Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, Lodge

The Dromana Gate, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Dromana House in County Waterford enjoys wonderful views over the mighty Blackwater river, but the approach to the house crosses a tributary, the Finnisk, and there’s a surprise for anyone visiting for the first time. The road curves, and suddenly there is the most perfect of scenes: a tranquil river crossed by a bridge leading to a lodge built in a magnificent melange of the gothic and the oriental.

Entrance to the Dromana Desmesne across the river Finnisk. Postcard sent in 1904. Courtesy of a private collection.

The bridge was originally a wooden structure, with a central drawbridge allowing boats to pass in the days when the river was navigable. Old postcards show that the bridge originally had ogee-arched railings to match the lodge, but even by 1928 the bridge was becoming worn ‘under the strain of heavy traffic’, and strengthening and safety works in the later twentieth century saw the wooden bridge and railings replaced with concrete and steel.

In the early nineteenth century Dromana was the seat of Henry Villiers Stuart (1803-1874), created 1st Baron de Decies in 1839. The tale is told that a papier-mâché arch was erected, where the lodge stands today, to welcome Stuart when he returned to Dromana with his new bride in 1826. The arch was said to have been fashioned in an indo-gothic style to help the happy couple remember their honeymoon in Brighton, where they would have seen George IV’s Royal Pavilion. Stuart and his wife were apparently so taken with the design that they decided to recreate it in a more substantial fashion.

One of the pairs of doors to each side of the arch. One is a dummy to keep the symmetry.

No records can be found to corroborate this story (although such ephemeral celebratory arches were certainly in vogue in this period). In fact, the whole story of Villiers Stuart’s marriage is rather mysterious. He is said to have married Theresia Pauline Ott (c.1802-1867), a Viennese-born widow, in a Catholic ceremony in London in 1826, and a son, Henry, was born in 1827. In 1839 the marriage was solemnised in Christ Church, Marylebone, when the curate noted in the register that the couple had been ‘heretofore married in the city of Dublin according to the Ritual Ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church’, but crucially no date is given. No records of an 1826 marriage could be found after Lord de Decie’s death in 1874, making his son illegitimate, and therefore unable to inherit the title. This was a ’cause celebre‘ of the day, and the ‘exceptionally interesting peerage case’, filled the courtroom and the newspapers for some weeks in 1876.

Surprisingly few accounts of the lovely lodge can be found, but we do know it was extant by 1835 when a Scottish tourist, Robert Graham, saw a ‘remarkable bridge’ with a building with a ‘pear-shaped cupola’ at the end of it.* The ‘costly fanciful structure’ was noted by another writer in 1844, and in 1848 John Bernard Burke (of ‘Peerage’ fame) described it as ‘singularly fanciful and striking’ and ‘looking like some romantic scene in the Arabian Nights’.

Eastern gate of the Jummah Musjid at Delhi, by Thomas Daniell, print, aquatint, 1795, London. Victoria and Albert Museum, London IS.242:1-1961. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O159237/eastern-gate-of-the-jummah-aquatint-daniell-thomas/

The architect is thought to be Martin Day (?1797-?1860), who is known to have worked at Dromana in the correct period. Surviving drawings of the lodge by Day are dated 1849, suggesting that it was perhaps remodelled or renovated at that date. The inspiration behind the lodge remains a mystery – is the Brighton honeymoon story true (probably not – the court case suggests they went straight to Scotland after the wedding)? Had Villiers Stuart or his architect seen Oriental Scenery, the volumes of views of India produced by the Daniell brothers in 1795-1807 (above)? Were they aware of Sezincote, the Mughal palace in the Cotswolds built by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, with the assistance of Thomas Daniell, for his brother Charles in the first years of the nineteenth century? Wherever the idea came from, we should be grateful it did, and that this joyful structure survives today.

View from the Bridge.

The Irish Georgian Society restored the decrepit lodge in 1968, and further repairs were made in the 1990s, but the lodge is once again in need of some care. In 2023 the IGS gave a grant to support the preparation of a building report to investigate how to ‘reinstate this structure to its former glory’.

The bridge and lodge are freely accessible. The house at Dromana was reduced to a more manageable size in the twentieth century and remains the home of the Villiers Stuart family. You can read more about the history and visiting here https://dromanahouse.com

That’s the last folly (for now, at least) from the Flâneuse’s recent Irish jaunt. If all goes to plan next week’s post will go off at a tasty tangent. Thank you for reading, and as ever you can share thoughts and comments at the foot of the page.

*This information is from J.A.K. Dean’s impressive gazetteer of the gate lodges of Ireland, and in particular the volume for the province of Munster.

architecture, belvedere, Dovecote, eyecatcher, Folly, Ireland, landscape garden

The Wonderful Barn, near Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland.

In January 1739 (1740 new style) Katherine Conolly sat in her Dublin town house writing to her sister. Although close by the fire she complained she was still freezing, and she despaired of the severe weather. She wrote of her efforts to feed the poor which included sending ‘4 score loves of breed every wick’ (spelling was not her strong point) to the labourers and needy on her country estate at Castletown.  A few years later she commissioned this superlative silo to conserve grain for times of need, although cannily it doubled as a fanciful eye-catcher from the house at Castletown.

architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Northumberland, sham church

Newminster Abbey, Morpeth, Northumberland

In 1138 Newminster Abbey was established close to the River Wansbeck on the edge of Morpeth, Northumberland. The first inhabitants were Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, who remained until the abbey’s dissolution in 1537. By the 19th century little could be seen apart from scattered masonry and bumps in the ground. Early in the 20th century parts were rebuilt as a grand garden ornament and tourist attraction, with perhaps not quite the academic rigour one might expect today.

Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, landscape garden, Obelisk

Ireland of the Follies

In 1972 Mariga Guinness, or Mrs Desmond Guinness as she was known in more formal times, wrote an article on follies for Ireland of the Welcomes, a publication produced by the Irish Tourist Board to promote Ireland as a holiday destination. Launched in 1952, it is still published today and describes itself as ‘the largest and longest-running Irish interest magazine in the world’. Hermione Maria-Gabrielle von Urach (1932-1989), known as Mariga, married Desmond Guinness in 1954 and they moved to Ireland the following year. Mrs Guinness loved Ireland, and threw herself into preserving the architectural heritage – she and her husband co-founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The couple first rented the Georgian mansion Carton House, and later bought Leixlip Castle, both home to garden ornaments, so Mrs Guinness was well-placed to write in praise of follies.

architecture, Clwyd, Folly, garden history, landscape, Obelisk, Sham fortification, Tower

The Obelisk, Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Clwyd.

In February 1992 the North Wales Weekly News carried its usual list of planning applications. Among them was an announcement that Bodysgallen Hall Hotel wished to convert a barn and stable into accommodation, and to erect a new ‘leisure building, tower folly and obelisk’. No objections were received, and permission was granted by Aberconwy Council.

Bodysgallen Hall from the gardens.

In 1980 Bodysgallen Hall, former seat of the Mostyn and Wynn families, had become part of the small Historic House Hotels group, established by Richard Broyd. The house, gardens and estate buildings were restored, and Broyd wished to erect an obelisk as a ‘decorative asset to the landscape’. Plans were drawn up by his architect Eric Throssell, and both the stone and the stonemason, Henry Wilson, were local.

But as work got underway in autumn 1992 locals claimed that they hadn’t been properly informed of the plans, and a vociferous campaign was launched demanding that the Obelisk be demolished. There were genuine concerns, including that the planning officers had not realised that Ffrith Hill was a Site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Cowslips and orchid near the obelisk. Note the droplets and please applaud the Flâneuse for climbing up to the obelisk in wild wind and rain.

But among the odder complaints was the fact that the Obelisk ‘dominated the landscape’ – a strange criticism as obelisks are not usually shy and retiring types, and generally prefer to hog the limelight on an eminence. Even more bizarre was the opponent who suggested that placing the Obelisk near the edge of a former quarry encouraged men to ‘urinate over the cliff into the garden of a house 150 feet below’. Reporting this in the local paper, a journalist suggested that such a feat would merit entry in the Guinness Book of Records requiring as it did a ‘jet of some 25 feet’.

Meanwhile Richard Broyd was adamant that the correct procedures had been followed and he was prepared to fight, telling the Daily Telegraph that ‘he who builds an obelisk has to defend it’.

A view from the obelisk. Unfortunately it was very dull day, enlivened only by the golden glow of the cowslips.

In brief, the council began to get cold feet after the anti-obelisk campaigners made a complaint of maladministration, claiming the council should never have granted planning permission. Despite a barrister assuring the councillors that their decision was robust, and that Mr Broyd had followed the correct procedures, the Planning Committee voted to demolish the Obelisk. The matter then went to the full council and the proposal was defeated by just one vote. On 16 September 1993 the local paper ran the story under the succinct headline of ‘Obelisk is staying’.

There had been support for the Obelisk too, and some who had been concerned later admitted admiration for the completed structure, which stands 19.5 metres high. But some resentment remained, and there are locals who will tell you dark tales of a plot to blow the obelisk to pieces. Even now, some 30 years on, the structure seems destined never to be mentioned as anything but thecontroversial obelisk’.

The miniature obelisk produced as a souvenir by the hotel when the obelisk was first constructed. Normally an ornament to the desk of the Flâneuse, it enjoyed a brief foray into the sunshine for this photo opportunity.

The Folly Flâneuse took the Uncouth Companion to Bodysgallen Hall as a birthday treat soon after the obelisk was completed (he having long since learned that such jaunts had one, or more, ulterior motives) and walked up to the Obelisk. The photo’s from that pre-digital age have long since faded away, but this little model of the Obelisk, bought at the hotel, sits in the study as a memento of the trip. And of course a return visit was required in order to snap the shots needed for this post.

The Gothic Tower, built of pink rubble sandstone, seen from the woodland walk.

In all of the fuss about the Obelisk the little Gothic Tower, designed in the same period, has been overlooked. A sham ruin sits on raised ground in the woodland, and a climb up to the rooftop viewing platform reveals why this site was chosen. There’s lovely vista to the obelisk  – the only spot in the gardens from where it can be seen.

View from the top of the Gothic Tower to the Obelisk.

Richard Broyd had always intended that his hotel group would pass to the National Trust, and for all profits to benefit the charity. The three properties (the others being Middlethorpe Hall near York and Hartwell House near Aylesbury) were handed over in 2008.

Looking up to the Obelisk from the grounds of Pabo Bach.

Pabo Bach, once home to one of the most vocal objectors to the obelisk, is now a holiday cottage where you can enjoy dramatic views of the former quarry with the obelisk perched on the precipice.

A distant view of the obelisk from the marina at Conwy.

The Obelisk can be seen from the A55 and the Royal Welsh Way leading into Llandudno, as well as from across the estuary in Conwy, and there is public access. The Gothic Tower may only be seen by guests at Bodysgallen Hall Hotel.

For Bodysgallen Hall and the other Historic House Hotels see https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/hotels/historic-house-hotels

For Pabo Bach see https://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/cottage/93622-pabo-bach

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and recollections are always welcome – please scroll down to the comments box to get in touch. Only your name will appear, your contacts details remain private. 

 

Arch, architecture, aviary, Derbyshire, eyecatcher, Folly, landscape garden, Temple

Rex Whistler and Renishaw, Derbyshire: panoramas and papier-mâché.

Eighty years ago this month Sir Osbert Sitwell and his good friend Rex Whistler were discussing how materials such as papier-mâché, much used in theatrical set construction, could be used in the ‘arts of landscaping and garden design’. Once the war was over they planned to erect a dramatic eye-catcher at Sir Osbert’s Renishaw home. But two months after their meeting came tragic news: in July 1944 Whistler was killed in action in France.

architecture, bath house, Bristol, Folly, garden history, Gwynedd, Summerhouse

The Bristol Colonnade, Portmeirion, Gwynedd

When Barbara Jones published Follies and Grottoes in 1953, she made no mention of the coastal village that architect Clough Williams-Ellis had been creating at Portmeirion since 1925. Reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, Laurence Whistler thought this was a ‘curious’ omission as he believed the whole conception could be described as folly.

architecture, garden history, Monument, Obelisk, public park, Worcestershire

Earl of Plymouth Monument, Bromsgrove Lickey, Worcestershire

In 1833 Other Archer Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth, died. Almost immediately there were calls to erect a monument in his honour, and a public subscription was raised. With funds in place, the foundation stone was laid in May 1834. The chosen site was on Bromsgrove Lickey, a prominent eminence which would ensure that the obelisk would be an ornament to the landscape and visible from miles around.