Powerscourt House & Gardens, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow

contact: Sarah Slazenger

Tel: 01-2046000

www.powerscourt.ie

Closed due to Covid-19. Section 482 listed open dates in 2020: All year, closed Christmas day and St Stephens day, 9.30am-5.30pm, ballroom and garden rooms Sun, 9.30am-1.30pm

Fee: Mar-Oct, adult €11.50, OAP €9, student €8.50, child €5, family ticket €25, Nov-Dec adult €8.50, OAP €7.50, student €7, child €4, family ticket 2 adults + 3 children €18, children under 5 free

DSC_1230.JPG
10th December 2009, my Dad and Stephen, when we went to Powerscourt to celebrate my birthday.
DSC_1234.JPG
Triton Lake. The winged horses form part of the family coat of arms and were made by Professor Hugo Hagen in Berlin in 1869.

I haven’t revisited Powerscourt Estate this year but I have been there many times, and as the lockdown continues for Covid 19, I will write another entry from previous visits and research. I want to write about Powerscourt in continuation of our Wingfield run!

I have hardly any pictures of the house, as it used to be that one went to the estate to see the gardens, since the house was gutted by fire in November, 1974, and remained closed for many years. Since then, it has been gradually renovated. Nowadays inside is a shopping mecca and lovely Avoca cafe, with a growing exhibition about Powerscourt estate itself. My family has been visiting Powerscourt estate since I was a child. The ultimate in romantic, with terraces, groves of trees, stone sculptures, nooks, the mossy labyrinth in the Japanese gardens, the “secret” boat house with its view onto the surface of the lake, and the Versailles-like Neptune fountain, the memory of its purple and grey dampness havs been an aesthetic touchstone for me when I have lived in hot, dry, bright,  Perth and California.

DSC_1235.JPG

powerscourt-lake by Jane Flanagan
view of Triton Lake from the boathouse. Photograph by Jane Flanagan.

The estate is named after previous owners of the land, the Powers, or Le Poers. The site was a strategic military position for the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, and by 1300 the Le Poers had built a castle there. In 1609 the land was granted to Richard Wingfield, Marshall of Ireland. Richard Wingfield appealed to James I for the land in order to secure the district from the incursions of native Irish lords and the families who had previously occupied the land, such as the O’Tooles. [1]

The later Richard Wingfield, who became Viscount Powerscourt of the 3rd Creation, incorporated some of the old building in a new residence he had built in 1728. According to Sean O’Reilly in Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life, the 1974 fire exposed the fabric of the history of the house. He writes:

“The original structure consisted of a low range incorporated in the two bays to the left of the entrance. This appears to have been a long, two-storey, rectangular block, raised to a third storey in later development, and retaining, in one corner, a cross-shaped angle-loop. The vaulted room on the ground floor in this range survived into later remodellings. This earliest block, which dates from no later than the fifteenth century, was extended by a connecting block now incorporated in the garden front and, finally, by a third rectangular range fronted by the two bays on the right of the entrance, creating a U-plan.” [2]

powerscourt 2 flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
The front centre block of Powerscourt, taken from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013).

In 1961 the estate was sold by the 9th Viscount, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield, to Mr. Ralph Slazenger, and the Slazenger family still own it. [3] Coincidentally, my Dad used to play tennis with one of the Slazengers, who must have been a daughter of Ralph, when she was a girl. The same family owned Durrow Abbey near Tullamore in County Offaly (which they purchased in 1950, but it now belongs to the OPW). [4][5]

The Wicklow house built for Richard Wingfield, who was a Member of Parliament and whose descendent had Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin built, was designed by Richard Castle (or Cassels), who had worked with Edward Lovett Pearce. Both Lovett Pearce and Cassels favoured the Palladian style, and Cassels took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions after his untimely death aged just 34. Cassels worked on Carton, designed Russborough House (another section 482 house which I will write about) and Leinster House. Powerscourt consists of a three storey centre block (see photograph above) joined by single-storey links to two storey wings, in the Palladian style. Borrowing from Mark Bence Jones’s description in his Irish Country Houses, the centre block has nine bays [6] and the entrance front is made of granite. There is a five bay breakfront in the centre of the middle block front facade, with a pediment of six Ionic pilasters (Ionic pillars have scrolls) standing on the bottom storey, which is, according to Bence-Jones, treated as a basement, and rusticated (rustication is the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces, which is generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building). [6] One can see a good photograph of the front facade pediment, and the attic level above it, which ends in long scrolls, on the website of the National Inventory of Buildings [7]:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. The pediment contains the arms of Richard Wingfield and his wife Dorothy Rowley

Bence-Jones continues in his description: between the pilasters on the breakfront are “rondels” containing busts of Roman emperors. The four bay links as well as the central block have balustraded parapets. The wings have four bays, “and the facade is prolonged beyond them by quadrant walls, each interrupted by a pedimented Doric arch and ending in an obelisk carrying an eagle, the Wingfield crest” (see the photograph below). [8]

This photograph shows the entire front facade of Powerscourt, including the centre block, the two four bay wings, and the quadrant walls beyond each wing that prolong the length of the front, and end in an obelisk on either end topped by an eagle. The quadrant walls contain an arch. photo from https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16400717/powerscourt-house-powerscourt-demesne-enniskerry-co-wicklow
the garden front, photo from https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16400717/powerscourt-house-powerscourt-demesne-enniskerry-co-wicklow

The garden front, pictured above, has seven bays between two bows on either end, and the bows are topped with copper domes. One side has a two storey wing. The garden  slopes down to a lake in a magnificent series of terraces. Powerscourt was built with sixty-eight rooms!

garden front of Powerscourt flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
garden front of Powerscourt, from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013). The fountain in this lake is based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome and completes the splendid vista from the house down to the lake.
DSC_1231.JPG
Stephen and my Dad, Desmond, 2009
DSC_1225.JPG
the view down the terraces to the lake, Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.
DSC_1223.JPG
me and Stephen, 2009.
DSC_1228.JPG
Italian terrace, created by Daniel Robertson around 1842.

From 1842 onwards, the 6th Viscount of Powerscourt employed Daniel Robertson of Kilkenny to improve the gardens. Robertson created Italian gardens on the terraces, with broad steps and inlaid pavement, balustrades and statues. In the fountain below the “perron” of the main terrace, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, there is a pair of bronze figures of Eolus, “which came from the Palais Royale in Paris, having been sold by Prince Napolean 1872 to the 7th Viscount [Mervyn Edward Wingfield], who completed the garden.” [8]

DSC_1229.JPG
bronze figure of Eolus, from Palais Royale in Paris, sold by Prince Napoleon 1872 to 7th Viscount, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

The garden work was continued by F.C. Penrose when Daniel Robertson died in 1849  while working on the gardens at Lisvanagh, County Carlow. Apparently Robertson was often the worse for wear during his work, as he was fond of the sherry. He took to directing from a wheelbarrow, as he had gout and difficulty walking – maybe not just due to the gout! The 7th Lord Powerscourt sought to create gardens similar to those he had seen in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and at the Palace of Versailles. His task took twenty years, completed in 1880.

There are many more elements of the garden to explore, such as the Japanese gardens, the pet cemetery, the pepperpot tower, and the walled gardens. I only recently discovered the pepperpot tower! When I visited the gardens with my parents, we must have always been too tired as a family, after exploring the rest, to walk up from the Japanese gardens to the pepperpot tower!

powerscourt-fountainby Jane Flanagan
the dolphin pond, with fountain brought from Paris by the 7th Viscount (photograph by Jane Flanagan)
powerscourt-walledgarden by Jane Flanagan
the walled garden (photograph by Jane Flanagan)

I have always loved the Japanese gardens, which remind me of the Japanese tea gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I have a lovely memory of having a cup of tea and a fortune cookie in San Francisco’s Japanese gardens, and the cookie contained the fortune I’d seen photographed earlier that day in a large photograph on display in a museum: “You will have many interesting and artistic people to your home.” It seemed too much to me at the time to be a coincidence – and it would be, I thought, at the age of about twenty, a dream come true. I sellotaped the fortune onto a small bookshelf on my desk, hoping it would come true. And indeed it has!

DSC_0952
our friends Helen and Grace playing at the Japanese gardens in Powerscourt, in June 2012. The Japanese gardens were created by the 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Mervyn Wingfield, and his wife, in 1908.
DSC_0951
part of my favourite part of the garden, the Grotto. The Grotto is one of the oldest parts of the garden, and is next to the Japanese gardens. It was created in 1740 by the 1st Viscount, and is made of fossilized sphagnum moss, taken from the banks of the nearby river Dargle.

DSC_1224.JPG

Bence-Jones writes of an incident about Powerscourt Waterfall, which is further out on the estate:

“the waterfall, the highest in the British Isles, which, when George IV came to Powerscourt 1821, was dammed up in order that the monarch might have an even more exciting spectacle; the idea being to open the sluice while the Royal party watched from a specially-constructed bridge. The King took too long over his dinner and never got to the waterfall, which was fortunate; for when eventually the water was released, the bridge was swept away.”

 

Powerscourt Waterfall with Larry, May 2008
Powerscourt Waterfall. There is a separate entrance now to the waterfall than there is to the rest of the estate.

The collection of statues, and the wrought iron gates, are beautiful.

Bamberg Gate in the Walled Garden, with its “vista” view of columns. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland.

The Irish Aesthete tells us that the Bamberg Gate:

“was originally constructed in Vienna in 1770 and installed in Bamberg Cathedral, Northern Bavaria. Probably in the late 1820s, when all Baroque additions were stripped from the building, the gate was removed and sold: around 1870 Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt bought it from a London dealer and placed it in the present position. On the opposite side of the walled garden is the so-called Chorus Gate, the design supposedly based on a 17th century original (although this has not been found) and likewise purchased in London. Its intricate ironwork features myriad winged seraphim blowing trumpets. Both gates have recently been cleaned and re-gilded.” [9]

The National Inventory has two good pictures of the interior of the house, which is gradually being restored since the 1974 fire:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. I cannot recall seeing this room. Is it because the house is now so full with everything going on, that I didn’t notice the decorative pillars and ceilng? That is quite possible! The columns and arches lead me to believe that this was the saloon, comparing it to archival photographs from before the fire, as seen in Sean O’Reilly’s book.

The interior of Powerscourt before the fire was magnificently sumptuous and slightly crazy! Fortunately photographs exist, and some are in the National Library archives:

powerscourt nli ref L_ROY_00401
the entrance hall of Powerscourt before the fire. Photograph from the National Library archives, on flickr commons.

I have never seen shells on a ceiling decoration such as these, although I know the famous letter writer Mary Delaney made similar decoration on a fireplace as well as filling an outdoor shell house, similar to the one at Curraghmore. The Wingfields must have prided themselves on their military connection, with their display of armour and guns, and their hunting prowess, with all the deer head and antler trophies and the skin rugs. There is even an antler chandelier, which Sean O’Reilly tells us is called an Austrian “Lusterweiblen.” Some of the antlers were made of papier-mache! O’Reilly published other old photographs of the interior in Irish Houses and Gardens, including of the saloon, which he explains is more in the Roman Renaissance than Palladian style, which is reflected somewhat in the rest of the house. (see [1])

I wrote about the history of the Wingfield family briefly in my entry for Powerscourt Townhouse. [10] As I noted there, the title of Viscount Powerscourt did not descend directly from the 1st Viscount, and the Richard Wingfield who had the house at Powerscourt built much as we now know it was the 1st Viscount of the 3rd creation of the title. He married, first, Anne Usher, daughter of Christopher Usher of Usher’s Quay, but they had no children. He married secondly Dorothy, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerville, County Meath. Their son, Edward, became the 2nd Viscount. When he died in 1764, Richard, his brother, became 3rd Viscount. Seven years after inheriting the title, Richard 3rd Viscount began the building of Powerscourt Townhouse, so that he had a grand Palladian home in Dublin for residing and entertaining, when not living in his estate in Wicklow. He married Amelia Stratford, daughter of John Stratford, the 1st Earl of Aldborough. For the rest of the Wingfield successors, see [11] and also the Powerscourt website.

The house was occupied by the Slazenger family in 1974 when the fire broke out on the top floor, leaving the main building completely destroyed. They had purchased the house complete with all of its contents. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The house was left abandoned for twenty years, but they opened the gardens to the public. In 1996 the family started the renovation process with a new roof and restoration of the windows. [12] (Surely not) coincidentally, Ralph Slazenger’s daughter Wendy (Ann Pauline) Slazenger married Mervyn Niall Wingfield, the 10th Viscount Powerscourt, in 1962. They divorced, however, the same year as the fire, in 1974.

Christies held a sale of the rescued contents of Powerscourt in 1984. Many of the belongings were purchased by Ken Rohan, owner of nearby Charleville House. When I visited Charleville, another section 482 house, the tour guide pointed out the grand decorative curtain pelments purchased in the Powerscourt sale.

Finally, there is a Bagot connection to the Wingfields, albeit indirectly, and I haven’t found any connection (yet!) of my family with this Irish Bagot family. Christopher Neville Bagot (1821-1877) married Alice Emily Verner. When Christopher died, he left a large estate. His son was born less than nine months after he married, and his brother contested the will, claiming that the son, William Hugh Neville Bagot (1875-1960) was not really Christopher Bagot’s son. Alice Emily and her son won the trial to the extent that her son inherited Christopher’s money, but Christopher’s brother inherited the land. Alice Emily came from a well-connected family. Her mother was a Pakenham. Her grandmother was Harriet Wingfield (1801-1877), a daughter of Edward Wingfield (1772-1859), who was the son of Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt – the one who built Powerscourt Townhouse!

[1] O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Arurum Press Limited, London, published 1998, paperback edition 2008.

[2] p. 111, O’Reilly, Sean.

[3] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners

[4] A Bagot married into the Herbert family, who owned Durrow Abbey before the Slazenger family. John Bagot married Mary Herbert, daughter of the 2nd Baronet of Durrow Abbey in 1728.

[5] For more on the ownership of Durrow Abbey, see the Irish Aesthete: https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/04/23/in-limbo-2/

[6] architectural definitions

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16400717/powerscourt-house-powerscourt-demesne-enniskerry-co-wicklow

[8] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses.[originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978]; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/13/another-perspective/

[10] Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2

[11] For the continuation of the Wingfield line who lived in Powerscourt, I refer to Burke’s Peerage, and to the website of Timothy William Ferres, otherwise known as Lord Belmont:

http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners

The Wingfields married well. The 3rd Viscount’s son inherited the title and estate: Richard Wingfield, 4th Viscount (1762-1809).

He married firstly, in 1789, Catherine, second daughter of John Meade, 1st Earl of Clanwilliam, by whom he had his successor, Richard.

RICHARD, 5th Viscount (1790-1823), married Frances Theodosia, eldest daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Earl of Roden, and their son, Richard, became his successor.

RICHARD, 6th Viscount (1815-44), who married, in 1836, his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte Jocelyn, daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Roden. He was succeeded by his son, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

MERVYN EDWARD, 7th Viscount (1836-1904), KP, Privy Counsellor, who wedded, in 1864, the Lady Julia Coke, daughter of Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (of the seventh creation!). According to Turtle Bunbury [13], Mervyn published two books: “Wingfield Memorials” (1894) and “A History of Powerscourt” (1903). He was elected president of the Royal Dublin Society and was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Science. He was made a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1871. He was later appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland, acting as one of the Lord Justices of Ireland in 1902.

Mervyn Edward and Julia’s son, Mervyn Wingfield (1880-1947), become the 8th Viscount and succeeded to Powerscourt. The 8th Viscount was the last Lord-Lieutenant of County Wicklow, from 1910 until 1922. After Irish Independence, he was elected by W.T. Cosgrave to serve as a Senator in 1921. His son, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield (1905–73) became the 9th Viscount.

The 9th Viscount followed in the family’s military tradition and served in WWII and was captured and became a prisoner of war. According to wikipedia [14], he suffered from shell shock. His wife and children moved to Bermuda during the war and returned to Powerscourt afterwards but their marriage fell apart, and Mervyn Patrick sold Powerscourt.

According to Turtle Bunbury, Richard Wingfield 1st Viscount had a daughter, Isabella, who in 1722 married Sir Henry King, MP for Boyle and Roscommon, who built King House in County Roscommon, another section 482 property. [13]

Turtle Bunbury also tells us that the 6th Viscount Powerscourt purchased Luggala, also in County Wicklow, in 1840, from the “financially challenged” La Touche family. We will come across the La Touch family when I write about Harristown, another Section 482 property.

[12] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Wicklow/Powerscourt-House.html

[13] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_powerscourt.html

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mervyn_Patrick_Wingfield,_9th_Viscount_Powerscourt