25 November 2015
My visit to Bunclody, Co Wexford, last weekend was an architectural delight, exploring the buildings of this planned estate town, which was laid out as Newtownbarry in the second half of the 18th century by the Maxwell-Barry family.
The Comerford family was living in Newtownbarry or Bunclody at this time, and as stuccordores and builders were probably involved in the building and decoration of many of the fine buildings that line The Mall, Bunclody’s Main Street, and the Market Square.
Many generations of the Comerford family lived in the house on The Mall that is now the Post Office and in a house on Ryland Street. The Comerford house on The Mall later passed through marriage to the Lawler family, who once ran the Mall Hotel on these premises.
This is a semi-detached, two-bay three-storey house, built ca1850, incorporating the fabric of a much earlier house. It has since been renovated, with the opening to ground floor remodelled to accommodate commercial use.
The house is one of a pair. The square-headed window openings are in a tripartite arrangement with cut-stone sills, moulded rendered surrounds, six-over-six (first floor) and three-over-three (top floor) timber sash windows with two-over-two or one-over-one sidelights. There is a one-over-one timber sash window to the ground floor that has one-over-one sidelights and a square-headed opening inserted to the ground floor with a concrete sill, rendered surround, and fixed-pane fitting.
The stucco and decorative work of the Comerford family can be seen in the door and the doorcase. The house has a round-headed door opening with a rendered, diamond-pointed panelled pilaster surround that has a moulded necking supporting an archivolt voussure, bull-nose reveals, a timber diamond-pointed panelled pilaster doorcase on padstones with acanthus-detailed fluted consoles supporting the entablature, and a timber-panelled door with an over-light.
The house faces the street and has a rendered plinth boundary wall with coping that supports iron railings incorporating arrow-head finials. The original gate is now missing.
The interesting details in the house include the openings which diminish in scale on each floor in the classical manner producing a graduated visual effect. These windows are inspired by the work of James Wyatt. The house has been well maintained to present an early aspect with the original form and massing surviving in place together with most of the historic fabric, both outside and probably inside, making it one of the important works of architecture on The Mall.
The house was built as one of a pair with Cheveu Studio hairdressers next door, formerly Maher’s shop. This semi-detached two-bay three-storey house was built ca 1850, but also incorporating the fabric of the earlier house. Some of the windows were replaced in 1925 and the house was renovated in 1975, with the openings to the ground floor remodelled to accommodate commercial use. Here too we see how the openings diminish in scale on each floor in the classical manner producing a graduated visual effect.
The tripartite openings are also inspired by the work of James Wyatt, although some have been adapted to accommodate distinctive bipartite arrangements.
The external view of the house has been damaged in the past by the ugly alteration works at street level. But we can still see how this was once an aesthetically pleasant architectural design.
Wyatt and West in Newtownbarry
There are other buildings along The Mall and in Market Square that also display the influence of James Wyatt. How did this classical-style architect come to have such a strong influence on the domestic architecture of a small town in north Co Wexford?
Papers from the Farnham collection at Newtownbarry sold at auction in Dublin in 2004 show the first glebe house or rectory in Newtownbarry may have been designed by the stuccodore and master builder Robert West, who submitted his proposals in 1784. The present rectory, built in 1808, has a Morrison doorcase and the openings diminish in scale on each floor in the classical manner producing a graduated visual impression, once again in a the style inspired by Wyatt.
Wyatt’s influence is seen throughout the town in other buildings, including O’Connor and O’Connor, Lennon’s, the Loftus Pharmacy and Redmond’s on The Mall, and Berkeley Mews on Market Square.
West was based in Dublin from about 1752 until he died in 1790. In 1752, he was admitted a freeman of the city as a member of the Plasterers’ Guild. His stuccowork in Ireland includes the hall of the house he built as a speculation at No 20 Lower Dominick Street, Dublin, the chapel in the Rotunda Hospital, Belvedere House, Great Denmark Street, and in No. 9 Cavendish Row. His best-known pupil was his friend Michael Stapleton.
The Comerford brothers Richard, Robert and James may have learned their stucco skills from craftsmen linked to Robert West. On the other hand, James Wyatt (1746-1813) is associated with few works in Ireland, and so it interesting that he had such a broad and sweeping influence on the design of houses in Newtownbarry.
James Wyatt (1746-1813), who was born at Blackbrook Farmhouse near Weeford, south of Lichfield, into a long line of Staffordshire builders, decorators and architects. His first major building was the Pantheon in Oxford Street, London, which was described by Horace Walpole as “the most beautiful edifice in England,” and he became the most acclaimed and influential architect of his age.
In 1792, he was appointed Surveyor General, which effectively made him England’s most prominent architect. He was also involved in works at Windsor Castle and Kew Gardens, the restoration of the House of Lords and the building of Saint Mary’s Church, Weeford.
Wyatt was also the architect involved in the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral in the 1780s. He oversaw work to remove 500 tons of stone from the nave roof, replacing it with lath and plaster, and effectively saving the cathedral from collapse.
But AWN Pugin described Wyatt as “the wretch himself,” and when he first visited Lichfield in 1834, over 20 years after James Wyatt had died, Pugin was taken aback by the refurbishment of the cathedral 30 years earlier by Wyatt and declared: “Yes – this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture, has been here. need I say more.”
His works in Ireland included Avondale House, built near Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, for the Parnell family, and designs for the ceiling and library of Farnham House, the Co Cavan home of the Maxwell-Barry family.
If the Comerford brothers learned their skills from a pupil of Wyatt then it is interesting that they went on to work on so many Pugin churches in Ireland, and that my great-grandfather James Comerford (1817-1902) took an interest in the history of the Comberford family in the Lichfield and Tamworth area of Staffordshire until his death.
The Mall, North Side
The Channel in the Mall was cut ca 1825, incorporating an earlier channel from 1775. It was provided by the Maxwell-Barry family to supply properties in The Mall with clean water through a system of underground ducts. The channel is a familiar landmark in the centre of Bunclody and is part of an early urban landscape initiative.
O’Connor and O’Connor estate agents on The Mall occupy a three-bay three-storey house, built ca 1850, incorporating the fabric of an earlier house built here before 1840.
This was built as a well-appointed, middle-sized house. The diminishing scales of the openings on each floor in the classical manner produce an elegant tiered visual effect in the composition.
Lennon’s on The Mall is a terraced, three-bay, three-storey house, built in 1880 and incorporating the fabric of earlier house built before 1840. There is a pubfront to the ground floor with a camber-headed carriageway to the left.
The square-headed window openings are in a tripartite arrangement with cut-stone sills, and one-over-one timber sash windows with one-over-one sidelights.
The timber pubfront has inscribed, fluted pilasters on padstones, and the fixed-pane two-light and three-light timber windows incorporate floral finials with glazed timber panelled display screens behind. There is a timber-panelled door on a cut-granite step with a side panel, overlight, and a second timber panelled door to the residential part also on a cut-granite step or threshold having overlight, and fascia having lined moulded cornice.
The camber-headed carriageway to the left on the ground floor has concealed dressings, and an iron door.
This is an elegantly appointed middle-size range incorporating commercial and residential spaces in a traditional configuration, adding to the character of the streetscape.
The design includes Wyatt-influenced tripartite glazing patterns to the openings with these openings diminishing in scale on each floor, producing a graduated or tiered visual effect.
The artistic design of the shopfront displays good quality traditional craftsmanship and makes a significant impact on the street level, projecting an early aspect with the historic, original fabric surviving largely intact.
Dol’s Beauty Clinic on The Mall is a terraced, two-bay, three-storey house built ca 1875, but incorporating the fabric of an earlier house, built before 1840. The shopfront is to the left on the ground floor and there is a square-headed carriageway to the right. This house has a modest architectural design and retains the original form with most of the historic fabric of the house.
O’Connor’s pub is a terraced, two-bay three-storey house, built ca 1875. And renovated around 1950, but there is surviving fabric from an earlier pubfront of around 1900. The building displays a vertical emphasis with the massing rising above the flanking ranges in the street, and the rendered dressings produce an appealing classical theme.
The Loftus Pharmacy on the corner of The Mall and the Market Square is a terraced, three-bay, two-storey house with dormer attic, and dates from 1910. It stands on a prominent corner position in the centre of Bunclody, and was built by “NT” (Nathaniel Tackaberry), who once had a drapery shop here. It is built of barely-refined fieldstone with granite or red brick dressings. The features include a Wyatt-style tripartite opening which indicates that this building incorporates an earlier house built on this site.
The Mall, South Side
Sam McCauley’s pharmacy, facing the Market Square, is an end-of-terrace, three-bay, two-storey house with a dormer attic, built ca 1825 and extensively renovated around 1900, when it was two separate houses, a two-bay, two-storey house to west and a single-bay two-storey house to the east.
Despite modern renovations, the house presents an historic aspect with many the elementary attributes surviving in place. It was renovated again in 2004, with a replacement polished granite shopfront inserted on the ground floor.
On this side of The Mall, Holy Trinity Church, the Roman Catholic parish church built in the early 1970s, stands on the site of the Maxwell-Barry townhouse on this side of The Mall.
Sugar and Spice (until recent years Furlong’s shop) on the south side of The Mall, is an attractive four-bay, two-storey house with a dormer attic, built between 1855 and 1885, with a shopfront to the ground floor. The square-headed window openings have moulded rendered sills forming part of cornice, panelled, hollow pilaster surrounds that have consoles supporting entablatures over panelled hollow friezes, and six-over-six timber sash windows.
The ground floor has a rendered shopfront, incorporating elliptical-headed door opening with bull-nose reveals, a panelled, hollow pilaster doorcase with decorative foliate consoles supporting a panelled entablature, and a timber panelled door with an overlight, and with inscribed pilasters.
This building occupies the position of an earlier range which George Henry Bassett described as being in ruins. It is an elegant middle-size house built by “FSC”. At the time it was built, it is said, it prompted the envy of passers-by. However, the arrangement of the shopfront clashes with the configuration overhead which is not quite symmetrical. This house and shopfront have artistic designs that contribute to the diverse character of The Mall.
The former Allied Irish Banks premises on The Mall are now being used as an arts centre. This three-bay, two-storey house was built in 1854 by “JD” incorporating an existing range built before 1840. It was renovated before 1880, when a shopfront was inserted to the ground floor, and extensively renovated before 1924 to use as a bank.
The architectural composition includes the symmetrical configuration of classically-proportioned openings with with Tudor-influenced dressings with a symmetrical pattern. Much of the original fabric survives outside and inside this building.
Redmond’s is a four-bay three-storey house, built some time between 1855 and 1885, but incorporating the fabric of a much earlier house. There is a camber-headed carriageway to the right on the ground floor, with a tongue-and-groove timber panelled door.
The replacement timber pubfront on the ground floor may incorporate fabric of the original pubfront with columns on chamfered padstones, fixed-pane, three-light windows, and tongue-and-groove timber panelled double doors, glazed timber panelled door to house, and a fascia with dentilated lined cornice.
The architectural details include the vertical emphasis of the massing rising above the flanking ranges in the terrace. The balanced arrangement of the openings diminish in scale on each floor in the classical manner, producing a slightly graduated or tiered visual effect.
The Market Square
Around the corner from the Loftus Pharmacy, the Chantry on Market Square is a detached three-bay, two-storey single-pile over basement Wesleyan Methodist manse with a dormer attic. It was built in 1808 for the Revd John Wilson. There is a three-bay, double-height, single-cell Wesleyan Methodist church to the east, forming an integrated composition. The Methodist community in Bunclody had declined by the second half of the 20th century.
The manse and church were sold and then renovated for use as a restaurant, although this has since closed. The former restaurant is on the market at present, but a scheduled auction was cancelled last week.
Nearby, a weigh bridge on Market Square is a cast-iron platform in dragged cast-iron frame, set back from the line of thee street with a concrete brick cobbled surround. This weighbridge was made by the Avery company and survives as a reminder of the fair or market held in the Market Square from the early 19th century or earlier.
The influence of Wyatt can also be seen at Berkeley Mews on Market Square. This is a three-bay, two-storey over basement house with a dormer attic. It was built ca 1825, on an L-shaped plan with a single-bay single-storey flat-roofed advanced porch to the centre ground floor.
Originally the house had a prostyle diastyle bowed Doric portico, but this was removed sometime after 1900. The three-bay, two-storey, lower return to the east has a single-bay single-storey projecting porch to the left of the ground floor.
At one time, Berkeley Mews served briefly as the seat of the Hall-Dare family while Newtownbarry House was being rebuilt. In the 1880s, this became the police station of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and it later became the Garda station. It was in commercial use in recent years, but has since been returned to residential use.
The square-headed window openings are in a Wyatt-style tripartite arrangement, with a single arrangement to the first floor. There is segmental-headed door opening with three cut-granite curved steps, and timber panelled double doors with a fanlight.
This house is part of the early 19th-century architectural heritage of Bunclody and shows a refined architectural design aesthetic including the symmetrical configuration centred on the porch with its pretty fanlight, and the elegant Wyatt-style tripartite openings.
The house is well maintained and continues to present an early aspect with most of the historic or original fabric surviving in place, both to outside and inside. It makes a positive impression on the character of the streetscape.
Next to the former barracks is the Mall House, formerly the King’s Arms Hotel, established in the 1700s, although the date displayed today says it was established in 1834. It is on the market to let at present.
Brennan’s on the same side of Market Square is one of an identical pair with the Berkeley Boutique which abuts the corner with Ryland Street. Brennan’s is a two-bay, three-storey over basement house, was built ca 1825. It is set back from the line of the street with a concrete footpath to the front.
This building was renovated in the early 20th century, when a part-projecting shopfront was inserted to the ground floor, but has gone through a long period of neglect. The building has square-headed window openings with cut-stone sills, and one-over-one timber sash windows. The classically-influenced proportions on each floor present a dignified, understated façade.
Around the corner, on Ryland Street, an attractive flight of steps leads up to the side entrance to the Berkeley Boutique. These steps are built in a traditional style with local natural materials, and the much-weathered patina is particularly attractive.
Next door, the Bank of Ireland is detached four-bay two-storey building dating from about 1925, but probably incorporating the fabric of earlier range, built before 1840. It was first built in 1835 as the National Bank and displays traditional craftsmanship with a muted classical theme.
Meadowfields is another attractive, Georgian house on this side of Ryland Street and it dates back to the late 18th century. However, I have yet to identify the house on Ryland Street that Richard and Robert Comerford and their families lived in during the 19th century.
Saddler’s House on Church Street, also known as Church Road, faces Saint Mary's Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Bunclody. This is a terraced, three-bay two-storey house, built ca1900, and originally may have had a square-headed carriageway to the right on the ground floor. It was renovated around 1975, when most of the openings were remodelled.
There are square-headed window openings – one has a tripartite arrangement, but the remainder were remodelled around 1975.
The most interesting unusual feature of this house is the distinctive doorcase, with three cut-granite steps, an archivolt on cut-granite springers and the fluted keystone. There is a timber-panelled door with an overlight.
No 7 Church Street is an interesting four-bay, two-storey house currently on the market. It was built around 1875, and has a camber-headed carriageway to the left on the ground floor. The house was renovated in 1975, when some of the openings were remodelled, and is currently for sale through DNG O’Connor and O’Connor.
Further up Church Street, on the same side, Weston Cottage or Weston House, is a detached five-bay single-storey over part-raised basement house, built before 1837, and incorporating the fabric of earlier house, built 1784, which in turn superseded an earlier house built before 1700, making this one of the oldest houses in Bunclody.
This is a three-bay single-storey, middle-sized house, and is part of the domestic architectural heritage of Bunclody. It has an elegant design dating from the Regency period. The house was reputedly used as a military barracks in the mid-19th century, and has associations with the West, Casey, Guilbride, Hodson, Hughes, and Connell-Jones families.
Back down Church Street, on the west side, Suimhneas is an interesting house set back from the street front. This is a semi-detached, three-bay two-storey house is one of a pair. It dates from about 1850, but probably incorporates the fabric of an earlier house, pre-1840, on site. Renovated, 2004-5, with interior remodelled.
The five-arch rubble stone road bridge over the River Slaney was built in 1790-1799, with a single-arch pedestrian underpass over the flood plain to the north, and a two-arch section over the river to the south.
The bridge spans the meeting point of the River Clody and River Slaney, and is an important element of the civil engineering heritage of Bunclody. It was built as part of the development of the Newtownbarry estate by the Maxwell-Barry family from the 1730s on, and the elegant profile of the arches and the granite dressings are examples of early expert stone masonry.
The bridge was widened in 1875. The rubble stone parapets incorporate a monument erected in 1938 to remember the 1798 Rising in Co Wexford and the battle fought at this bridge.
I tried to climb down the flight of eight cut-granite steps to the river bank, but recent rains and poor maintenance soon put a stop to what might have been a descent into folly.
Beyond is Newtownbarry House, a five-bay two-storey Italianate-style country house, built 1863-1869. It was built for Robert Westley Hall-Dare to designs prepared by Sir Charles Lanyon (1813-1889), William Henry Lynn (1829-1915) and John Lanyon (1840-1900). It stands on the site of its earlier 18th-century counterpart, built in 1750 and demolished in 1868. The house is said to include timber work salvaged from Ferns Cathedral when it was rebuilt in 1816.
There was so much more to see, but I still had to unravel the connections between the Comerford brothers and Robert West and James Wyatt.