. Red walls in the dining room stimulate conversation and appetite. So do great company and great food. Afterwards, it’s a dash across East Street, seagulls serenading overhead, for the best vegan coffee and orange brownies in Brighton. VBites, Heather Mills’ cosy café, proves she’s more than just a charity fundraiser, animal rights campaigner, TV personality, model and champion skier. Actually, Fancy Nancy? It is art. The edible kind.

There are certainties, uncertain certainties and uncertain uncertainties. Yes, but is it art? Yes, it’s Fancy Nancy. That is, coconut cardamon fried rice with spring onion topped with egg fu yung, crispy shallots, chillies and a salad of coriander, mint, lychee, pickled lotus root and yuzu beansprouts, served with laksa oil oyster mushroom kebabs, pinda laksa and crispy lotus root. So that was then (January 2015) and this is now (July 2023). It’s our return visit to Terre à Terre. Pricing variance is a game of snakes and ladders. Fancy Nancy has climbed £4.70; sizzly chips now come with earthy tangy cep mushroom ketchup and have fallen 70 pence. Only in Brighton would vegans be in the majority. And so, on a windswept rainy summer afternoon, Terre à Terre, one of Clapham-Junction-on-Sea’s best meat-free (and dairy-free in places like karekatsu smoked tofu) restaurants, is buzzing. Red walls in the dining room continue to stimulate conversation and appetite. So do even greater company and greater food. Afterwards, it’s not a dash across East Street; sadly VBites closed just two years after our visit. Fortunately, Terre à Terre now serves the best vegan coffee and boozy rum truffles in Brighton. Actually, Fancy Nancy? It still is art. The memorably edible kind.