Margaret Flood, Headmistress of St Elphin’s School 1910 to 1933, wrote a history of the first official century of the school. She opens with, “Although St Elphin’s School was actually founded in the year 1844, its roots go back to a much earlier date. It can, in fact, trace its origin to the year 1697… I myself well remember these great anniversary occasions in the years between 1896 and 1900, the service in the parish church, the dinner on not too mean a scale, with the moderate provision of wine for the guests, and a small barrel of beer set up for the servitors of the repast in the Staff Common Room!” She adds, “In 1904 it was decided to choose the Darley Dale Hydro as the future home of the school.”
Harrogate based architects SDA Jackson Calvert compiled an architectural statement to accompany the 2006 planning application by Audley Villages to Derbyshire Dales District Council for converting St Elphin’s School to senior living accommodation: “A classical villa was built on the site around 1820. In 1884 a new owner demolished the villa and replaced it with a large Victorian house known as The Grove. In 1889 the estate was sold again. The new owner converted the main house and opened it as the Darley Dale Hydropathic Institute and Hotel. After the turn of the 20th century the Hydro Hotel was failing financially and the estate was taken over in 1904 by St Elphin’s School. The site was occupied by St Elphin’s School until March 2005.”
A retirement village of 127 properties has been built around St Elphin’s House in the 5.6 hectare grounds. SDA Jackson Calvert explain, “Apartment buildings D and E are arranged as a continuation of the line of the main house façade fronting onto Dale Road South. Apartment buildings A and B are located on 2 separate terraces parallel to buildings D and E, each stepping up the hill with courtyards between. The proposed number of storeys in each apartment building reflects its location on the site and proximity to the existing main house. A study was also carried out of local vernacular architecture. Riber Village has been a source of reference as have the main house and chapel building on site. Traditional masonry detailing is adopted on all new buildings.”
It’s the Tardis effect. Buildings that are larger than they look. Dublin has them aplenty. Perhaps it’s a Franco-Irish leftover from Marie-Antoinette’s pining to play at cottage living under the shadow of Versailles. Sir William Chambers’ 1758 Casino Marino, Italian for ‘little house by the sea’, is the Irish capital’s very own Très Petit Trianon.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, terraced dwellings with all the appearance of being single storey (ok, some of them actually are) sprung up across the city. Bungalows they ain’t. These are miniature sophisticated architectural gems in the grand manner.
This low lying building boom really took off when the Dublin to Dún Laoghaire (née Dun Leary née Kingstown) railway was completed in 1834. These little houses were erected – standalone, semi or together – along the coast from Sandymount near the city centre southwards to Monkstown. The closest equivalent English style of the early versions is Regency.
While some are all on one level, most have a flight of eight or so steps leading to a distinguished doorcase. Despite lacking the verticality of the townhouses lining the streets and squares of the city centre, these small houses still boast the typical Dublin doorcase treatment with attached columns separating the central door from sidelights and a half umbrella fanlight overhead. Many are three bay with a tall sash window on either side of the doorcase. Below the door is typically a string course and beneath it the shorter windows of a semi basement continue the lines of the windows above.
The symmetry and classical proportions of these ‘upside downside’ houses as they are sometimes affectionately called, their main floor raised to piano nobile status, so evocative of French and Italian villas but in maquette form, raise questions about their origins.
The Wide Street Commission of 1757, which lent Dublin such lasting gracefulness, could not rid the city of cholera or beggars. Middle class people quickly took advantage as speculators built summer houses or ‘bathing lodges’ along the stops of the new railway line.
‘Walking away from the pier and King George’s column, you arrive upon rows after rows of pleasure-houses, wither all Dublin flocks during the summer-time – for every one must have his sea-bathing; and they say that the country houses to the west of the town are empty, or to be had for very small prices, while for those on the coast, especially towards Kingstown, there is the readiest sale at large prices.’
He continues, ‘I have paid frequent visits to one, of which the rent is as great as that of a tolerable London house; and there seem to be others suited to all purses; for instance there are long lines of two-roomed houses, stretching far back and away from the sea, accommodating, doubtless, small commercial men, or small families, or some of those travelling dandies we have just been talking about, and whose costume is so cheap and so splendid.’
That comes in the form of an early domestic work by James Gandon. In 1790 he designed Sandymount Park for his friend the landscape painter William Ashford. Like a piece of couture, this house reaches a high standard of splendour which filtered down in a diluted prêt-à-faire fashion to the masses.
The three bay symmetrical single storey over raised basement entrance front extends on either side by a blind bay with a niche at piano nobile level. A rectangular pediment (is there such a thing?) surrounded by one helluvan urn is plonked above the central doorcase. A peak round to the side elevation reveals that Sandymount Park is in fact a three storey dwelling: clerestory windows are squeezed under the eaves.
Single storey with or without a basement houses are an Ireland-wide phenomenon. Urban builders may have been inspired by their country counterparts. Gaultier Lodge, County Waterford; The Grove, County Down; and Fisherwick Lodge all express emphatic horizontality, a love of the longitudinal.
A printed source of inspiration can be added to these built form examples. In 1833 John Loudon published his voluminous Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architect. On one of its 1,400 pages, he illustrates The Villa of Hanwayfield which is three bays wide by three bays deep over a raised basement. A pitched roof behind a low parapet rises above the symmetrical elevations, similar to Dublin’s little villas. A few months after its publication, Loudon mentioned in two magazines that his doorstop of an Encyclopaedia had been a bestseller in Ireland. This coincided with the development of Dublin Bay.
Whatever the inspiration was, the fad stuck. Towards the end of the 19th century, Portobello in South Dublin was developed on a grid pattern of one and one-and-a-half storey terraced housing. The material (brick) and the fenestration (plate glass) may have been Victorian but the upside downside model ruled.
Today, these mini villas of Dublin are much sought after hot property. Larger than life characters like Colin Farrell love them – he owns one in Irishtown. But still, a peculiar descriptive term eludes them. Their distant country cousin is a cottage orné. With that in mind, Lavender’s Blue declare ‘cottage grandiose’ as the correct terminology henceforth.