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Architecture Country Houses

Mount Stewart Greyabbey Down + Lady Rose Lauritzen

Long Shadows Cross the Lawn

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Not many country houses are closely associated with their female lineage. Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, County Down, is an exception. The last two centuries have been dominated by the ladies of the manor. First there was the triple barrelled Lady Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart; then her high flying daughter Lady Mairi Bury; and now her glamorous granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen. National Trust owned for the last two generations, the house and garden have been relaunched with an all guns blazing £8.5 million restoration under the watchful eye of Lady Rose. Now spending six months a year at Mount Stewart, her ladyship reveals,

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“I came here when I was a week old ‘cause I was born in London in the middle of The Blitz and then came over with a nanny on the boat a week later ‘cause everyone was then working in London. My mother had been driving ambulances and then I came back here – this is where I lived. I went to a lovely day school in Holywood called The Warren which I absolutely loved. That was really nice and then I was sent off to boarding school which I hated every second of. I wanted to be here!”

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“My grandmother really brought us up. My mother was very young and my father was in the army so they were always travelling round and I saw an enormous amount of my grandmother who read to us, told us stories, kept us at work. I mean, one of our main jobs was watering the terrace. You know, we were tiny with heavy watering cans – such hard work! She kept everyone working in the gardens: housemaids, guests, everyone, even if they didn’t want to!”

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“It really has needed a huge restoration for 30 years. Now it’s been done we’re all delighted. It’s very exciting! It was last redecorated in the Fifties by my grandmother and then my mother used to keep up the structure of the house. She mended the roof – she mended everything because in those days we had our own carpenter, our own electrician, plumber, wrought iron man, our own blacksmith. It was totally utterly self sufficient. She kept it up till she gave the house to the National Trust in the late Seventies, whenever it was, and then obviously you don’t have a team of maintenance people and there’s no money.”

“So it really needed a huge restoration. Now it’s been done. We’re all delighted about this – very exciting. Teams of experts had been coming over and looking at the paint and looking at the fabrics and textiles and they mended and restored it. I’d redone some of my rooms, and bedroom, and I’d redone the sitting room with this lovely material Venetian silk and things like that. But they’ve restored it beautifully, and we’re all very excited about it.”

“The central hall now is exactly the way it was till I was in my twenties. I suppose it was my mother who repainted this hall the wonderful Chinese pink but this is how I remember it and it looks I think absolutely sensational. The gallery above which we always called ‘the dome’: no guest, no one ever went into the dome itself. Only the housemaids and the children used to take shortcuts through there and then peer through the balustrades to look at what was going on. And now that’s all beautifully done I think oh yes I remember all of us up there looking down and spying.”

“The drawing room is my favourite room in the house. It might be large but it’s the cosiest. You know, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s full of sunlight and in the past it used to be full of flowers and then obviously all the dogs were running round, jumping on the sofas too. So it was like the family room. It was where everyone, all the guests, everyone congregated here.”

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Tír na nÓg is the family burial ground made by my grandmother for the family and it means Land of the Ever Young and it’s got a wonderful view over the garden and she had all these statues made. It was all her sort of idea. The first to be buried here was my grandfather and then my grandmother. They have very ornate carved stones with all their favourite things on them like my grandfather, everything to do with flying, playing cards, all sorts of things, and my grandmother with her parrots and her dogs and her garden.”

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“When my grandmother died, the little cockatoo was distraught so it plucked all its feathers out so we had this oven ready bird with a crest and when I first brought my husband to Mount Stewart we were all so used to it we’d forgotten what it looked like and he practically fainted! You know, you suddenly walk into the house for the first time and it was in the central hall and it was in its aviary. There was this blue skin with a beak and this huge crest!”

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“My mother is the most recent to be buried at Tír na nÓg and we designed the stone so that it’s got the Stewart dragon looking duly fierce because he has to protect the family and then it says beloved daughter of Charles and Edith Londonderry because she was the favourite daughter. And then the other side says devoted to Mount Stewart which she was. I wanted her to be bigger than her sisters but smaller than her grandparents and a different coloured stone so it’s a pinkish stone. I think it’s actually very pretty. You know often we come up here and just sit and you know you relax your mind and it’s so soothing to the soul up here and I know that those who’ve gone before us are resting in peace and they’re in a happy place.”

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Architecture Country Houses People

Mark Purcell + Irish Country House Libraries

Notes on a Lecture | The Iveagh League 

1 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

Libraries Curator of the National Trust, Mark Purcell, on country house libraries in Ireland, at the Irish Georgian Society lecture in the National Liberal Club

2 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

“When we think of historic private libraries we tend to associate them with the grand aristocrats of Palladian country houses but there were much earlier examples. There was a library in the now ruinous 16th century Maynooth Castle. Kanturk Castle, which incidentally was the National Trust’s first Irish property until it was transferred to An Taisce, was another case.

3 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

There aren’t that many privately owned libraries in Ireland. One of the great survivors is Clonalis, a slightly unlovely villa, but with contents going back much earlier. Ironically, it’s the library of a Catholic dynasty. Tullamore is another of the great surviving libraries. Thanks to Valerie Pakenham. Townley Hall is preserved as a building but the remains of its library are in Trinity College Dublin. The great Nash library at Caledon is only partially intact; much of it is now in Queen’s University.

Edith and Charlie Londonderry had two libraries at Mount Stewart. Their descendant Lady Mairi Bury gave them to the National Trust along with the house. The library at Castle Coole belongs to the private collection of John Belmore. It has an intensity of 18th century riches. But this library also retains all of its 20th century ‘trash books’ which makes it extremely interesting! On the eve of the Famine, there were over 2,000 Big Houses and presumably over half had substantial libraries? Plus pre Union there were the great houses of Dublin too. Some libraries disappeared in country house burnings of 20th century Ireland but many more did in major sales.

4 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

Florence Court is one of my favourite country house libraries of Ulster. I was very much involved in the rescue of the collection. The Earl and Countess of Enniskillen did not get on with the National Trust. They upped sticks in 1974 and moved the entire contents of the house to Perthshire. But in 2000 after a long hiatus the Dowager Countess came to an arrangement for many of the contents to be returned to Florence Court. My favourite book is the 1868 collection of photographs by the Kilkenny photographer John Hudson. It includes Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which is now owned by the National Trust.

5 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

Then there is the octagonal tower at The Argory. It once housed a library. But in 1890 a servant named Tommy Sloane accidentally sent it up in smoke. The servants rescued linen and chair covers but not the books. Although there is no library as such now at The Argory, there are 8,500 books scattered all over the rest of the house. They represent a 20th century provincial collection. Like good wine, they may improve with age!”

6 Kenwood House © Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architects Architecture Country Houses Design

Pitzhanger Manor London + Sir John Soane

Let’s Dance

1 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

The hypothesis of this essay is that the genre of architecture that has become known as the Soane Style is the product of not just one man’s thinking but two. Both architects had commissions built in Northern Ireland. In a reflection of their work at Pitzhanger Manor, Sir John Soane’s effort is a showpiece still in existence while George Dance’s building has been considerably altered. Soane will be forever remembered for the main block of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution which starred as a police station in TV series The Fall. Although the executed plan was greatly simplified from original grandiose proposals it nevertheless exhibits his trademark blind arches and pilaster strips.

2 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

Meanwhile at Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, a National Trust house, the straightforward neoclassicism of Dance’s wing may only just be discerned under the veil of a later remodelling. Owner Lady Mairi Bury, an aunt of Jemima Khan’s mother Lady Annabel Goldsmith née Vane-Tempest-Stewart, lived on in the house until her recent demise. As a teenager Lady Mairi met Hitler (“a nondescript person”) and Himmler (“like a shop walker in Harrods”).

3 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

The combination of the architects’ talents climaxes at Pitzhanger Manor. This erection was Soane’s country home in then rural Ealing and is now a council owned museum and art gallery. When the Soane Style peaked to maturity circa 1800 it proved to be a progressive form of architecture free in proportion and liberated in structural adventurousness, unconstrained by complete classical correctness. The 15 year period centred on the turn of the 19th century found Soane’s creative juices overflowing and coincides with the time he enjoyed his full blown friendship with Dance.

4 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

Pitzhanger Manor illustrates the overlap between their development of ideas and innovations. The three elements under scrutiny in this essay are the cross vault ceiling as in the library; the pendentive dome as in the breakfast room; and the top lit lantern such as that in the staircase hall. Here goes.

5 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

In Soane’s work the cross vault ceiling first appears in the ground floor rear sitting room of his townhouse in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, built in 1792 and also now a museum. Dance uses a similar ceiling type at Cranbury Park in Northamptonshire a decade earlier. Its geometry is complex: a cross vault with the interpenetrations cut back to produce triangular chamfers which widen towards the apex of the ceiling where the ends meet to form four sides of a square.

6 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

They likely both saw in this pattern a touch of gothic romance. The flying lines radiating from the corners of the room to the centre represent a reinterpretation of a ribbed vault. Soane developed this idea in his design for the Privy Council Chamber completed in 1824, where the motif is introduced as a canopy detached from the sides of the walls to allow natural light to filter from above.

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10 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

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The innovative design of Dance’s Guildhall Common Council Chamber of 1777 provides an aesthetic forerunner of what is often considered peculiar to the Soane Style. This square hall, demolished in 1906, boasted a pendentive dome. It consisted of a continuous spherical surface rather than one rising from separate pendentives like more conventional neoclassical domes. In the Guildhall the continuity of surface is not explicitly obvious because Dance introduced decorative spandrils which produced a scalloped effect resembling the inside of an umbrella.

14 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

Fourteen years later, Soane adopted the pendentive dome for his own use in the drawing room of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, where he repeated the Guildhall’s scalloped effect, and a year later at the Bank of England’s Stock Office. Just when an impression is forming that the pendentive dome was a one way inspirational mode Soane snatched from Dance, it becomes apparent that the two architects assumed unity of views since Dance designed a pendentive dome for Lansdowne House which was contemporaneous with the Bank Stock Office. The design of the junction between the hall and the domed space in Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, is exactly comparable with Dance’s initial scheme for the Bank Stock Office which also incorporates semicircular windows over segmental arches.

15 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

Picturesque top lit lanterns which originated for practical reasons at the Bank Stock Office became an integral component of the Soane Style. Soane was faced with the problem of how to produce effective top lighting and there is evidence that he consulted his confidante because the initial sketches are in Dance’s hand. The first study is inspired by the Basilica of Constantine and the Diocletian Baths, appropriate sources of inspiration for any neoclassical architect. But Dance chose to modify the Roman prototype. Instead of the heavily mullioned windows of the originals he introduced fully glazed half moons which Soane incorporated into his final proposals for the Bank Stock Office.

16 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

Top lit lanterns appear in buildings throughout the remainder of Soane’s career including his Dulwich Picture Gallery. He continued to use and interpret these three motifs, the cross vault ceiling, the pendentive dome and the top lit lantern, after his initial efforts with Dance. Combined with his prolific output, this cemented the association of the style with his name rather than Dance’s.

17 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

It is not suggested in this essay that any of Soane’s architecture is interchangeable with Dance’s but rather that the Soane Style was developed through their exchange of design concepts. Soane’s main contribution is a novel handling of proportion coupled with highly idiosyncratic applied decoration while many of the basic constituents of the style may be credited to Dance. In his lifetime Soane never ceased to acknowledge indebtedness to his “revered master” while Dance wrote to his pupil “you would do me a great favour and a great service if you would let me look at your plan… I want to steal from it”.

18 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com

The ongoing restoration of Pitzhanger Manor not only highlights Soane at his most individualistic but also reveals the more conventional neoclassicism of the south wing which was Dance’s first attempt at a country house, before he aided the younger architect in the development of what was to become known as the Soane Style.

19 Pitzhanger Manor © lvbmag.com