Friday, 3 February 2017

Finding the site of Bray Castle and
a terrace of quaint Victorian cottages

An irregular curve in a boundary wall on a laneway at Church Terrace is all that remains of the site of Bray Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

About a year ago [19 February 2016], I went in search of the site of Bray Castle in the north Wicklow town of Bray.

At the time, I wondered whether the castle had given its name to Castle Street, but the castellated row of shops in Castle Street hardly looks like the site of a mediaeval castle. Yet it is obvious that a castle must have stood near that site, with its memory is perpetuated in the names of the Castle Garage and Castle Furniture.

Despite early Roman finds in the 19th century, there is no definitive evidence that there was a village in Bray until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. The first Anglo-Norman settlement in Bray was led by Walter de Riddlesford, who in 1173 built a castle in Bray.

The castle is no longer standing. But during a late morning stroll through Bray today [3 February 2017]. I came across the site of the castle built by Walter de Riddlesford, originally on a rocky promontory overlooking the River Dartry.

The curve on the laneway at Church Terrace marks the boundary wall of Bray Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Walter de Riddlesford was granted lands in this area by Richard de Clare, better known as ‘Strongbow,’ after the Battle of the Strand where he fought valiantly.

The site of Bray Castle is at the rear of a house named ‘Clonmore’ on Herbert Road. An irregular curve in a boundary wall on a laneway at Church Terrace, behind Herbert Road, is all that remains of the site of the castle today.

The laneway is a continuation of Church Terrace, to the west of the former Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Paul’s Church and its former churchyard.

The original castle would have been a standard motte and bailey, consisting of a wooden rectangular keep, surrounded by a moat. It was rebuilt later as a stone castle, and a new village grew up around its walls, including a church and a mill.

The first bridge crossing the River Dartry near this site was built in 1666 and the present bridge was built in 1856.

In all, four castles were built in the Bray area. The other three were:

● Oldcourt Castle, built by the Earl of Ormond in 1433;
● Fassaroe Castle, built by Master Tresover in 1536; and
● Little Bray Castle, which gives its name to Castle Street.

The cottages on Church Terrace, with their dormer windows and chimney stacks, are a quaint remnant of Victorian Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The cottages on Church Terrace back onto Herbert Road, where their dormer windows and chimney stacks provide a quaint illustration of life in Victorian Bray.

Church Terrace is uniform terrace of five three-bay, single-storey houses, built ca 2830. The façade of each house is rendered, and all of them are painted apart from the house to the far west end. The roofs are pitched and covered in either natural or artificial slate, whilst the properties share brick chimneystacks with corbelling.

To the rear or south side of the roof of each house, there is a small gabled dormer with decorative bargeboards. The entrances are filled with panelled timber or uPVC doors and some of the entrances retain moulded dripstones.

To the rear of each house on the terrace, there is a small yard enclosed from the side of Herbert Road by a tall rubble wall, some of which include doorways.

This area, which is largely hidden from view, has a quaint and picturesque charm. The terrace, the neighbouring church, which was once Saint Paul’s Church of Ireland parish church, and the walls of the castle, and the remains of a former 17th-century barracks form an important part of the historic core of Bray.

The military barracks was built in 1692. It was closed in 1818, and was used as a dispensary before being converted into apartments.

Colesburg House and Glencoe House … a pair of Edwardian Houses on Herbert Road, Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

From the rear of Church Terrace, two of us walked a little further west along Herbert Road as far as Colesburg House and Glencoe House.

This is a pair of largely matching but not identical semi-detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement double-pile houses. They were first built ca 1900 and are now divided into apartments.

These two houses are substantial Edwardian semi-detached houses, and despite being divided into apartments they have a quiet dignity that enhances the streetscape in this part of Bray.

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