Northampton architecture

After my visit to 78 Derngate, I didn’t have much time to have a look around as I needed to get back on my way down the motorway. But I did manage a brief stroll through the town centre.

This Art Deco style block of flats, Bedford Mansions built in 1935 is immediately opposite the house.


This is the Guild Hall, a very grand neo-Gothic building, built between 1861 and 1864


A little further along the road, this neo-Classical church, All Saints. It was built in 1675 to replace an older, Medieval church that was largely destroyed  during the “Great Fire of Northampton“.


Quite a mix of styles in a relatively short distance!


Mount Stewart


Mount Stewart used to belong to the Anglo-Irish Marquesses of Londonderry. They were fabulously rich, their wealth accumulated largely through astute marriage arrangements, and had several homes including a palatial house in Park Lane, London and estates (and coal mines) in County Durham. They effectively used Mount Stewart as a summer “holiday home”.

It has extensive grounds including magnificent formal and informal gardens and woodland walks.


The house has recently re-opened after a 3 year long restoration project costing £8 million. It’s arranged to represent how it looked when it was home of the 7th Marchioness Edith, Lady Londonderry, a noted and influential society hostess in the between  the two World Wars, and her family in the early 20th century.

This is the central hall. Although in the middle of the house, it’s brightly lit by the glass dome above.


During the restoration of the house major work was carried out on the balcony above the central hall which was in danger of collapse. It’s been restored removing heavy iron balconies and redecorating in the original style.



The Morning Room


Lady Edith’s Drawing Room, her “personal space”



The NT website tells us

The vast drawing-room, with ionic column screens at each end, remains much as it was after being decorated in the 1930’s by Edith, 7th Marchioness, who like her mother-in-law before her was one of the great political hostesses of the time. The furnishing comprises quite a mixture of pieces from different periods, including Carrara marble urns and vases, tripod candlesticks, carved standard lamps, sofas, armchairs, occasional tables – all grouped informally as if the house guests were expected to return at any moment.

The family Chapel.


Probably the most famous member of the family was the 2nd Marquess , better known as Viscount Castlereagh. His portrait is hung in the house

Robert Stewart (1769–1822), Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, KG, GCH, FRS, PC, MP

Robert Stewart (1769–1822), Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (Source: National Trust)

As British Foreign Secretary, from 1812 he was central to the management of the coalition that defeated Napoleon and was the principal British diplomat at the Congress of Vienna. Castlereagh was also leader of the British House of Commons in the Liverpool government from 1812 until his suicide in August 1822. Early in his career, as Chief Secretary for Ireland, he was involved in putting down the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and was instrumental in securing the passage of the Irish Act of Union of 1800.(Wikipedia)

He was honoured by many foreign governments as this collection of medals demonstrates



Depending on your point of view, he could be considered as either a hero or a villain. The poet Percy Shelley certainly falls into the latter camp – Castlereagh features prominently at the beginning of his poem, The Masque of Anarchy which was written in response to the Peterloo massacre

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Castle Ward – The Schizophrenic House

On the Wednesday of our break in Northern Ireland we booked out of Ardtara House and drove for a couple of hours over to Strangford Lough to visit Castle Ward an 18th-century] National Trust property located near the village of Strangford, in County Down. It’s set in very extensive grounds at the south end of the Lough. Besides the main house there were a number of other buildings of interest which have become well known as they’ve been used as locations for the popular TV series Game of Thrones. But in this post I’m going to concentrate on the main house itself.

This is the front of the house, built in typical neo-Classical style.


But round the other side, facing the Lough ……


Rather different to say the least. It’s Gothic with ogee and centre-pointed windows and a battlemented parapet with pinnacles. The division is reflected inside the house too. It’s split right down the middle. the rooms at the front are neo-Classical and at the back are Gothic.

The house was built between 1761 and  1767 for Bernard Ward, later first Viscount Bangor and his wife Lady Anne Bligh, daughter of the first Earl of Darnley. The Ward family first settled in the area around 1570 when they built the original Castle Ward – a tower house close to the shore of the Lough.

Legend has it that the husband and wife couldn’t agree on the style so they split the difference, literally. However, this is probably not true. It’s more likely that they both agreed to construct the house in this way featuring both architectural styles.

The view fromt he back of the house over to the Lough is quite outstanding especially on a bright, sunny day.


Viewing the inside of the house is by guided tour and we had yet another knowledgeable and entertaining guide with plenty of anecdotes and stories to tell us.

The first room we visited was the neo-Classical entrance hall which was later converted into a music room. The decorative plasterwork featuring musical instruments, domestic items and gardening tools was added at this time, in 1828 by local craftsmen.DSC09893

However it’s not as authentic as it first appears as the workers cut corners by coating actual objects, like this violin, with plaster and attaching them to the wall.


This is the grand fireplace in the hall.


The library and the dining room, to either side of the hall / music room, are also decorated in the neo-Classical style.

Moving across to the other side of the house we entered the realm of the Gothic


The saloon in the centre of the Gothic side was something else with its outrageous ceiling


It’s really hard to know what to make of that ceiling. According to our guide John Betjeman, who used to visit the house, commented that being in the room felt like he was standing underneath the udders of a giant cow! I could see what he meant.


Moving through to a less outrageous and more subtly decorated room



Then into the study. The Gothic decoration here is restricted to the windows and the ceiling.


After touring the ground floor we went upstairs where we were able to to look in some of the bedrooms. This bed used to belong to Sir John Parnell, the grandfather of the “uncrowned King of Ireland”, Charles Stewart Parnell.


The room also contained a rather fine Gothic wardrobe


The end of the tour took us down into the basement – the realm of the servants.


The kitchen and scullery were here, as well as storerooms, including the wine cellar


The Argory


The second day of our holiday was forecast to be wet with rain most of the day – and that transpired to be correct. We’d planned the holiday around visiting National Trust properties and there were a number south of our hotel, within an hour or so drive away. Checking the NT handbook we found that some of them had very restrictive opening times so we narrowed the list down to a couple of properties both of which were only open in the afternoon. But we’d had a long day on Monday so we took advantage of a lie in and a late breakfast before setting off to the Argory, a Georgian country house near Dungannon, County Armagh at the south of Lough Neagh.

We arrived just as the reception and café, located in the former stables and domestic services complex behind the house, were opening, so we booked our ticket for the first Guided Tour of the house and grabbed ourselves a brew.


The house was built in the 1820s for the MacGeough Bond family, wealthy landowners in County Armagh, who were originally settlers granted land as part of the Ulster plantations. It’s neo-Classical two storey house with an octagonal pavilion to the north.


It stands above the east bank of the River Blackwater, which which forms the boundary between the counties of Armagh and Tyrone and there’s a view of the river from the house, through the tree, looking over the front lawn.


The house was designed by Dublin architects, Arthur and John Williamson. Their design was not entirely successful. The guide book (which covers a number of properties in the area) tells us

“the squat, oddly proportioned west portico ….. is either charmingly naïve or downright clumsy, depending on your point of view”


I think I’d agree with the latter view. The proportions just aren’t right, the portico is too shallow, I’m not so keen on the rather “flat” fan light and the lintel is just too big. I did, however, like the detailing around the fist floor window above the portico.


The guided tour was very good and informative (the guide had lived for a while in Adlington, just a few miles down the road from where we live!)

The house was donated to the Trust by W. A. N. MacGeough Bond who was unmarried and childless. It was opened to the public two years later following a major restoration. He continued to live in the north wing until he died in 1986, and is buried in the grounds. Much of the original furniture still remains – the last owner became something of a recluse and left things as they were after his mother died.

The house was originally lit by candlelight and oil lamps and then fitted with acetylene gas lighting in 1906 – the acetylene manufactured on site and light fittings designed for candles adapted to burn the gas. Electric lighting was never installed and the Trust has largely left it that way.

The Argory © National Trust / The Gap Studio

(Picture source National Trust)

One of the curious items on display was this barrel organ located at the top of the stairs in the first floor lobby.

by James Bishop

(picture source – National Trust)

It had been originally intended to build a chapel in the grounds fell through and so the lobby was used by the family for morning and evening prayers. So the organ was installed here.

The guide also told us about the Birkenhead disaster when the so named troop ship was wrecked off the coast of South Africa in 1852. The the second owner of the house Captain Ralph Shelton was one of the troops on board the ship and reputedly to showed considerable courage, rescuing two children. He was one of the few survivors, managing to swim ashore through shark infested waters, attributing this to the fact that he kept his clothes. The tunic he wore, which he believed helped to save his life, is displayed in the house as is this engraving of the disaster, from a painting by by Thomas M Hemy, which shows Captain Shelton.

The Wreck of HMS Birkenhead off the Cape of Good Hope on 26 Feb. 1852 by after Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy (North Shields 1852 - St Helens, Isle of Wight 1937)

(picture source – National Trust)

As the rain had eased off, except for some occasional showers, we took a walk around the grounds.





and followed the path through the woods down to the river


The Collins Barracks, Dublin

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I’m back in Ireland again working in Naas, my fourth visit this year. I came over on the fast ferry from Holyhead on Sunday, arriving just before 1 o’clock, which meant I had a few hours I could spend in Dublin during the afternoon. I decided to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before – the Collins Barracks which are the home of the  National Museum of Ireland (Decorative Arts and History).

Collins Barracks was the first purpose-built military barracks in Europe and is the second oldest public building in Dublin (the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art, is the oldest). It was built in 1702, in the then fashionable neo-Classical style to a design by Thomas Burgh (1670-1730), and extended in the late 18th century and 19th century. The old barracks, which had billets, stables, a riding school, drilling grounds and firing ranges,was continuously occupied by the British and then Irish army until  1997 the when the buildings were converted to house the Museum.

Originally called simply The Barracks, and later The Royal Barracks, the name was changed to commemorate Michael Collins, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Free State Army, who was killed at Béal na Bláth, County Cork four months before the barracks was surrendered to the Free State 1922.

The Barracks stand on the north side of the Liffey, facing the Guinness works. This was the view from a top floor window from the South side of the square.

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The small park, Croppie’s Acre, commemorates the 1798 United Irishmen uprising. Croppy was a derogatory title given to Irish rebels who cut (or cropped) their hair in the style of French Revolutionaries.

This is the main entrance to the Barracks. A very typical Georgian neo-Classical style four storey building. It has a central pavilion with a triangular pediment in the centre of which is a large clock face.

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Walking through the arch, you enter a large square / parade ground surrounded on all four sides by four storey buildings, faced with granite, with arcaded colonnades on the east and west sides, in which the main museum collections are displayed.

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It’s a rather eclectic mix of weaponry, furniture, silver, ceramics and glassware; as well as examples of Folklife and costume. There are exhibitions devoted to the Easter Rising of 1916, the Modernist designer and architect, Eileen Grey, and a collection of Asian art. Probably the most popular exhibition (it was certainly very busy when I was there) was Soldiers and Chiefs, which tells the story of  Ireland’s military history from 1550 into the 21st Century.

The Barracks complex includes another square of, a little less grand, buildings surrounding another parade ground

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They’re not in such good condition and seemed to be unoccupied and falling into disrepair

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There was evidence of the previous occupants stencilled on one of the buildings

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Liverpool’s new Central Library

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It doesn’t look very new from the outside, the imposing neo-Classical facade has been there since the 19th Century, but a major refurbishment of the Liverpool Central Library has been completed recently. We were in the city yesterday and passing the library on the way to the Walker art gallery we decided to pop in and have a look.

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I liked the pavement leading up to the entrance, full of book titles

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Inside the main part of the building has been completely gutted and rebuilt. Although the library was originally built during the 19th Century it was badly damaged in the blitz during WW2 and the main part of the building behind the facade had been rebuilt during the 60’s and 70’s. But there were structural and other problems so a decision had been made to demolish and rebuild(before the recession of course, no-one would have committed to spend the sort of money required under this Government)

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They’ve done a fantastic job, creating a five storey atrium with a central staircase that spirals up towards a glass dome

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and the roof terrace, which is accessible and provides views of St George’s Hall

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and over the city centre.

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They’ve also restored the circular Picton library which is rather like the old British Library reading room (you know, the one where Marx used to study).

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This is what it looks like from outside

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An excellent example of Victorian neo-Classical extravagance with massive Corinthian columns supporting the done and the decorated frieze.

So the new library is a really good mix of old and new. Lots of computers and ipads for people to use as well as the old microfilm readers and lots of books. It was very busy too – people accessing the internet, family and local history researchers and students studying. It brought back memories of when I used to come to the library to study there when I was at University. They had a copy of an expensive text on Oceanography and I used to go to the library to read it and so avoided having to shell out for it!

Libraries are an important resource. As well as a repository of books they’re a place to study away from distractions and provide access to the Internet for people who may not otherwise be able to get online – particularly important these days when so many vital services can only be accessed over the web (including applying for benefits) and when utility companies and the like are trying to drive people to access bills online and charge for sending out a paper bill. It’s criminal that libraries, including those in Liverpool, are being particularly targeted by local government cutbacks. That’s “austerity” for you.

10 Mosley Street Manchester


I must have walked past this building at 10 Mosley Street, Manchester a hundred times without noticing it. But for some reason it attracted my eye last Saturday while I was walking from the City Art Gallery towards Piccadilly.

It’s a Grade II listed building, occupied today by LLoyds TSB. It was designed by 1836 by Richard Tattersall, for the long defunct Manchester and Salford Bank. Built from red sandstone (like many buildings in Manchester city centre) in a neo-Classical style, with a slate roof. The large windows were particularly noticeable. The stonework is relatively plain except for the architrave above the first and second floor windows. There’s a balcony and an interesting structure on the top floor –


two French style windows with columns on either side which project a good few feet above them, and surmounted with a cornice and triangular pediment. It wouldn’t be a good idea to walk through he French windows though. Anyone who did would plummet straight down to the pavement. So it’s a purely ornamental feature.