Saturday 7 September 2013


Kilruddery House
Co. Wicklow

The Meath’s have owned Kilruddery since 1618 when the first Earl of Meath was granted the property however the original house was destroyed in 1645 and was eventually reconstructed by the second Earl. The seventeenth century house was a modest and simple looking house which faced east, was two storey’s with a dormer attic, and had twin gables either side of the front door. Much of what is left of the house that we see today comes from the rebuilding that the tenth Earl, John Chambre Brabazon, instigated as he was concerned that his existing house at that time  was becoming  “ a very uninteresting residence” and was no longer good enough for ‘the residence  of a nobleman of taste and fortune’. The architect Richard Morrison and his son Vitruvius were employed to rebuild the house in a fashion that would reflect the tenth Earls position in society. That was not before Francis Johnston proposed an unusual Gothic creation which was never realised. The improvements to the 17th century house would be designed and built in the style of an “Elizabethan Chateau” and in 1820 a detailed estimate was drawn up to carry out works on the existing house. The building work continued on for nine years around Lord and Lady Meath who remained in residence and allowed the work to carry on around them. It appeared to family members that the improvements chased them around the house, as when the builder began work on one section of the house, they moved to another. Many craftspeople were employed to create the Meath’s new home, chimneypieces were ordered from Italy in 1816, together with rolls of crimson damask to decorate the large drawing room. The Morrison makeover was completed by 1824 and was said to have cost £20,000.00. However the remodelling of the house was only sufficient until 1827 when the family who were said to be inspired by the purchase of furniture from Paris called in Matthew Wyatt Jnr. to enhance the interior of the house even further with some “Louis Revival” touches. Daniel Robertson who was working at Powerscourt “next door” was commissioned also by the tenth Earl to make numerous improvements.

While the seventeenth century house may no longer be visible behind the improvements that took place under Morrison one element of the house from this period that did survive were the gardens.  The avenues of trees, statuary, ponds and fountains are still visible today.

The Garden Front of Kilrudery in its original state before the demolition of two thirds of the house in the 1950's.
 ( Copyright National Library of Ireland)

Between 1953 and 1956 the 14th Earl demolished about two thirds of the house as a result of dry rot and the magnificent entrance front seen in the pictures here in this book was lost. The Entrance Hall, the Great Hall and the dining room were reduced to rubble.  The Honourable Claude Phillimore was the architect responsible for this restructuring, despite that this act is seen by some as architectural vandalism, it was at the time thought necessary. Kilruddery was more fortunate then the fate that befell Rossmore Castle in Monaghan which was rendered uninhabitable by dry rot and had to be abandoned by the family.  Kilruddery was reorganised into a more manageable size, original features were numbered, salvaged and reused where possible.

Today the remaining Garden Front that has survived
( Copyright Elspeth Ross)

 Another reason for the reduction of the size of the house was to make it more manageable and also the possibility that the family wouldn’t have to bankrupt themselves trying to heat and maintain this immense building. The house we see today looks unchanged when viewed from the garden at certain angles, however it is the entrance front that has lost it dramatic appearance when viewed and approached from the avenue. The new entrance front was built on the same axis as its predecessor by Morrison however it now stands further back.

The Entrance Front was far more impressive before all this was dismantled
( Copyright National Library of Ireland)

The Entrance Front today has been remodeled but is not as impressive as the original approach
 ( Copyright Elspeth Ross)

It was during the 1850’s that adding a sunroom or garden room to a house became popular, it was usually done to enlarge an existing drawing room and to provide more entertaining space. So in 1852 William Burn, the Scottish architect, was asked to design a conservatory for Kilruddery and was said to have been inspired by a tiara belonging to Lady Meath that he replicated its shape in the parapet the surrounds the glass roof which can be seen in the above picture.

It is said that Lady Meath disposed of the tiara to help the poor however many cynics believe that it became necessary for her to relieve herself of the tiara in order to pay for the conservatory that was inspired by it. The conservatory was originally used as an orangery however it eventually became a suitable place to display the tenth Earl’s collection of marble statues.

By 1921 the conservatory, once seen as the ultimate status symbol was now becoming a drain on the family resources. In September of that year the Earl gathered together the workforce on the estate and told them that as result of his financial concerns he had no other choice but the close the conservatory, the other hot houses, pleasure gardens and his kitchen. This Earl enlightened the assembled people that he had not married for money but whatever means his wife had, reverted to her family when she died in 1918 due to the conditions of her father’s will.

No comments:

Post a Comment