Issue 4 – Grooms At The Ranch, Monasterevin, Co. Kildare
Architect: William Issac Chambers
Two unique brick houses from the early 1880s can be found in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. Both were designed by William I. Chambers, an English-born architect who came to Ireland in 1879. This period was an interesting one in the use of brick in Ireland with ‘new’ factory or machine-made Irish brick making its first appearance. Imported machine-made brick had been available on the Irish market since the 1860s but Irish companies were slow to take up the challenge of mechanisation. The Thompson Brothers factory at Kingscourt was one of the first, established in about 1875 beside the railway and with its own siding. Access to transport was a key ingredient for the new factories starting up at this time. Machine-made brick was initially used sparingly in buildings as it was expensive, usually just for front facades and places where it could be seen to best advantage. Local, cheaper, handmade brick continued to be used for general building work. The two houses in Monasterevin are an excellent example of this transitional period in brick buildings, both are built using a mixture of machine-made and local brick and are also very fine examples of the high Victorian period of cottage architecture.
The first house is the former Glebe House, described and illustrated in the Irish Builder in March 1882. Chambers was selected in a limited competition for its design. All materials in the building were specified to be of Irish manufacture where possible with slates coming from the Victoria Quarry near Carrick-on-Suir. The contractor was John Harris of Monasterevin. The house is built with Athy handmade stock brick built in Flemish bond with quoins and decorative elements in red brick from Messrs. Thompson Brothers of Kingscourt, whose firm also made the moulded bricks from special designs by the architect. The brickwork in the façade is very carefully detailed with an interesting use of brick bonds, like the basket-weave brick panel above the first-floor arched window. There are many specially moulded bricks used in the façade design. The railway network made the transport of these bricks from Kingscourt to Athy possible.
The second house is called the Groom’s Cottage, also described and illustrated in the Irish Builder that year in May 1882. It was intended as a residence for the head groom on the stud farm of the Marquis of Drogheda, Henry Moore, 3rd Marquis and 8th Earl of Drogheda. It is similarly built with Athy stock brick built in Flemish bond with ornamental portions in Kingscourt red brick with moulded string courses specially designed by the architect. The pediment is in terracotta. Once again preference was given to the use of Irish materials and the contractor was also the same John Harris. For such a modest house the façade is very carefully detailed and the brickwork is highly decorative with red brick quoins, window surrounds, basket weave panels and modelled chimney stack.
Both these houses remain in use and in good condition. The Groom’s Cottage house was restored and extended by owners in 2004.
William I. Chambers, not to be confused with the eighteenth-century architect Sir William Chambers, also designed Millbrook House in Abbeyleix, built around the same time, commissioned as an agent’s house by the 4th Viscount de Vesci. It was constructed by the same builder as the Monasterevin houses and is also built with brick. Chambers also designed a house for himself, Kensington Lodge, which he had built in Rathmines in Dublin. Similar in style to the Monasterevin houses, it is a detached house of highly individual design with a façade of red brick and matching elaborate terracotta. This façade was reported in the Irish Builder to be the first imported terracotta used in Dublin, with matching brickwork, and came from the Ruabon factory in Wales. Here again the machine-made elements are used sparingly, just for the front façade, with the gables that are visible built with handmade local brick.
Susan Roundtree is a conservation architect with a particular interest in architectural history and historic buildings. She obtained a Master of Letters in Trinity College Dublin for her research on the history of clay brick as a building material in Ireland and this continues to be her area of special interest. She has contributed to many publications on this topic and is currently completing her own book which is a gazetteer of brickmaking history in Ireland.
References & Further Reading
Irish Builder, 1 Mar 1882 & May 1882
Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720–1940; www.dia.ie
This valuable online resource contains biographical and bibliographical information on architects, builders and craftsmen born or working in Ireland during the period 1720–1940, and information on the buildings on which they worked. The index was created and compiled by Ann Martha Rowan of the Irish Architectural Archive and it is a work in progress being constantly expanded and corrected as new material comes to light.