It’s as if The Argory and Ardress House (County Armagh’s finest) were blended and transplanted in rural County Londonderry. Cumber House has the seven bay with breakfront containing a tripartite window over a fanlighted entrance door of The Argory and the white painted rendered walls of Ardress House. The house is Grade A Listed, the equivalent of Grade I in Great Britain. Alistair Rowan writes in The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (1979), a seminal work sponsored by Lord Dunleath’s Charitable Trust, “A seven bay two storey house with tripartite centre door. It looks about 1820, though the lower floor was built earlier by William Ross, who lost his money in the American War of Independence and sold the house in 1785.”The Listing dates the building a decade earlier, “The Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Cumber, compiled around 1835, states, ‘The present house was built by James Ross Esquire in 1810 and cost about £700, planting included, and other improvements round the house. It is handsome and commodious, and has a western aspect.’” Cumber House remained in private ownership until 1972 when it was purchased by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).
Cumber House is well looked after by the GAA with a variety of community uses occupying the rooms. Earlier in the 21st century, the GAA spent £1.2 million restoring the house including its fine interior plasterwork. The Fat Fox Café has opened in one of the two main reception rooms flanking the entrance hall. Three high sash windows overlook the river and woodland at the bottom of a grass bank. The café is already a brunch hit with locals and drivers seeking a pitstop on the Cookstown to Derry City road. The single storey stable block on the opposite side of the road has also been restored: the fronting lodges now contain a hair salon and a vets’ practice. Cumber House is rumoured to be the most haunted house in the north of Ireland. The Lawrence Photograph Collection includes an image of Cumber House taken by Robert French (1841 to 1917). The photograph was taken towards the end of his life. Over a century later, nothing has changed except ivy framing the breakfront has gone. Perhaps the original occupants are still in residence too.
It’s the only village in Ireland where the Main Street is in County Donegal (Ireland’s most northwesterly county) and the High Street is in County Fermanagh (the United Kingdom’s most westerly county). The 1925 Boundary Commission carelessly used the three metre wide River Termon as the border, forever splitting the village between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland or at least up until today. The River Termon, all 16 kilometres of it, rises from Scraghy near Omagh and flows into Lough Erne at The Waterfoot, a demesne three kilometres southwest of Pettigo. Its water meadows are home to brown trout, dippers, grey wagtails, heron, mallard, mink, otters and white clawed crayfish. In ancient times the river formed the boundary, or “Terminus”, of the Monastic Lands of Lough Derg.
Elevated and isolated, Pettigo has a long and distinguished history. In Celtic times it was known as the Place of the Blacksmith. By the medieval period, it had emerged to become the gateway to St Patrick’s Purgatory on nearby Lough Derg. “The church at St Patrick’s Purgatory is a wonderful basilica, like something from Ravenna,” observes heritage architect John O’Connell. Pettigo prospered as a market place in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the oldest reminders of this notable heritage is Termon Castle, southwest of the village and close to Lough Erne. Its ruins are located in the Republic, just 256 metres from the border. Built by the Gaelic Clan McGrath in the late 16th century, an indelible mark on the landscape, it bears all the scars of Cromwellian bombardment. Some architectural elements such as gun loops and window mullions are still intact.
The Church of Ireland, Templecarne Parish Church, and the former courthouse cum market house (a common combination in Ireland – see Kinsale), set at perpendicular angles to one another, form the focal point of the village centre along with the group of three storey houses opposite. The church dates from 1836 and is typical William Farrell: austere elegance. John O’Connell says, “Farrell was a very solid architect.” The building has a timeless quality – like Mr F’s Colebrooke Park and Ashbrooke House, both in County Fermanagh – derived from his restrained application of decoration. The tall gothic arched windows contain an unusual detail. Mr O’C explains, “The angled glazed inset is, in fact, a device for ventilation. Thus from the inside the hinged flap could be opened, usually with the assistance of a cord.” Samuel Lewis wrote in his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “The church, situated at Pettigoe, is a small, old, and dilapidated structure, towards the rebuilding of which Mrs Leslie (the proprietor of the estate), the Rector, and the Protestant parishioners have contributed a large subscription.”
The Reverend Charles Eames is the current Rector. “My vision for this church,” he states, “is to make an impact for God, here in Pettigo, by helping people understand the enriching messages of eternal hope given to us by Jesus Christ.” Sadly the grand Templecarne Rectory lies in ruins in fields next to Termon Castle. This long low two storey house is asymmetrically arranged with a single storey porch tucked between blocks set at right angles to one another. The original roughcast rendered finish, where not covered in ivy, has mostly given way to reveal the red brick construction material. Samuel Lewis notes, “The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Clogher, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £300. The glebe-house was built in 1813, at an expense of £978.9.2¾ of which £623.1.6½ was a loan from the late Board of First Fruits, and the remainder was defrayed by the then incumbent: the glebe comprises 141 acres of good land, valued at £176.16.8 per annum.”
The Barton Family Memorial is located to the west of the church. Their estate is The Waterfoot. Samuel Lewis records, “Waterfoot, the residence of Lieutenant Colonel Barton, is pleasantly situated.” A quirky triple jelly mould headstone has an equally quirky inscription, “The Victory. 1 Corinthians XV, 54 to 57. A White Stone. Amen. Rev I 18. ‘Tell his disciples he is risen from the dead.’ Matt XXVIII 7. Barton Family Vault.” Andrew Barton Patterson (1864 to 1941), Australian poet and journalist grandson of Robert Barton, wrote Waltzing Matilda. In January, snowdrops grow over the vault.
The former courthouse cum market house, restored and converted into a family home in 2006, is more provincial in character. It dates from circa 1850. The terrace of three houses opposite, restored in 2016, is of a surprisingly grand scale for such a remote location. The houses rise a storey higher than most of the village buildings and display distinguishing delineated window surrounds and half columned doorcases. Called The Palisades, their grandeur is less surprising when it transpires they once formed the village home of the landowning Leslie family. Sir Winston Churchill, a relative of the Leslies, was a frequent visitor. The most famous recent scion, Sir Jack Leslie 4th Baronet of Glaslough and Pettigo, died at Castle Leslie in Glaslough, County Monaghan, in 2016.
He continues, “From the 1840s, the Leslies had become related through marriage to some of the most influential landed families in Ireland and Britain. Sir John II (1857 to 1914) married Leonie Jerome, the daughter of a wealthy American newspaper tycoon, in 1884. This marriage meant that the Leslies became related through marriage to the Dukes of Marlborough as Leonie’s sister was Lady Jennie Churchill, wife of Sir Randolph and mother of Sir Winston. Both marriages were frowned upon in landed circles.”
High Street is named not after its retail offer but rather its steep gradient. Pettigo may be the sort of place which novelist Edna O’Brien would describe as, “You have to get a bus to get a bus”, but it has community spirit(s). Ever since Brennan’s Lounge overlooking the River Termon on the Northern Irish closed last century, both sets of Pettigonian nationalities frequent the pubs on the southern side.
John Elliott has lived all his life in Pettigo: “In my young days I remember 20,000 to 30,000 people coming to Lough Derg each summer. It was a lovely sight to see the smoke of the trains from each side of the platform which was roofed for the pilgrims. In the 1960s there were a lot more shops on the High Street in Pettigo like George McCreagh’s grocery and hardware shop. In my young days it was a good business centre. Fair Day was the 20th of every month, and cattle and sheep would be sold then. The old market yard is beside the former railway station. Magee Donegal Tweed would buy woven tweed for their big pullovers. The Burtons who own The Waterfoot had a forge in front of the Methodist Church.”
Across from the Methodist church at the top of High Street stands a significant looking tree. A sign on the railings surrounding it reads, “The Crimean War Tree was planted by W F Barton Esq and J P Clonelly, Pettigo, in commemoration of the taking of Sebastopol in 1856. Edward Barton and many others from the Pettigo area served in the Crimean War. After the capture of Sebastopol the Crimean War was virtually at an end. On 21 September the little town of Pettigo presented a sense of unusual animation and excitement, that evening having been set apart for rejoicing in honour of the capture of Sebastopol. The preparations were on an extensive scale, as F W Barton Esq of Clonelly had procured a large supply of fireworks from Dublin.”
John Elliott continues, “I remember going on a Sunday School trip on the train to Bundoran. The railway station in Pettigo was closed in the 1950s. Pettigo used to be packed on Sunday nights. People drove from Omagh and as long as you could hold onto the steering wheel you got here and home again. This applied all round the border – lots of music and great craic like that. The empty three storey house backing onto the river was Brennan’s Guesthouse. I remember Sir Jack Leslie – he wore a hat and a white coat. The Leslies lived in The Palisades, the white house opposite the Church of Ireland.”
“Station Island is now almost completely covered with buildings of which the large centrally planned Church of St Patrick by William Scott is the most recent. Designed in 1921 and built in phases by T J Cullen after Scott’s death, it is a massive neo Romanesque pilgrimage church, octagonal, with short cruciform arms, flanking circular towers to the entrance portal, and primitive Norman arcades outside. In 1912 Scott had also designed the grim New Hostel block, a three storey concrete frame, with modern battlements, providing space for 220 cubicles. The Old Pilgrims’ Hospice, a three storey stone built block erected by Father James McKenna in 1880 to 1882, has been spoilt by the removal of its gables and the addition of a clumsy mansard roof. Beside it are four substantial two storey Georgian houses in an irregular curve in front of St Mary’s Church, a modest four bay lancet hall with a gabled porch, statue niche, and short chancel…” Bringing the architectural history up tp date, Editor and Publisher of Ulster Architect Anne Davey Orr confirms, “In the 1980s the architects McCormack Tracey Mullarkey designed the additional dormitory blocks built by McAleer and Teague. Joe Tracey was the principal architect.”
We’ve never made a sandwich but we’ve made it to Sandwich. It’s American tastemaker Charles Plante’s favourite English town. Sandwich is filled with a relishable collection of chocolate box cottages and delicious candy coloured shops. All in very good taste of course. We’ll toast to that! Sandwich is sandwiched between Deal and Ramsgate – give or take the odd golf course (Royal St George’s) and even a country park (Pegwell Bay). But first the bay.
Strolling along the coast from Deal, Royal Cinque Ports Golf Clubhouse is the first gargantuan landmark on the landscape. Dating from 1892, an early photograph shows it as a heavily verandah’d Wild West chalet capped by a Tudor style giant gable. Architect unknown. Over the years it has been rendered almost unrecognisable – save for the gable shape – by rendering on a lavish scale and a series of elongating extensions.
Next on our jaunt Sandilands comes into sight, a vision in red brick under a hipped roof. This was bread and butter stuff for the tasteful architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, grandson of the Bishop of London (Right Reverend Charles Blomfield). His turn of last century practice had a specialism in country houses, new and revamped. Among the latter was Chequers in Buckinghamshire. Built in 1930, Sandilands’ spreadeagled plan embraces sea views from an array of angles. No doubt his client Samuel, Lord Vestey, sat on the first floor with binoculars looking at the birds going past. Sandilands is but a taste of things to come.
Rest Harrow is next and then The Dunes. This early 20th century brick house takes the plan of Sandilands and gives it wings. A butterfly blueprint. More obscure than his contemporary Sir Reginald, the well bred architect Charles Biddulph-Pinchard was still versed in country house design. His client was John Lonsdale, 1st Baron Armaghdale. Some of the original multi paned fenestration has been replaced with picture windows and with such views that’s not surprising.
The architectural feast changes with Whitehall. Surprisingly, it’s another Sir Reginald Blomfield special. Built in 1909, Whitehall has a rendered ground floor with stone detailing and a double height slate mansard filled to the rafters with a gluttony of dormers. The effect has more than a whiff of Marie-Antoinette about it, a seaside cottage orné on serious steroids.
Last of the big houses straddling the coast riding high on the waves of success comes Kentlands. We love spilling the beans. All 600 square metres of this house was built for the Heinz family. They might have been American but you don’t get more English that Kentlands. This time Charles Biddulph-Pinchard recycled two 17th century timber framed houses, threw in a barn for the fun of it, and the result is as if a piece of Chester fell from the sky and landed in, well, Kent. These five houses were to be part of a new seaside resort but World War I put paid to that. Instead, a glorious sparseness, an extravagance of hectarage very far from the madding crowd, triumphs.
Sandwich: The Story of a Famous Kentish Port published in 1907 is the 63rd book in the slightly sinister titled series The Homeland Handbooks. Editor Arthur Anderson raves, “Within easy reach of the popular and growing watering places of northeast Kent lies a town which should be visited by everyone with a regard for things ancient and beautiful, with a mind that would be affected by historic associations, and with emotions that can be touched by the story of a brave but chequered existence. Sandwich lies among the marshes left by the sea on its retirement from the bluffs of Richborough and Minster. Placed here among the flats, it is one of the sunniest towns in England. From horizon to horizon there is no single elevation to cast a shadow or to intercept the sunshine. Only when clouds are riding and sea winds sweeping over, are the brightest colours of the town and its gleaming belt of meadow and river obscured. Since the harbour sealed up – and not all the pathetic efforts of the townsmen served to avert the disaster – Sandwich has ceased to play the part to which it was accustomed in earlier days. But its bygone importance and wealth are attested by the remains that give it a picturesqueness such as few places can rival.”
The Pellicane House on High Street is one of the larger houses in Sandwich town centre. It’s a sweet confection of the ages: the 15th century original house was given a makeover 200 years later followed by a Georgian upgrade. The flint faced façade displays a charming symmetry gone somewhat awry and is crowned by a castellated parapet. Marie-Laure Frioux, originally from Nantes, brings French elegance to Market Street with her antiques shop Fleur de France. As for Charles Plante, he’s been an art and antiques dealer in London and America for three decades. He summarises his taste as, “Ruins, urns, neoclassical landscapes and interiors; evocations in paint, pencil and watercolour of the ancient world… neoclassical furniture, porcelain and bronzes – all have been my passion for the past 30 years.”
Landscape! Architecture! Art! The American Embassy famously moved south of the Thames in the second decade of this century. It’s a contemporary fort so naturally is protected a moat. Competition winning Philadelphian firm Kieran Timberlake designed the 12 storey glazed cube enveloped on two sides by a transparent film of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a form of plastic, to minimise solar gain. This is after all, the sunny southeast.
“Our challenge for the embassy was to encompass the values of transparency, openness and equality,” explain the architects, “drawing on the best of American architecture, engineering, technology, art and culture.” It’s the largest American embassy in Europe with 800 staff and around 1,000 daily visitors. As for that moat? Well, it’s actually a pond designed by landscape architects Olin and forms part of the site’s stormwater strategy.
A vast artwork dominates one wall of the double height atrium. ‘We The People’ is a 2017 site specific painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. The painting is made up of 32 square panels, each one nine metres square. It depicts fragments of the United States Constitution, illuminated this evening by the setting sun. Right now, we the people continue to party.
At this year’s Masterpiece there are 127 stands in the vast marquee with its canvas printed in the style of the original 17th century Royal Hospital building. “Masterpiece is a world class fair bringing together exceptional works encompassing all periods and cultures,” summarises Clare Jameson, Director of Potterton Books, an exhibitor at the fair. Potterton Books are international specialists in books on art, culture, design and the decorative arts. She adds, “It is a convivial meeting place for collectors and connoisseurs. We have seen a growing interest in requests for assembling book collections and personal libraries.”