24 August 2021

The Towers near Lismore,
architectural follies and
reminders of the Famine

The Towers and lodges at Ballysaggartmore are imposing gothic-style ‘follies’ near Lismore, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I remember how as a child in Cappoquin I was brought to see the Towers and lodges at Ballysaggartmore, imposing gothic-style ‘follies’ near Lismore, Co Waterford, that perhaps influenced my later architectural tastes.

They stand in a pleasant woodland setting, with forest walks and picnic areas, and are also associated with Claud Anson, a brother of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield, and his wife, Lady Clodagh Anson, part of the literary circle in West Waterford in the mid-20th century.

But, despite a childhood delight in their fairy-tale setting, the true, the behind-the-scenes stories of the Towers are set in sad period in history. I returned to see them last week as part of my ‘road trip’ visit to Cappoquin and Lismore on the return journey from Youghal, Co Cork, to Askeaton, Co Limerick.

The Ballysaggartmore demesne is about 2.5 km outside Lismore. The Towers are two sets of ornate entrance lodges, with one set also serving as a bridge. They were built around 1834, in the decade before the Famine, by a wealthy, local landlord, Arthur Keily, later Arthur Keily-Ussher.

At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, John Keily bought 8,500 acres at Ballysaggartmore from George Holmes Jackson of Glenmore, and built a new house.

When Keily died in 1808, the best part of his estate, including Strancally, was inherited by his elder son, John Keily, who was Tory MP for Clonmel in 1819-1820. John Keily commissioned the Limerick-based architects, brothers George and James Pain, to build Strancally Castle, between Lismore and Youghal, on the west bank of the River Blackwater.

John Keily’s younger brother, Arthur Kiely, inherited Ballysaggartmore and when he returned to Co Waterford from the Napoleonic Wars in 1817, he built a new house at Ballysaggartmore. However, he decided in the 1830s decided that this house was not grand enough for his needs or social aspirations.

It is said his plans were driven largely by his wife Elizabeth, who demanded a residence as grand as her brother-in-law’s home at Strancally Castle. Elizabeth (née Martin) was from Ross House, Co Galway, and a great-aunt of the author Violet Martin.

Local lore suggests that the Towers and lodges were built as a prelude to the extravagant mansion Keily-Ussher planned. A report in 1834 indicates they were designed by the head gardener, John Smyth, and that the main entrance gates were forged locally for £150.

But Arthur Keily-Ussher was a harsh landlord, evicting tenants unable to pay their rents during the Great Famine (1845-1849). Once the towers, lodge and bridge were complete, Arthur and Elizabeth turned to ‘improving’ their estate. This largely involved clearing the land of the sitting tenants and many of their cottages.

Their social ambitions were unbridled, and in 1843 Arthur changed his surname to Keily-Ussher – the Usshers were a long-established family in the area and the Keily brothers were related to them through their mother.

But their ambitious plans started to unravel on Arthur and Elizabeth. They quickly ran out of money, and their dream of living in the grandest house in Co Waterford turned into a nightmare. Their impressive carriageway and gatehouses would never lead to the mansion they planned.

The Towers and lodges stand like an abandoned Disneyland fantasy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

During the Famine, the population of Co Waterford fell by more than 50 percent. The few remaining tenants on the estate were starving and unable to pay their rents. Unlike many neighbouring landlords, Arthur Keily-Ussher refused to suspend or reduce the rents. Instead, he used non-payment to justify evicting tenants and levelling their homes. Several hundred families were evicted in 1847, making it one of the largest clearances during the Famine.

A report in the Cork Examiner on the Ballysaggartmore estate in 1847 describes ‘famished women and crying children’ cowering in the ruins of their burned cottages. In contrast, Arthur’s brother John was a benevolent landlord at Strancally Castle, killing his own cows and spending £1,000 in just nine months to feed starving people.

Arthur Keily-Ussher remained deeply unpopular after the Famine. An attempt was made to shoot him as he entered the estate through the gates. The gun misfired and the would-be assassin, John Keeffe, fled on foot. Seven men were tried, convicted and deported to Tasmania.

The trial made Keily-Ussher even more unpopular. Then, without tenants to pay rents that provided an income, his fortunes ran out. When the Encumbered Estates Court put Ballysaggartmore up for sale in 1854, it failed to sell.

It was back on the market in 1861, and the main house, gardens and some of the lands were bought by William Morton Woodroofe. Other lands were bought by the Duke of Devonshire and the Lismore Castle estate. Arthur Keily-Ussher a year later in 1862.

Ballysaggartmore was bought in the early 20th century by Claud Anson and Lady Clodagh Anson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Woodroofes remained at Ballysaggartmore until the early 20th century, when the place was bought by the Hon Claud Anson (1864-1947), a younger son of Thomas Anson (1825-1892), 2nd Earl of Lichfield.

The Anson family of Lichfield had connections with this part of Ireland for at least three generations: Henry Cavendish (1793-1856), 3rd Lord Waterpark, a descendant of the Cavendish family of Lismore Castle, was Whig MP for Lichfield (1854-1856), and married Claud Anson’s great-aunt, Elizabeth Jane Anson (1816-1894). Her nephews included Bishop Adelbert John Robert Anson (1840-1909), a later Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1893-1898), and Claud Anson’s father.

Before coming to Lismore, Claud Anson had been a rancher in Texas. He married Lady Clodagh de la Poer Beresford (1879-1957), daughter of the 5th Marquess of Waterford, in 1901, and they returned to live in her native county. However, they did not enjoy the place for long, and their funds ran out. According to Patrick Cockburn, a godson of their daughter Clodagh Anson (1902-1992), who lived in Youghal, they lost their fortune through Claud’s investment in Russian bonds prior to the Revolution.

During the Irish Civil War, Ballysaggartmore House was attacked by the anti-treaty IRA and destroyed by fire in 1922. The Ansons moved to Ardmore, and Lady Clodagh Anson became part of a literary circle in West Waterford. Her books include Book (1931), Discreet Memoirs (1932), Another Book (1937) and Victorian Days (1957). She was also known for her voluntary work with homeless people on the streets of pre-war London.

Claud died in 1947, Clodagh died in 1957; her epitaph in Ardmore says, ‘she never failed to help those in need.’ Their nephew, Thomas Anson (1883-1960), 4th Earl of Lichfield, was grandfather of the photographer Patrick Lichfield.

After the house was destroyed by arson, it stood empty and derelict for some decades before being pulled down. For a time, one of the lodges continued to be used as a private residence.

The entrance gates were forged locally in Lismore for £150 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Towers form a picturesque composition, combining a bridge and two lodges in an integrated design. Although, at first sight, the lodges look identical, each has individual, distinguishing features.

Many of their fittings were lost when the towers were dismantled in the 1930s. The rock-faced sandstone produces an attractive textured visual effect and shows the high quality of the stone masonry.

The towers have segmental-headed carriageways, turrets, flanking bays, two-storey square towers, single-bay, two-stage circular towers, stepped buttresses, battlemented parapets, corner pinnacles, pointed-arch and square-headed window openings, square-headed door openings, ogee-headed slit-style window openings, and polygonal corner piers.

Between the towers, a three-arch, rock-faced, sandstone ashlar Gothic-style bridge crosses a ravine with grassy banks.

The Gateway is disused and derelict but is an impressive structure in a fantastical Gothic style, combining a gateway and flanking gate lodges in an integrated composition. Most of the external and internal fittings, including the walls and floors, were removed when the gateway was dismantled around 1935. But it retains most of its original form, with high quality stone masonry and craftsmanship.

The Gateway has an ogee-headed opening with decorative cast-iron double gates, limestone ashlar polygonal flanking piers, and a pair of attached, two-bay, single-storey and two-storey flanking gate lodges, each with three-stage, circular corner turrets.

After the Ansons left, the Towers and lodges fell into ruin and were un-roofed. Today they stand in forested land, with a walking trail through the woodland, and with picnic and parking areas. They stand like an abandoned Disneyland fantasy, reminders of a cruel landlord who was the architect of his own downfall in the Famine era.

Today the Towers stand in forested land with a walking trail through the woodland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

A reminder of a pilgrim visit
to Saint Bartholmew’s in
Farewell, on the saint’s day

Saint Bartholomew’s Church and tower in Farewell, near Lichfield … now a Grade II* listed building because of its mediaeval fabric and fittings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew (24 August). As I reflect on this apostle and his feast day, my mind goes back to Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Farewell, just north of Lichfield, and one of my favourite walks in the English countryside, along Cross in Hand Lane, which starts at the back of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn.

As the vaccination programmes continue to be rolled out, and pandemic restrictions are lifted, I hope to back in Lichfield in October, and I have already booked myself into the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

This walk along Cross in Hand Lane is one of my favourite walks in the area around Lichfield. It marks the beginning – or the end – of the pilgrim route between the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield and the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester Cathedral.

Today, this pilgrim route is marked out as the Two Saints’ Way. And little has changed in the landscape along this route since mediaeval times. The road twists and turns, rises and falls, with countryside that has changed little over the centuries.

At this time of the year, the fields are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer. There are horses in paddocks here, or cows there, and most of the land is arable or being used for grazing.

Although farming patterns have changed in the last 30 or 40 years, these fields may not have changed in shape or altered in their use for centuries, and even the names on new-built houses can reflect names that date back to a period in the 12th to 14th century.

Apart from the occasional passing car or van, one other walker and two cyclists, the only hints of modernity are the overhead pylons, and until their demolition earlier this year the smoking towers of the power station in Rugeley could be glimpsed in the distance.

Often as priests, we think we should be filling the silent spaces in time with intense prayers and thoughts about sermons and services that need preparation. But sometimes we need to just let go and empty our minds, or thoughts – even our prayers. We take everything else to be recycled as we clear out spaces in our houses, our offices and our studies. But we seldom give time to clearing out the clutter in our inner spiritual spaces, allowing them to benefit from recycling.

Setting out on a morning walk along Cross in Hand Lane, on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the past, this walk has offered me opportunities to clear out the cobwebbed corners of my brain and (hopefully) my soul, and allowed me time to enjoy this walk as this walk and as nothing more.

I have stopped to admire the shapes and patterns of the fields and the trees. I have stopped in silence at the babbling brook. I have stopped to look at Farewell Mill. The local historian Kate Gomez suggests the name has nothing to do with saying goodbye and points out that the alternative spelling of ‘Fairwell’ refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring.’

Eventually, at the top of Cross in Hand Lane, I have reached Farewell, about 2½ or three miles north-west of Lichfield.

I have stopped briefly to look at Farewell Hall, and wondered about its history, before making my way down the path to Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

The East End of the church in Farewell retains parts of the priory church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The story of this country parish church dates back to a small Benedictine nunnery founded there by Bishop Clinton of Lichfield ca 1140.

The Priory of Farewell was founded at Farewell by Roger de Clinton (1129-1148), Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1129-1148), who endowed the place with several episcopal estates. Bishop Roger’s original grant gave to the church of Saint Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church and important tracts of neighbouring land.

The Benedictine Priory was a stopping point on the pilgrim route between Lichfield Cathedral and Chester Cathedral that gives its name to Cross in Hand Lane.

Although it began as a foundation for monks or hermits, Farewell soon became a nunnery. Around 1140, the bishop made a new grant to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield.

He gave the nuns the church of Saint Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of ‘Chistalea’ and ‘Blachesiche,’ and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and the canons of Lichfield, he granted the nuns large swathes of lands and woods in the area.

Bishop Roger’s charter was confirmed by his successor, Bishop Walter Durdent (1149-1159). Later, the nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155, along with lands in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service, and the charter was confirmed by King John in 1200.

By 1283, Farewell Priory had acquired a house in Lichfield but assigned the rent to the fabric fund of Lichfield Cathedral. Other priory lands were in Curborough, Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and ‘Bourne,’ with farms at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich, where the nuns were engaged in sheep-farming and arable farming by at least the 1370s.

Abnalls Farm … a name that dates back to priory lands in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But, as the nunnery prospered, all was not well in Farewell. Reports from 14th-century episcopal visitations found incidents of nuns who left the nunnery and put aside their habit, and nuns who were sleeping two in a bed and with young girls in their beds.

The bishops’ reports recommended that no secular women over the age of 12 were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns, and only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed. Indeed, the door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was to be kept locked because of several scandals.

The nuns were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress, each nun had to be accompanied by two other nuns, and there was to be no ‘vain or wanton’ delay.

The priory did not survive the general Dissolution. When Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral in 1526, he discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In 1527, Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr William Clayborough, a canon of York, were given a commission to dissolve the priory and to disperse the nuns.

The prioress and the other four nuns at Farewell were moved to other Benedictine nunneries, and their property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral for the support of the cathedral choristers.

In August 1527, the Chapter of Lichfield was granted all the possessions of Farewell Priory, including the house and church, which were assigned to the 12 choristers of Lichfield Cathedral.

Farewell Hall, on the brow of a hill above the church in Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the dissolution, the vast priory estates included the Manor of Farewell and property in Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King’s Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon.

By the 18th century, the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew seems to have been the only surviving part of the priory buildings. This church was rebuilt in brick in 1745, and the only mediaeval portion now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end. There was further restoration in 1848 when the church was re-roofed.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church is now a mixture of two different building styles and materials. The church is a Grade II* listed building for its surviving mediaeval fabric and fittings.

The square, plain topped west tower now serves as a vestry, with kitchen and storage space, but the bells are no longer used. The churchyard is well maintained and is bordered by brick walls and some hedging.

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today, Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

Farewell Manor … no longer part of the nuns’ vast estates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew
grace truly to believe and to preach your word:
Grant that your Church may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Little has been altered in the landscape along this pilgrim route for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
87, Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, standing on a strategic corner in Cambridge (Photograph, Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is churches in Cambridge that are not college chapels. My photographs this morning (24 August 2021) are from the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs.

The church makes a strong dramatic statement of faith in a city with a strong Protestant tradition (Photograph, Patrick Comerford)

It is impossible not to notice the exuberantly massive Roman Catholic Church that stands guard on a prominent street corner on the way from the train station into the heart of Cambridge city centre.

This impressive – if not overpowering – castellated Gothic building is known locally as the Catholic church, or simply as ‘the Catholic,’ although local Cambridge Catholics often refer to it affectionately by its acronym, OLEM – Our Lady and the English Martyrs.

The first post-Reformation Roman Catholic church in Cambridge, Saint Andrew’s, was built by the architect of the Gothic revival, AWN Pugin, in 1842-1843, who also played an important role in the restoration, decoration and furnishing of the mediaeval fabric of the chapel of Jesus College between 1846 and 1849.

Eventually, Pugin’s church was dismantled, removed and rebuilt at Saint Ives, and replaced by OLEM, which was intended to make a strong, dramatic statement of faith in a city with a strong Protestant tradition. It was only in 1895 that the ban on Roman Catholics attending the university was lifted.

The new church cost a fortune, but it was all made possible by the wealth of Yolande Lyne-Stephens, a former ballerina at the Paris Opera and Drury Lane, who had married a very wealthy landowner.

Outside and inside, the church is a riot of detail and decoration: Gothic gargoyles, sleeping dogs, saints and angels, apostles and martyrs, all decorate and embellish the church in stone and in glass.

The best-known priest associated with the church, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), who had studied classics and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, between 1890 and 1893. He was a curate there in 1905-1908 and found it all ‘a little too gorgeous and complete.’

Benson was a son of Archbishop Edward White Benson of Canterbury, who had ordained him priest in 1895. But after some time with the Community of the Resurrection, he became a zealous convert to Rome in 1903, was ordained a priest a year later and was then sent to Cambridge. His impact on Cambridge undergraduates was so great that leading Cambridge Anglicans tried to put pressure on his family to make him leave.

Perhaps that is why EM Forster, in The Longest Journey, says the Catholic church ‘watches over the apostate city, taller by many a yard than anything within, and asserting, however wildly, that here is eternity, stability, and bubbles unbreakable upon a windless sea.’

Gothic gargoyles and sleeping dogs decorate the church fabric (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 22: 24-30 (NRSVA):

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Benson found his church in Cambridge ‘a little too gorgeous and complete’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 August 2021, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Saint Bartholomew. May we emulate his evangelism as we spread the Good News.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Cardinal John Fisher, canonised Chancellor of Cambridge … a figure at Our Lady and the English Martyrs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org