County Wicklow

21 January 2020

Pediment of entrance front at Powerscourt, County Wicklow, Photo:©CRAFTVALUE

POWERSCOURT is a house of special interest to the CRAFTVALUE project, being among the earliest  documented projects of Richard Castle and his craft circle, as well as one of the most ambitious houses of the period in Ireland. Built for Richard Wingfield, M.P. (later Viscount Powerscourt) between 1731-1740, the house incorporates elements of an earlier castle, which are still visible in places. The substantial nature of the earlier structure posed significant challenges to Richard Castle, dictating the low levels and the rather squat proportions of the entrance hall, in addition to the heroic scale of the stair-hall. The saloon or Egyptian Hall above was Ireland’s largest and grandest domestic interior of the period. Modelled on Vitruvius’ Egyptian Hall in Palladio’s Quattro Libri, it was contemporary with Lord Burlington’s Egyptian Hall at the York Assembly Rooms (1731-32).

Devastated by fire in 1974, like Clandon Park, the house presents significant challenges in terms of representing its original surface decoration. Rebuilt and consolidated for commercial purposes, the exterior is largely intact while fragments of the interior schemes survive.

CRAFTVALUE has been comparing the surviving archival record with the extant building and endeavouring to understand the genesis of the craft businesses which emerged in the period and were sustained by Richard Castle’s clientele. Local granite was used extensively in the building, even in the Ionic columns and pilasters of the Saloon which survived the fire. In the former entrance hall fragments remain of a highly unusual plaster decoration of large life-like shells which decorated the niches around the room. Timber armatures are visible in the crevices of the surviving brick fabric.

Further Reading:

Maurice Craig, The architecture of Ireland from the earliest times to 1880, Dublin and London, 1982

David Griffin, ‘Richard Castle’s Egyptian Hall at Powerscourt, County Wicklow,’ Georgian Group Journal vol. v (1995), pp.119-124

The Knight of Glin, ‘Richard Castle, architect, his biography and works’ in Bulletin of the Irish Georgian Society, 7, no. 1 (Jan – Mar 1964), 32-38

Viscount Powerscourt, A description and history of Powerscourt, London, 1903.

G. N. Wright, A guide to the County of Wicklow, London, 1827.

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