20 February 2020

Finding the architect of
the Church of Ireland
Theological Institute

The Church of Ireland Theological College … designed by George Palmer Beater (1850-1928) as the Fetherstonhaugh Convalescent Home for the Adelaide Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Working at the kitchen table in the rectory in Askeaton this morning, with the sun bathing the garden lawn and streaming in through the window and, I was reminded of many early mornings like that working in the study I had for many years in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin.

In my first years on the staff of what was then the Church of Ireland Theological College, I had a room in the new building that designed as the student residential block.

But when the premises were refurbished, I moved into a very fine room upstairs in the original building, looking out onto the lawn and facing the morning sunrise.

I was on the staff of CITI or CITC, first as a part-time lecturer from 2002, and then as a full-time lecturer from 2006 until I moved to west Limerick in 2017. But it was only in recent weeks that I realised the architect of the main building at CITI was George Palmer Beater (1850-1928), an important church architect at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

George Palmer Beater was born in Dublin on 16 June 1850, the son of Orlando L Beater (1817-1908) and Abigail née Palmer (1824-1891). His father was chairman of Arnott’s and the family lived at Glenarm, Terenure Road East.

He was educated in Dublin and articled to the architect Alfred Gresham Jones (1824-1915), who also designed many churches, including Grosvenor Road Baptist Church and Athlone Methodist Church.

Beater designed the Fetherstonhaugh Convalescent Home for the Adelaide Hospital in 1894. This former convalescent home is now the main redbrick CITI building, with the chapel, lecture and seminar rooms, offices and the rooms of the academic staff.

The former convalescent home … now the main redbrick CITI building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His other works include: a new entrance porch for the former Nelson Monument (Nelson’s Pillar) on O’Connell Street, Baptist churches on Harcourt Street and North Circular Road, Dublin, Cork Baptist Church, the former Baptist Church in Limerick, the Slievemore Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island, Co Mayo, for the trustees of the Achill Mission Estate, the Dublin Medical Mission on Chancery Place, the Presbyterian church hall in Rathgar, the façade of Merrion Hall (now the Davenport Hotel), first built by Alfred Gresham Jones in 1863, and Northumberland Hall (now Dun Laoghaire Evangelical Church) for the Plymouth Brethren, the YMCA in Rathmines, Woolworth in Henry Street, and the Northern Bank in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Beater also designed much of the work on Arnott’s premises in Henry Street, Dublin, many of the premises rebuilt on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), Dublin, after the 1916 Rising, and some of the houses on Grosvenor Road, Rathmines.

He was the architect of the Elvery’s Building on O’Connell Street, and many extensions to both the Adelaide Hospital and Stewart’s Hospital.

In recent years, there has been much interest in his work on the Mill Street Schools and Mission Buildings complex at 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. When this early 18th century, five-bay building was acquired by the Irish Church Missions in 1891, Beater was commissioned to remodel it as part of the Mill Street Schools and Mission Buildings. His work included building a buttressed porch in place of the door-case and reconstructing the top floor with a conventional hipped roof centring on a corbelled gable. The building has been carefully restored in recent years and is now in use as offices.

He worked from offices at 3 Molesworth Street (1873), Liverpool & London Chambers, Foster Place (1874), 17 Sackville Street Lower (1874-1882, 1886-1915), 57 Dawson Street (1883-1886), and 10 Leinster Street (1916-1926).

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute ... Beater was living at Glenarm, Terenure Road, Rathgar, when he designed the former convalescent home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Beater was married twice. In 1880, he married Isabel Stokes, daughter of William James Stokes, of Dublin, and they were the parents of one son, Leslie Orlando Beater. Isabel died 28 January 1882 and she was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Beater married his second wife, Constance Perry, in 1896. She was the daughter of R Middleton Perry, JP, of 73 Leinster Road, Rathmines. Her sister, Annette Marion Perry, was secretary of the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission. George and Constance were the parents of two daughters and one son, George Perry, who died in infancy.

He was a member of the Architectural Association of Ireland (1899-1908), a member (1878) and a fellow (1919) of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI), and a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (1898).

He was a member of Rathmines and Rathgar Town Council, supported many charities in Dublin and was a governor of the Royal Hospital, Dublin, the Old Men’s Home on Leeson Park, and the Protestant Orphanage at 57 Harold’s Cross Road.

Beater lived at 1 Rostrevor Terrace, Rathgar (1873-1879); St Helen’s, Highfield Road, Rathgar (1881-1882); Glenarm, Terenure Road, Rathgar (1883-1896); and Minore, St Kevin’s Park, Rathmines (1897-1928).

He died at 9 Brighton Road, Rathgar, the home of his brother, Dr Orlando Beater, on 8 February 1928, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery with his first wife. His obituary in the Irish Builder described him as ‘a kindly, courteous gentleman, liked and respected by all who knew him.’

When his widow Constance Beater died on 23 March 1945 at 9 Rathdown Park, Terenure, she was buried at Friends’ Burial Ground, Temple Hill, Blackrock.

His brother, Dr Orlando Palmer Beater of Terenure Road, Rathgar, was a solicitor and a qualified but non-practising medical doctor and surgeon.

For many years, Dr Orlando Beater was a member of the board of Arnott’s and a director of the publishers and printers Cherry and Smalldridge, as well as a governor of the Royal Hospital for Incurables, Stewart’s Hospital and the Northbrook Home.

The student residential block at CITI (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A sculptor who asks us
where are the post-Brexit
guardians of civilisation

‘The Minotaur’ by Michael Ayrton … now at Saint Alphage Gardens, near Salters’ Hall, the Barbican and London Wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

One the captivating sculptures I noticed in London recently is ‘The Minotaur,’ a sculpture by Michael Ayrton that has been moved around London since it was acquired by the City of London in 1973.

Although this was one of Ayrton’s favourite works, it has been moved around over the past half century. It now stands Saint Alphage Gardens, next to Saint Alphage House on London Wall, behind the Salters’ Hall.

But ‘The Minotaur’ was originally sited in Postman’s Park beside Saint Botolph without Aldersgate Church when it was unveiled in 1973. It then moved to Saint Alphage High Walk at the Barbican Estate, but there it still looked isolated.

The present location of ‘The Minotaur’, hopefully, allows more people to appreciate the work of Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) as a sculptor and a significant figure in British Arts in the mid-20th century.

The artist and writer Michael Ayrton was renowned as a painter, printmaker, sculptor and designer, and also as a critic, broadcaster and novelist. His output of sculptures, illustrations, poems and stories illustrate his obsession with flight, myths, mirrors and mazes.

Michael Ayrton was born Michael Ayrton Gould, on 20 February 1921, a son of the English writer, journalist and essayist Gerald Gould (1885-1936) and the Labour politician Barbara Ayrton-Gould (1886-1950).

Gerald Gould studied at University College London and Magdalen College Oxford, and was once a Fellow of Merton College Oxford (1909-1916). He and his wife Barbara were activist in suffragist campaigns. He also worked as a journalist on the Daily Herald as one of ‘Lansbury’s Lambs’ after it was bought by George Lansbury in 1913.

Gould probably brought Siegfried Sassoon to the paper as literary editor in 1919. He also wrote for the New Statesman and The Observer, and worked for Victor Gollancz, where he was involved in the early publication of George Orwell.

Barbara Ayrton-Gould was a daughter of Hertha Marks Ayrton and William Edward Ayrton, both prominent electrical engineers and inventors. In March 1912, Barbara was involved in smashing shop windows in the West End of London for suffrage. She spent time in prison, and when she was release, in 1913, she went to France, disguised as a schoolgirl, to avoid being arrested again.

She was the Chair of the Labour Party (1939-1940), and was MP for Hendon North (1945-1950).

Her mother, the electrical engineer and inventor Hertha Marks Ayrton (1854-1923), was the daughter of Levi Marks, a Jewish watchmaker who had fled the pogroms in the Tsarist empire.

Michael Ayrton-Gould used his mother’s maiden name professionally, and so was known throughout his career as Michael Ayrton.

He studied art at Heatherley School of Fine Art and St John’s Wood Art School in the1930s, and then in Paris with Eugène Berman, sharing a studio with John Minton. He travelled to Spain and tried to enlist on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, but was rejected for being under-age.

He was also a stage and costume designer, working with John Minton on John Gielgud’s production of Macbeth in 1942 at the age of 19, and a book designer and illustrator for Wyndham Lewis’s The Human Age trilogy.

Ayrton took part in the popular BBC radio programme, The Brains Trust. in the 1940s. He also collaborated with Constant Lambert and William Golding.

From 1961, Michael Ayrton wrote and created many works associated with the myths of the Minotaur and Daedalus, the legendary inventor and maze builder. These works included bronze sculptures, his pseudo-autobiographical novel The Maze Maker (1967), and Aspects of British Art (1947).

He died on 16 November 1975.

His work is in several important collections, including the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Michael Ayton’s Talos illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

I was late in coming to an appreciation of Michael Ayrton’s work, through his sculpture of ‘Talos’ in Guildhall Street, Cambridge, opposite the Guildhall and close to the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy.

For many years, I had paid little attention to this ‘Talos’ in Cambridge, but it struck me forcibly recently, perhaps because I was just back from Crete, and I noticed both the statue and the inscription, which says:

Talos, Legendary man of bronze,
was guardian of Minoan Crete
the first civilisation
of Europe
Sculptor: Michael Ayrton

According to the stories in Greek mythology, Zeus abducted Europa and took her to Crete, where Talos, a bronze giant, guarded her from pirates by circling shores of Crete three times a day.

Talos was made by Zeus, Daedalus or Hephaistos. A single vein of molten metal gave life to Talos, and this ‘blood’ was kept inside the giant’s body by a bronze peg in his ankle. Talos attacked Jason and the Argonauts when they landed on Crete, Talos attacked them. Medea charmed Talos into removing the bronze peg, all his ichor flowed into the sand, and he died.

Talos was sculpted by Ayrton in 1950. Like the mythical Talos, Ayrton’s Talos is also made of bronze. But he has no arms, no face, and his torso is a bulging box shape. By leaving Talos without his arms, Ayton illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors.

The bull depicted on frescoes in Knossos in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur (Μινώταυρος) is a portrayed with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. He lived at the centre of the Labyrinth, the elaborate maze-like construction at Knossos designed by Daedalus and his son Icarus at the command of King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus of Athens.

Michael Ayrton’s step-granddaughter and biographer, Justine Hopkins, spent much of her childhood at Bradfields when her mother was Michael Ayrton’s sculpture assistant. She now works lectures in Art History for the Victoria and Albert Museum, at Bristol, London, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and at the Tate, Sotheby’s and Christie’s.’

She has brought to life Ayrton’s evolution as an artist as an artist and offers an insight into some of his major sculptures, including ‘The Minotaur’ and ‘Talos’.

Michael Ayrton’s ‘Talos’ in Cambridge and ‘The Minotaur’ in London show how British art and sculpture cannot be separated from the mainstream of European civilisation, culture and mythology. But as I stood before ‘The Minotaur’ in London I recalled how as I paid new attention to ‘Talos’ in Cambridge just a year after the Brexit referendum. Once again, I asked myself who is going to portray the anger and bewilderment of post-Brexit Britain as its consequences unfold before our eyes.

Where is the guardian in Britain of the civilisation of Europe?

Descending into the labyrinth in Knossos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)