Thursday, 20 June 2019

A Dublin Baptist Church
designed by a leading
Gothic revival architect

Grosvenor Road Baptist Church … typical of the Gothic revival that was fashionable for Victorian churches in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Both the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin, and the Baptist Church on Grosvenor Road in Rathmines, because of their Gothic Revival style of architecture look more like suburban Anglican parishes churches that have been influenced by the Tractarian Movement and Anglo-Catholicism.

With their prominent corner-site positions, they are both attractive buildings that appeal to passers-by who may know little about their background or the stories and traditions of their denominations.

The Baptist Church on Grosvenor Road was designed in 1859 by Carmichael and Jones, a partnership formed by Hugh Carmichael and Alfred Gresham Jones in 1854.

This church is a solid example of the fashion that as developing in church architecture in Victorian Dublin. The church has an interesting arrangement of arches at the main entrance, and an attractive façade flanked by pencil-thin towers.

For a period, the church was used by the Plymouth Brethren, whose presence in the area continues at Rathmines Gospel Hall. The Baptists returned to Grosvenor Road in 1942.

Despite its Gothic exterior, the church is quite plain inside, with a distinctive lack of decoration, and the original vaulted ceiling is hidden above a relatively recent flat ceiling. The east end of the church was rebuilt in 1989 and fitted with a pool for full immersion baptism.

Grosvenor Road Baptist Church was designed by Hugh Carmichael and Alfred Gresham Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hugh Carmichael had been a pupil of William Deane Butler, and his partnership with Jones lasted until Carmichael died in 1860. Apart from Grosvenor Road Baptist Church, their designs included Monsktown House (1859) for William Harvey Pim.

Alfred Gresham Jones (1824-1915) was born in Dublin, a son of George Jones, merchant tailor. The Irish Architectural Archive holds a watercolour reconstruction of the Parthenon by Jones, for which he was awarded a Silver Medal by the RDS in 1843 or 1844.

After studying at the Royal Dublin Society’s School of Architectural Drawing, he spent some time in London. He returned to Dublin, and by 1852 was working with John Skipton Mulvany. A year later, he was working from his father’s home at 7 Garville Avenue, Rathgar. In 1854, he formed a partnership with Hugh Carmichael.

After Carmichael’s death in 1860, Jones practised on his own. He was a member of the Blackrock Township Commissioners (1874-1875), representing Monkstown ward.

He was involved in the residential development at Queen’s Park, Monkstown, where he designed two villas, the Cottage (later Villa Carlotta) and Verona, where he lived in 1869-1872 and in 1886-1888. He also lived close to Grosvenor Road at 2 Kenilworth Terrace (1863-1865) and Kenilworth Road, Rathgar (1867-1868).

His other works include houses on Kenilworth Square, Palmerston House in Rathmines, Tullow Parish Church (1862), Carrickmines, Merrion Hall (1862-1863), built near Merrion Square for the Plymouth Brethren, now the Davenport Hotel, the Methodist Churches in Athlone (1864) Bray (1864), and Sandymount (1864), Saint Paul’s Church, Glenageary (1864-1868), Saint Barnabas Church, North Lotts (1869-1870), Wesley College on Saint Stephen’s Green (1877-1879), the long-lost Turkish Baths on Saint Stephen’s Green (1878), the Metropolitan Hall on Lower Abbey Street (1878-1879), Harold’s Cross Parish Hall (1882-1883), near Kenilworth Square, and Mytilene House on Ailesbury Road (1885), now the French Embassy.

Jones also designed the Dublin Exhibition Palace and Winter Garden on Earlsfort Terrace, an ambitious project that included heated winter gardens. However, all that remain of the Crystal Palace are a few statues and a rustic grotto in the Iveagh Gardens, the original site of the palace.

At the height of his successful, prolific career in Dublin, and for reasons that are still unknown, Jones emigrated with his family to Australia in 1888. By then, he was already in his mid-60, and he started a successful practice in Australia, where he also wrote poetry. He died in Melbourne in 1913 at the age of 91.

Jones also designed a Victorian terrace of houses opposite Grosvenor Road Baptist Church. This terrace has been described by Jeremy Williams in Architecture in Ireland 1830-1921 as ‘the most ambitious Gothic Revival speculative terrace built in the Dublin suburbs.’

No 58 Grosvenor Road, which part of this terrace, is currently on the market through Lisney. This is an imposing Gothic-style, three-storey over basement, Victorian mid-terrace house. It retains many of the outstanding original features designed by Jones, including ornate cornice work, centre roses and marble, cast iron fireplaces, granite steps and the original staircase.

But the house was divided into four flats in the 1980s and is in need of total renovation. Lisney is seeking €1.7 million for the house.

No 58 Grosvenor Road … part of ‘the most ambitious Gothic Revival speculative terrace’ designed by Alfred Gresham Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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