North County Dublin is fortunate to have one of the most complete eighteenth-century country houses and parklands in the region, an amenity of enormous value, particularly during the past year. Newbridge was built by Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin, c.1752. Alec Cobbe and Terry Friedman have demonstrated the affinities in its plan, elevation and detailing to the built and unbuilt work of James Gibbs. A palatial Gibbs design among Cobbe’s papers, close to Gibbs’ unexecuted designs for Lord Fitzwilliam’s seat at Milton in Northamptonshire, is suggestive of an earlier and more ambitious scheme. However, failed career ambitions apparently resulted in a reduced scheme of six rooms to a floor and of two storeys over a basement. The project was overseen, if not designed, by George Semple, a skilled engineer and architect of public and private buildings and structures, including Essex Bridge, Saint Patrick’s Hospital and Headfort House in County Meath.
The detailing of the exterior and interior while Gibbsian in part, exhibits characteristics of local craft practice. The entrance front is intriguing in its combination of materials, a tooled limestone for the walling (now a red colour reportedly caused by lichen and/or iron oxides), a fine pale limestone ashlar for the tripartite doorcase and granite for the lugged window surrounds, cornice, base mould and steps.
Unlike standard English practice, the door architraves throughout the interior employ lugs or ‘knees’ at the top and base of the door frame.
The plasterwork interiors are rich, curious and diverse, including in the hall and centre rear room deep entablatures of early 18th century form.
This is particularly intriguing because accounts show that the interiors were not completed until the 1760s. The Dining Room, a documented work of the plasterer Richard Williams, emulates panelling in an arrangement of tall vertical panels framed by bands of Greek key or fretwork.
As was often the case, the difficulty of turning the fret at the angle was fudged by the use of an acanthus leaf (see Tricky Junctions blog). The concept of emulating a panelled interior accords with a number of Irish schemes of the mid 1760s at Dowth Hall in County Meath, Number 86 Saint Stephen’s Green and Dunsandle in County Galway.
Williams and his team of ‘stuccomen’ were also responsible for the plasterwork of the great double-cube drawing room added to the rear left-hand corner of the house in the early 1760s. This is the most grandly scaled example of the so-called Dublin School of Plasterwork of the period and has similar elements to schemes at Number 86 St Stephen’s Green, the Provost’s House of Trinity College Dublin and the townhouse of Philip Tisdall on South Leinster Street.
Strapwork, flower garlands and pairs of fierce eagle-like birds in combat fill the cornice and create a deep border to the ceiling.
The late Georgian glazing bars here are of iron while the service corridor below retains substantial moulded timber glazing bars of considerable solidity.
The splendid, crimson, early nineteenth-century wallpaper and fittings render this the optimal seasonal setting to end this strangest of years.
The CRAFTVALUE team visited Newbridge House on December 17th in the company of Curator, Cathal Dowd-Smith.
Alec Cobbe and Terry Friedman, James Gibbs in Ireland, The Cobbe Foundation and the Irish Georgian Society, 2005.
Alec Cobbe, ‘Gibbs in Ireland’, The Georgian Group Journal, volume xxvii, 2019, pp.125-146.
Christine Casey, ‘Boiseries, bankers and bills: a tale of Charlemont and Whaley’, Lord Charlemont and his circle, Michael McCarthy eds, National Gallery, Four Courts Press (2001) pp 47-59.