Friday, 28 September 2018

Fort St George starts a flight
of fantasy from Charleville
to Cambridge and Chennai

Fort St George … an intriguing name in Charleville that has resonances from Cambridge to Chennai (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I spent a morning in Charleville in north Co Cork yesterday [27 September 2018], visiting the Gothic Revival Holy Cross Church, the former Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland parish churches, now used as a community centre and a library, and other sites of architectural interest.

However, as I wandered around the town in delightful late autumn sunshine, under bright blue skies, one of the most puzzling sites was a plaque on a gate pier on The Turrets, the street leading off Charleville’s Main Street.

This carved limestone plaque is set into a square-profile, rendered limestone pier with a roll-moulded frame. It is inscribed ‘Fort St George 1800.’ It has tooled bevelled edging and an ashlar face, and it is possible to make out a faded carving of the Masonic emblem of a set square and compass.

The decorative features of this plaque are typical of late 18th and early 19th century stone carving. The bevelled edging shows the tool marks of the mason and also provides textural variation to the plaque.

The set square and compass motif may mean that this was once the site of a former Freemasons lodge. The masonic lodge in Charleville was Emerald Lodge 49, and was part of the North Munster Provincial Grand Lodge, based in Limerick.

A broadsheet from the North Munster Provincial Grand Lodge, dated December 1845, is in the collection in the City Museum in Limerick, and lists the officials of the Charleville lodge: John Hallinan, master, John Darcy Evans, senior warden, and Daniel Meares Maunsell, junior warden.

Fort St George (left)gives its name to Fortville House (right), with its decorative terracotta frieze and unusual façade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Fort St George gives its name to the neighbouring house, Fortville House, a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, built ca 1910, with a gabled entrance breakfront and chamfered corners. The house has painted rendered walls with a decorative terracotta frieze on the eaves of the façade and a terracotta panel on the upper gable of the breakfront, with terracotta floral motifs at the junction with the walls. This house also has decorative terracotta keystones.

These features make this a house worth noting for its ornamentation and unusual façade to the streetscape of Charleville.

But while Fort St George explains the name of Fortville House, I wondered how Fort St George in Charleville got its name over 200 years ago. The gate piers lead into nothing more than an empty field, and I wondered whether a house named Fort St George had stood here long before any masonic lodge was formed in Charleville.

Fort Saint George is the oldest pub on the River Cam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It all reminded me of Fort St George, an old pub on the banks of the River Cam in Cambridge, almost opposite the boathouse of Sidney Sussex Boat Club, and on the edge of Midsummer Common.

Fort St George – or the Fort St George In England, to give the pub its full name – is the oldest pub on the River Cam. It is a Grade II listed timber-framed building dating in part from the 16th century. The name is commonly abbreviated to just ‘Fort St George,’ but the pub is often known simply as ‘The Fort.’ The full name reflects a supposed resemblance to the East India Company’s Fort St George at Madras (now Chennai) in India.

This sprawling pub looks much larger from the outside than it is inside. It has three rooms of differing sizes and styles: the large open wooden-floored bar area, a traditional dark snug, and a light (dining) room, with windows overlooking the river. Outside, there is a large pleasant pub garden, on two sides, and a substantial covered area overlooking the Common.

Over the years, it has been much altered and enlarged, but it retains much of its charm. The walls are lined with photographs from the 1960s and 1970s of winning boat clubs, the snug to the right of the main entrance has some ancient panelling, and a sign over the bar boats proudly: ‘Welcome to Fort St George, proudly serving Cambridge since the 16th century.’

Fort Saint George claims it is ‘proudly serving Cambridge since the 16th century’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The building dates from the 16th century, with alterations and additions in the 19th century and later. It was refurbished most recently ten years ago, in 2008. It is timber-framed, rendered and painted, in part refaced or rebuilt in brick, especially the east and west gables and the ground floor south front. It is a two-storey building with modern casement windows, three below and five above and one small-paned sash window. Originally it had a T-shaped plan, but the 19th century additions make it difficult to see this. The first floor has an overhang on carved timber brackets, there are some chamfered ceiling beams, a great central brick stack, and an old tile roof.

During the high summer, the pub has a reputation of being rowdy and unpleasant. During many events on the Common, such as Midsummer Fair, it often closes to avoid trouble. But on summer days in Cambridge I have found it pleasant place to sip a glass of wine and watch life go by on the river.

Fort St George, the first English fortress in India, was founded in 1644 at the coastal city of Madras, now the modern city of Chennai. When the fort was built, it provided the impetus for further settlements and trading activity and the city evolved around the fortress. The fort now houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and other official buildings.

The East India Company (EIC), which entered India around 1600, completed building the fort on Saint George’s Day, 23 April 1644. The fort soon became the hub of merchant activity and gave birth to a new settlement area called George Town that led to the formation of the city of Madras.

Saint Mary’s Church in Chennai, the oldest Anglican church in India, was built in 1678-1680, and the gravestones in the churchyard mark the oldest English graves in India. Fort St George has associations with Clive of India, Lord Cornwallis, Richard Wellesley, Governor General of India and brother of the Duke of Wellington.

And yet, none of this explains for me how Fort St George in Charleville originally got its name. Perhaps I was going to find some clues when I visited Charleville Park, the former home of the Sanders family

There is no Fort St George behind the gate piers … was there a house by that name here in the 19th century? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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