28 September 2018

Searching for elephants
and finding an Olympic
medallist in Charleville

Charleville Park was turned into flats in the late 20th century, but is now derelict, boarded up and fenced off (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Charleville is a busy market town in North Cork, close to the border with Co Limerick. I spent the morning there yesterday [27 September 2018], in in the heart of the rich farming area known as the Golden Vale that spreads through Cork, Limerick and Tipperary.

The lands around Charleville bought in the late 16th century by Richard Boyle (1566-1643), 1st Earl of Cork and one of the most successful Elizabethans in Ireland. His third son, Roger Boyle (1621-1679), Lord President of Munster and 1st Earl of Orrery, founded the town of Charleville in 1661 and named it in honour of the recently-restored King Charles II.

Charleville became the centrepiece of a vast estate owned by the Boyle family. The town was laid out in a formal plan with two parallel wide streets. It was granted a charter in the 17th century with a sovereign (mayor) and two bailiffs elected annually by the 12 burgesses or town councillors.

The principle Boyle residence was Charleville House, built in 1668 and set in a vast deer park north of the town. It was regarded as one of the finest houses in Ireland at the time. It occupied one side of a large walled court and could be defended with 16 guns.

However, during the lifetime of Lionel Boyle (1671-1703), 3rd Earl of Orrery, Charleville House was burnt down by Jacobite forces under the command of the Duke of Berwick, after he had dined in the house in 1690. The house was later demolished and nothing remains of it today. All that remains of the ‘notable gardens and fine park’ are symmetrical fields, masonry walls and earthworks, including the site of four fish ponds.

Although the Boyles remained the lords of the manor, William Sanders of Charleville leased The Park ‘for ever’ from the Boyles on 20 September 1697.

The Sanders estates expanded through intermarriage with the Knight family, and in the late 18th century Christopher Sanders built Charleville Park, which was also known as Sanders Park.

Like many Irish towns, Charleville went through a period of rebuilding in the late 18th early 19th centuries and most of its elegant streetscape dates from this period, along with the many side lanes that gave access to the areas behind the streets.

Charleville became an important market town with a weekly market on Saturdays and six fairs during the year, and with a number of industries, including tanyards, flour mills and a blanket factory.

Christopher Sanders’s son, William Sanders (1773-1819), was living in the house in 1814, and his son, Christopher Sanders (1808-1839), was living there in 1837. The estates were divided between his sons, Christopher Sanders (1808-1839), who inherited Deer Park, and William Robert Sanders (1810-1851), who was living at Charleville Park at the time of Griffith’s Valuation, holding the property from the Earl of Cork.

The third son, Colonel Robert Sanders (1814-1860) inherited Deer Park when his brother Christopher died and Charleville Park when his brother William died. But he too died without male heirs, and in 1860 the estates passed to another younger son, Thomas Sanders (1816-1892) of Sanders Park or Charleville Park, Charleville.

By the 1870s, he owned 1,024 acres in Co Cork and 942 acres in Co Limerick. A barrister, magistrate and landowner, he was boycotted by the tenant farmers in Charleville, who refused to pay the rents. It was said, ‘Not a blacksmith could be found to shoe his horse and not a living creature to cook his food.’

Robert Massy Dawson Sanders, a land agent, inherited Charleville Park from his father in 1892. He was an elder brother of Evelyn Francis Sanders (1864-1909), who in 1903 married Maria Elizabeth Coote Townshend (1865-1942), who was born in Ireland, and they lived in Calcutta.

Robert Sanders was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was High Sheriff of Co Cork in 1901. He managed the family estate at Charleville Park and a number of other estates, and in 1916 he inherited the Ballinacourty Estate in Co Tipperary from his mother’s uncle, Captain Francis Evelyn Massy-Dawson, a retired naval officer.

During the Irish Civil War, the anti-treaty Republicans occupied Ballinacourty House, but on the approach of Irish Free State soldiers the Republicans burned the house and made good their escape.

Ballinacourty House was never rebuilt, but the stables have since been restored as Ballinacourty House Restaurant. Robert Massy Dawson Sanders later rebuilt and extended an old school house and opened it as an hotel and convalescent home. The Glen Hotel now stands on the site.

During the Irish Civil War, Robert Sanders moved to Buckland Court in Surrey, which was owned by his elderly father-in-law, Francis Henry Beaumont, who transferred the estate to Sanders in 1923. Later, around 1932, Robert Sanders built a lodge on the Ballinacourty Estate where he could stay when he was in Ireland; the Aherlow House Hotel stands there today.

Terence Robert Beaumont Sanders (1901-1985) was born at Charleville Park and became an Olympic gold medallist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Robert and Hilda Sanders were the parents of two sons, Charles Craven Sanders (1899-1985) and Terence Robert Beaumont Sanders (1901-1985), who were born at Charleville Park and educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge.

Charles Craven Sanders lived at Coolnamuck Court, near Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, up to the mid-1950s, and later lived in Whitechurch, Rathfarnham. His brother Terence was an Olympic gold medallist and a lecturer in engineering in Cambridge.

Terence Sanders was born at Charleville Park on 2 June 1901 and was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge. At Cambridge, Sanders, Maxwell Eley, Robert Morrison and James MacNabb, who had rowed together at Eton, made up the coxless four that won the Stewards’ Challenge Cup at Henley in 1922 as Eton Vikings and the Visitors’ Challenge Cup as Third Trinity Boat Club.

Sanders stroked for Cambridge in the Boat Race in 1923, which was won by Oxford. The coxless four won the Stewards’ Challenge Cup at Henley again in 1923, the crew won Stewards’ at Henley again in 1924 and went on to win the gold medal for Great Britain rowing at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. The British crew won comfortably over the 2000 metre course and winning, with Canada finishing second and Switzerland taking the bronze medal.

Sanders became a Fellow of Corpus Christi, Cambridge in 1925, and was appointed university lecturer in engineering in 1936. He was honorary treasurer of the University Boat Club from 1928 to 1939, and was in the Leander Club eight that won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley in 1929. In 1929, he co-wrote The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History 1829-1929.

During World War II, he was active in Operation Crossbow that countered the threat of German V2 rockets. He was made a Companion of the Bath (CB) in 1950, and retired from the army as colonel in 1951. Sanders died at Dorking, Surrey, on 6 April 1985 at the age of 83, and is buried in Buckland churchyard near Reigate.

Meanwhile, Charleville Park was the residence of a Mr Binchy, a merchant in Charleville, in the 1940s. By the end of the 20th century, Charleville Park was turned into flats, and new housing estates were built on part of the land.

When I visited Charleville yesterday [27 September 2018], the house was derelict, boarded up and fenced off. But an unusual octagonal gate lodge still stands near the original entrance to the house and demesne.

This two-storey gate lodge was built around 1830, with one-bay faces. The projecting slate roof forms a shallow canopy at the entrance face, with carved timber bargeboards supported on carved timber brackets. There are rendered chimneystacks, rendered walls, square-headed openings with quarry glazed transomed and mullioned windows and rendered sills. An elliptical-headed opening has a raised brick surround and a timber panelled door.

This former gate lodge at Charleville Park is an interesting example of theatrical architecture, and its shape and size are unusual as gate lodge are typically single-storey structures, as can be seen nearby at the former gate lodge at Knight’s Lodge.

I had wondered whether I would find any clues at Charleville Park about the choice of name for Fort St George nearby. After all, the Sanders family coat-of-arms has three elephants’ heads on the shield and an elephant’s head in the crest, and Evelyn Sanders and his wife Maria were living in Calcutta in the early part of the 20th century.

But Calcutta was too far from Fort St George and too late a connection to explain the name, and the elephants’ heads provided no clues at all.

Instead, there was another link with Fort St George, as I imagined Robert Sanders as a regular visitor as he rowed for Cambridge or walked along the banks of the River Cam.

At the time Sanders rowed for Britain in the 1924 Olympics, it was a matter of chance rather than choice whether Irish Olympians were categorised as Irish or British, and his opportunities came from his experiences at Eton and Cambridge. But Robert Sanders should not be forgotten as an Irish-born Olympic gold medallist.

The octagonal gate lodge at Charleville Park is an interesting example of theatrical architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 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)