03 January 2019

A colourful terrace in Dalkey
tells a colourful family story

The four Regency Revival houses at Kent Terrace, Dalkey … the Porter family moved regularly between Margate and Hythe in Kent and Dalkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my walk along Castle Street in Dalkey, Co Dublin, on New Year’s Day [1 January 2019], enjoying my exploration of the seven mediaeval castles of Dakley and taking time to get to know the Church of the Assumption, I found myself at Kent Terrace, which links the west end of Castle Street and Barnhill Road, which continues on further west.

Nos 1- 4 Kent Terrace is a brightly painted and striking group of four Regency Revival houses built in 1839.

These are three-bay, three-storey gable fronted houses, with timber eaves with dog-tooth detailing and drip labels to the windows. The narrow front sites are bounded by cast-iron railings on a rendered plinth wall, with pedestrian gates leading to the granite steps.

Each of the entrance doors has applied metal studwork in the medieval manner. All but one of the houses retain their original Gothic style fanlight over the entrance door.

Captivated by this colourful terrace of Tudor-style houses, I came across the colourful story of an architectural dynasty that moved between Kent and Ireland and Kent again. Kent Terrace was designed and built by the architect William Edward Porter (1783-1859) and his son Edward William Porter (1821-1901), who was only a 17-year-old at the time but seems to have had a strong influence in the development.

Porter gave his four-house terrace the name Kent Terrace because he had lived in Kent before he moved to Dublin as Clerk of Recognizance at the Court of Chancery. Porter married Anne Coultate, and Frederick William Porter, their second son, was born in Rathmines on 19 October 1821.

Frederick moved to London was a pupil of the architect Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871), who designed houses in Bloomsbury and churches throughout England. However, Frederick soon returned to Ireland and he took up residence at No 1 Kent Terrace, Dalkey, one of the four houses built by his father in 1839.

As FW Porter of Kent Terrace, Dalkey, he exhibited three architectural designs at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1843. As Frederick William Porter, architect, he is listed in the Dublin trades directories as living at 1 Kent Terrace from 1848.

Frederick Porter and Sarah Moyle were married in Liverpool in October 1848. Although he continued to appear in the Dublin directories until at least 1853, he had moved back to London by 1849, and was living at 13 Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia when he and WA Boulnois exhibited a design for a county lunatic asylum at the Royal Academy.

He was still living at Charlotte Street when he became a fellow of the RIBA in 1855. He succeeded Samuel Angell as Surveyor to the Clothworkers’ Company in 1860, and in this role he visited the Clothworkers’ estates in Co Derry in 1863.

Perhaps because of these connections, Porter designed the Church of Ireland parish church in Castlerock, Co Derry (1868-1870). In the Building Trades Directory (1868), he claimed to have built residences in England, Ireland, Spain and Shanghai, although there is no evidence that he travelled to these more exotic locations.

By then, the Porters had inherited her parents’ home in fashionable Russell Square in London, and Frederick continued to practise in London until at least 1874. His Irish-born pupils in London included James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924), whose architectural legacy includes Kylemore Abbey, Co Galway, Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo, the Great Southern Hotel, Parknasilla, Co Kerry, Saint Anne’s House, Raheny, Farmleigh House at the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and the Superintendent’s Lodge at the corner of Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

By 1877, however, Frederick Porter was living in Hythe in Kentm where he was building himself a seafront house that he named Moyle Tower in honour of his wife, the former Sarah Moyle. Porter had bought the property, an unfinished hotel, from Hythe Corporation at a knockdown price and set about converting it into an impressive private family home.

Frederick and Sarah spent their retirement there, and in 1886 he became Mayor of Hythe, despite not being an alderman. In 1895, he became Master, or Prime Warden, of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, a City of London livery company.

His health started to deteriorate in 1897, and by 1898 he was described as ‘an invalid’ who needed constant care and could only go out in a bath chair. He died on 17 November 1901 and left the very tidy sum of £39,801 in his will.

Sarah was raised a Presbyterian and became an Anglican on her marriage. She took an active interest in Hythe’s non-conformist churches. She was a well-known philanthropist and hosted annual parties, or ‘treats’, for up to 50 needy children at Moyle Tower. On the other hand, she complained to Hythe council about the troupes of minstrels who performed on the beach near her house.

For the last 34 years of her life, Sarah was a semi-invalid. When she died on 5 March 1912, the flag was flown at half-mast on Moyle Tower. Her funeral was attended by many members of the local Salvation Army congregation. She was buried with Frederick in Saint Leonard’s churchyard.

Their son Horatio (Horace) Porter (1861-1918), who inherited his father’s family home at Russell Square in London, studied architecture under his father and eventually inherited his father’s positions as Surveyor to the Clothworkers’ Company and Prime Warden of the Saddlers’ Company.

He was also architect to the Sun and Patriotic Insurance Company and designed a new office for the company at No 9 College Green, Dublin, in 1908, continuing the Irish connection. The Irish Builder described it as ‘quite one of the best contributions to the street architecture of Dublin during recent years’ with a ‘quiet and restrained use made of the classical tradition that is specially appropriate to Dublin.’

In 1912, he designed the proposed alterations to the Sun Insurance Building in Trinity Street, Dublin, also owned by Sun and Patriotic Insurance.

Horace Porter was Mayor of Holborn in 1911-1912, and like his father, a Freeman of the City of London. He died in London on 29 July 1918.

Meanwhile, Moyle Tower in Hythe was put up for sale by auction in June 1913. It contained five reception rooms, 21 bedrooms and dressing rooms, stabling and a garage. On the outbreak of World War I, Moyle Tower was used by the army to house men of the Devon Regiment. After the war, it was bought in 1923 by the Holiday Fellowship, and continued to provide affordable activity holidays until 1979.

With the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ refugee crisis in 1979, the British Council for Aid to Refugees bought the house and it was a reception centre for 90 people until 1981. It was later demolished and was replaced by an apartment block named Moyle Court.

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