Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Brookvale House, hidden gem in
a housing estate in Rathfarnham

Brookvale House, also known as Ashfield House, was home to generations of the Cusack-Smith, Tottenham and Brooks families (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

On my way to work each morning, I travel along Dodder View Road, between the banks of the River Dodder and the slopes below Rathfarnham village. At one point, Brookvale House, also known as Ashfield, seems to cling to a precipice or an outcrop above the road. This is an imposing, richly-detailed former country house that retains many of its original features, and although it now stands within a residential housing estate, its dominating presence is a reminder of former days at this end of Rathfarnham village.

A mill race that once flowed from the grounds of Rathfarnham Castle, where it supplied water to fish ponds, then flowed under Butterfield Lane to a paper mill and continued on below Ashfield to turn the wheel of the Ely Cloth Factory. It was later turned into the Owendoher River at Woodview Cottages until the mid-20th century the old mill race could be traced through the grounds of Ashfield where its dry bed was still spanned by several stone bridges.

On my way home from work one evening last week, I had walked along the banks of the River Dodder, and decided to take a closer look at Brookvale House, which now stands on Brookvale Road, Rathfarnham.

The house was built as Ashfield House ca1790-1810, and was refurbished ca 1860, when the porch was added. It is a detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement former country house, with a five-bay wing to south.

There are small pane timber sash windows, with some replacement casements, cut-stone quoins and dressings, replacement casement windows, architrave surrounds, and a balustraded parapet with urns, approached by flight of steps.

The projecting entrance porch has a timber panelled door, with a plain fanlight. There are hipped slate roofs behind the parapet with urns, and rendered chimney stacks. Later service annexes to the rear include an oriel window to the rear.

At the end of the 18th century, Ashfield served as a glebe house for the Church of Ireland clergy in Rathfarnham parish. But by the early 19th century, the house was the home of Sir William Cusack-Smith (1766-1836), an eccentric Irish politician and judge who was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford.

Cusack-Smith was called to the Irish Bar in 1788. He was MP for Lanesborough from 1794 to 1798, and then for Donegal Borough until the Act of Union in 1801. He became Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1800, and was appointed a Baron of the Exchequer in 1801 at the early age of 35.

His mother was a Roman Catholic and he was a lifelong supporter of Catholic Emancipation. He became Master of the Rolls in Ireland, but as a judge he rarely began his court sittings until after noon, occasionally running them until late into the night.

Sir William Cusack-Smith is said to have built a Gothic summer house in the grounds of the house, but I could not see this when I was looking at the house a few days ago.

Cusack-Smith died in 1836, and by 1841 Ashfield was home of a branch of the Tottenham family who continued to live there until 1913.

This branch of the Tottenham family were closely related to the Loftus family of nearby Rathfarnham Castle. Both families were descendants of the Patriot Charles Tottenham (1694-1758) “Tottenham in his Boots” of Tottenham Green near Taghmon, Co Wexford. Charles Tottenham’s eldest son, Sir John Tottenham (d. 1786), was the father of Charles Loftus (1738-1806), who changed his name when he inherited Rathfarnham Castland became Marquess of Ely. Charles Tottenham’s second son, Charles Tottenham (1716-1795), also married into the Loftus family and was the ancestor of the Tottenham families of Ashfield in Rathfarnham, Woodville and New Ross in Co Wexford, and Ballycurry in Co Wicklow.

Edward William Tottenham (1779-1860) married Henrietta Alcock (1789-1861) in 1806, and they built Woodville as their country house near New Ross, Co Wexford. While they were living at both Woodville in Co Wexford, they bought Ashfield as their Dublin seat. When Henrietta died in 1861, her daughter Sarah Denis-Tottenham (1809-1882), was her only surviving child and heiress.

When Sarah married William Dennis (1799-1869) of Dunmore East, Co Waterford, in 1835, he assumed the additional name of Tottenham, becoming William Dennis-Tottenham. They continued to live at Ashfield and Woodville, and had two sons and three daughters; tragically, all but one of their children died in childhood or in their teens.

William died in 1869, and Woodville was sold in 1872 to the Roche family. Sarah died in 1882, and Ashfield was inherited by her only surviving son, John Dennis-Tottenham (1837-1913), JP, the last member of the Ashfield branch of the family. When he died on 25 May 1913, his estate passed to his second cousin, Colonel Charles George Tottenham (1835-1918) of New Ross, Co Wexford, and Ballycurry, Co Wicklow.

Colonel Tottenham, who was educated at Eton, was highly decorated for his part in in the Crimean War, when he was a colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. When he returned to Ireland, he became involved in politics. At a by-election in June 1863, he was elected MP for New Ross, following the resignation of his father.

He was the sixth Charles Tottenham in regular succession from father to son to sit as MP for New Ross. Most of the town of New Ross was owned by the Tottenhams, who let it on short leases. They had shared control of the borough with the Leigh family of Rosegarland, and alternated the nomination of MPs.

Tottenham was re-elected in 1865, but stood down at the 1868 election. He was returned for New Ross again at a by-election in December 1878, following the death of the Home Rule League MP John Dunbar. However, he was defeated at the 1880 general election by the Home Rule candidate Joseph Foley.

Charles Tottenham had no interest in Ashfield, and the Brooks family of Brooks Thomas Ltd lived there until the 1950s, when the estate was divided up and houses were built along the main road. A new road was later built along the side of the house and named Brookvale after the last occupants.

Meanwhile, when Charles George Tottenham died in 1918, a monument to his memory was placed on the north wall of Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford.

Brookvale House is almost hidden away in a small housing estate near Rathfarnham village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (36)

‘This world must soon pass away’ … evening lights in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

The Johnson Society, which is based in Lichfield, has over 600 members across the UK and worldwide. This evening [16 March 2016], at 7.30 p.m., the Johnson Society holds its Annual General Meeting in the Guildhall in Lichfield. This evening’s programme includes a lecture by Alex Wright, ‘Robert James, School Friend of Johnson, & their Dictionaries.’

Robert James (1703-1776) was an English doctor who is best known as the author of A Medicinal Dictionary compiled in 1743-1745, for inventing a popular “fever powder,” and as a friend of Johnson from their school days in Lichfield. However the use of his powder, a compound of antimony and phosphate of lime, contributed to the death of the Irish poet, Oliver Goldsmith, who was part of Johnson’s literary circle in London.

Another prominent 18th century medical figure, the Birmingham surgeon and doctor Edmund Hector (1708-1794), was Johnson’s closest school friend at Lichfield Grammar School. Hector moved to Birmingham in 1729, and lived at No 1 The Old Square. There he was often host to Johnson from 1732 on, and Johnson lived in Hector’s house for almost two years.

Johnson’s last visit to Hector in Birmingham was in November 1784, just a few weeks before he died. When he returned to London, Johnson wrote a letter to Hector in which he seems to realise his death is imminent:

...this world must soon pass away. Let us think seriously on our duty. I send my kindest respects to dear Mrs. Careless: let me have the prayers of both. We have all lived long, and must soon part. God have mercy on us, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

The Guildhall in Lichfield, seen from the house where Samuel Johnson was born … the Guildhall is the venue for the annual general meeting of the Johnson Society this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)