Sunday, 13 July 2014


Woodstock House

Instioge, Co. Kilkenny

 This image of the entrance front of the house is from before 1900 as the statue of a classical figure can be seen in the niche over the front door. After 1900 this statue was replaced with a large granite urn.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

The remains of Woodstock House can be found above the quant village of Inistioge in County Kilkenny. The entrance gates to the grounds of the demesne look the same as they did when the estate was in its prime but despite Woodstock House languishing as a ruin; its gardens are experiencing a renaissance. The gate piers are surmounted by the head of a wolf, a symbol of the Tighe family who once owned the surrounding lands for miles around. These lands formed the core of the Woodstock Estate that once extended to 21,763 acres, dispersed over six counties. It was the income from the tenants that lived on these lands that provided the revenue for the creation of the house and gardens for the powerful Tighe family of Inistioge.

A storm in 2001 caused the collapse of the central section of the entrance front of the house. A metal supporting structure was put in place to secure the perimeter wall from further collapse and possibly allow the house to be restored in the future.
Accreditation- Picture by Ellie Ross

The extensive mansion that once existed among these beautiful grounds was three-stories high over a part-raised basement. A country house in the classical style, built between 1745 and 1747 for Sir William Fownes to designs prepared by Francis Bindon. Bindon also had provided a master plan for the laying out of the formal landscape around the mansion which set out the frame work for the gardens we see today. Sir William had inherited the estate in 1735 and four years later he married Elizabeth Ponsonby, daughter of the first Earl of Bessborough. It was her dowry of £4,000 that assisted in building of the central block of the house at Woodstock.  Their only daughter Sarah married William Tighe of Rosanna and upon the death of her parents she inherited the house and estate. Sarah eventually transferred Woodstock to her eldest son William, who had been raised there by his grand parents and had a natural affiliation with the property. He married in 1793 and with his new wife, Marianne; they carried out extensive works on the house between 1804 and 1806. They extended the mansion on either side with the addition of single storey wings that increased the floor area of the basement to incorporate additional staff facilities. Services yards to the rear of the house were also constructed at this time to facilitate the needs of this large and affluent household. The architect for this stage of the project was a local man called William Robertson who completed a number of projects in the Kilkenny area. William Tighe died in 1816 at his house in St. James Place in London and his eldest son William Frederick Fownes Tighe, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1794, inherited the Woodstock Estate. The house in Inistioge that William inherited was a glorious place, the panelled library was filled with rare leather bound books and the other reception rooms were vast spaces decorated with works of art and antiques. William’s future brother-in-law, Lord William Pitt Lennox, visited the house in 1865 and recorded “I will merely say that the house contains a valuable library and some good paintings. The gardens can find no equal in the United Kingdom….”
In this image the wide external staircase can be seen that was designed by Richard Turner in 1850. By adapting one of the drawing room windows it allowed Lady Louisa to descend gracefully to the gardens below.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

While some of the infrastructure such as the pathways have been put in place, the restoration of the panels of the original winter garden will be an arduous task. The ruin of the house has been made inaccessible to the general public due to its fragile state.
Accreditation- Picture by Ellie Ross

Today the interior of Woodstock House is a dangerous place, where walls and chimneys have collapsed, leaving the external perimeter walls unstable. Trees and other foliage have grown up inside the ruin, leaving some parts of the structure indiscernible from the trees that surround it. The simple floor plan of the house was formed by thick internal walls that extended up through the building from the basement to the attic floor, creating rooms of similar dimensions on each level. Due to the depth of the house, a central light well was necessary to fill corridors, situated near the centre of the house, with natural light. The entrance front was the most decorative external section of Woodstock, designed in a fashion to make a lasting first impression on arriving guests. Over the front doorway was a niche that once contained a statue of a classical figure but it was later replaced with an urn around the year 1900. Upon entering the house you would have found yourself in a wide hall where a life-size marble statue of Mary Tighe stood surrounded by brass guard rails. She was born Mary Blachford in 1772 and at the age of twenty-one she married her first cousin Henry Tighe. She later became known for her works of poetry, which culminated in the publication of Psyche in 1805. In that same year she contracted tuberculosis and spent her declining years as an invalid at Woodstock, the home of her brother-in-law. She died aged only 38 in March 1810 and was buried in the local churchyard in the village. The statue was commissioned in 1820 from an Italian sculptor called Lorenzo Bartolini but was sadly lost in the fire that destroyed Woodstock in 1922. 

The life size marble statue of Mary Tighe which was sculpted by Lorenzo Bartolini stood in the front hall of Woodstock House until it was lost in the fire in 1922.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

On either side of this hall there were two large reception rooms; one was the boudoir and the other a library. The boudoir was the preserve of the mistress of the house and was essentially her private sitting room. This room would have been decorated in a feminine fashion and housed a desk, where the lady of the house could deal in private with her daily correspondence. The presence of numerous comfortable sofas and armchairs also meant that that this room could be used for entertaining female friends. Both this room and the library had wooden panelling, marble fireplaces and elaborate plaster ceilings. The entrance hall terminated in a long corridor which traversed the centre of the house in a perpendicular direction. This lengthy passageway provided access to the main staircase and the east wing of the house. From this artery corridor, two central, symmetrical hallways extended around the central light well and allowed access to the rooms at the rear of Woodstock overlooking the gardens. Here on the garden front were located two drawing rooms which were joined by folding doors that could be opened or closed depending on the size of the social occasion. A study, for the master of the house was also situated in this suite of rooms that overlooked the fabulous winter gardens below. The dining room was located on the entrance front side of the house in the east wing. This room could be easily accessed from the basement kitchen by a stairs across the adjacent hall. A billiard room and two bedrooms for single male guests were also to be found in this area of the house which was named the “Bachelors Gallery”. The kitchen and servants quarters were arranged between the entire basement and a floor above in the west wing. Small back staircases from the basement penetrated up into the floors above, to allow the servants access to the various reception rooms and bedrooms. These stairs were independent of the main staircase, so that the Tighe family would not meet the laundry or ashes from the many fireplaces being ferried up and down through the house by the servants. These utilitarian back staircases, which were used constantly by the servants, kept the main staircase in pristine condition. The main staircase in Woodstock was a large highly decorative affair designed to be as impressive as possible and was lit by a large tripartite window on the half landing.

 This view from 1890 illustrates that the gardens were not only planted with elaborate schemes but were also decorated with numerous architectural elements such as statues.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland
Over the years since the fire the original features of the gardens have disappeared and are now replaced by modern replicas. The original wide pathways around the garden allowed two ladies in large dresses to walk side by side.
Accreditation- Picture by Ellie Ross

William Frederick Fownes Tighe married Lady Louisa Lennox, the daughter of the Duke of Richmond, on the April 18, 1825. One of Louisa’s greatest contributions to the estate was the development of the gardens within the grounds of Woodstock House. The creation of these wonderful outdoor spaces began in 1840 when the grotto and gardens were first laid out. The centre window of the garden front elevation of the house was altered during the 1850s to allow access from the drawing room to the garden below. This direct access to the gardens was possible with the installation of a cast iron staircase that was designed by Richard Turner. He was also responsible for the majestic glass house which stood in the terraced flower garden that was laid out between 1854 and 1856. During his lifetime Richard Turner designed and built conservatories for a number of country houses and many of these survive today, such as the beautifully restored example at Ballyfin in County Laois. In 1845 Turner was responsible for the creation of a glass house on a grand scale when he completed the famous curvilinear glass houses of the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin. By 1860, a Scottish man by the name of Charles Mac Donald came to Woodstock as the head gardener. He was responsible for the establishment of the winter garden which was composed of four large sunken flower beds to be found on the south side of the house. These sunken areas provided a micro climate and protection to the plants from the worse effects of the winter weather. In each of the panels, there was a coloured gravel and miniature conifers laid out in different geometric patterns. The drawing rooms on the garden front of the house, being situated on a floor above the garden, would have been able to take full advantage of the view of these artistic creations


This view taken from the stairs outside the drawing room of Woodstock House shows the sunken parterres of the winter garden. Each was surrounded by box hedging and had designs of shamrocks and other geometric shapes created out of miniature conifers.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

Each panel of the winter garden had a different design composed of coloured gravel and miniature conifers.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland


Each sunken panel provided a protective area for the delicate shrubs such as the conifers to grown. A glimpse of the view beyond the gardens through the trees gives an indication of how many have been lost over the years.
Accreditation- Picture by Ellie Ross

Louisa and William had only one child, a daughter named Charlotte who was born in 1838 but died aged only 3 months. Her death was supposedly due to neglect by her two nurses, who were found to be drunk on the night of the child’s death. As a result of having no living children, William left Woodstock upon his death in 1878 to his nephew Frederick Edward Bunbury Tighe, son of Daniel Tighe of Rossana, County Wicklow.  Lady Louisa erected a monument to her husband’s memory in the centre of the village of Inistioge, which can still be seen today. William had amended his will in April 1874 giving his wife a jointure of £3,600 per annum together with the right of residence at Woodstock until her death. Her husband obviously recognised Louisa’s great affection for Woodstock, as ordinarily the house would have passed directly to his recognised heir. In 1899, The Duke and Duchess of York (later George V and Queen Mary) visited Woodstock where they had luncheon and toured the gardens. This quick royal visit to Inistioge was as a result of the notoriety of the famous gardens which had spread far and wide. Lady Louisa’s joy at the royal visit would be short lived, as a number of months later in March 1900, she passed away. It was said in her obituary that she was present at a ball given by her mother, the Duchess of Richmond, in Brussels on the night before the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The article also claimed that it was Louisa who buckled on the sword and made the finishing touches to the uniform of the Duke of Wellington before he went in to battle. Lady Louisa’s death was news worthy enough to be carried in all the newspapers in Ireland and England and even further afield when the story appeared in the New York Times.

Edward Kenrick Bunbury-Tighe now inherited Woodstock House together with its contents and gardens. His father who had inherited the estate from Louisa’s husband had died in 1891.  In the 1901 census Woodstock House was only occupied by two Scottish maids, it had thirty-eight rooms and thirty-two outbuildings. By the 1911 census, the house is owned by E.K.B. Tighe and is now listed as having fifty-four rooms and forty-nine windows. The outbuildings have grown to fifty-nine which now includes a garage to house a motor car which was a sign of the changing times. Again in 1911 none of the family seems to be in residence and only five servants are present. Edward Kenrick Bunbury Tighe met an unfortunate end in 1917 when he was killed by a burglar in London. The house and estate in Kilkenny passed to his second son Bryan who succeeded to the estate as his elder brother had died previously in 1911 aged only 7.

By May 1922, the Tighe family had removed many items of furniture from Woodstock House to their home in London but the large number of leather bound books remained in the library and the statue of Mary Tighe remained in the hall. The house was empty when it was occupied by a sizeable number of Black and Tans, footage of them marching up the hill from the village to Woodstock House was incorporated in to the 1996 film ‘Michael Collins’. They moved any remaining furniture to the downstairs reception rooms and placed sand bags in the ground floor windows. They used the cellar as a holding area and the large reception rooms for the interrogations of locals who were thought to be involved with the I.R.A. As Woodstock was now being used as a headquarters for the Black and Tans, an order was passed to burn the house. The rumour that the mansion was to be burnt soon spread among the locals and any remaining contents were quickly removed by them. On the night of the fire, it was said that the local people passed books out of the windows of the library which were ferried away by horse and cart. Occasionally some of theses books still turn up with inscriptions that can be attributed as having come from the Woodstock library. When the men did arrive to burn the house, the doors and windows were left wide open, the rooms were deserted and left in disarray. The house was doused with petrol and the flames quickly spread until the fire could be seen for miles around. People from the village seen the orange glow on the horizon and rushed up the steep hill to the house. They saw that nothing could be done so they gathered on the lawn to watch the final moments of the once great house which culminated in the collapse of the roof and internal floors. The fire continued to burn for two days and the remains of the interior lay in a heap that smouldered for weeks. The east wing which was built in the early 1800s survived the fire and became a home for a number of years to the Tighe's former house keeper. In December 1924, compensation was sought by the trustees of the Woodstock Estate for its destruction. They were acting on behalf of Bryan Tighe who had not reached the age of majority at the time of the fire and therefore could not instigate a claim. It had been decided that the house would not be rebuilt, so only £3,378 was awarded in respect of the furniture lost in the fire. When the Tighe Family were in residence they employed about sixty local people, so the loss of the house had an immediate economic effect on the village of Inistioge.

The blackened walls of Woodstock House stood until 2001 when the central section of the entrance front collapsed during a violent storm. A steel support structure was quickly put in place to limit further collapse of the fragile building. In 2006, a report was prepared by Paul Arnold Architects for Kilkenny County Council which proposed a number of uses for the house, if its restoration was to take place. An approach of this nature should be lauded as I feel it is better to restore this house to some degree so that can serve a useful purpose similar to Powerscourt House in County Wicklow. In the current economic climate Woodstock will probably remain as it has done since 1922 but the gardens have been wonderfully restored by Kilkenny County Council. Since the time the house became derelict the gardens had gradually deteriorated and a lot of their features had disappeared. In 1998 work began and has continued over the years to return the gardens to the condition that they previously enjoyed in the photographs from the National Library which were taken from over one hundred years ago.

The glasshouse and bench made by Richard Turner are interesting focal points for this view of the terraced flower garden in the 1800s.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland


The replication of the Turner’s elaborate glasshouse and the intricate planting of the garden are a triumph by anyone’s estimations.
Accreditation- Picture by Ellie Ross


1 comment:

  1. The *Tans* never had anything to do with Woodstock - they were WW 1 veterans and ex-Other Ranks but used only as RIC Bck Reinforcements. It was occupied by a mobile force, Ex-Officers of *A* Coy, Auxiliary Division [ many highly decorated and promoted from the Ranks ] who had long left when it was burnt at the start of the savage Irish Civil War as part of the policy of the Anti-Treaty IRA gang. Some 60 local workers lost their jobs.

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