28 February 2015

Goldilocks Cottage comes back to life in a
park for Pooh-sticks and a proud peacock

Laurelmere Lodge has been known to children as ‘Goldilocks Cottage’ for over 30 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Before the storm blew up this afternoon, two of us went for a stroll in Marlay Park on the edges of Rathfarnham and beneath the slopes of the Dublin Mountains.

I am blessed to live in a part of south Dublin that offers access to so many open areas of parkland, including Airfield, Saint Enda’s Park, the grounds of Rathfarnham Castle, Tymon Park and Marlay Park.

I can understand why so many of the residents of this part of Rathfarnam complain during the summer months about the noise and behaviour connected with late night concerts. But those concerts have paid for the restoration of one of the architectural gems in Marlay Park.

Generations of children have passed by a tumbledown that they have often known as “Goldilocks Cottage,” teased by parents to peer at the windows from a distance to see whether they can catch glimpses of the Three Bears.

Immediately adjoining the courtyard is an enclosed garden of some four acres with a head gardener's house.

A wooden footbridge near ‘Goldilocks Cottage … just the place for Christopher Robin to play Pooh-stick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The charming, hidden cottage known as Laurelmere Lodge is in a shaded corner close to a little wooden bridge that easily provide the location for Christopher Robin playing Pooh-Sticks … I can just imagine the children crossing this bridge looking out for Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore.

For years, this two-storey cottage was shaded by overgrown, overhanging trees, and had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.

Marlay House is an 18th century Georgian house once owned by the family of David La Touche, the first governor of the Bank of Ireland. Laurelmere was originally built around 1790 a thatched cottage orné or stylised cottage built in a rustic setting for the La Touche family.

The La Touche family would have used the cottage as a place for picnics, card games and theatricals, according to Pamela O’Connor, a conservation architect with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Arts and crafts tiles and details were added to the cottage in the 1870s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Later, the cottage was remodelled with a slate roof in the Art and Crafts style around 1875 by its next owner, Robert Tedcastle. Two rooms were added on upstairs and a slate roof in the Arts and Crafts style was added. At the time, the estate manager for the Tedcastle family lived in the house at this time.

Later, it was also known as Tamplin’s Cottage after a one-time resident, Colonel Bob Tamplin, who was the Captain of nearby Grange Golf Club in 1925.

From 1925, Marlay House and estate was owned by the market gardener Phillip Love until it was acquired by Dublin County Council in 1972. The last tenant of Laurelmere Cottage moved out in the mid-1970s, and the cottage remained vacant for another three decades and was falling into ruin. But it continued to hold a fairy-tale, romantic fascination for children – and adults – in the woods of Marlay Park.

“Attempts were made to stop the rot in the 1970s and structural work was done to hold the building in its place in the 1990s, but it was never a priority,” according to Michael Church, the heritage building manager at Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

The main house at Marlay Park, built by the La Touche family in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The cottage has been restored in recent months by the Architecture Department of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council as part of the restoration of Marlay Park. The restoration has cost €536,000, and this been funded by the monies raised from the Marlay Park concerts.

Pamela O’Connor and Alyson Carney oversaw the recent restoration works on Laurelmere. This restoration work was carried out by master craftsmen Dunwoody and Dobson, who worked in the Arts and Crafts style, reusing original stone-tiled flooring, wood panelling, tasteful light fittings and cast iron fireplaces.

Now it has become the premises of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland, and will be home to the RHSI garden school and a horticultural programme run by gardening lecturer Ciaran Burke.

More than 500 people saw the interior of Laurelmere last October as part of Open House Dublin last year. I walked around the cottage this afternoon, peering through the windows at the two reception rooms downstairs. Upstairs, there is space for a boardroom, a library with more than 1,000 gardening books, and the Garden School office.

The cottage was closed this afternoon, but I understand reproductions of William Morris floral printed wallpapers – popular during the Arts and Crafts movement – have been used throughout the house. Paint colours used during the late 1700s, when the cottage was first built, have also been replicated.

The garden to the front of the house is to be used by the garden school and there are plans for a naturalistic style garden to the back, with seating for adults, play space for children and perhaps sculpture exhibitions.

However, plans to reinstall the original conservatory have been put on hold due to a lack of funding.

A taste of Greece … olive products from Crete on a stall in the courtyard at Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

We strolled through the Saturday farmers’ market in the courtyard, where we bought a little taste of Greece in the shape of olive produces from Greece.

Later, we had double espressos in the coffee house beside the walled gardens, before moving into the walled regency gardens, with its hidden delights.

Hidden surprises in the walled regency gardens in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Before we left, a proud peacock was preening himself on a table in the small walled area behind the coffee shop, obviously used to the attention of customers and visitors and not afraid of their proximity. Back in the main courtyard, the blustering winds were blowing through the stalls, announcing the storm was imminent.

Perhaps the peacock alone would remain unperturbed. But I was reminded that the peacock was a mediaeval symbol of the resurrection.

As we prepare this Lent for Easter, the Gospel reading at the Eucharist tomorrow morning [1 March 2015] is Saint Mark’s account of the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-9). After that experience, Christ tells Peter, James and John “to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Lent finds its climax not on Good Friday but on Easter Morning.

A proud peacock on a table beside the coffee shop in Marlay Park this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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.

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (11):
‘He who would Valiant be’ (Monk’s Gate)

Monk’s Gate … the West Sussex hamlet near Horsham where Vaughan Williams first heard the tune he used for Percy Dearmer’s rewriting of John Bunyan’s hymn (Photograph: Pete Chapman/Wikipedia)

Patrick Comerford

For my reflections and devotions during Lent this year, each day I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [28 February 2015], I have chosen the hymn ‘He who would Valiant be’ also commonly known as ‘To be a Pilgrim,’ sung to the tune Monk’s Gate, which the New English Hymnal says was adapted from an old English folk song by Vaughan Williams. The words by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936) are a comprehensive reworking of an earlier, 17th century hymn by John Bunyan (1628-1688), the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

John Julian’s great Dictionary of Hymnody, revised in 1907, mentions Bunyan only to say that he did not write any hymns. This is Bunyan’s only known hymn and was first published in 1684 in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It recalls the words of Hebrews 11: 13: “... and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

Bunyan’s words were modified extensively by Percy Dearmer for The English Hymnal (1906), with a new tune composed by Vaughan Williams, who used a traditional Sussex melody, ‘Monk’s Gate.’

This popular hymn tune is in 65 65 66 65, and it is the tune rather than the words that have made this hymn so memorable Edward Darling and Donald Davison, in their Companion to Church Hymnal, say it provides “a fine example of the use of syncopation and cross-rhythm in a hymn tune.”.

Monk’s Gate is a hamlet in West Sussex, on the A281, 4.3 km south-east of Horsham. It was there in December 1904 that Vaughan Williams first heard the tune when he heard Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate singing the English folksong ‘Our Captain Calls All Hands.’ Harriet and Peter Verrall, who lived at Thrift Cottage, were also responsible for teaching Vaughan Williams the ‘Sussex Carol’ (‘On Christmas Night all Christians sing’) and the tune known as Sussex (‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’).

The song ‘Our Captain Calls All Hands’ tells of a woman deserted by her sailor lover:

How can you go abroad
fighting for strangers?
Why don’t you stay at home
free from all danger?
I will roll you in my arms,
my own dearest jewel,
So stay at home with me, love,
and don’t be cruel.

Vaughan Williams’s tune was published in the first edition of the English Hymnal in 1906.

Three years later, he heard the same tune being sung at Westhope, near Weobley, Herefordshire, by Ellen Powell with a folk song called ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me.’ This song has the same theme of love deserted:

A blacksmith courted me
Nine months and better
He fairly won my heart
Wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand
He looked so clever
And if I was with my love
I would live forever …

Oh, witness have I none
Save God Almighty
And may he reward you well
For the slighting of me.
Her lips grew pale and wan
It made a poor heart tremble
To think she loved a one
And he proved deceitful …

This second song has been recorded by many of the folk rock bands that emerged from the late 1960s on. Steeleye Span lead off their first two studio albums Hark! The Village Wait (1970) and Please to See the King (1971) with different versions of the song as well as on several live albums. Planxty sing it on their first album Planxty (1973), and Pentangle on the album So Early in the Spring (1989). Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span also sings an a cappella version on her solo album Year (1993).

In the early 1970s, I was enjoying the music of English folk rock bands such as Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Lindsifarne and Jethro Thull. Their music provided an interesting bridge to the music of Vaughan Williams, which I was introduced to in rural Shropshire.

The adaptation of Monk’s Gate by Vaughan Williams brought new attention to Bunyan’s much-forgotten poem, which was hidden in the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress. But the words sung to Monk’s Gate are no longer those penned by Bunyan, whose poem begins:

Who would true valour see,
  Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.

The version in the English Hymnal is the one rewritten by Percy Dearmer and begins:

He who would valiant be
’Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.

The Master, of course, is Christ, and Dearmer also introduced explicit references to the Lord and the Spirit, making a Trinitarian hymn of a poem that was written as an allegory and with lyrics that are only metaphorically Christian. But Dearmer also cut out Bunyan’s references to a lion, a hobgoblin and foul fiend.

Bunyan’s original was not commonly sung in churches, perhaps because of the references to “hobgoblin” and “foul fiend.” Some recent hymnbooks have returned to Bunyan’s original, including the Church of England’s Common Praise and the Church of Scotland’s Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise, and it has been popular with English folk rock artists such as Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

The two versions of the hymn are included in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 662), which also uses the tune Monk’s Gate for Herbert O’Driscoll’s hymn ‘Who are we who stand and sing?’ (No 532).

‘To Be a Pilgrim’ is the school hymn for many schools throughout England, and is sung in several school films. In Lindsay Anderson’s film if.... (1968), it characterises the traditional religious education in English public schools in the 1960s. It is also sung again in a public school context in Clockwise (1986), starring John Cleese, who directs all of the members of the Headmasters’ Conference to stand and sing the hymn, as he often would to his own pupils.

This was one of the hymns chosen by Margaret Thatcher for her funeral two years ago in April 2013. But the hymn was also one of Tony Benn’s choices on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

The hymn’s refrain “to be a pilgrim” has entered common usage in the English language and has been used in the title of many books about pilgrimage.

From his childhood, Vaughan Williams had been attracted to the sturdy and simple prose of John Bunyan, with its sincerity and spiritual intensity. Vaughan Williams described his Pilgrim’s Progress as a ‘Morality’ rather than an opera, although he intended the work to be performed on stage rather than in a church or cathedral.

Vaughan Williams later made an opera of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, although he changed the hero’s name from Christian to Pilgrim. I shall return to Bunyan, Vaughan Williams, and The Pilgrim’s Progress when I invite you to listen with me to ‘The Song of the Tree of Life,’ a song from that opera.

He who would valiant be

He who would valiant be
’Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound –
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
Though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Us with thy Spirit,
We know we at the end,
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Tomorrow:The Song of the Tree of Life