Following a Pattern
A townhouse in Hampstead London and a country retreat in Church Hill County Donegal. The reclusive socialite had it all. The 20th century artist Derek Hill, whether painting the Duke of Abercorn at Baronscourt or teaching the Tory Island Painters including King Patsy Dan Rodgers, was versatile. In 1988 the artist commented on his rural idyll, “The house was built as a glebe in 1826 and later became a small fishing hotel for gentlemen until I bought it from the last proprietor. In 1953 I paid £1,000 for the hotel and the 20 acres of lakeside land surrounding it. I felt I was meant to live there having noticed, three years previously, the house’s superb position surrounded by great trees and the Donegal hills on every side. It was also on a tongue of land jutting out onto the water, and I love to be near water.”
Glebe House, the two storey former rectory of St Columba’s Church of Ireland, represents the zenith of undemonstrative domestic architecture. The north facing entrance front, the east facing lake front and the south facing garden front are all three bays wide. A fanlight arches over the entrance door and sidelights. Trellis in the ground floor central bay of the other two principal elevations creates the effect of a fanlight and doorcase. The reddish burnt terracotta painted roughcast walls lend the house a Mediterranean air while the grassland falling down to the 2.7 kilometre long Gartan Lough heightens a sense of the bucolic.
Built in 1826, Glebe House could easily be a half century older or newer. Beautiful as it is, the architecture of Glebe House is not unique. Au contraire, it is a type that can be seen throughout Ireland decades before and after. Other three bay fronted roughcast examples with a central fanlight over the doorcase in the north of Ireland include The Rectory, Aghalee, County Armagh (1826); Willowbank, Keady, County Armagh (1834); The Old Rectory, Killyleagh, County Down (1815); and St Elizabeth’s Court, Dundonald, County Down (1819). Minus a fanlight over the doorcase are The Glebe, Finvoy, County Antrim (1820) and The Grange, Salter’s Grange, County Armagh (1781). The Rectory and The Grange both have lower first floors with six pane bedroom windows. Glebe House is slightly different as it is a three bay square in shape – most are only two bays deep.
Maurice Craig’s seminal work Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, 1976, summarises the genre: “The glebe houses of the (formerly established) Church of Ireland are an important category of house, because of their ubiquity, their charm, and the influence which they undoubtedly had on other buildings. According to Donald Akenson, following the Reverend Daniel Augustus Beaufort’s Memoir of a Map of Ireland, there were only 354 glebe houses in 1787, and 829 in 1832. This programme was in large part financed by Parliament – first the Irish Parliament, after 1800 that of the United Kingdom – through the Board of First Fruits, and went pari passu with a programme of church building. The years of the greatest government assistance were 1810 to 1816.”
Plate 11 from the Reverend John Payne’s 12 Designs for Country Houses published in Dublin in 1757 is of a three bay two storey hipped roof detached house with small first floor windows similar to Aghalee Rectory and The Grange. Pattern books were a great source of reference for architects and surveyors ranging from James Gibbs’ 1728 publication to Sir Richard Morrison’s a century later. Scottish landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon (1783 to 1843) topped them all with his encyclopaedic 1,100 page doorstopper of a manual. No building form was safe from his diktats from doghouses to limekilns. Nothing was too detailed to warrant his attention from kitchens of country inns to sliding fire screens for drawing rooms.
John Claudius Loudon’s ambition was “to improve the dwellings of the great mass of society”. Illustrations 458, 459 and 460 portray three versions of a three bay two storey hipped roof house. The façade of 458 is plain; 459 has quoins; and 460 has full height pilasters between each bay and at the elevation corners. Illustration 1449 (they go up to 2038!) is a grander three bay two storey hipped roof villa with a miniature portico and lower single bay wings. While these prototypes are not specifically glebe houses, the Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture and Furniture was so widely distributed and read it influenced all types and sizes throughout the British Isles.
Dr Michael O’Neill wrote an article A Roof Over Clerical Heads: Visual Insight to Glebe House Drawing in 2017 for the Representative Church Body Library. It goes into historical detail: “A glebe house is a residence provided in each parish (or parish union) for the clergy man or woman and his or her family. In the past glebe land (farmland) was also provided for the rector/vicar/curate of rural parishes, the clergyman up to the late 19th century was often also a farmer or leased out farmland. The poverty of much of the clergy of the established church led to Queen Anne setting up the Board of First Fruits in Ireland in 1711. This initiative (similar to the Queen Anne’s Bounty of 1704 for the Church of England) redirected first fruits or annates (the first year’s income of a clergyman to any new post due to the Crown) into a fund for building new churches, glebes and glebe houses.”
He adds, “In the first 70 years or so the Board of First Fruits purchased glebe land worth £3,500. It also assisted building 45 glebe houses with gifts worth £4,000. Annual parliamentary grants during the period 1791–1803 allowed the Board to spent £55,600 towards building 88 churches and 116 glebe houses. Significantly larger grants in the 20 years following the Act of Union meant a total of £807,648 was paid out in grants to purchases glebe lands in 193 benefices, building 550 glebe houses, and building, rebuilding and enlargement of 697 churches. By 1832 some 829 glebe houses had been built. Small wonder then that hall and tower ‘First Fruits’ churches and glebe houses are such a prominent feature of the Irish rural landscape.”
So what’s the modern equivalent of the pattern book? Volume housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey have their own standard house types but these are company guides and not for wider use. Perhaps the Daily Mail Book of Home Plans was the last vestige of the pattern book? Back to Glebe House and the last words go to Derek Hill, “So often people say, ‘Don’t you get lonely when you are over in Donegal?’ Remembering Emily Dickinson’s letter to a friend whose sons had died in which she wrote: ‘One can never be alone with a thronged heaven above’, I feel it is the same with a house.”