Monday, 10 February 2020

The Methodist Church in
Cobh that closed and was
converted into a pub

The Methodist Church in Cobh, Co Cork, later became a pub known as the Pillars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

It is hard to imagine what the good, Victorian churchgoers in the Methodist Church in Queenstown, Co Cork, would have thought in the 1870s if they realised their elegant classical church was going to be converted into a pub over a century later.

The former Cobh Methodist Church, which was the Pillars Bar in more recent decades, is now vacant and in danger of being neglected. But it is on the market for sale or to let.

The property stands in a high-profile position on Westbourne Place, overlooking the harbour and opposite the WatersEdge Hotel, where I was staying last week in Cobh, and close to the Sirius Art Centre, the Commodore Hotel, the Heritage Centre and the town centre.

The Preaching House Steps or Preacher Steps led up to the first Methodist chapel in Cobh in 1810 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Further west along the shore in Cobh, the Preaching House Steps or Preacher Steps mark the steep climb up to the first Methodist chapel built in the town in 1810.

John Wesley visited Cobh, and in time the town, which was Queenstown through most of the 19th century and until 1921, reached the height of its commercial prosperity as one of the most important ports and harbours for cross-Atlantic sea traffic.

The Methodist congregation outgrew the capacity of the early Wesleyan chapel and it sold the premises in 1873, and building a new church in 1873-1875 on Westbourne Place, closer to the centre of the town and opposite Ireland’s oldest yacht club.

Reports in 1873 said the new church was being built at a cost of £3,000.

Methodism grew in Queenstown as the port and the harbour expanded in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

It is, perhaps, no surprise then that this is a sophisticated building for a Methodist church. It was designed to look like a classical temple, and shows high quality stone carvings and the work of skilful Victorian craft workers. The succinct classical design includes balanced proportions and simple rhythm in the windows.

A flight of limestone steps leads up to entrance of this three-bay, three-storey former church, where the portico has rendered channel rusticated plinths, sandstone giant order Corinthian pilasters and columns that support an octagonal rendered entablature, a pediment and a cupola.

The rendered walls have quoins. The round-headed window openings have render surrounds and stained glass one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows.

The square-headed openings on the first floor, on the east and west sides of the building, have brick surrounds and one-over-one pane timber sliding margin sash windows. The round-headed window openings on the second floor, on the east and west sides of the building, have brick surrounds and one-over-one pane timber sliding margin sash windows.

The round-headed window openings in the cupola have render surrounds and flanking, Corinthian-style engaged columns.

The pitched slate roof has a render cornice with dentils. There are cast-iron railings on the front of the building.

Thomas Robjohns Wonnacott was the architect of the former Methodist Church in Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The architect of the church, Thomas Robjohns Wonnacott (1834-1918), was from Farnham, Surrey, and at an early stage in his life was a schoolteacher in Cornwall, becoming an architect when he was in his late 20s or early 30s. He was an active Methodist Lay Preacher and an artist.

The majority of his buildings were in the Farnham area of Surrey, and included 12 public buildings, such as non-conformist churches, schools and hotels, 10 houses and shops, and 20 houses or villas, including The Dell, a villa at Grays, Thurrock, Essex, built for Professor Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a villa called Fernlands, and Chertsea, a concrete villa built in 1870 by Charles Drake, a pioneer builder in concrete.

Wonnacott’s only works in Ireland seem to be the Methodist church and manse in Cobh (1873) and a second Methodist church built at the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare, in 1876. The shape of the cupola recalls the octagonal design found in 18 Methodist chapels built in England at the time, including Wonnacott’s Rotunda in Aldershot, Hampshire, built as a Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1876 but demolished in the 1980s.

Wonnacott was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, in 1890. He retired in 1902, and died in 1918.

The contractor for the Methodist Church in Cobh was Francis Jackson of Cork.

However, Methodism was traditionally stronger in West Cork than in East cork. The church closed in the 1950s, the registers were moved to the Methodist Church in Cork, and the church was sold in 1958 for £800.

The property needs refurbishment, but the asking price is €100,000 and the floor space totals 557 sq metres (6,000 sq ft). Local estate agents say, ‘this is a rare opportunity to purchase a landmark property in the heart of the historic town of Cobh.’

The building remains an important landmark in Cobh, and is distinguished in the landscape by the elegant cupola that is part of the skyline on the harbour front.

The former Methodist Church remains an important landmark in Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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