Rich in mem­o­ries and prom­ise

In the sec­ond of two ar­ti­cles, Myles Camp­bell ex­plores how the re­vival of a suite of 1840s in­te­ri­ors builds on a rich fam­ily tra­di­tion of preser­va­tion and pa­tron­age

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

Writ­ing in 1879, the an­ti­quar­ian Eve­lyn Philip Shirley de­scribed his home county of Mon­aghan as a place ‘rich in the mem­o­ries of the past’. With this evoca­tive turn of phrase, he might just as eas­ily have been de­scrib­ing his fam­ily seat near Car­rick­macross in the south of the county, Lough Fea, to whose early his­tory we were in­tro­duced last week. With its suite of 1840s in­te­ri­ors in­spired by the El­iz­a­bethan age, Lough Fea richly ex­presses the mem­o­ries of a long fam­ily lin­eage.

to­day, his de­scen­dant Philip Eve­lyn Shirley and his wife, Au­gusta, have done much to hon­our those mem­o­ries through their sen­si­tive con­ser­va­tion of these im­por­tant spa­ces and their col­lec­tions. More than this, how­ever, with their thought­ful se­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art­works and be­spoke fur­nish­ings, they have made the house live again.

the Shirleys can trace their fam­ily roots in War­wick­shire back to the Domes­day Book. in Co Mon­aghan, they have had a pres­ence since 1576, when their an­ces­tor, the 1st Earl of Es­sex, was granted the barony of Far­ney. When the time came for Eve­lyn John Shirley

In build­ing Lough Fea, “Mr Shirley spared nei­ther time, nor toil, nor gold”

to com­plete the in­te­ri­ors of his new house at Lough Fea in the 1840s, this an­cient pedi­gree, cou­pled with his son Eve­lyn Philip’s an­ti­quar­ian im­pulses, in­formed his ap­proach.

By this time, the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tect of the house, Thomas Rick­man, had been re­placed by Wil­liam Walker. With the con­stant in­put of the Shirleys, fa­ther and son, Walker cre­ated a se­ries of highly at­mo­spheric in­te­ri­ors that re­main re­mark­ably in­tact to this day.

Some­thing of the change­ful and oc­ca­sion­ally whim­si­cal qual­ity of Walker’s ex­te­rior ad­di­tions to Lough Fea can be found through­out the in­te­rior. In the same way that finials erupt to en­liven the sky­line on the out­side, vir­tu­oso oak carv­ings are de­ployed to of­fer re­lief from the stiff ge­om­e­try of the El­iz­a­bethan Re­vival on the in­side.

In some places, they are com­ple­mented by light­hearted carved max­ims such as ‘Serve god and be cheer­ful’. Sig­nif­i­cantly, at a time when it was com­mon for Clas­si­cal in­te­ri­ors to hide be­hind a Gothic- or Tu­dor-style façade in Ire­land, the pro­gram­matic ex­ten­sion of the El­iz­a­bethan Re­vival style from ex­te­rior to in­te­rior makes Lough Fea an early ex­er­cise in se­ri­ous ar­chi­tec­tural re­vival­ism.

As Shirley’s pa­pers and direc­tions to Walker make clear, short­cuts and gim­crack sub­sti­tutes were no match for hon­est crafts­man­ship and old meth­ods in the fit­ting-out of the in­te­ri­ors. Not­ing this high stan­dard, one vis­i­tor to the house in 1856 re­marked that, in build­ing it, ‘Mr Shirley spared nei­ther time, nor toil, nor gold’. The at­ten­tion to de­tail may help to ex­plain why Lough Fea took 23 years to com­plete from start to fin­ish.

Among the ear­li­est rooms to be fin­ished was the draw­ing room (Fig 7). Ac­cord­ing to Shirley’s mem­o­ran­dum books, the fin­ish­ing touches were be­ing put to it in 1841, with the hang­ing of can­de­labra. En­joy­ing a nearAr­ca­dian view over the lake, this el­e­gant room fea­tures a gilded heraldic ceil­ing and a frieze of colour­ful English roses.

Among its high­lights is a por­trait of Lady Selina Bathurst, neé Shirley, by Charles Jer­vas. At­tired in avant-garde Turk­ish cos­tume, she emu­lates the style of the fa­mous Lady Mary Wort­ley Mon­tagu. On the two sets of dou­ble doors is a se­ries of 48 mag­nif­i­cently carved oak pan­els. A riot of writhing sea monsters and uni­corns, they are likely to have been part of the con­sign­ment of Dutch carv­ings bought for the house in the early 1830s and noted by a vis­i­tor in 1835. Through one set of the doors is the li­brary

(Fig 1). Here, the Shirleys’ El­iz­a­bethan an­ces­try is rep­re­sented in the form of a ceil­ing copied from the Brown Room at Wis­ton House, a 16th-cen­tury Shirley res­i­dence in Sus­sex. Wis­ton was re­mod­elled be­tween 1839 and 1843 by Walker’s old men­tor, Ed­ward Blore, who likely pro­vided him with the ceil­ing de­sign. The li­brary is a bib­lio­phile’s par­adise and fea­tures many orig­i­nal bind­ings and vol­umes from the fa­mous book col­lec­tion of Eve­lyn Philip.

The li­brary book­shelves are rich in ap­pliqué grotesque carv­ings and date mostly from Walker’s time. The ex­cep­tions are those ei­ther side of the dou­ble doors. These were added in the 1860s from a draw­ing by one Ge­orge Thom­son. The chim­ney­p­iece is also later. It was sup­plied by the Soho Mar­ble and Stone Gal­leries, Lon­don, in 1880.

The sculp­tural cof­fee ta­ble by Joshua Gabriel is a re­cent com­mis­sion. Its wal­nut base and

glass top de­fer con­sid­er­ately to the book­cases and har­monise with the newly dec­o­rated red walls. Look­ing down ap­prov­ingly on it from above the door­way to the en­trance hall is Eve­lyn John Shirley, builder of the house.

In the din­ing room (Fig 6), the horse­shoe em­blem of the Fer­rers fam­ily ap­pears at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals on the ceil­ing, il­lus­trat­ing Eve­lyn John’s de­scent from his great-grand­fa­ther, the 1st Earl Fer­rers. The carved fig­ures of the chim­ney­p­iece re­put­edly rep­re­sent two of the three gift-bear­ing Magi, one of whom, ap­pro­pri­ately enough for a din­ing room, prof­fers a gob­let. They are said to have been sourced in Italy by a ‘vir­tu­oso’ who had been busy col­lect­ing there on Shirley’s be­half.

The chapel is an as­ton­ish­ingly well­p­re­served space (Fig 5). From the red­vel­vet has­socks to the suite of holy books stamped ‘Lough Fea Chapel 1842’, it is an artis­tic and so­cial time cap­sule. The in­te­rior was planned by Walker in June 1840.

By Jan­uary 1841, Shirley was pay­ing Wil­liam Hol­land of War­wick a to­tal of £240 for the two heraldic stained-glass win­dows. A month later, Hol­land was ask­ing for an ad­di­tional £33, which Shirley duly sent. It was £33 well spent. The south win­dow, in par­tic­u­lar, is a daz­zling work of art and ranks with the very best to be found any­where in Ire­land or Bri­tain in the 1840s.

Hol­land was justly proud, putting his name to the south win­dow and, ac­cord­ing to the

Leam­ing­ton Spa Courier, ex­hibit­ing both win­dows for ‘pub­lic in­spec­tion’ at War­wick court­house. Af­ter this aus­pi­cious in­au­gu­ra­tion in July 1841, they were dis­patched on their voy­age across the Ir­ish Sea.

With the win­dows in place and a life-size carved an­gel sup­port­ing the desk of the pul­pit, the chapel held its first ser­vice on Au­gust 21, 1842. The pre­cious carved al­tar­piece de­pict­ing the Pas­sion of Christ was later moved here from the li­brary. It is Flem­ish and dates from about 1500. Built at a time when in­ter­nal coun­try-house chapels were rel­a­tively com­mon in Eng­land, but still un­usual in Ire­land, this sin­gu­lar space is made all the more ex­cep­tional by its rar­ity.

Across the en­trance court­yard is the con­ser­va­tory, with its ar­ray of orig­i­nal glass pan­els. These were or­dered from Mr Mul­vany of the Union Plate Glass Com­pany, Liver­pool, in Oc­to­ber 1842 and cost £2 6s 0d each. The ad­join­ing great hall, with its min­strels’ gallery and great mul­lioned win­dows, is the crown­ing glory of the many glo­ries of Lough Fea.

As be­fits the hall of an old noble fam­ily, the heraldic stained glass is at once fes­tal, in­struc­tive and ro­man­tic. The sheer quan­tity of it is enough to pro­voke envy among the vestry mem­bers of a small cathe­dral. It was an­other com­mis­sion from Hol­land and was in pro­duc­tion by Jan­uary 1845.

The hall’s linen-fold pan­elling is made of plas­ter and was fin­ished with spe­cial­ist

paint or­dered from Smiths of Maryle­bone in June 1845. The heat­ing ap­pa­ra­tus was an­other English com­mis­sion, this time from a Mr Hur­ward of Ip­swich.

Un­sur­pris­ingly for a room that mea­sures 75ft in length, the in­te­rior took sev­eral years to com­plete. Be­gun in 1841, the hall was fi­nally fin­ished in 1848, in time for a grand ball that re­vived the very best in old ba­ro­nial hos­pi­tal­ity. Re­port­ing on a sim­i­lar ball held in 1871, one en­thu­si­as­tic cor­re­spon­dent rightly judged the hall to be ‘one of the finest rooms in Ire­land’.

The last room to be cre­ated at Lough Fea was the saloon (Fig 2). It was de­vel­oped as late as May 1845, when Walker en­closed five bays of Rick­man’s seven-bay ar­cade over­look­ing the sunken gar­den to cre­ate it. It is di­vided by a screen of verde an­tico scagli­ola col­umns and has re­mained al­most un­touched since it was fin­ished in 1846.

On July 27 that year, Shirley was keen to get the chim­ney­p­iece com­pleted. It is made of Mon­aghan al­abaster, of a mot­tled pink­ish hue, and fea­tures a strap­work frieze (Fig 3).

The orig­i­nal Pug­inian wall­pa­per in deep shades of red and green was sup­plied by a Mr Rid­del of 20, Bel­grave Square, Lon­don. In Septem­ber 1846, the hang­ing of the pa­per was al­most com­plete and Shirley wrote to Rid­del for the fi­nal time, ask­ing him to send just ‘one more piece’. More than a cen­tury and a half later, this hand­some wall­pa­per re­mains sur­pris­ingly vivid.

Look­ing out from the saloon, two re­cently in­stalled sculp­tures by Charles Had­cock in the sunken gar­den re­spond ef­fec­tively to the em­phatic hor­i­zon­tal­ity of the house. Be­yond them, a long vista opens up to­wards a play­ful, Tu­dor-style foun­tain by Walker and a mon­u­men­tal ringed cross (Fig 4).

Erected by the ten­ants of the es­tate, the cross com­mem­o­rates Shirley, who died at the house on New Year’s Eve 1856. In the age be­fore the ringed cross be­came a bea­con of Ir­ish na­tion­al­ism in the late 19th cen­tury, its use on this scale, on the es­tate of an An­glo-ir­ish fam­ily, is novel and sig­nif­i­cant.

On Shirley’s death, the house passed to his son, Eve­lyn Philip. It re­mained rel­a­tively un­changed un­til 1872, when he cre­ated a High Vic­to­rian in­te­rior in the pas­sage from the main house to the chapel. Since that time, suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of Shirleys have care­fully stew­arded Lough Fea through the vi­cis­si­tudes of Ire­land’s tran­si­tion to in­de­pen­dence and the more re­cent Trou­bles in neigh­bour­ing North­ern Ire­land.

To­day, Eve­lyn Philip’s de­scen­dant, Philip Eve­lyn Shirley, has in­her­ited more than his an­ces­tor’s name. In restor­ing the 1872 chapel pas­sage for the dis­play of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary paint­ings, he has also be­come the heir to his great-great-grand­fa­ther’s pro­gres­sive yet sym­pa­thetic artis­tic out­look.

Here, works by Harold Co­hen (1928–2016), Peter Kin­ley (1926–88) and North­ern Ir­ish artist David Crone (b.1937) hang in har­mony a short walk from por­traits by Lawrence and Gains­bor­ough. At the sum­mit of the main stair­case, a large-scale work by Gil­lian Ayres (1930–2018) is a re­ward­ingly bold, but not bom­bas­tic sight for the weary climber.

Else­where, as Shirley an­ces­tors look on from within gilt frames, well-placed ceram­ics by Ewen Hen­der­son (1934–2000) and Gor­don Bald­win (b.1932) pay them quiet com­pli­ments.

By mark­ing their fam­ily’s en­dur­ing pres­ence here through thought­ful con­tem­po­rary pa­tron­age, the Shirleys of to­day have paid a hand­some trib­ute to their an­ces­tors of the 1840s. In do­ing so, they have en­sured that Lough Fea is as rich in the prom­ise of the fu­ture as it is in the mem­o­ries of the past.

Fig 1: Pan­els of carved sea monsters and uni­corns adorn the dou­ble doors from the draw­ing room to the li­brary

Fig 2 above: The saloon re­tains its vivid orig­i­nal wall­pa­per. Fig 3 be­low: The pink-hued saloon chim­ney­p­iece, with its strap­work or­na­ment, was made from lo­cal Mon­aghan al­abaster

Fig 4 left: Be­yond a foun­tain by Wil­liam Walker is a ringed cross ded­i­cated to Lough Fea’s builder, Eve­lyn John Shirley. Fig 5 right: In the chapel, one of two stained-glass win­dows by Wil­liam Hol­land forms the back­drop to an out­stand­ing Flem­ish al­tar­piece of about 1500

Fig 6 above: The fig­ures of the din­ing-room chim­ney­p­iece re­put­edly rep­re­sent two of the three Magi. Fig 7 fac­ing page: The an­ces­try of the Shirley fam­ily is the theme of the heraldic ceil­ing that dom­i­nates the el­e­gant draw­ing room. English roses adorn the frieze

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