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Royal Hospital Chelsea + Treasure House Fair London 2023

Back to Life

A menagerie of larger than life size bronze animals from Sladmore, some standing on the David Hockney swimming pool blue entrance floor, greets visitors to this inaugural show.

“London is the city of Europe, even the city of the world. It is still the second most important global art market and it needs a great interdisciplinary art fair.” Harry Van der Hoorn should know. He and Thomas Woodham-Smith co founded Masterpiece, the world renowned fair that ran for 13 years starting in 2010. Masterpiece almost immediately became a firm fixture of The Season. But at the beginning of this year Swiss owners MCH Group, who had secured a controlling stake in 2017, determined the fair wasn’t commercially viable. That created the unimaginable scenario that The Season – while still hosting gardening, cricket, racing, rowing, tennis and opera – would be missing art.

Deep sighs of relief could be heard echoing through the gilded postcodes when the duo launched Treasure House. Like Masterpiece, it’s in a temporary pavilion in the parkland setting of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Unlike Masterpiece, its orientation and circulation correctly face the 17th century brick building rather than the Embankment. Thomas explains, “Our choice of title reflects the wide range of disciplines and masterpieces of the fair, each piece a treasure in its own right. From my perspective as a Dutchman, ‘Treasure’ is a word that is understood throughout the world and ‘House’ is a mark of respect to the Grosvenor House Fair, a fair that inspired so many of us over the years.”

Out of the 55 exhibitors occupying 2,500 square metres of floorspace, 43 previously appeared at Masterpiece. There are 10 overseas dealers plus four that are only partly based in London. Comfortingly familiar sights include the Ventura Riva yacht this year fitted out by Gucci. The Ballyfin style transport of golf buggies through the hospital grounds has gone but the more direct pedestrian route is easy on the Louboutins. Timing has been pulled forward to the penultimate week in June which does mean the preview clashes with Glyndebourne and Ascot Ladies’ Day. Petertide is a busy time for everyone. Next year, Treasure House is programmed to go back to the last week of June.

In place of Le Caprice restaurant and two Scott’s bars is Table and Candle restaurant, Robuchon Deli and Oysters and Champagne Bar. Different operators, equally good offer, same buzzy guests. Everyone is fabulously sociable, nobody is sartorially challenged. To quote the 20th century photographer Slim Aarons, it’s all about “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places”. Life is rosé at the Whispering Angel Bar. The restaurant overlooks the courtyard. The bar (Irish Ostra Regal, Jersey and Madlon oysters; Laurent-Perrier Champagne) is half indoors half in the courtyard to accommodate both the alabaster and sallow skinned.Oil on canvas is represented from Post Impressionism (Sir Stanley Cursiter at Richard Green) to Expressionistic figurative art (Frank Auerbach at Osborne Samuel). A masterpiece from the Emerald Isle is the silver gilt sideboard dish for sale by Koopman. Made by James Fray of Dublin in 1828, it was presented to Thomas 1st Baron Manners, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, by the Officers of the Court of Chancery. At 69 centimetres diameter, the sideboard dish has plenty of space for canapés.

Fine art dealer Charles Plante has been involved in the fair world for over three decades, from stalls at Chelsea Town Hall to full room displays at Grosvenor House and Olympia Fairs. He has mounted exhibitions at Stair and Co in London and Mallett’s in London and New York. Last year he held a major sale at Dreweatts featuring many items from his townhouse and country house. Star pieces included architectural drawings by Henry Holland and Thomas Sandby. Charles’ bestselling publications are Inside Out: Interiors and Exteriors 1770 to 1870 (2000), Gilt Bronze Objects 1814 to 1830 (2002) and Tools of the Trade (2006). He has since relocated his business to the US concentrating on San Francisco, selling to “upper class Americans” who buy half a dozen of his drawings or paintings at a time to create French style salons.

“I am astonished how my friend Thomas along with Harry put this fair together in four months,” comments Charles. “They have really pulled if off! I like how the pavilion faces the most famous Wren building after St Paul’s Cathedral. There’s such attention to detail: the walls suspended to a few centimetres off the floor to give the illusion of skirting boards, space age canted ceilings and uplighting set in columns. The decorative approach is avant garde and progressive. There are dealers I love here like Wartski the royal jewellers.”

Treasure House may be smaller than Masterpiece but it is a refined version with a more curatorial vision, and like its forerunner is still larger than life.

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Perambulation + Rocksalt Restaurant Folkestone Kent

Sans Sourcil

It all started with St Eanswythe, daughter of Eadbald King of Kent, founding a nunnery on the white cliffs headland in the second half of the 7th century. Folkstone was granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1313 although it was never one of the Cinque Ports of the south coast. This is a potted history and random tour of the town informed by the perambulation down from Folkestone West railway station to Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour for lunch, taking in the air and the sights and the food and the wine. Pevsner Guide in hand. Salty samphire and seaweed butter to come.

The Parish Church is dedicated to two female saints: St Mary and St Eanswythe. This millennium old place of worship forms a focal point for the old town and adjoining artists’ quarter slipping down to the sea. The hidden relics of St Eanswythe were discovered in 1885 when masons were preparing the sanctuary wall for alabaster arcading. The Prayer for the Feast Day of the saintly princess is, “Almighty God, the source of all holiness and the author of all charity; grant that we may so follow the footsteps of blessed Eanswythe, our patron; that encouraged by her example and strengthened by her prayers we may ever show forth the same spirit of holiness and love, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rendezvous Street is a nod across the Channel although being Franglais doesn’t go the whole hog, not le cochon entier, like say Sans Souci Park in Belfast.

In Kent North East and East Pevsner Architecture Guide, 2013, John Newman uses the adjective “handsome” a lot to describe the stuccoed delights that grace this overwhelmingly Victorian resort, especially The Leas, and with good reason. Like most seaside resorts, it was the arrival of the railway heralded Folkestone’s expansion. South Eastern Railway’s main line from London to Dover, engineered by William Cubitt, reached the town in 1843. The following decade the Earl of Radnor developed his Folkestone Estate, employing architect Sidney Smirke.

Stucco gave way to greyish yellow brick. High on the hillside overlooking the decks of Hotel Grand Burstin is a force of late Victoriana, its architecture as commanding as its view. A metal sign on the garden gate states: “Dominating the view of The Bayle from the harbour is a large building known as Shangri La. It is at the southern end of a rather fine terrace replacing an earlier building on the site known as Bellevue House. The terrace was constructed in 1894 by Mr Hoad, a local builder of some renown, who died in 1901. It is believed by some that the building was a German Consulate used by spies during World War I to send signals to enemy ships. One of the reasons put forward to support this is a ‘German Eagle’ can be seen under the upper windows: it is in fact a griffin. The gables of the rest of the terrace are adorned with various sea monsters.” A central tower on the seaside elevation is glazed on all sides and capped with an ogee shaped copper roof. The street facing gable of Shangri La is painted white; its neighbour’s has been painted an alarming shade of blue that manages to clash with the sky whatever the weather.

Greyish yellow brick gave way to yellowy grey brick. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s modernist intervention contrasts with its neoclassical neighbours in The Leas. The Welfare Insurance Building, completed in 1972, is now apartments. Its bow ended windowless tower is a soaring example of coastal brutalism while the attached tiers of cascading apartments resemble The Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, London, designed by Patrick Hodgkinson a decade earlier.

Yellowy grey brick gave way to render. Messrs Burstin and Bacon have a lot to answer for in the eyes of some connoisseurs of style. Grand Hotel Burstin isn’t bursting with everyone’s taste. It replaced the 230 bedroom multi turreted Royal Pavilion Hotel with a whopping 500 bedroom 14 storey building designed to resemble a stranded ocean liner or at least one that has crashed onto dry land. The Folkestone Herald recorded on 19 January 1980, “John Gluntz, Deputy Controller of Shepway District Council`s Technical and Planning Services Department, said the Council has no details of Mr Burstin`s plans. ‘We`re glad to see the Royal Pavilion go down, but we would be interested to see his ideas for development.’” No doubt Mr Gluntz was interested to see Mr Bustin’s architect Mr Bacon’s ideas for development. The Grand Hotel Burstin is many things to many people but subtle to none. In place of “handsome” Pevsner calls it “crude and silly”.

Render gives way to glass. A curved transparent wall allows a full view of the harbour from the lunch table in Rocksalt restaurant.


Donegal + One

A Constant Yearning 

It’s wild.

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Windsor Castle Berkshire + The Windsors

Elevation of the Circle

Much galleting.

The light of afternoon, St George’s Chapel door, two girls in silk dresses, both beautiful, one a gazelle.

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Chapel of Ease + Church of the Sacred Heart Poisoned Glen Dunlewey Donegal

Lilies for Mourning

In a tale of two ecclesiastical offerings with very different endings, the Anglican Chapel of Ease and the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, both in the depths of the Poisoned Glen, appear hewn out of the landscape, as dramatic in sculpted form as the powerful backdrop of Mount Errigal. Poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh calls Mount Errigal “A sacred mountain”. The Anglican chapel was erected in 1844 by Jane Russell as a memorial to her late husband James Russell, landlord of the Dunlewey Estate. It is built of local white marble and blue quartzite. The entrance is via a centrally positioned square tower. Lord George Augustus Hill, another County Donegal landlord, was a travel writer and recorded, “In addition to the romantic scenery in the neighbourhood, of which the conical Mountain of Arigle [sic] is the leading feature. The new Church at Dunlewey – built of white and grey marble, from quarries in the immediate vicinity – forms an object of much interest and attractions.” A later landlord William Augustine Ross erected the Catholic church in 1877. Designed by Belfast architect Timothy Hevey, it is built of rock faced basalt rubble trimmed with bands of grey stone and the same local white marble as the chapel. An offset round tower is redolent of ancient Hibernian tradition. The architect died the following year aged 33.

Tinged with tragedy, the Poisoned Glen is nonetheless as romantic as its name. John Conal Boyd, a local history enthusiast campaigned to have the remains of the Chapel of Ease stabilised after it was abandoned in the 1950s. He considered at least with the roof off everyone could enter the space open to the heavens above. When John died in 2006 aged 53, he was one of the first people to be buried in the reopened graveyard. His tombstone of rough stone is laid horizontally to respect the setting of the chapel. It points towards Dunlewey Lough, and, lifting up on the wings of an eagle, onwards to Bunbeg Harbour where he lived.

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John Mack + Rosewood Hotel Holborn London

Great Minds

Pre drinks and a lunch for 12 guests were held in the private dining suite of Rosewood Hotel to welcome New Yorker John Mack to London. The thinker, author, artist and founder of non profit Life Calling, whose mission is to preserve our humanity in the Digital Age, was representing the US at the London Design Biennale. The august yet entertaining company at pre drinks and lunch included the CEO of a film studio, an international artist, a King’s College London professor, and newspaper and magazine editors, to not name a few. Between the synchronised silver service of coordinated cloche lifting, John related to us,

“Change is going to come down to the individual level. Period. A free country begins from within. Artificial Intelligence is going to exploit the vacancy of the mind. But I see a lot of hope – a bot cannot describe an essence. The war within is the only war. Involvement in external conflict is but a distraction from this fact. As in any struggle that concerns one’s freedom, there’s an enemy and a saviour. As potential, you are both. Until we start embracing the algorithm of the mind we will not land on the right plot for life. I’m excited to be alive right now!”

John’s 2023 book Notes to Psyche has lots of points to ponder: “We must question ourselves without doubting ourselves. The former preserves vitality, the latter kills it.” Followed by, “Intellect cannot see eternity, it can only think about it. Science is blind.” Two thoughts on never being bored or boring: “Boredom is a matter of life or death. Imagine lying on your deathbed and gazing for the last time at the world around you. Go ahead, give it one final look – make it real. Now ask yourself: was there ever such thing as boredom, or was it merely a forgetting of life’s brevity?” And, “Boredom, at its core, is the absence of gratitude.”

Our host Sir Nicholas Lloyd concluded, “You’ve truly opened our minds.” Gratitude was not lacking; boredom was absent at lunch. And with that, John Mack departed for No.10 Downing Street.

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Collon House Louth +

For You Have Been Our Refuge

“You will enjoy Collon and the arresting parterre garden,” predicts Ireland’s foremost neoclassicist John O’Connell.

Maurice Craig wrote an article in Country Life, 1949, Some Smaller Irish Houses, “Most of the great houses of Ireland have received some descriptive attention, first from the Irish Georgian Society, and more recently from Country Life. At the other end of the social scale the Irish cottage has interested field geographers and anthropologists such as Dr Estyn Evans (Irish Heritage, 1942). But in between there are, in Ireland as in England, a number of those ‘middling’ houses which are the backbone of vernacular architecture. Social cleavages in the great building age were sharper in Ireland than in England, so that the middle class and its monuments were less numerous than in England. But they existed nonetheless, in both town and country, and their houses are not without distinctive qualities which repay study. Neither ‘big houses nor ‘cabins’, they range from farmhouses to gentlemen farmhouses.”

In the same publication 27 years later, John Cornforth worried in an article Tourism and Irish Country Houses, “With planning and preservation arrangements in town and country still in their infancy, there is nothing to stop a purchaser buying a historic demesne for its land, splitting it up, developing it and abandoning the house.” From earls and girls in pearls to manners and manors, cut to 2022 and the current Architectural Editor of Country Life, Jeremy Musson tells us, “I’m a curious house guest, writing about Irish country houses for a British magazine, Country Life. It’s a personal odyssey. The tall walls, owners with a disarming sense of humour … Irish country houses have a special flavour. I rarely get to bed before midnight! Country Life’s publication of Irish houses is an erratic study. Country Life was established in 1897; Powerscourt House in County Wicklow was published two years later. The magazine’s founder Edward Hudson is reported to have said, ‘Lismore Castle in County Waterford I believe is very photographable.’ Mount Stewart in County Down was featured in 1935.”

Jeremy relates, “Irish houses had far larger numbers of servants than English ones and greater hospitality. The complexity of servants’ basements contrasts with the simplicity of the layout of the main rooms above. Lissadell in County Sligo is a classic example of this arrangement. My first Country Life article was Russborough in County Wicklow. I covered Farmleigh in Dublin in 1999 and Killadoon in County Kildare in 2004. I also wrote up Castle Leslie in County Monaghan in 1999. Sir Jack Leslie loved going to the local disco – he said ‘Dancing shakes up the liver!’ I remember a dinner at Drenagh in County Londonderry. Mid course, cattle invaded the lawn so we all ran outside to chase the cows away!” Somewhere needs a haha. “In 2015 I covered Kilboy House in County Tipperary, probably the most ambitious Irish country house project in recent times. Country Life is the recording angel of the Irish country house and it continues to beguile.”

Another architectural historian, Roger White, shared with us this year, “The aristocracy and gentry in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice novel had limitless leisure hours, filling some of them by visiting country houses.” And that brings us rather nicely to sitting in the music room of Collon House, County Louth. We’re guests of owners John Bentley-Dunne and Michael McMahon. “Collon House is actually three houses around a courtyard which I inherited in 1995,” explains John. “The interiors were Victorianised so we wanted to bring them back to their original Georgian appearance. The restoration took 10 years. We reinserted correct glazing bars and shutters for the windows.”

Collon House is not quite a big house and certainly not a cabin. It’s a large middling size house. “I am not sure why Anthony Foster, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, ended up building a house in this village location in 1740. His son John was the last Speaker of the Irish Commons until its dissolution by The Act of Union in 1800. It is an example of an Irish ‘long house’. The Speaker’s descendants recently came from England to visit the house.” John O’Connell says, “‘Speaker’ Foster built Mount Oriel Temple a few kilometres north of Collon. Its pedimented portico was inspired by The Temple of the Winds. The house had a room with a series of grisaille paintings by Peter de Gree which I believe ended up at Luttrellstown Castle outside Dublin.” Mount Oriel Temple is much altered and under the ownership of Cistercian monks.

“It all started with an overspill at Tankardstown House in neighbouring County Meath,” intrigues John. “The owners asked if we could take some staying guests as they were full. The rest is history.” Canopy Room, Chinese Room, Speaker Foster’s Room, French Room, Massereene Room … there’s accommodation for 22 guests at Collon House. Modern conveniences are discreet: those one metre deep walls and oversized landings come in handy for adding en suite bathrooms.

We join our distinguished fellow guests from Richmond, Virginia, for a candlelit and evening sunlit dinner of Irish country house portions and Irish country house hotel standard in the dining room. Starter is seafood cocktail wrapped in smoked salmon in seafood sauce followed by pea and coriander soup. Limoncello with lemon shavings forms the palate cleanser. When in Rome! Smoked salmon, butter mash, baby tomatoes, baby carrots and broccoli are something of the national tricolour on a plate. Lemon continues as a theme with sorbet pudding. Michael serves; John is busy in the kitchen. Coffee and chocolates are enjoyed in the music room across the staircase hall and garden hall lobby. Just in time to look out across the sunken parterre garden. Box edged flowerbeds are filled with asters, delphinium, helenium and phlox. The planting is so complementary to the tulips and hosta surrounding the fountain in the courtyard.

We enjoyed Collon and the arresting parterre garden.

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No.3 Wine Bar + Restaurant Collon Louth

You Have Given Us the Heritage

It’s Ireland’s most fulfilling crossroads. All worldly and spiritual needs are catered for where Kells Road and Main Street crisscross with Ardee Street and Church Street. No box goes unticked. Afternoon wine? Donegan’s Pub to the north of the crossroads. Evening wine? No.3 Wine Bar to the south. Dinner with wine? No.3 Restaurant, still south. Nightcap wine and four poster bed? Collon House to the northeast. Sunday morning service? Collon Church of Ireland to the southwest.

Donegan’s arrived on the Collon scene in 1870 as a pub and grocery shop. Not an unusual combination a century and a half ago – often there was an undertaker’s added into the mix to make such establishments one stop shops so to speak (“a stiff drink” takes on a whole new double entendre in rural Ireland). The fire is lit, the racing is on the telly, and the craic is almighty. A 20 paned tripartite window frames glorious bursts of sunshine one minute and torrential downpours of rain the next.

Mother and son team Martina and Wayne Fitzpatrick established No.3 Wine Bar and restaurant a mere seven years ago and have been racking up national, province and county level plaudits ever since: 11 awards and seven recommendations to date. You can eat and drink outdoors, indoors ground floor or mezzanine. The menu is illustrated in Gatsbyesque style. Jay Gatsby, sorry the dapper Wayne Fitzpatrick, explains, “We grow our own organic fruit and vegetables on site in our kitchen garden. Silverskin onions, beetroot, gooseberries and blueberries are just some of our home produce.” The Jazz Age is alive and kicking in No.3 although thankfully there’s no prohibition. Just plenty of fanciable flappers.

Ah, Collon House: that’s somewhere to write home about.

And so to church. Or maybe not, as Collon Church of Ireland is currently closed for restoration. The Foster family, local landed gentry who lived on the other side of the crossroads in Collon House, built the first Anglican church in 1764 before the current building replaced it half a century later. The impressive Tudor Gothic church was designed by the incumbent priest Daniel Augustus Beaufort. Not bad going for an amateur architect. He also published a Memoir of Ireland, a sort of academic 19th century Lonely Planet guide. And he was a founder of the Royal Irish Academy. Quite the multihyphenate life. The Reverend Beaufort’s father was a French Huguenot refugee who became Pastor of the Huguenot Church in Spitalfields, London. That building, known as Hanbury Hall, is now the Church Hall of Christ Church Spitalfields. A circularity of Anglicanism is at play. Daniel Augustus Beaufort sure knew a thing or two about creating a catchy silhouette.

“‘Wine makes me feel all tingly, doesn’t it you?’ chattered Miss Masters gaily,” writes Frances Scott Fitzgerald in O Russet Witch, his 1922 Tale of the Jazz Age. “‘I love you too, Merlin,’ she answered simply. ‘Shall we have another bottle of wine?’ ‘Yes,’ he cried, his heart beating at a great rate. ‘Do you mean –’ ‘To drink to our engagement,’ she interrupted bravely. ‘May it be a short one!’ ‘No!’ he almost shouted, bringing his fist fiercely down upon the table. ‘May it last forever!’ ‘What?’ ‘I mean – oh I see what you mean. You’re right. May it be a short one.’”

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The Shelbourne Hotel + The Grill Room Dublin

From the Ends of the Earth

At the dawn of the new Carolean Area we’ve returned to the second city of the Lost Empire.

“Believe you me I’ve lived with a person – all my life.”

“It’s incredibly together and very uncluttered.”

“He has an absolute eye.”

What did Caroline Walsh writing in 1989 for the Irish Heritage Series have to say about the hotel? “Fiercely proud, Shelbourne staff will vie with one another to tell visitors their memories of favoured guests from the Dalai Lama to the Queen of Tonga for whom they had to make a special bed, and whose entourage included two cooks so that everything she ate was cooked to her satisfaction. They will talk of Laurel and Hardy, Richard Burton, James Cagney, John Wayne and of Peter O’Toole. Most of all they will talk of Princess Grace of Monaco; of her early morning walks in the Green, and of how the press were always after her and of how they were devastated when she died.”

What would the Anglo Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen have to say about this evening’s dinner establishment? Rather a lot. She wrote The Shelbourne in 1951. “The Shelbourne faces south, over Stephen’s Green [skipping a sainthood] – said to be the largest square in Europe. Tall as a cliff, but more genial, the hotel overhangs the ornamental landscape of trees, grass, water; overtopping all other buildings round it. It gains by having this open space in front; row upon row of windows receive sunshine, reflect sky, gaze over towards the Dublin mountains. The red brick façade, just wider than it is high, is horizontally banded with cream stucco; there are cream window mouldings. Ample bays, two floors deep, project each side of the monumental porch – above, all the rest of the way up, the frontage is absolutely flat. Along the top, a light coloured parapet links up the windows of the mansards; from the centre of the roof rises a flagpole.” Accelerate to the last line of her book, “It is any hour you like of a Shelbourne day …” Or night.

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St Stephen’s Green + Kildare Street Club Dublin

Fulfil Our Vows Day After Day

Dublin’s most exclusive club is the only place to watch sundown over St Stephen’s Green. The Kildare Street Club of course isn’t on Kildare Street or at least hasn’t been since the war. Ireland’s most spirited architect John O’Connell joins us. “My first essay was the green leather bar. And I am responsible for the mirrored jib door on the staircase landing. Nobody interrupted me in my work. The ceiling is painted pewter as invented by Robert Adam.” That’s the bar sorted. We’re off on a tour. “You have to have life in the building. There should never be crewelwork in such an interior. I love festoons! My ladies’ windows!”

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The Corscaddens + Cabra Castle Hotel Kingscourt Cavan

Increase the Days of the King’s Life

Unusually for the Irish Republic, Kingscourt has not been un-anglicised like Kingstown in County Dublin (these days known as Dun Laoghaire). A few kilometres from the town is the first hotel in the Romantic Castles of Ireland, a collection owned by the Corscadden family. Bought in 1991 along with its 40 hectare estate, the part 18th century mainly 19th century little bit 20th century castle was extensively restored. Belllingham Castle in County Louth would follow, correct sash windows reinstated and inappropriate plastering removed. The latest addition to the collection is Markree Castle in County Sligo, acquired in 2017. Restored by the Cooper family and opened as a country house hotel, Markree Castle has been reinvigorated and relaunched primarily as a wedding venue. Cabra Castle is an absolute riot from the exuberant architecture to the ebullient staff.

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Rokeby Hall Grangebellew Louth + Francis Johnston

Lead Us to the Rock

Rokeby Hall is quite the trailblazer. A late 18th century house successfully adapted for early 21st century living. Architecture so spare it heralds modernism. Built in 1786, Rokeby Hall predates architect Francis Johnston’s masterpiece Townley Hall by a decade. Both houses are in the Boyne Valley. Rokeby portrays many of the architect’s trademarks: a restrained cuboid; precise cut stone elevations; an attic floor behind the parapet; a circular internal central space. Unlike its next in line, Rokeby Hall has an original long single storey service wing. In the 20th century, the wing was converted into garaging. This century has proved kinder: it’s back to being a kitchen again – plus an adjoining sitting room with exposed brick walls revealing earlier iterations.

Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, originally commissioned his go-to architect Thomas Cooley to design him a country house. But when Thomas died in 1784 his apprentice Francis took over and made it his own. The Archbishop named the house after his family home Rokeby Park in County Durham which his brother had lost. This wasn’t the first building to benefit from the hands of the master and his protégé. The private chapel of Armagh Palace was designed by Thomas Cooley and its interior completed by Francis Johnston.

The Johnstons were a construction dynasty. Francis’ brother was also an architect – his design for Castle Coole in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, was adapted by James Wyatt. The Archbishop was already in his 70s when he commissioned Rokeby Hall and died in England before it was completed. His funeral carriage would ride past the house. The 400 hectare estate with the big house, stable block, 30 farmhouses and three gatelodges passed to the Archbishop’s nephew. Four generations of the Robinson family would enjoy life here until 1913.

The current owner explains that a descendent of the Archbishop, Sir John Robinson, married Sarah Denny of Hertfordshire, who arrived in the 1840s armed with a handsome dowery of £40,000. While the newly minted Robinsons retained the essence of Francis Johnston’s brilliance, they couldn’t resist some glazed interventions starting with inserting heraldic stained glass into the round headed landing window showing off the history of the estate. The owner points out how the entrance hall sums up the history of the house in one space: the original columned and corniced interior; Victorian encaustic tiles on part of the floor; 1950s wallpaper filling the wall panels.

While at Townley the architect would make a double height circular feature of the staircase hall, here at Rokeby he designed a first floor landing swirling round to connect the main bedrooms. Internal circular windows above the doors of four symmetrically placed lobbies prove the owner’s observation that every living space in the house benefits from natural light. Francis Johnston wasn’t just a meticulous designer; he was trained as a carpenter by his father. The architect left a knowing note at Townley, “I have worked out the timber calculations so no overcharging for materials!”

Sir John and Lady Sarah didn’t stop at a stained glass window. They commissioned Richard Turner, the Joseph Paxman of Ireland, to dream up a conservatory. And dream up he did. One of the great glass structures of the county, province and country, the conservatory at Rokeby Hall was recently restored over one and a half years by the same company who resurrected Ballyfin’s glazed extension. Pulleys open the roof windows. The restoration won an award from An Taisce, Ireland’s answer to the National Trust. And what colour did the owner paint the metal frame? Turner White of course.

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Rathfarnham Castle Dublin +

A Strong Tower

In the midst of suburban Dublin stands an Elizabethan castle. It narrowly avoided demolition in the 1980s: Rathfarnham is south Dublin prime real estate. Archbishop Adam Loftus, an ambitious Yorkshire clergyman who would become Lord Chancellor of Ireland, built the property. It was remodelled several times in the 18th century although the askew angled four flanker towers betray its earlier origins. “Rathfarnham Castle is an enigmatic house,” remarks heritage architect John O’Connell. “And brilliant white! There is a very good drawing room and wonderful gallery. There is also a spectacular James ‘Athenian’ Stuart saloon and if that’s not good enough there is the Sir William Chambers horseshoe stair!” Now owned by the Office of Public Works, Rathfarnham Castle grounds and interiors are open to the public.

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Carton Hotel Maynooth Kildare +

Longing to Dwell in Your Tent Forever

To create is to forget. “Baby we are boys of our time.”

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The Hamiltons + Hamwood House Dunboyne Meath

Taking Refuge in the Shelter of Your Wings

Stephen Odlum sums up the origins of Hamwood House in his book Eva, Letitia and The Hamilton Sisters: Class, Gender and Art (2021): “The Hamiltons originally came from Scotland in the early 17th century and initially settled in the north of Ireland. The first of these settlers was Alexander Hamilton (1690 to 1768) who was MP for Killyleagh in County Down. In a tradition followed by many subsequent generations of the Hamilton family, he became a land agent. He seems to have been particularly successful in this role and left his five sons land worth £50,000. His son Charles Hamilton (1737 to 1818) moved south to Dublin where he first traded as a wine merchant. It appears that this business flourished, as he decided to build a house reflecting his new status. He chose to build in an area to the east of the village of Dunboyne in County Meath close to the border with County Dublin and only about 15 miles from the centre of Dublin.”

The writer details, “The Hamilton sisters remained attached to the old Ascendancy social monies and traditions. Letitia, Eva and Connie, who developed a gardening consultancy business, and Ethel, up to her death in 1924, pooled their resources to live in refined but declining style in a series of large, rambling houses in the Castleknock and Lucan areas of County Dublin from 1920 onwards. Manners mattered more than money – dinner was a formal event which the ladies dressed for and were summoned by a gong. In a world which would become increasingly dominated by Catholic dogma, Letitia and Eva would have had a liberty that was not often open to their Catholic sisterhood. Those who did choose to pursue modern feminist ideas were seen as being ‘West Brit’ or pro British. Indeed, Catholic women who were educated and middle class were more likely to join forces with their Protestant counterparts to achieve social and political recognition, as seen in the suffragette movement in the early part of the 20th century.”

It’s an unseasonably cool and overcast morning to meet Charles Hamilton VII for a private tour of his splendid home. The four bay two storey over basement under attic entrance front or perhaps it is the garden front (to be explained later) has curved wings extending out like crab claws grabbing the octagonal pavilions. “The house was built by Charles I in 1777 for £2,500,” introduces his descendant. “’Ham’ comes from Hamilton and ‘Wood’ comes from his wife Elizabeth’s maiden name Chetwood. Charles II’s wife Caroline found the house draughty – the original entrance on the side or west elevation opened straight into the reception rooms – so that’s how the current arrangement came about. A corridor now separates the entrance door from the living quarters. The driveway used to access what is now the garden elevation – really the house is back to front. In very hot dry summers the ghost of flowerbeds appears opposite the current entrance front.”

He adds, “Caroline insisted on many more trees being planted to help create shelter for the strong winds. Remember that when she arrived at Hamwood in the early 1800s it was a cold and bleak situation and very exposed being 300 feet above sea level. That may not sound particularly high but in relatively flat Leinster there was nothing between the house and the east coast! Caroline and her husband were greatly involved in the interior design of the house too, adding furnishings, artwork and ornaments.”

“The architect is unknown,” explains Charles, “although a surveyor Joseph O’Brien is mentioned in family papers. During the 1798 Rebellion the agent for nearby Carton was hanged. So my ancestor Charles I took over as agent and my family continued in the role from 1800 to 1950. This supplemented the income they made of the 165 acres at Hamwood. The family have always been very active in the community. They set up agricultural societies to create work and during the famine they ran a soup kitchen. My father Charles Gerald was the last agent of Carton. The Duke of Leinster sold it to Lord Brocket and then eventually it was turned into a hotel. We walk round to the other side of the house, down the long garden which has unbroken views across the countryside. Unbroken thanks to a nine foot wide haha.”

“The 1911 Census records a butler, three yard men, coachman turned chauffeur and five indoor servants. I remember as a child we still had seven glasshouses filled full of peaches and nectarines,” says Charles. We have now entered the house through the ocean blue coloured door and are greeting by a Canadian moose head in the octagonal hall. The corridor feels early Victorian: it is lined with tongue and groove wooden panelling and encaustic tile floored. It leads into an elegantly furnished double drawing room spanning the full four bay entrance front. The pale sea green blue walls are filled with paintings and drawings. There are two corresponding reception rooms on the garden front. The two bay dining room is painted deep shell pink. Two similar oil paintings hang side by side: Mrs Charles Hamilton by Sir William Orpen (the subject dressed in back with white frills writing a letter) and Portrait of Louisa Mrs Charles Hamilton by Eva Hamilton (the subject in the same outfit reading a book). “Eva and Letitia both trained at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art,” Charles confirms, “where the prominent Irish artist William Orpen taught. Eva was especially influenced by Orpen’s style.”

Bright airy bedrooms fill the first floor even on a dull day. A roof lantern lit corridor extends off the staircase landing. “The two storey library wing was built by my great uncle,” notes Charles. “It disrupts the symmetry of the garden elevation.” The two pane Victorian glazing has been replaced on the entrance front with 12 panes on the main block and intricate gothic topped panes on the arched windows of the wings. A painting of another country house hangs in the staircase hall. He states, “That was our family estate at Ahakista in West Cork. The television presenter Graham Norton lives there now. We used to have a townhouse in Dublin too – 40 Dominick Street Lower.” This four storey three bay terraced house, built in 1760, is now a language school. Hamwood House stands proud as the continuing family seat of the Hamiltons.


Dunboyne Castle Hotel + Spa Dunboyne Meath

Listen to Our Prayer

Kamala Harris, US Vice President, speaketh: “I think it’s very important for us at every moment in time and certainly this one to see the moment in time in which we exist and are present and to be able to contextualise it. To understand where we exist in the history and in the moment that relates not only to the past but to the future.”

We’re on a drive by shoot. Just enough time to capture the façade, no time for the spa. We’ll rest when we’re dead. Even by our standards, seven country estates, one city hotel and of course one club in 72 hours is a jam packed agenda. We’re in true country house country, within and beyond The Pale, sandwiched between Carton and Hamwood (more of them to come) and admiring how Dunboyne Castle bears a passing resemblance to Armagh Palace (more of that too). This three storey 18th century seat is a tall house and a big house but not a long house (again more to come on the latter). Thank goodness for daffodil trimmed turning circles – this really is the in and out country club. Onwards and roundwards.

Architecture Design Town Houses

Walmer Kent +

If It Was Good Enough for the Queen Mum

We know Kent. Margate is rough and classy round the edges. Folkestone is classy and rough round the edges. Walmer is classy. Deal’s Siamese twinned town (really they should share a hyphen) attracts artists and architects some of whom still commute to London albeit for the new normalcy of two days a week. On a sunny Saturday evening mid venue hopping Walmer is the Christie Turlington of the east coast (photogenic), from semis to the cemetery. Next stop The Lighthouse Pub which sits on the invisible hyphen. But does it attract a rough Saturday night crowd?

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Netherside Hall Yorkshire Dales West Riding +

Out on the Wiley Windy Moor

Ok it’s more Dales than Moors, but Netherside Hall has quite an air of Wuthering Heights about it. A certain robustness. A sturdy Jacobethan manner. The coursed rubble and ashlar walls are almost the same gunpowder grey as the slate roof. The Nowel family seat was built in the second decade of the 19th century. It has long since been in educational use. The architect was possibly George Webster who belonged to a dynasty of designers based in Kendal. There are plenty of mullion and transom windows for Cathy to knock.