Architecture Country Houses People

Annaghmore House + Stables Sligo

Heir B+B

Annaghmore Sligo River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sounding like a tongue twister,  Cooney, Collooney and Coolaney are villages in rural County Sligo. There are two major country houses on the edge of Collooney: Markree Castle and Annaghmore House. Until recently Markree was owned by the Cooper family. Charles Cooper rescued the demesne from demise by dereliction, successfully securing the castle’s future as a hotel.

Annaghmore Sligo View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Emerging out of the wooded driveway into the low autumnal glow, that breath before twilight, the stable block at Annaghmore comes into view ahead of the house. The intense assault of this place is immediate, evocative and sensory; it’s another world, a world full of magic things. The stable block is an accomplished symmetrical design. A plaque under the clock facing into the quadrangle declares “1864”. The clock hands don’t move. Like everything at Annaghmore, the stables are serene, unsullied. There are plans to sensitively convert one range into cottages to let.

Annaghmore Sligo Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore is the home of the O’Hara family who are relatives of the Coopers. Other O’Hara houses in County Sligo include Newpark in Ballymote and Coopershill in Riverstown. O’Harabrook in Ballymoney, County Antrim, is, as its name suggests, another O’Hara seat. Fortunately for country house fans, Durcan and Nicola O’Hara rent out a bedroom to guests. And what a bedroom! Their half acre room has great windows with dandelion yellow curtains framing the endless countryside. Well, 1,100 acres anyway of estate. The en suite bathroom shares the same panorama.

Annaghmore Sligo Walled Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Time is 20 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time,” explains Durcan, referring to his ancestors’ tradition. A sign in the library, propped against the blood red painted walls, lists the daily agenda for prayers, breakfast, luncheon and dinner, all of course set to Annaghmore Time. But really, it feels like time has stood still in this west of Ireland country house. Mysterious, beautiful.

Annaghmore Sligo Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Railings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stable Block © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stables Courtyard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stable © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore House Sligo Bay © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Demolished Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bay © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Rear Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Dog © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Stairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Dado © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom Wardrobe © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A drawing in the drawing room apparently shows the Georgian house, or an earlier proposed remodelling, which was evidently more modest than today’s sprawling pile. It illustrates a two storey three bay hipped roof main block with ground floor tripartite windows on either side of a columned porch. Two single storey two bay hipped roof wings with round headed windows augment the entrance front. Either way, “It looks much more manageable!” laughs Durcan. The house certainly must have been much more manageable until an ancestor commissioned the distinguished architect James Franklin Fuller to jazz things up.

Annaghmore Sligo Mirror © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The architect was very young. This was possibly his first commission,” he surmises. That could help explain the exuberance of scale. The house was transformed from a villa to a mansion. One of the most interesting interventions is a sweeping staircase lit by a tall stained glass window. The staircase swoops into a bow with an overhead fanlight of leafy plasterwork. The seafoam green painted walls are filled with family portraits. One is of “Reverend Hitchinson Hamilton, Eldest Son of the Very Reverend John Hamilton, Dean of Dromore and Frances his Wife, Daughter of the Right Reverend Bishop Hutchinson, died July 1st 1778”.

Annaghmore Sligo Clock © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“There was an earlier 1600s house,” Durcan continues. “It was between the current house and the stables. All the driveways intersect at that focal point.” His grandfather demolished most of one wing of the fulsome house, leaving behind a ground floor room which is now the games room. Mid 20th century French doors open onto a terrace, a cool heaven undisturbed by the silent falling of the leaves. At night, bats dart and swoop past its great windows.

Annaghmore Sligo Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A conveniently positioned plank acts as a drawbridge for their 20 year old cat to climb over the dry moat that surrounds the basement. Two orphan sheep mow the lawns. Five dogs accompany walks through the 10 acre walled garden. Back in Uncle Charlie’s day, Durcan relates, there were 20,000 acres and a full complement of staff. Uncle Charlie lived the dream. One photograph in a corridor shows the merry bachelor with his pack of hounds; another, his polo team. The dream faded when he died in 1947. The greenhouses and formal planting in the walled garden are a distant memory. But the main rooms of the house are all still fully used and fires are lit throughout, from bursting dawn to some new moon. Translunar paradise.

Annaghmore Sligo Wallpaper Fragment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Design Luxury People

Lavender’s Blue +

The Anticipation

Off the red eye from Barcelona, Mary Martin’s on her way. Full entourage alert! In the top London fashion designer’s own catchphrase, “This will be amazing!”

Architects Architecture Country Houses Hotels Luxury

Mount Falcon Sligo + Phantom the Falcon

The First September

The architect James Franklin Fuller sounds like he’d have been good craic at a dinner party. When not bashing out High Victorian melodramatic novels, bragging of his descent from Charlemagne or boasting of his wife’s connections to Napoleon, he was busy embellishing Ireland with a string of rather fetching future tourist attractions. Ashford Castle, Farmleigh, Kylemore Abbey and Park Hotel Kenmare are probably the best known ones.

He also worked on two country houses in the west of Ireland: the design of Mount Falcon and the redesign of Annaghmore. Quite the eclectic, Mr F ensured they’re not wildly similar. The former is asymmetrical and vaguely castellated. The latter is symmetrical and strongly neoclassical. They both have plate glass sash windows and grey stone walls. Fast forward a generation or two: Mount Falcon has had an extension added; Annaghmore, a wing demolished.

Mount Falcon is freeform baronial, an Irish take on a Scottish tradition. All 32 of the bedrooms are available to paying guests (Mount Falcon is now a hotel). Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses calls Annaghmore “late Georgian”.  Esteemed architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell retorts, “It’s lazy to just call Annaghmore ‘late Georgian’. It’s not. The remodelled front elevation is Victorian Greek Revival – the Greek order used is a giveaway.” The house was once joyously named Nymphsfield. Only one of the many bedrooms is available to paying guests (Annaghmore is still a private house).

“A few months after opening my offices I discarded the regulation copying-press and the regulation letter-book,” James Franklin Fuller confessed in his autobiography. “The ‘correct’ thing to do with letters received, was to preserve, docket and to pigeon-hole them… whereas nine out of 10 of them went into my wastepaper basket immediately after receipt . . . I kept no ledgers or books of any sort: I could not see the least necessity for them.” Clearly, admin was beneath him. It’s a wonder that any buildings can be attributed to him, never mind such a variety.

Mount Falcon retains its original internal fittings: cornicing, fireplaces, panelling and even servants’ bells. There are spacious reception rooms but it’s more fun to eat in the intimacy of the square tower: table for two only. Mount Falcon has, aptly, a resident falcon. Phantom is sitting balanced on the back of a chair in the dining room. “Falcons follow a matriarchal pecking order,” explains her falconer. “They respond more respectfully to female humans than males.”

Females play defining roles in the history of Mount Falcon. The house was commissioned by Ultred Knox in honour of his wife Nina Knox-Gore of nearby Belleek Manor. It was completed in 1876. Major and Constance Aldridge bought the estate in 1932 and opened the house as a hunting lodge. Connie was one of the founders of the Blue Book, Ireland’s leading guide to hotels of distinction. In 2002, Mount Falcon was taken over by the current owners, who include the local Maloney family.


Ox Mountains + Gleniff Horseshoe + Aughris Head Sligo

Spinning Round the Moon 

Yeats Country. The land of William Butler is Irish countryside at its most majestic. And dramatic. And awesome. And elemental. And poetic. The place names themselves carry a lilt, from Doonbeakin to Emlymoran.

The great poet may have immortalised Ben Bulben Mountain but there’s so much more countryside besides. At Drumcliffe, a tavern, café and shop cater for profane needs and then the spirit is lifted – once the church, grave and round tower have also been visited – by nature at its wildest. It ain’t called the Wild Atlantic Way for nothin’.

Half a century ago the composer of Adagio for Strings, American Samuel Barber, visited Yeats’ grave. He memorably found it “far from nowhere; there was not a sound, only swallows darting”. That serenity persists. Sheep take priority on the road laneway which winds and twists through the Ox Mountains around the dark waters of Lough Easkey. The mountain ringed valley of Gleniff Horseshoe, behind the distinctive escarpment of Ben Bulben, is where weather meets topography. A mist descends, cloaking the mountain tips of Benwisken, Tievebaun and Truskmore, and threatening to engulf the entire valley.

Seen from the coast, Ben Bulben shrinks to a distant bulge on the horizon of the golden strand of Aughris Head. Not every beach has a thatched 17th century pub but that is one of the many joys of this stretch of the cool west coast.

Country Houses Luxury People

Goodwood Revival 2018 + Richmond Lawn Marquee

Early Autumn

The War is over, the party’s begun. It’s a sepia tinted festival for the upper echelons. Goodwood Revival is all about the fashion dancing racing. Every September the West End comes to West Sussex as the Earl of March throws open his estate for a three day race meeting. Punters become actors as it’s staged in period costume to create the romance and glamour of Post War racing. Cutting lots of dashes in vintage threads, halcyon days have returned. The weather is glorious.

The dungarees and headscarves of Land Girls are everywhere – but wait – did Carmen Miranda just stride by? Pill box hats, poodle skirts, herringbone tweed, penny loafers: everyone has gone to town (and country). The War may be over but there are still plenty of military uniforms to be worn with panache. Five fashion shows a day compete with just as much dressing up off the catwalk. Shops along Fashion Parade offer the chance to update or rather backdate one’s wardrobe even more. Dressed to the Nines (teen Forties, Fifties and Sixties), it’s like wandering through the film set of Brideshead Revisited. Is that Aloysius in a pram?

After inspecting vintage cars being repaired in the Paddocks enclosure and watching a few races from the Grandstand, one can join in the action on the fairground rides Across the Road. One can get one’s skates on and join in more action at Butlin’s Ballroom Roller Rink. After all that action, there’s always pie + mash at the Spitfire Café followed by the movies at Revival Cinema.

Wait again – the best action is yet to come! Goodwood Revival doesn’t just reverberate to the howl of potent engines and the roar of RAF displays. Inside the Richmond Lawn Marquee, there’s the beat of Big Band sounds accompanied by synchronised boogying, twisting and turning to the Charleston, the Jitterbug, the Shim Sham. The band plays Tired of Being Tossed Around and everyone ups their moves. Suddenly the wild girls of St Trinian’s take the dancefloor by storm, led by their Vice Headmistress swigging from her hip flask. Screw lacrosse. She’s got the moves. Who needs a jasmine and rose G+T at the Bloom Gin Garden when you can BYO?

And now, a message from the Earl of March’s father, the ‘Station Master’, 11th Duke of Richmond: “Goodwood Motor Circuit was created immediately after World War II by my grandfather Freddie, the 9th Duke of Richmond, and the first race meeting was held here on 18 September 1948. I remember coming here as a boy to watch the likes of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham race. After the circuit was closed to racing in 1966 (due to my grandfather’s safety concerns), I grew up determined to bring it back, and we finally succeeded in that aim in 1998, when we staged the inaugural Revival. It is a particular delight for me, then, to welcome you to the 2018 Goodwood Revival: the 20th anniversary of our annual ‘step back in time’ and 70 years since motor racing at Goodwood first began.

Our celebration of the anniversary this weekend sees us host a parade of dozens of former Revival winners: from Ludovic Lindsay at the wheel of ‘Remus’ right up to victorious car and driver pairings from this year’s event, we will have a huge variety of winners on the circuit. We’ve also produced an anniversary book, Twenty Glorious Years, which you’ll find on sale in the Goodwood Shop.

Aside from our own anniversary celebrations, we’re also remembering Rob Walker – the most successful privateer team owner in Formula I history, and a regular entrant (and winner) at Goodwood. Look out for his distinctive Scots blue and white race livery around the Paddocks as well as in our special Rob Walker Racing Track Parades over the weekend. And, as many of you will know, this is the centenary year of the Royal Air Force, so we’re paying tribute with a special RAF themed Freddie March Spirit of Aviation. During the War, a fighter base, RAF Westhampnett, was built on the Goodwood Estate, and played a key role in the Battle of Britain. Later, the Motor Circuit itself was created using the base’s perimeter track. I’m very proud of the Estate’s historic links to the RAF and delighted to have the RAF Benevolent Fund as our official event charity.

It’s thrilling that the Revival has reached its 20th anniversary. The success of the event is a testament to the great support we’ve had over the years from our entrants, drivers, riders and mechanics; from our sponsors and partners; from the members of the Goodwood Road Racing Club, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary; and of course, from you, our enthusiastic guests. I hope you all thoroughly enjoy the weekend.”

Architecture Country Houses People

Cecil Manor + Queen Áine’s Tomb Clogher Tyrone

Royal Female

Cecil Manor Estate Clogher © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lavender’s Blue are familiar with royalty. This summer, (the royal) we have met The King of Tory Island, The King of Nigeria, The Princess of The Congo (dancing queen), The Queen, Princess Alexandra, Prince Charles (again), the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Queen Áine is new to us. Greetings. She died a couple of thousand years ago. Goodbye. It’s been a dizzying journey from the Wild Atlantic to glitzy Africa Fashion Week London via snazzy Windsor Chapel to rural Clogher Valley in furthest flung County Tyrone. It’s an even more dizzying journey up Knockmany Hill to Her Late Majesty’s tomb.

Clogher Valley © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Augher Clogher Fivemiletown!” rhymed the County Tyrone schoolchildren of yore. A lot more yore ago there was Queen Áine. Reputed to be over two millennia old, this passage grave (cairn) is lined with 12 massive upright stones (orthostats). Three of the stones are engraved with designs of Boyne Culture (Neolithic period of Boyne Valley). She was celebrated as an ancient Irish deity, a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann race. Queen Áine shares her tomb with Queen Báine, the wife of the 1st century King Tuathal Techtmar.

Knockmany Hill once formed part of the Cecil Manor Estate. The Department of Agriculture bought the land in 1911, demolished the William Farrell designed big house, and planted a forest. Cecil Manor was a great box of a house, with that spare wall-to-window ratio typical of the architect’s august output. The wooded climb up Knockmany Hill makes the views from the top all the more exhilaratingly revelatory. Far below, from a distance Clogher Valley looks like a giant two-tone green quilt.

“The loss of Ireland’s great houses, most of them Georgian, is a baffling instance of state carelessness,” remarked Christopher Hart lately, critiquing the storyline of Brian Friel’s play Aristocrats. Chartered Building Surveyor and Irish Georgian Frank Keohane laments, “In southeast England there are not enough country houses to go around. It’s different in Ireland. We have one of the lowest population densities in Europe. I go up and down country lanes and get extremely dispirited by the ruins of country houses.”

Queen Anya's Tomb Clogher © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


St Mary’s Church + Font Gdańsk

Century Gothic | Myriad Pro Light | Times New Roman

St Mary's Church Gdansk Stained Glass © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Or Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to give the church its full name. Like most churches in the city, its red brick exterior contrasts with a white plastered interior. Except for some fragments of frescos. It dates from 1343. Pope Paul VI raised the restored St Mary’s status to minor basilica in 1965. Just over two decades later, a Decree of Bishops recognised it as a pro cathedral. Everything about St Mary’s is on a vast scale: it has no fewer than 31 chapels.

St Mary's Church Gdansk Altar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The baptismal font is symbolic of the rebuilding of the city. It combines elements of various periods from various buildings. The base, figures and gate come from the Mariacki Church in Gdańsk. Reliefs depicting Biblical scenes decorate the sandstone octagonal font. The tank dates from 1682. So much of the city fuses the old and the new, the worn and the shiny, reflecting both turbulent and better times in this enigmatic corner of Central Europe.

St Mary's Church Gdansk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


Holy Trinity Franciscan Friary + Church Gdańsk

Outer Beauty Inner Peace

Holy Trinity Church Gdansk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Another hugely impressive ecclesiastical (re)creation that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the 20th century. Holy Trinity is more than just a church. It’s also a friary. The complex fits around a cobble stoned courtyard. Brick walls meet half timbered walls at the perpendicular; it’s a colourful and complex confection. Almost 600 years ago, Bishop Theodore, with the backing of the Teutonic Knights, obtained approval from Pope Martin V to establish a friary in the environs of Gdańsk city centre. They took a century to construct. Gdańsk is still low rise, so the silhouette of Holy Trinity dramatically pierces the skyline with onion domes and wiry crosses and crocketed pinnacles and brick sculptures of varying complexion.

Holy Trinity Friary Gdansk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


Uphagen House + Courtyard Gdańsk

Peace and Tranquillity

A burgher’s home originally dating from 1776, Uphagen House in the centre of Gdańsk is now a museum. It has the tall narrow frontage typical of the city and even more typical, an elaborate gable. The rebuilt historic heart of Gdańsk is rammed with gables of every kind: pointy, pointier, crenellated, crow-stepped, turreted, Dutch, Flemish, painted, flat-headed, chimney-like and so on. Once more typical of the city, Uphagen House has a long, long plot. A courtyard provides natural light to mid-plot rooms and acts as a sanctuary of restfulness.

In 1942, with great foresight, the Government Minister Fritz Kibel surveyed and photographed the house. Fittings including panelling, doors and stove tiles were dismantled and sent to storage. Three years later the house was burnt down during World War II. In 1953 its reconstruction by architects Ryszard Massalski and Kazimerz Orlowski took place with great gusto. In place of the patina of age is a 20th century historicism. In 1998 Uphagen House won the Special Award for Modernisation of the Year.


Church of St Peter + St Paul Gdańsk

Bricks + Mortar

Another day in Gdańsk, another church. Bombastic architecture for sure, blank walls and blind arches give St Peter and St Paul’s the look of a fortified castle – with a contrastingly fantastical wildly crenellated pitched roof on top. It’s in the Old Suburb and dates from the 14th century. As is the story of Gdańsk, the church was extensively damaged in 1945. Just 13 years later, Reverend Kazimierz Filipiak began the reconstruction which was completed, or at least as much as anything is completed, in 2006.


Gdańsk + The Doors

The D Word

The Polish word for door is Drzwi.


Pod Lososiem + Under the Salmon Restaurant Gdańsk

Very Sexy Fish

Pod Lososiem translates as Under the Salmon. We decline the 40 percent proof Goldwasser liqueur or we’ll be Under the Table. The building began life in 1598 as an inn and distillery called Der Lachs (The Salmon). It was founded by Ambroży Vermollen. The fishy angle is a salmon sculpture over the door on the salmon coloured façade. Hence the name. Geddit. Not as abstract as it sounds. George Bush Senior, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Anne have all dined here (not at the same time). Two other guests (not together), Pope John Paul II and the Duchess of Cambridge, have pierogi (dumplings) named after them. Such an honour!

The restaurant has been owned by the Robakowski family since its reconstruction in 1976. Established by Gerard, it is now run by his son Mieczyslaw and grandson Damian. Today, the elder is sommelier; the younger, waiter. Pod Lososiem is not without its admirers, famous or otherwise. Saturday lunch is fully booked (at least) seven months in advance. So Sunday lunch is the alternative. First impressions are this isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s a bastion of full blooded exuberance. And that’s just the rococo entrance hall plastered and stuccoed and burnished and furnished to within a square inch of its life.

The food lives up to the wallpaper, so to speak. Chef Janusz Małyszko’s mighty fish selection served with crayfish (well, if it’s good enough for Catherine…) is maximalism on a plate. Soon stuffed to the gills, there’s always room for cinnamon crème brûlée. The two tiered dining room is awash with a nautical theme from enormous fish tiles to a boat suspended from the ceiling. A bounty’s worth of silver glimmers from a glass cabinet.

Architecture Art

Gdańsk + Fragments

Remnants and Sacraments

Gdansk Corner Building © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Danziger designers are good with fragments; maybe because they’ve had to be, historically. The largest city of Kashbubia, Gdańsk has been Prussian, German and Polish. It still bears the scars of 20th century troubles but wears them with pride. Take the bathroom of Tarina Pizza Café opposite Pod Lososiem. No, really. Somewhat randomly, it contains a section of crumbling brick wall. A sign reads:

St John's Church Exterior Gdansk Poland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The relics of gothic loadbearing walls, of bourgeois tenement houses, the so called ‘neighbourly walls’, located on the border of neighbouring plots set out in the mid 14th century. The entire structure of a tenement house was supported on the loadbearing walls. Due to this façade of a house being relieved of loadbearing function, it could be constructed independently and included large window openings. The owner of a plot covered the cost of one bearing wall only. The appearance of the façade, floorplans and height of the tenement house depended on individual needs, creativity and wealth of the owner. Individual plots were sometimes joined together which increased the possibility of building bigger and more comfortable dwellings… These walls were uncovered during archaeological excavations carried out in 2007 to 2009. They were restored and moved to the contemporary ground level which is higher than centuries ago.”

St John's Centre Gdansk Nave © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St John's Centre Gdansk Concrete Column © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St John's Centre Gdansk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St John's Centre Gdansk Column © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fragmentation reaches a high art form in St John’s Centre. On a late summer Sunday morning, Gdańsk Radio is recording a choral mass in this most atmospheric of surroundings. Glorious juxtapositions never jarring | mismatching materials according as one | enforced eclecticism appearing by choice. How did it come about? In 1944, as the threat of Air Raids loomed, all moveable relics of this ancient church were taken and stored in warehouses. The following year, the threat became reality. In the 1980s the church was rebuilt but when a brick column in the nave collapsed, it was bravely erected in concrete and the remaining five reinforced in concrete. And so began a journey into non contextualism.

St John's Centre Gdansk Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In 1995 the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre took over the building. Paintings, memorials, wooden stalls and, memorably, four paintings illustrating The Wise and the Foolish Virgins parable, are gradually being reinstated. The chancel with its 1611 stone altar remains sacred; the nave with its contemporary stage, profane. Beauty from destruction.

St John's Centre Gdansk Brickwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

If St John’s was a street in Dublin it would be called Henrietta.

St John's Centre Gdansk 10 Virgins Painting © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Town Houses

The Four Seasons + Gdańsk

This Evanescent World

Gdansk Mist © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Grey mist to lavender twilight.

Gdansk Twilight © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


Gdańsk + St Mary’s Church Rooftop


St Mary's Church Gdansk Tower Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Cats on a hot tin roof and all that. Gdańsk is full of vast brick churches but St Mary’s outdoes them all for sheer size and bravado. It did take about 160 years to build, starting in the 1300s, with restoration continuing to this day. Spending an afternoon on the tiles is harder than it sounds – the route is up a narrow brick spiral staircase and then up caged metal staircases clinging to the walls of the hallowed hollowed out bell tower. Divide the 400 steps by the average 13 of a domestic staircase – the rooftop is 30 storeys in the air. Bereft of the concealment of their pediments, a red sea of pantiled roofs – not tin – stretches toward infinity.

St Mary's Church Gdansk View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Far below, the body of the basilica resounds from Ave Maria being played on the 1627 organ which once belonged to St John’s.

St Mary's Church Gdansk Poland View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Every 15th August, The Indulgence Feast of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is marked by a concert at St Mary’s.

St Mary's Church Gdansk Rooftops © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Town Houses

Gdańsk + River Motlawa

Time to Reflect

This is what Sunday evenings are all about. Sunset on the river.

Architecture Art Hotels

Lavender’s Blue + Radisson Blu + Gdańsk

Teutonic Nights | Lighting the Trip Fantastic

Naturally we’d end up a few miles from the Russian border this summer. It’s baking, and we mean fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement baking hot, but we’re cool as cucumbers on ice. As the temperature soars, so does our sense of anticipation. Burn! Home of Daniel Fahrenheit, electric Tricity it is. Radisson Blu. Blue is the new black. Breakfast has the eggs factor. Suite, the wow. The hotel hides behind a wildly flamboyant 17th century façade looking across Dlugi Darg. A street named desire.

At the epicentre of the province of Pomerania is Gdańsk| Gdynia | Sopot. The trinity that is Tricity. Gdańsk and Sopot are poles apart, or at least separated by a 30 minute taxi ride. The former is Poland’s most historic city, looping round the Motlawa River, all remade medieval dreams and spires; the latter is Poland’s most exclusive resort, embracing the Baltic Sea, all cream hued beaches and wind sculpted dunes. Sopot has nightclubs – lots of Pole dancers and last tangos. Gdynia is somewhere in between, by map and metaphor. It’s also worth heading to nearby Hel and back for spotting the haves and the have yachts.

Dr Paul Richards, Chairman of King’s Lynn Hanseatic Club, recognises an Anglo Polish connection: “Gdańsk and King’s Lynn were major trading partners in the 15th and 16th centuries.” Knowing both places well, he recommends, “The Maritime Museum on the River Motlawa – it includes the Great Crane of Zuraw. Also the very large brick church St Mary’s which isn’t far from there.” St Mary’s is purportedly the largest brick church in the world. He highlights Dlugi Darg as a street of great historic interest. Tricity is hot.

Right. Off to The Esteemed Graduates of International Academies of Fine Art Show in The Great Arsenal.  The Award of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage goes to the talented young artist Aneta Kublik. She describes her apparently monochromatic work See Invisible, “The aim of my work is to show anxieties and fears, feelings that have no form or shape. To reveal the visibility of these abstract concepts I used a figurative representation of deer – animals immersed in fear. By limiting the palette of colours, I focussed on the right brush movement which creates animals, plants and landscapes emerging from the darkness. My works are seemingly black, but with the right light or perspective we can discover the image – its movement, shape and hidden colours.”


Lavender’s Blue + Sopot

Approaching the Russian Border

The geometry of living: infilling a rough mosaic, we like to get around. Move over Budapest, grandeur has a new (to us) hotel.

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Buncrana Castle Inishowen Donegal + Sir John Vaughan

Notes on a House 

It is one of the most romantically situated country houses in Ireland, picturesquely positioned on a peninsula off a peninsula. Buncrana Castle is perched on the edge of its namesake town, looking serenely across Lough Swilly towards the Atlantic Ocean. The serenity of its setting is matched by the serenity of its architecture. “Indeed this is a building of note,” remarks heritage architect John O’Connell. He in turn refers to the words of the late Dr Maurice Craig, who writes about Buncrana Castle in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, 1976. John drew many of the floorplans illustrating this seminal book.

Dr Craig describes an architectural characteristic that the house shares with a few others, “The type of small cubical wing, usually lower than the house, which stands advanced from the main block at each end, and overlaps it by the thickness of one wall which is common to both house and wing, has a long history. It resembles the musical device in which the last note of one phase is the first note of the next. In plan, if not in silhouette, it appears as early as Jigginstown (1637), and by the time of Waringstown, County Down, it is fully established. Buncrana, County Donegal, though sharply contrasted in other ways, is an example from the very early 18th century.” He captions a closeup photograph of its façade: “Doorcase with a tablet commemorating the landing of Wolfe Tone at Lough Swilly in 1798.”

Three years earlier, Hugh Dixon’s An Introduction to Ulster Architecture was published: “By contrast with Waringstown House or Berwick Hall, Buncrana Castle, built by Sir John Vaughan between 1716 and 1718, is a competent and assured piece of architectural design; it may indeed be found rather dull because of this. Each window balances another. Each has its own area of wall to occupy, neither too large nor too small. The introduction of a half-basement raises both the height and the importance of the ground floor. The front door is approached by a gentle flight of narrowing steps, and decorated with a moulded frame topped by a curving open pediment. The three central bays are given a discreet prominence by being advanced slightly from the main block, and the monotony of the blank side walls of the wings is relieved by arched niches.”

Mark Bence-Jones summarises ownership history in his 1988 revised tome A Guide to Irish Country Houses, “A very distinguished early 18th century house, built circa 1716 by George Vaughan, close to the shore of Lough Swilly. Two storeys over basement; seven bay centre block with two storey one bay overlapping wings. Doorway with scroll pediment. Panelled interior. Axial approach by a six arched bridge over the river, near which stands an old towerhouse of the O’Dohertys, Lords of Inishowen; and through a curving forecourt. Originally the house was surrounded by elaborate gardens and terraces. By circa 1840, Buncrana belonged to a Mrs Todd; it later became the seat of Alexander Airth Richardson, son of Jonathan Richardson, MP, of Lambeg, and his wife Margaret Airth. It is now falling into decay.”

In 2002, Howley Harrington Architects won an RIAI award for the repair of Buncrana Castle’s complex roof. The practice’s scholarship was praised by the Institute. Over to James Howley, “The castle has been described by several historians as having been built in 1718, probably because of the date stone that survives above the entrance door. During our survey we discovered that the building was much older, probably dating from the early 17th century, with a significant programme of alteration and extension in 1718. The triple stack roof from 1718 is not only one of the oldest surviving roofs in the country, but many of its large section timber members were reused floor beams, complete with joist sockets, salvaged from an earlier house. Quite remarkably the original roof covering, consisting of pegged stone slates, was intact, though in a very poor state of repair. The stone slates were quarried locally and the individual slates were graded from eaves to ridge, and in addition to the pegs were bedded in lime and sand. Another remarkable feature of this roof is that apart from the stone capped front ridge, all other ridges to the main roof and flankers were made of lime and sand. Although this roof had been leaking for over 40 years, during which time inappropriate and ineffective cement and bitumen repairs had been carried out, it had survived for an astonishing 280 years.”

The architect continues, “It became immediately apparent that the roof structure was of great cultural significance and had to be retained and repaired, and that the very beautiful grey-green stone slates should be salvaged and reused at least on the principal east facing roof and flankers. A programme of extensive repair and replacement was carried out to the roof structure, where approximately 10 percent of the rafters and 70 percent of the main structural members including purlins ridge and valley beams were saved. The rainwater disposal system was replaced in cast iron and many new sliding sash widows were installed. The building, described as ‘derelict’ in the 1970s and 80s, is now dry, and ventilated, its future secured. The varied colours and textures of the stone faced roofs are extremely beautiful and the only example of stone slate roofing we know of on a major building in Ireland.”

A flick through the entries in A Guide to Irish Country Houses shows two more examples of houses with the “small cubical wing” identified by Dr Maurice Craig. Castle Cor, County Cork, and Cahir-Guillamore, County Limerick, both have single bay projecting attachments. Like Buncrana Castle, or at least like its rebuilding as so recently identified by James Howley, these two houses are early 18th century. But Buncrana Castle, in style and location, really is unique. Dr Craig clearly enjoyed musical metaphors and to borrow his tone, the building’s designer realised to fruition that harmony is the result of good counterpoint.


Amazing Grace Viewing Point Inishowen Donegal + John Newton

The Lake of Shadows | A Vapour that Appeareth

“Shield and portion”

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835: “Buncrana lies near five miles up shore from Dunree Fort. This shore is altogether exposed and does not afford an eligible site for either pier or quay; but, off the mouth of the Crannagh River or under Buncrana Castle, there is safe anchorage for vessels of any burthen and boats can enter the river with but little floodwater, and here they bring nearly all the fish caught in Lough Swilly for sale.”

In the field of tourism branding, hymnal inspiration must rank among the more original, if not the unique. It certainly was a good excuse to transform a concrete viewing platform into an artwork. Local artist Andrew Garvey-Williams designed a mosaic floor which incorporates images of the hymnwriter John Newton’s ship The Greyhound, the words “Amazing Grace” copied from his handwriting and broken chains symbolising the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

“As long as life endures”

Sailing from Africa to England via Newfoundland was a long and dangerous voyage. For weeks during the spring of 1748, John’s ship was caught in a violent storm in the Atlantic Ocean. One sailor was instantly swept overboard. In his own words, “The sea had torn away the upper timbers… and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes. It was astonishing, and almost miraculous, that any of us survived. We expended most of our clothing and bedding to stop the leaks.”

When all hope was lost, “We saw the Island of Tory and the next day anchored in Lough Swilly in Ireland. This was the 8th day of April. When we came into this part, our very last victuals were boiling in the pot and before we had been there two hours, the wind began to blow with great violence. If we had continued at sea that night in our shattered condition, we would have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayers.” He had realised God’s grace could save even a “wretch” like him.

“A life of joy and peace”

John stepped ashore in Buncrana a changed man. The viewing platform marks the spot. His crew received a warm welcome from the villagers, and local carpenters set about repairing the battered ship. While the ship was being repaired, he visited Londonderry, attending prayers at St Columb’s Cathedral twice a day. On returning to England, he was appointed captain of a slave ship. But as his faith grew, he jumped ship to join the clergy in Liverpool in 1764. It was while he was Curate at Olney Parish Church that he wrote Amazing Grace to illustrate his 1773 New Year’s Day sermon. John was promoted to Rector of St Mary Woolnoth, London. He preached at this Nicholas Hawksmoor designed church in Bank for the last 27 years of his life. During this period, he mentored the politician William Wilberforce and together their combined efforts battling slavery were successful.

The slave trade was abolished in the spring of 1807. John died the same year, four days before Christmas. He had written almost 300 hymns such as the real belter Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, but historically Amazing Grace wasn’t among the most popular. It really only gained status during the 19th century Christian revival which swept across both sides of the Atlantic. His words were attached to several traditional tunes until 1835 when the composer William Walker married the hymn to the tune New Britain.

“Dissolve like snow”

The hymn has an enduring quality, an eternal appeal. Amazing Grace has been recorded over 5,000 times including a moving rendition given by Aretha Franklin to the Obamas. It has also inspired contemporary songs such as Phil Wickham’sThis is Amazing Grace”. John Newton’s legacy lives on forever in lyrics and now in a tourist attraction in this most fascinating far flung part of the universe. Growing at a rate of knots, Buncrana is now Donegal’s second largest town and the largest in Inishowen. It is just 20 miles away from Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point.

“Bright shining as the sun”