The Beautiful Changes
One word: entelechy.
Howth couture: rocking new threads.
Collage of the Titans
After organising a hugely successful and academically driven Irish Georgian Society London work-in-progress tour of Pitzhanger Manor, Sir John Soane’s country home (due to reopen to the public next year), an invitation to breakfast at his townhouse museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields proves providentially irresistible. Morning sunlight pierces the shadowy interiors, soaking the sarcophagi, the inimitable collection lit by shafts of coloured light through stained glass cupolas and lanterns and domes. Nowhere in the capital is there such a multilayering of art and ideas. As Bryan Ferry used to sing, “All styles served here…”
We’ve heard of the Soane style being heralded as the forerunner of modernism – think of his streamlined later work – but today’s proclamation is about his postmodernism aesthetic. Applying such plaudits, bestowing such honorifics to the ultimate disruptor, is but a fitting tribute. Dr Bruce Boucher, Director of Sir John’s Soane Museum, says, “In many ways Soane was postmodern. He’d no fear of adapting different styles. Even the double coding of this building as a house-museum and workplace is postmodern.” A diorama of China Wharf by the cleverest postmodernists, CZWG, takes pride of place in the first floor gallery space. The custard yellow egg in the custard yellow drawing room looks strangely familiar. Turns out it’s from Terry Farrell’s TV AM building.
There’s also an exhibition on the ground floor of what Bruce calls “remarkable digital collages”. It comprises three works by the artist Emily Allchurch. She trained as a sculptor and has an MA from the Royal College of Art. Emily was inspired by significant works by the artist Giovanni Piranesi and the architectural illustrator Joseph Gandy in the Museum’s collections. “The light boxes are windows into another world,” she explains. “My practice creates a dialogue between historic artworks and the present day, using hundreds of photographs and a seamless digital collage technique to recreate the original image in a contemporary idiom. I always take my own photographs. Visiting the buildings is part of the journey.”
Grand Tour: In Search of Soane (after Gandy) is a reworking of Soane’s built projects. Its companion piece Grand Tour II: Homage to Soane (after Gandy) is neoclassical architecture around Britain with “unbuilt” Soane additions. The roofscape of Calke Abbey is amusingly spruced up by three splendid domes. Such euphoric recall! Punchy. Like Joseph Gandy’s work, both these pieces were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The third piece is Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (after Piranesi).”It’s a conversation about London and Rome,” Emily confirms, “a reminder that empires can collapse.” There’s a weight and confidence to her work. It displays great artistry. And super wit. A “Dead Slow” sign next to mausolea; “If you lived here you’d be home now!” graffiti beside Pitzhanger Manor.
Soon, it will be time for the Irish Georgian Society London to return to its roots. A party to celebrate half a century since the restoration of Castletown House in County Kildare, the Society’s first major success story, awaits.
Benburb Manor in County Tyrone – red brick, chamfered bay windows, high gables – is like a suburban Belfast villa on steroids. It was built in 1887 to the design of the prolific architect William Henry Lynn when he was in his late 50s. The house is a more restrained version of Castle Leslie and that County Monaghan mansion isn’t exactly externally ostentatious. Perhaps breaking away from his professional partner Sir Charles Lanyon allowed Wills to rationalise his style. Or maybe it was just tight purse strings of his client James Bruce, a Belfast businessman. Stone bands are the only tiny flash of exuberance. James had bought the estate from Viscount Powerscourt 11 years earlier.
Benburb is now a wonderful asset to the community, a hidden highlight of this far flung edge of Ulster. In 1949 the house was bought by the Servite Fathers as a priory. This has broadened into the Benburb Centre, a “house of healing and reconciliation”. Over the years poets (Seamus Heaney) have taught and artists (John Vallely) have wrought works and theatre directors (Tyrone Guthrie) have sought solitude here.
The village – all one street of it or maybe two at a push – is lined with delightfully quaint estate cottages. On a balmy Sunday morning in Benburb, there’s the clink of coffee cups in the stables courtyard café; the singing of hymns from the open door of St Patrick’s; the prayerful footsteps of visitors on retreat treading through the forest; the rush of water far below; and the sound of silence at the Hermitage.
“The Benburb Manorial Estate. Descriptive Particulars of Sale, with Plans and Conditions of Sale, of an Exceedingly valuable and highly important Freehold Manorial Domain containing altogether about 9,290 A. 1 R. 25 P. A splendid Investment in rich Agricultural Land, of which it may be said hardly one Acre is uncultivated. It is also exceedingly well adapted to Residential Purposes, and many Sites for the construction of a Mansion as a central and appropriate Residence for so important an Estate. Benburb is, with the exception of a few Acres, all within a Ring Fence, and is situate between the Towns of Armagh on the South, Dungannon on the North, Moy on the East, Auchnacloy and Caledon on the West, within 40 miles of Belfast, well served by lines of Railway, so as to render it accessible from the parts. The lands are chiefly in arable and grass, well watered and undulating, and the Property as a whole does not differ materially from a well circumstanced Estate in the English Midlands, excepting that the cultivation of Flax here receives primary attention. It is intersected by good hard Roads, and divided into convenient Farms with excellent buildings and cottages.
The Village of Benburb is a neat and clean dependency, and is quite of a model character. The ancient Castle and the Manor of Benburb are included, and the whole Property produces more than £9,000 per annum, which magnificent Rent Roll, lately adjusted under a friendly arbitration (where it will remain until another increase is required), offers a specially well secured Income. The Sporting is excellent, and is reserved to the Landlord. Hunting can be obtained within a short distance. The Blackwater bounds a considerable portion of the Estate, and is a capital Salmon River; and as a whole it is confidently offered as a splendid Investment in Land, adapted to the large Capitalist who seeks such an outlet for his money to produce a higher return than can be found in the soil of England.
To be sold by Auction, by Messrs E and H Lumley at the Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, Lothbury, London, on Tuesday, the 22nd day of August, 1876, at two o’clock precisely – in One Lot, unless an acceptable offer be previously made by Private Contract. John Sloan, at the Village of Benburb, will show the Property. Printed Particulars of Sale, with Conditions and Plan, may be obtained of Robert Dixon, Esq, Solicitor, No.5, Finsbury Square, London; Messrs S S and E Reeves and Sons, Solicitors, No.17, Merrion Square East, Dublin; George Posnett, Esq, Enniskerry, County Wicklow; at the Imperial and the Royal Hotels, Belfast; the Gresham and the Shelburne [sic] Hotels, Dublin; the Charlemont Arms Hotel, Armagh; Morris’s Hotel, Dungannon; the Imperial Hotel, Cork; at the Auction Mart, London; and of Messrs Edward and Henry Lumley, Land Agents and Auctioneers, 31 and 32, St James’s Street, Piccadilly, London.”
Lawns in Bawns
“Kings, princes, and the wisest men of all ages, have some or other of them, taken singular delight in this exercise of planting, setting, sowing, and what else that is requisite in the well ordering of orchards and gardens, and rejoiced to see the fruits of their labours.” Leonard Meager, 1697.
After studying English and History of Art at Trinity College Dublin, Catherine FitzGerald trained as a horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society. A Postgrad Diploma in Landscape Conservation and History at the Architectural Association topped up her studying. “My aim is that each garden should feel completely right and of its place rather than imposed,” she believes, “acting with, rather than against, nature and local idiom.” Catherine hand draws plans in the Gertrude Jekyll tradition.
Green genes run in the family. She calls her grandmothers “plantaholics”. Years ago, her mother Madam FitzGerald germanely wrote about the family home, “The garden of Glin Castle in County Limerick is extraordinarily beautiful and yet I feel it is not a fine garden. It seems to me to be more of a field cut neatly and circumspectly into a lawn or two, with a little hill that is covered in daffodils in the spring, and some primeval oaks that drench you with their leafy arms as you pass. It is a garden that acknowledges its castle first and foremost, while this battlemented toy fort, preoccupied with its own importance, accepts the homage too carelessly to repay the compliment.”
Olda FitzGerald posits, “Many of its windows treacherously look out over the Shannon estuary or else yearningly, like the rest of us, away down the avenue towards the chimneys and steeple of the village, with an occasional haughty glance down at the croquet lawn and crab apple trees below. The crab apples were planted 40 years ago, and for most of the year give the impression of being thickly covered in grey feathery fungus, until they burst into the most unseemly fertility every summer.”
Roughly 290 miles northeast of Glin Castle lies another faux fortified residence, Glenarm Castle. It’s the home of Randal and Aurora McDonnell, Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce. They’re friends of Catherine so she was an obvious choice to bring their four acre Walled Garden back to life. “I had just left my job as Planting Designer for Arabella Lennox-Boyd,” Catherine relates, “and was beginning to design gardens on my own. Randal gave me my first commission really. It was a wonderful opportunity.” An ancestor of Randal’s – Anne Catherine McDonnell, Countess of Antrim – built the Walled Garden in the 1820s using limestone quarried from the demesne. It’s a relatively recent addition considering the McDonnells have been at Glenarm Castle for six centuries and counting.
Randal inherited Glenarm Castle back in 1992 when he was 25. ”By the time I took on the Walled Garden, it was completely derelict bar the yew circle, the beech circle and a few shrubs,” he recalls, “but I didn’t hesitate. I had always loved this place. It had sagged rather, but it was very exciting to be able to stop it sag for a bit.” In place of dereliction, and any sagging for that matter, is Catherine’s design for six ornamental gardens in separate “rooms”. Five pay homage to the traditional productive functions of walled gardens: the Apple Orchard; the Cherry Garden; the Herb Garden; the Pear Garden; and the Medlar Garden. A viewing point of these five rooms is cleverly provided by the Mount which occupies the sixth space. More anon.
There were pleached trees and borders already at the bottom of the garden by the time Catherine got involved so she was asked to make sense of the top half. Her design replaced a blank space dotted with a few languishing trees and shrubs marooned among stretches of grass. “My instinct,” records Catherine, “was to divide it up into different rooms and walks which visitors could wander through and wonder where they were going next rather than taking it all in at once.” The Walled Garden is entered through the simple green coloured Bell Gate, framed by a cloak of clematis draped over the high stone walls.
Naturally, Glin Castle was an influence on Catherine’s design: “The kitchen garden at Glin which was restored by my mother in the 1970s is always in the back of my mind when planning walled gardens. She used yew topiary shapes, Irish yew and espaliered apple and pear divisions to provide a strong structure and design as a background to the fruit vegetables and annuals she planted. At Glenarm, elements of this are there with the espaliered pears and strong structure provided by the hedges.”
“I wanted to relate the theme to walled gardens,” she adds, “so used a lot of fruit trees but in an ornamental way: the espaliered pear tree circle… the formal rows of medlars… the apple tree orchard… the crab trees and so on.” The brief was to keep it relatively simple and low maintenance. As a result, it’s very structural with no fussiness. More from Catherine: “It was all done on a modest budget. Randal had a great team who implemented it.” One of the biggest structural tasks was restoring the 100 metre long glasshouse with its myriad rhomboid panes.
Catherine was also influenced by the gardens on the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava’s Clandeboye Estate in County Down and Ned Lambton’s Cetinale Estate in Italy. She notes, “Both these gardens have espaliered fruit trees trained on circular wrought iron frameworks and I liked that idea. I was also influenced by Scampston Hall Walled Garden in Yorkshire, designed by Piet Outdolph. It has a ziggurat shaped mount – while the one at Glenarm is spiral shaped – but I could see how effective it was in giving a view over the whole garden.” The Mount is especially effective at Glenarm because now it is possible to see dramatic views up the glens and woods in one direction and the sea in the other. Not forgetting views across the Walled Garden itself.
She believes, “Gardens are about evoking sensations and emotion. I try to imbue my gardens with a sense of romance.” There’s all that plus a sense of drama. Expect to see explosive reds, yellows and blues in the aptly named Hot Border. Crimson dahlias are a favourite of the Viscountess. Drama needs contrast. Turn the corner at the end of the Hot Border to be greeted by the pale foxgloves of the Double Borders. “It did take a long time to get going,” she admits, “the beech hedges and yew buttresses along the walls seemed to take forever to establish. But now they have got going it really feels like it is becoming mature. It’s how I imagined it would be which is fantastic!”
“Right plant, right place,” is her motto. Right now, Glenarm Castle Walled Garden has reached peak horticultural experience. Hurrah! It’s a paradise of paradoxes: hill and plain; openness and enclosure; polychrome and green. Continuing the castle theme, Catherine FitzGerald’s latest garden is about to open. Somewhere between Glin and Glenarm in geography and age, Hillsborough Castle is set to be Northern Ireland’s next cultural attraction.
Lots to Eat
Its dual address summons up flattering visions of country estates and urban sophistication. Haunch of Venison Yard and New Bond Street. Neither entrance is entirely obvious. The former is through a passageway into a courtyard; the latter is through an auction gallery, down a dogleg, up a spiral. London for Moschino trousered Londoners. Not forgetting rich Americans and Asians. The restaurant is in a back room, and that’s a compliment. Reticent, exclusive, discreet; in the know, in the now.
Daringly, sparingly white walls except for one wall of windows. Just four carefully chosen artworks: Demolition Squad by William Roberts, British, 1895 to 1980 (£50,000 to £70,000) | Untitled by Sam Francis, American, 1923 to 1994 (£8,000 to £12,000) | The Musician by John Craxton, British, 1922 to 2009 (£30,000 to £50,000) | Tulips No.1 by Ivon Hitchens, British, 1893 to 1979, (£25,000 to £35,000).
An early 21st century restaurant serenade to a late 18th century auction house. Welcome to Bonhams Restaurant, strings attached. Only 24 covers. Head Chef Tom Kemble’s dishes live up to the address. All the freshness of the outdoors and all the style of the city. And a splash of the sea. Michelin starred Mayfair. Three course lunch £50 (excluding some liquid refreshment):
Interventionist or repro? Previous generations had so such qualms. A Georgian house unabashedly cheek by jowl with a towerhouse, that most Irish of scenes. Transoms clash with sashes; battlements upstage parapets. Benburb Castle (sometimes called Wingfield’s Castle) does one better: a Georgian house inside a fort. Bungalow in a bawn, so to speak. It is dramatically perched on a wooded cliff above the River Blackwater, the waterway separating County Tyrone from County Armagh. Benburb Castle was built by Sir Richard Wingfield circa 1615 on the site of a stronghold of Shane O’Neill, head of the O’Neill clan. Sir Richard was the Chief Governor of Ireland. His descendants would own Powerscourt in County Wicklow. Shane would give his name to the eponymous castle in County Antrim.
The Mists of Time
Red or Read
“I always wear one primary colour,” quips the Swedish born Belgravia based former model Leonie Frieda. She’s dressed head to toe in black. Now a highly acclaimed writer, Ms Frieda is celebrating her hot off the press publication Francis I: The Maker of Modern France. Smashing read. But what about the primary colour? Louboutins, darling. Achilles never looked so good.
Pointed Arches Circling the Globe
Mid 19th century England saw a flowering of Gothic Revival architects: George Gilbert Scott, William Butterfield, William White and of course the Pugin dynasty. Across the Channel, things were pretty pointed too. At the dawn of the Second Empire, 200 churches were under construction in France. The Gothic style enjoyed official State endorsement as Napoleon III garnered support among the Catholic clergy.
It’s 1854. The booming city of Lille is declared a diocese, independent of the declining capital of French Flanders, Arras. Time for a church dedicated to a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary protected by an iron trellis. Time for an international architectural competition. A diktat declares it must be Gothic Revival. What can possibly go wrong? English Protestant architects winning? In the words of one assessor, “L’Angleterre qui a triomphé!” And so William Burges and his sidekick Henry Clutton take first prize.
William Burges was the master of polychromatic romanticism. Witness his rather bonkers Tower House in Kensington. A neo medieval mini fortress on an uppity middle class leafy avenue. Further witness his bold and brilliant maximalist St Fin Barre’s Cathedral of Cork. But Lille was never to benefit from William Burges’ boldness and brilliance. Much curmudgeonly fudgery later, winner of the third price – the Gothic Revivalist and very French Jean-Baptiste Antoine Lassus – was commissioned to build the “Cathedral for the North of France”.
The church was indeed later upgraded to a cathedral with the establishment of the seat of the Bishop of Lille in 1913. But the dosh ran out in 1947 and Monsieur Lassus’ twin peaked entrance was never executed. Fast forward to the 1990s and the front was finally completed to the design of Lille architect Pierre-Louis Carlier. The style is Minimalist Gothic. A vast arch dominating the façade is filled with 28 millimetre thick white marble which appears opaque outside but allows orangey light to flood the interior. A rose window by Ladislaus Kijno is set into the top of the arch. Shadows crisscross as candles flicker against 21st century artworks. Overhead, a hanging reads: “Revenez à Dieu: Il vous appelle à la Vie en Jésus Christ!”