Monthly Archives: October 2016

Aghada Hall, co. Cork.

Aghada  Hall was, apparently, a large  Georgian house designed by the Cork architect  Abraham Hargrave (1755-1808); though it seems to bea comfortable gentleman’s residence rather than a vast mansion.” It was completed in 1808. John Roche was also responsible for the start of the Aghada National School in 1819.

It’s time to revise this post quite a lot, and I am extremely grateful for a Thackwell grandson for the photos of the house. For the purposes of clarity, I’m going to call it Aghada Hall. John Roche, (17??- 1829) who had it built referred to it as Aghada House, but it was later referred to as Aghada Hall. Tony Harpur, a local historian in Cork sent me the following:

“The first edition Ordnance Survey map names the house as Aghada House (c1840). The house was named in the Ordnance Survey map of the early 20th century as Aghada Hall and was noted as being ‘in ruins’ – this is probably some time in the early 1930s because although a major survey was carried out by the Ordnance Survey before 1914, additional information was added to the map from a survey of 1935-1938.”

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Aghada Hall, side view

In the 1911 Irish census, Aghada Hall  was described as a first class house with 9 windows in the front, and 8 rooms occupied by the family, and 15 outbuildings. Edwin (or Edward – he used both) Penrose-Thackwell was also listed as the owner of a two room cottages, one three room, and one four room cottage, nearby.

The estate seems to be a substantial working farm. The main house had two stables, a coach house, harness room; three cow houses, a calf house, and a dairy. It also had a piggery, fowl house, boiling house, barn, shed, and a store. 

Fifty-four year old Edwin was living in the main house with a substantial staff, Thomas and Lavinia Buckley, who were married, were the butler, and housemaid respectively. They also had fifty-five year old Mary Flynn, the cook, and a dairymaid, parlourmaid, and kitchenmaid, all in their twenties.

In addition, to the main house, James Scanlon the gardener (48) and his wife were in the two room cottage. Ernest Jones (32), and his wife Gertrude (30) and their eight year old son were in the four room cottage, along with Gertrude’s twenty-five year old sister. Ernest was the chauffeur, and Ernie and Gertie had been married 11 years.  Finally, there were eight members of the Murphy family in the three room cottage. Edmond Murphy and his wife with three daughters, and three sons. All four men, Edmond (50), Denis (22), Edmond (16), and Patrick (15) are general labourers, presumably working on the estate.

The gardener and chauffeur’s houses, both had a shed and fowl house, and the Murphys had a piggery, and fowl house.

aghada-hall-2

Aghada Hall, front

John Roche who built the house,  “amassed great wealth during the French wars”, according to “Barrymore Records of the Barrys of County Cork”  published in 1902. He was Ernest O’Bryen’s great grandfather, and made quite significant efforts to establish some sort of Roche dynasty to maintain the family name, and the house that he had built for himself.

There were three significant beneficiaries of John Roche’s will of 1826, with a later codicil. They were his nephews James Joseph Roche, and William Roche; they seem to be cousins rather than brothers. The third main beneficiary was John Roche’s eldest grandson, John Roche O’Bryen. The total estate amounted to about £ 30,000 when John Roche died in 1829, the modern day equivalent of £45,720,000.00.

The house and land was left to James, and his male heirs, first of all, and then William, who also inherited £ 10,000, “in case of his not coming into possession of the estate by the means before-mentioned,  I leave him  £6,000″ plus John’s grand-daughter, Jane O’Brien’s ……  £4,000 £4 per cent. stock ;” . Jane O’Bryen, John Roche’s granddaughter was married to his nephew William Roche, and their daughter Pauline Roche inherited their share as a one year old orphan. The final third was John Roche O’Bryen’s  £ 10,000, presumably in the expectation that a male Roche heir would inherit the house and land.

John Roche O’Bryen,  and Jane O’Bryen were Catholic. All their  five remaining younger siblings were Church of Ireland. JROB and Jane/William Roche are the only O’Bryen beneficiaries of John Roche’s estate. The O’Bryen siblings are John Roche’s only grandchildren.

John Roche also left  a series of £ 100 legacies (present-day £ 150,000)  to various sisters, and nephews and nieces, and “To the parish of Aghada, I leave the school-house, and £20 ( £ 30,000) a-year for its support, and also the chapel and priest’s house  I leave to the parish rent-free for ever, as long as they shall be used for such qualified purposes ; the five slate houses I built in the village, I leave to five of the poorest families rent free ; to David Coughlan I leave the house he now lives in during his life ; to my servant, James Tracy   I leave the house his wife now lives in;  and to my wife’s servant, Mary Ahearne, otherwise Finne, her house rent-free during their lives ; and to each of those three, viz.,David Coughlan, James Tracy, and Mary Ahearne,  otherwise Finne, I leave £10 (£15,000) a-year during their lives :”

Lower Aghada

Lower  Aghada

Aghada  is a small fishing town situated to the south-east of Cork city in County Cork, Ireland. Aghada parish consists of several small villages and townlands including  Rostellan, Farsid, Upper Aghada, Lower Aghada, Whitegate, Guileen and Ballinrostig.

The estate, and the provisions of John Roche’s will were part of a court case, and appeal in 1848, and 1849. (Hillary Term 1848, Mary O’Brien v James Roche and William Roche…lands of Aghada [Mitchelstown Cork]… and Roche v. O’Brien —Feb. 1, 2. 1849) following the death of James Joseph Roche in 1847.  William Roche had died in 1836, and James Joseph Roche, and his family were living there until James’s death in 1847. The house appeared to have briefly in the possession of Henry Hewitt O’Bryen Junior, one of the younger O’Bryen siblings in the early 1850’s.

The house and land were sold in July 1853 in the Encumbered Estates Court, as part of the estates of James Joseph Roche, and William Roche, with Mary (Maria Josepha)  and Eleanor Roche listed as owners, and Pauline Roche as ex parte.  [The Encumbered Estates’ Court was established  to facilitate the sale of Irish estates whose owners were unable to meet their obligations. It was given authority to sell estates on application from either the owner or an encumbrancer (somebody who had a claim on it) and, after the sale, distribute the proceeds among the creditors, granting clear title to the new owners.]  The house was bought by Major General Sir Joseph Lucas Thackwell in 1853, and remained in the Thackwell family until at least 1911. Henry Hewitt O’Bryen does still seem to be a significant landowner in the area, so may well have kept some of the land.

thumb_entrance-to-aghada-hall_1024Most traces of Aghada Hall seem to have disappeared, apart from signs of a walled garden, half  an entrance and a small gatehouse.  The old sheds and stables have apparently been converted into houses.

Major General Sir Joseph Lucas  Thackwell had married Maria Audriah Roche (from the Trabolgan branch of the Roche family) in 1825. She was the eldest daughter of Francis Roche of Rochemount, County Cork (an uncle of Edmond Roche, 1st Baron Fermoy). This, incidentally, made Maria Thackwell, a first cousin, five-times removed of Diana, Princess of Wales. They had four sons and three daughters.  She should not to be confused with Maria Josepha Roche, who was James Joseph Roche’s daughter, and one of the parties to the 1848/9 court cases.

In a final twist, The Cork Examiner,reported on the 25th January 1860, having picked up the story from the Illustrated London News that:

“The will of the late celebrated General Sir Joseph Thackwell, G.C.B., has just been proved. By a codicil, dated the day before his death, he deprives his eldest son, Captain (Edward Joseph) Thackwell, the author of the “Second Sikh War, in 184-89,” [sic] and now a barrister at law, of all the property left him in a former will, including Aghada Hall, Cork, and Conneragh House, Waterford, and gives it to trustees in trust for his grandchildren, who must be educated in the tenets of the Protestant religion. Captain Thackwell had been received into the Roman Catholic Church only a short time previous to Sir Joseph’s decease.”

There seem to have been about nine grandchildren; all either the children of Edward Joseph Thackwell (1827, d. 1903), or his younger brother Major-General William de Wilton Roche Thackwell (1834–1910).  Edward Joseph’s son, Lt.-Col. Joseph Edward Lucas Thackwell (1853-1886) had four sons, and one daughter, who seemed to be the major beneficiaries, or users of the Irish houses. His son Walter Joseph de Rupe Thackwell was described as “now of Aghada,” in Burke’s Landed Gentry in 1894, and a younger son Captain Edward Hillyar Roche Thackwell, was living at the house in Waterford in 1911.

However Major William de Wilton Roche Thackwell (1834-1910), and his wife Charlotte Tomkinson seem to have lived in Aghada Hall, at least some of the time until 1894. Their eldest daughter Katherine Harriet Thackwell (1866 – 1950) married Col. Edward (or Edwin) Rawdon Penrose  in 1891, and they celebrated their wedding there. Katherine, and Edward added Thackwell to the family surname by 1911, most probably after the death of Katherine’s father in 1910, becoming Penrose-Thackwell from then on.

Kitty_Pope_Hennessy

Kitty Pope Hennessy

The only significant grandchild not to have a notable link to the house is William WR’s  only son Edward Francis Thackwell (1868 -1935) but that was most probably because he had married Kitty Pope-Hennessy on Feb 3 1894 at Rostellan Castle in Cork. She was a forty-four year old widow, and he was twenty six. He was a year older than her eldest son who died young, and three, and seven, years older than his step-sons.

It was probably a Catholic wedding, thus excluding Edward from the provisions of his grandfather’s will, but the pain may have been slightly ameliorated by his wife’s thirty room castle, with the sixty one outbuildings, including  seventeen stables, three coach houses, two harness rooms, and twenty cow houses. All of two and a half miles from Aghada Hall.

It is still not entirely clear when the house was demolished.

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Sir Joseph Thackwell 1781- 1859

sir-joseph-thackwell

Sir Joseph Thackwell GCB KH

Sir Joseph Thackwell GCB KH (1 February 1781 – 9 April 1859) enters the story because he bought  Aghada Hall in 1853, when it was sold following the death of James Joseph Roche, and the O’Brien v. Roche court cases in 1849.

Joseph Thackwell was born on 1 February 1781 at Rye Court, in Worcestershire. He was the fourth son of John Thackwell and Judith Duffy.  The Thackwells had been landed gentry in Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire  since at least the middle of the C17th. John Thackwell, JP, “of Rye Court,Moreton Court, and Birtsmorton Court in Worcestershire”, Joseph’s father died 1808. Nash, writing towards the end of the 18th century, remarked that ‘the Thackwells have now a good estate in this parish.’   The parish being Berrow in Worstershire.

The 15th Light Dragoons at the Battle of Sahagun 21 December 1808

He was commissioned as a Cornet in the Worcester Fencible Cavalry in 1798, was promoted to lieutenant in September 1799, and served in Ireland until the regiment was disbanded in 1800. He joined the 15th Light Dragoons, becoming a Captain in 1807. He served with the 15th Hussars in the Peninsular War at the Battle of Sahagún in 1808 and the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, and he lost his left arm at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was promoted to a major at Waterloo, and made a brevet (honorary) lieutenant-colonel in 1817.

The 15th Hussars were at the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in 1817. So he may well have been at Peterloo. According to the Manchester Observer, “one officer of the 15th Hussars was heard trying to restrain the, by now out of control, Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, who were cutting at every one they could reach” calling out “For shame! For shame! Gentlemen: forbear, forbear! The people cannot get away!” It’s probably too much to hope he was the officer “trying to restrain the out of control Manchester and Salford Yeomanry”, but it is at least possible. He was almost as senior as Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange [the commanding officer on the day] , but, as a brevet (honorary) lieutenant-colonel, didn’t out-rank him on the 16th August.

military-memoirs-of-jtThe regiment had been split up in 1817, and occupied various country quarters until it was reformed in 1821. So he may not have been there, it is certainly not mentioned in “The Military Memoirs of Lieut-General Sir Joseph Thackwell” published in 1908, which has quite an extensive about riots in Nottingham in 1831, where the 15th Hussars were supporting the civil power.

He could have been at Peterloo, or perhaps not,  either way, a year after the massacre, he was in command of the regiment for the following twelve years up to 1832.

Joseph Thackwell was very much a career soldier, with brief pauses, he served almost fifty seven years in the Army.  It’s quite a thought that almost forty years of that service was with only one arm. He was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the 15th Light Hussars on 15 June 1820, and commanded the regiment from 1820 to 1832. He then served in India, commanding the cavalry in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–89, and at the Battle of Sobraon in the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845–46, and at the Battle of Chillianwala and Battle of Gujrat in the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848-9. He also commanded the 3rd The King’s Own Dragoons, was colonel of the 16th Lancers, and was appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry, replacing HRH the Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904).

His final promotion was to Lieutenant General on 20th June 1854, aged 73, as part of the Inspector-General of Cavalry appointment, although he had been seeking a cavalry command in the Crimean War. The appointment lasted less than a year, and he was replaced as Inspector-General on the 1st February 1855 by Major-General Lord Cardigan, fresh from the Crimea, and the debacle of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Cardigan’s appointment was political, and a reward for what was initially regarded as heroic behaviour, and poor old Sir Joe was the rather un-thanked casualty of Cardigan’s reward.

royal-hospital-chelsea

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Sir Joe was offered the Lieutenant-Governorship of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, but declined it, and finally retired to Aghada for the remaining three years of his life.

He had married Maria Audriah Roche, eldest daughter of Francis Roche of Rochemount, County Cork, who was a great uncle of Edmond Roche, 1st Baron Fermoy, on 29 July 1825.  Joseph was forty-four years old, she was nineteen.  Maria Thackwell was, therefore, a first cousin, five-times removed of Diana, Princess of Wales. Sir Joseph bought Cherrymount House, at Templemichael, co. Waterford,  in 1852, and Aghada Hall in co. Cork, the following year 1853. He died in Ireland on the 9th April 1859, aged 77, probably at Aghada Hall, and was buried on 14 April 1859 at Corkbeg cemetery, co. Cork, and Maria, who survived him by fifteen years, was buried there in June 1874. She was 68.

Joe and Maria had four sons and three daughters.

  • Edward Joseph Thackwell  b. 1827, d. 1903
  • Major-General William de Wilton Roche Thackwell (1834–1910) 
  • Osbert Dabitôt Thackwell (1837–1858), unmarried aged twenty one.
  • Francis John Roche Thackwell, ( ????-1869) unmarried ?
  • Elizabeth Cranbourne Thackwell
  • Annie Esther Thackwell m. Rev T.P.Little vicar of The Edge, Gloucs. d.1902
  •  Maria Roche Thackwell m. Lieut-Col James Bennett

 He was invested as a Knight, Order of Hanover (K.H.) in 1834, well technically admitted to the Third Class of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order, on his retirement from the 15th Hussars. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (C.B.) in July 1837, a month after Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, as part of his promotion to a Major-General in India, and then finally, on his retirement, made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) in 1849, on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington. To quote from his memoirs.

‘On the 17th May the Duke of Wellington wrote to Sir Joseph Thackwell acquainting him that- “The Secretary of State has, upon my recommendation, submitted to the Queen your appointment to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, of which Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to approve.” In reply Sir Joseph said- “To be promoted to the highest military honour is most flattering to the pride of an old soldier, and to have been recommended to Her Most Gracious Majesty’s favour by your Grace, under whose guiding wand I served some campaigns, is a matter of congratulation of which I may well be proud”.’

His four sons became officers in the British Army, though in Edward Joseph’s case, it was only briefly before he was called to the Bar. His second son, Major-General William de Wilton Roche Thackwell (1834–1910), served in the Crimean War and in Egypt in 1882. His third son, Osbert Dabitôt Thackwell (1837–1858), was lieutenant in the 15th Bengal Native Infantry. He was killed in the street in Lucknow,by some of the sepoys on 20 March 1858, following its siege, and capture. Final day of fighting before its recapture. He was twenty-one years old. His fourth son, Francis John Roche Thackwell, served in the Royal Irish Lancers, and died in India in 1869 from wounds inflicted by a tiger.

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Joseph Edwin Thackwell, CB (1813-1900)

His nephew Joseph Edwin Thackwell, CB (1813-1900) also served in the British Army, serving as Aide-de-Camp to his uncle when commanding the Meerut Division in India in 1852–53; he also served in the Crimean War, and also became a lieutenant general. His brother-in-law,  Edmund Roche 3rd Hussars, also served as his Aide-de-Camp, and also became a general. Edmund Roche’s only daughter Caroline Matilda Georgiana Roche [Sir Joe’s niece]  married Sir Joe’s grandson Lt.-Col. Joseph Edward Lucas Thackwell.

It is not entirely clear yet whether the girls had children, but the eldest two sons definitely did; Edward Joseph Thackwell  (1827-1903) had four sons, and a daughter, and Major-General William de Wilton Roche Thackwell (1834–1910) had one son, and two, probably three daughters.

All of Edward Joseph Thackwell’s sons also had army careers, and most of his grandsons served in the army, if only relatively briefly. The one standout Thackwell son who didn’t serve in the army unlike his father, grandfather, uncles, and cousins is William W. R. Thackwell’s son, Edward Francis Thackwell (1868 -1935) who had married  Kitty Pope-Hennessey in 1894. Is he the black sheep of that generation?

Marriage Settlement – Henry Hewitt O’Brien and Mary Roche 1807

TRANSCRIPTION OF THE MARRIAGE SETTLEMENT OF HENRY HEWITT O’BRIEN AND MARY ROCHE DATED 27th OCTOBER 1807, no.404481

To the Register appointed by Act of Parliament for Registring Deeds Wills & so forth

Memorial of an Indented Deed of Settlement bearing date the twenty seventh day October one thousand eight hundred and seven, and made between Henry Hewitt O Brien of Broomly in the County of Cork Esquire of the first part John Roche of Aghada in the County of Cork Esquire And Mary Roche Spinster only daughter of the said John Roche of the second part, and John Roche the younger of Aghada aforesaid Esquire and Stephen Laurence O Brien of the City of Cork Esquire Doctor of Physic of the third part and what was made previous to the Marriage of the said Henry Hewit O Brien with the said Mary Roche whereby the said John Roche did agree to give as a portion with his said Daughter Four thousand pounds Stock in the Irish five per Cent Funds, By which said Deed whereof this is a Memorial the said John Roche for the consideration therein mentioned Did grant Assigne Transfer and set over unto the said John Roche the younger and Stephen Laurence O Brien All that the said Four thousand pounds Stock in the Irish five per Cent Funds To hold the same unto the said John Roche the younger and Stephen Laurence O Brien and to the Survivor of them his Executors Admst & Assigns up [sic] Trust, to permit the said Henry Hewit O Brien and his Assigns during his life to take the Interest Money, dividends and produce thereof for his own uses and after his death, to permit the said Mary Roche (in case she shall happen to survive the said Henry Hewit O Brien) and her Assigns during her life to take the Interest Money, dividends or produce thereof for her own use, by way of Jointure from and after the death of the survivor of them the said Henry Hewit O Brien, and Mary Roche, as to the said Sum of four thousand pounds upon Trust for the Issue of such Marriage if any shall be, but in Case there shall be no Issue or in Case there should, and that all such shall dye before any of them shall be entitled to their respective shares of the said Sum, then as to the intire said Sum of four thousand pounds Stock in the Irish five per Cent Funds and all benefit to be had thereby, upon Trust, for the survivor of them the said Henry Hewit O Brien and Mary Roche his intended Wife, his, or her Heirs Exrs Admrs and Assigns and it is by sd Deed expressed that the sd John Roche the younger and Stephen Laurence O Brien shall when thereto required by the sd Henry Hewit O Brien invest the intire of the said Trusts Money, or any part thereof, in the purchase of Lands in Ireland which Lands when so purchased are to remain to the same uses and Trusts as are mentioned and expressed in every aspect as to the Trust Sum of four thousand thousand [sic] pound in the Irish five per Cent Funds To which Deed the said John Roche Henry Hewit O Brien & Mary Roche put their hands and Seals, Witness thereto and this Memorial are John Cotter of the City of Cork Merchant, and John Colburn of sd City Gent.

Note:

  Jointure – sole estate limited to wife, to be employed by her after her husband’s death for her life.

Callaghan Of Cork – BLG 1833 and1847

From Burke’s Landed Gentry – 1833

Callaghan armsCallaghan Of Cork

CALLAGHAN DANIEL esq of Lotabeg in the vicinity of Cork now, for the third time MP for that city. Mr Callaghan who was born 7th June 1786 succeeded his father in April 1824

Lineage

Daniel Callaghan esq. one of the most enterprising and successful merchants of Ireland b. in 1760, espoused in 1782 Miss Mary Barry of Donnalee and dying in April 1824 left by that lady who survives, six sons and three daughters viz:

  1. John who m Miss Gosset of the Island of Jersey niece of the late Dr Gosset of bibliographical celebrity by whom he has two sons and one daughter
  2. Daniel MP in three successive parliaments for his native city as stated above
  3. Gerard MP for Dundalk in 1818 and subsequently for Cork married Miss Clarke daughter of J Calvert Clarke esq of Teddington Middlesex and died 26th February 1833 leaving issue
  4. Patrick
  5. Richard a barrister
  6. George late of the 15th dragoons
  1. Catherine espoused James Roche esq of Aghada county Cork
  2. Anne
  3. Mary

Arms –  Az in base a mount vert on tb sinister a hurst of oak trees therefrom issaant a wolf passant ppr. Crest A naked arm holding a sword with a snake entwined. Motto Fidus et audax. Estates, In the county of Cork Seat Lotabeg

and from BLG 1847

Callaghan Of Cork

CALLAGHAN DANIEL esq of Lotabeg in the vicinity of Cork now, for the third time MP for that city. Mr Callaghan who was born 7th June 1786 succeeded his father in April 1824

Lineage

Daniel Callaghan esq. one of the most enterprising and successful merchants of Ireland b. in 1760, espoused in 1782 Miss Mary Barry of Donnalee and dying in April 1824 left by that lady who survives, six sons and three daughters viz:

  1. John who m Miss Gosset of the Island of Jersey niece of the late Dr Gosset of bibliographical celebrity by whom he has two sons and one daughter
  2. Daniel MP in three successive parliaments for his native city as stated above
  3. Gerard MP for Dundalk in 1818 and subsequently for Cork married Miss Clarke daughter of J Calvert Clarke esq of Teddington Middlesex and died 26th February 1833 leaving issue
  4. Patrick
  5. Richard a barrister
  6. George late of the 15th dragoons

I Catherine espoused James Roche esq of Aghada county Cork

II Anne

III Mary

Arms –  Az in base a mount vert on tb sinister a hurst of oak trees therefrom issaant a wolf passant ppr Crest A naked arm holding a sword with a snake entwined Motto Fidus et audax Estates In the county of Cork Seat Lotabeg

Dorothy Bell — mistress of the Big House at Fota

Dorothy Bell was the daughter of Arthur Smith-Barry, Lord Barrymore.  So she is a second cousin of Pauline Barry (nee Roche)’s granddaughters Nina, and Emily, who are in turn, Mgr Henry, Corinne, Basil,  Alfred, Philip, Rex, and Ernest O’Bryen‘s third cousins.  Dorothy’s father had owned Fota House, which was inherited by his brother James, and then his nephew Robert. Dorothy Bell bought the estate back from her cousin Robert in 1939, for £ 31,000.  Quite how the family managed to hold onto their land, and money given Lord Barrymore’s behaviour to his tenants in the 1880’s is some mystery, as is the following description of life at Fota House in the 1940’s. Essentially, it wouldn’t have been much different at any time in past hundred and fifty years.

The following description of life at Fota House is largely taken from ‘Through the Green Baize Doors: Fota House, Memories of Patricia Butler’ , and various interpretations of it in the Irish Times, and Irish Independent about five years ago. The subtle distinctions between Irish and English staff, – Two weeks holiday for Irish staff, and a month for English staff, separate dining rooms, and an acceptance of the big house having hot and cold running water while there was none in the village, and  the  “Oh weren’t the gentry lovely” take on things appears to be a perfect example of false consciousness. Over to Patty Butler.

Fota House 2

Fota House

Back in the 1940s, when Dorothy Bell — mistress of the Big House at Fota — arrived home from a day’s hunting, she never did so quietly. She would, recalls former maid Patty Butler, rush through the front door, ringing the bell, and stride through the hall and up the stairs, calling the servants one after the other, “Mary!” “Patty!” “Peggy!”, discarding as she went her picnic basket, jacket, the skirt she wore over her jodhpurs for side-saddle riding, her whip and her hunting hat. As the staff, including the butler, rushed to pick up Dorothy’s belongings, her lady’s maid hurried to run a bath.

Patty was just 23 when she started work as the “in-between maid” at Fota House in 1947, after returning to Cork from England. On the advice of her cousin Peggy, who was working in Fota as the parlour maid, Patty applied for the job.

On the day of the interview, a somewhat awed Patty, who came from the nearby village of separate, was shown into the library by the butler, George Russell. “To me, the inside of Fota House on that day seemed like a palace,” she recalls. “I felt very small but also very excited in the midst of all this grandeur.” She was greeted by the mistress, who was sitting at a desk. The interview was brief. “Patty, have you come to join us?” inquired Dorothy. “The housekeeper will show you your duties. It won’t be all clean work, so you won’t be dressed up as you are now. Mrs Kevin will tell you what to wear.” And with that began a quarter of a century of dedicated service, as Patty became a member of staff in the efficiently run, though sometimes-eccentric, household a few miles outside Cobh. Over the years she was promoted to housemaid, lady’s maid and eventually cook.

fota-staff

The Fota House stafff in c.1920

Before Patty’s arrival, the family — The Honourable Mrs Dorothy Bell, her husband Major William Bertram Bell and their three daughters, Susan, Evelyn and Rosemary — had been looked after by an army of servants.  According to the census return for 1911, 73 people were on site at Fota House on Sunday, April 2nd, 1911. None of them were the Smith-Barry family who had lived in Fota House for generations, as records show they were away on holiday at the time. In the 1930s, an estimated 50 men had worked on the grounds of Fota alone, but by the time Butler took up employment in the Big House in 1947, overall staffing levels had fallen to about 13.

“I began working in Fota House in 1947. I worked there for about 25 years. I was initially employed as an in-between maid but later I worked in almost every capacity, as a housemaid, cook and housekeeper. The cook, Mrs Jones, who came to Fota with Mrs Bell from England, left after 45 years so Peggy Butler, my cousin, and I managed the cooking for Dorothy, her husband, Major Bell, other members of the family and visitors.”

“Mrs Bell had a secretary too, Miss Honor Betson. She had an estate agent and clerical staff who lived in the courtyard. Mr Russell, the butler from Yorkshire in England, supervised the household until he died on January25th, 1966. He died in Fota House.”

fota-4“There was a lovely homely feeling there. It was a very pretty house and Mrs Bell was very into flowers, so it was always lovely and very pretty,” recalls Patty, now 87.

She was given her own comfortable bedroom in the servants quarters. “I had everything I needed: a bed, a wardrobe, a dressing table with a mirror and an armchair near the fireplace. I remember also a beautiful washstand shaped like a heart with three legs. On top of that, there was a jug and basin with a matching soap dish. “There was also a towel rail with a white bath and hand towel. All the servants’ rooms were similar.”

“There was some distinction between the upper (mostly English and Protestant) servants, and the lower (mostly Irish and Catholic) servants. We dined in separate rooms, the upper servants in the housekeeper’s room and the lower servants in the still room. But we were all the best of friends. There was no rivalry or no animosity.”

“We also enjoyed food and board. The food was fabulous in Fota, of course, as fresh fruit and vegetables were produced there all the year round in the market garden and in the fruit garden and orchard. From the farm in Fota came milk, cheese, butter and cream. Rabbit and pigeon were eaten regularly in those days. The servants ate the same as the Anglo-Irish family, more or less.”

The anecdotes are legion — the way the servants occasionally ‘borrowed’ the Major’s Mercedes to go to Sunday Mass when their van didn’t work. How the housekeeper, a kindly soul with a strong Scottish accent, kept a cupboard in her bedroom especially for the pieces of china she broke while dusting Dorothy’s treasured ornaments. The times the servants were all driven to Cork Opera House by the chauffeur — the Bells had a great affection for the theatre and felt their staff should enjoy it too.

And then there was Dorothy’s eccentric habit of cutting the fruit cake in such a way that nobody could take a slice without her knowledge, and, of course, the parties that took place when the Bells were away, travelling the world.

Local lads from the village were invited up to the Big House by their sisters for a bath and a fry-up — there was no running water in many houses until the 1950s, or even the 1960s, says Patty. However, Fota had its own generator for electricity and water was always supplied from a nearby well. “We’d fry them up rashers and sausages and they’d have the bath and use the beautiful big, soft white towels and they’d think they were in heaven. The boys would love the bath — they were in their 20s and wanted to go into Cobh all poshed up!”

One day, however, Dorothy remarked that she had received an anonymous letter claiming that Patty and Peggy were having “parties” in the house while she was away. As Patty stood there, quaking, Dorothy laughed and told her relieved maid that she had thrown the letter in the fire.

Every morning, Mrs Kevin’s bell rang at 7am. Patty rose, dressed in a blue dress with a big white apron and white cap, and set to her housekeeping duties, which included cleaning the Major’s study and hoovering, dusting and polishing the Housekeeper’s Room before having breakfast at 8am. At 8.45am, Patty would bring her assigned guest — Fota nearly always had guests — morning tea on a tray with dainty green teapots with a gold rim and matching teacups. “I’d wake her in the morning with a breakfast tray and a biscuit, open the shutters, pull back the curtains and tidy the room. If there were any shoes that needed to be polished, I would take them down and they would be polished by a man who came in.”

The bed linen was beautiful. Each linen pillowcase had the Smith Barry crest in the corner and frills around the edges. After ironing, Patty remembers, each frill had to be carefully “goofed” or “goffered” by hand until it was perfectly fluted.

fota-house-dining-roomThe gentry came down for breakfast — kippers, kedgeree, rashers, sausages and eggs or boiled eggs, served with toast and fresh fruit from the garden — each day at about 9am. “You always knew they were gone down because their bedroom doors would be open. So you’d go up and make the beds and tidy the room and wash out the bathroom — but you had to be back behind the green baize door by 11am.” In the evenings, she wore a black dress with a small apron and a smaller white cap with a black velvet ribbon. Male servants also wore black.

“There was always lots to do,” she recalls. After the morning household tasks came lunch. “I’d be helping in the pantry and at the lunch. There was a long walk from the kitchen to the dining room — it was three or four minutes, but there were no trollies, so everything was carried by hand.” Lunch — which could be anything from roast beef to pigeon pie, rabbit, fish soufflé or cold meat in aspic jelly with vegetables from the garden, water and a selection of wines — could last from 1pm to 2.30pm.

fota-5Tea was at 5pm in the Gallery in summer and in the library in winter. “Tea, for which there were cucumber and marmite sand-wiches, scones, tea and a cake, could last until 6.30pm,” she says.

At 7pm, the gentry would go up to their bedrooms to change and have a bath before dinner — a lengthy four or five-course affair, which usually included game from Fota Estate. “Each dinner was served with suitable trimmings. Butter and cream were used in food preparations, so the flavours were always delicious,” she says. The kitchen had meat from the cattle and Fota’s home-produced milk, cheese and butter, as well as veg and fruit from the garden.

“There were always visitors, there was always somebody staying. They had the shooting season, the fishing season, the tennis season, the seaside in summer, the hunting — all the seasons brought different activities. You’d know by the season what was happening.”

Christmas was a particularly memorable time, she recalls. A single large Christmas tree was placed in the Front Hall, decorated with streamers, silver balls and other decorations, and on Christmas morning Dorothy gave each of the staff presents. “I remember I got a white apron,” recalls Patty, who says the mistress also distributed gifts to her tenants.

“On Christmas morning, the family went to the library to exchange presents. They loved gifts such as books and music records, ornaments or exquisite boxes of chocolates.” The chocolates, she says, often lasted for weeks, as the family usually ate only one at a time.

On Christmas Day, the servants had Christmas dinner in the middle of the day in the Servants’ Hall, while the family helped themselves to a cold lunch in the dining room. “This was the only day of the year that they waited upon themselves so that we could enjoy our Christmas dinner,” Patty recalls. That evening, the servants lined up in the Hall to watch the family, in full fancy-dress — these clothes were stored in a special chest in the attic — parade into the dining room.

“We had to bow to them as they passed by. I remember one year in particular when I could scarcely stop myself from laughing. Mrs Kevin, the housekeeper, carried a bell behind her back and as she bowed to each individual, the bell rang out!” After the fancy-dress parade, the family enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner followed by plum pudding. They later drank to each other’s health from a silver ‘loving cup’, which was passed around. The men played billiards and the women talked and drank coffee in the library until late in the evening.

There were plenty of famous guests at Fota: Lord Dunraven of Adare, Co Limerick, Lord Powerscourt from Wicklow, the Duke and Duchess of Westminster and, according to the Visitors Book of Names, “eight international dendrologists with illegible signatures”.

The Bells enjoyed life, Patty recalls. “They had a lovely life; they were into everything. They went to the Dublin Horse Show and to the summer show in Cork. In his study, the Major had pictures of the bulls and cows with their first-prize rosettes. “They had a very privileged life and they enjoyed it,” she continues. There always seemed to be plenty of money. Mrs Bell had her own money, while the Major was, says Patty, “supposed to be a wizard on the stock exchange. They also had the farm and they owned a lot of houses and property in Cobh and Tipperary”.

In the evenings, Patty recalls, it was her job to go back upstairs, remove bedspreads, turn down beds and prepare hot-water bottles. “Some guests brought their own beautifully covered bottles, otherwise, stone jars were used. Most ladies brought their own pillows covered with satin pillowcases because they believed satin did not crease the face. “They had pink satin nightdress cases covered with lace and tied with ribbons.”

Fota House, Patty remembers, was a home from home. “It was a very happy place. Mrs Bell was excitable and eccentric. She was very athletic and quick. It was a very happy time, all of it.  In every household little things will happen to ruffle your feathers but, overall, it was a fabulous place to work, and it was the people who made it.”

“There were lovely people at Fota,” she continues. “They were extraordinary. There were men who were extraordinary craftsmen — there was a blacksmith, for instance and a shepherd and a stone mason. They’d usually have a young apprentice that they would be training up.”

By the 1960s, however, most of the servants had left. “There was only me and Peggy running the house. Pat Shea was the last butler. Little by little, the staff dwindled away: the cook left, the ladies’ maid left.” When George Russell died in 1966 — he had been butler at Fota for 45 years and came with the Bells from England — it was the end of an era, she recalls. “Mr Russell told me he would love to write a book about Fota. He was going to call it, ‘What the Butler Saw’.”

The household slowly began to change. A series of nurses were employed to nurse Major Bell in his declining years until he died. Dorothy moved to the Gardener’s House, which was situated in the orchard at Fota, and lived there until she died a few years after her husband, in 1975.

The estate today comprises 47 hectares of land, including the parkland, gardens and arboretum. In December 2007, the Irish Heritage Trust took over responsibility for Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens.

‘Through the Green Baize Doors: Fota House, Memories of Patricia Butler’ — a revised edition of ‘Treasured Times’ transcribed and arranged by Eileen Cronin