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A Roof over Clerical Heads: Visual Insight to Glebe House Drawings

By Dr Michael O’Neill

A Roof over Clerical Heads: Visual Insight to Glebe House Drawings

The characteristic glebe–house is a two–storey three–bay house with a basement, a hipped roof and either two stacks or a single stack, well set about with trees and with a yard at the back.

[Maurice Craig, Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (London 1976), p.39].

The RCB Library has a small but significant collection of architectural drawings of glebe houses from various parts of the country. There are some 70 sets of drawings (some 280 drawings including some written specifications),  28 of these sets are 20th  century, mainly from the 1960s. The remainder are 19th  century, the majority from the first three decades. In reality this is a small survival rate, given that we know that over 800 glebe houses were built in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Drawings also sometimes survive bound up in parish collections and occasionally in vestry books. It is likely that many glebe house plans were lodged in the diocesan registries when building was completed (as directed on the drawing for Kilgobban). Maps or terriers of glebe lands were also deposited there. These diocesan registry collections were subsequently moved to the Public Records Office of Ireland and destroyed in the fire there in 1922 in the course of the Civil War. What survives, for whatever reasons, prior to 1922 is thus infinitely precious. Church drawings survive in much larger quantities. A project to digitise, catalogue and web publish the RCBL portfolio collections is ongoing. To date (February 2017) over 4,500 drawings are available on-line for the churches in 15 of the 26 dioceses. For a description of this project see www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6357/architectural–drawings–archive and www.buildingsofireland.ie/Surveys/Buildings/BuildingoftheMonth/Archive/Name,1984,en.html

A glebe house is a residence provided in each parish (or parish union) for the clergy man or woman and his or her family. In the past glebe land (farm land) was also provided for the rector/vicar/curate of rural parishes, the clergyman up to the late 19th century was often also a farmer or leased out farmland. In the 18th and early 19th centuries clergymen were often exemplars in introducing and implementing agricultural improvements.

Glebe lands were an inheritance from the medieval period. Much of this land was lost to lay impropriators following the Reformation, and more again during the Commonwealth period. The church authorities in the 18th and 19th centuries spent considerable sums providing glebe land for parish clergy. This was an indirect way of supplementing clerical income. Clergymen in the medieval period lived in residential towers generally located at the west end of the parish church,  also serving as a belfry to call the faithful to church. Bishop Ussher in his 1622 visitation of Meath diocese referred to them as castles. Some 17th century  glebe houses were built in the style of fortified houses. However 18th century visitations often also referred to the ‘miserable cabbins’ provided for the incumbent, in most cases precluding residence in the parish or union, particularly for a clergyman with a family.

Screen medieval church ruin. The west tower was both the residence of the medieval clergyman and also served as a belfry. Drawings of the 19th glebe house are bound up in the parish collection. See https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6374/the-meath-diocesan-archive
Screen medieval church ruin. The west tower was both the residence of the medieval clergyman and also served as a belfry. Drawings of the 19th glebe house are bound up in the parish collection. See https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6374/the-meath-diocesan-archive

The poverty of much of the clergy of the established church led to Queen Anne setting up the Board of First Fruits in Ireland in 1711. This initiative (similar to the Queen Anne’s Bounty of 1704 for the Church of England) redirected first fruits or annates (the first years income of a clergyman to any new post due to the Crown) into a fund for building new churches, glebes and glebe houses. In the first seventy years or so the Board of First Fruits purchased glebe land worth £3,500. It also assisted building 45 glebe houses with gifts worth £4,000. Annual parliamentary grants during the period 1791–1803 allowed the Board to spent £55,600 towards  building  88 churches and 116 glebe houses. Significantly larger grants In the 20 years following the Act of Union meant a total of £807,648 was paid out in grants to purchases glebe lands in 193 benefices, building 550 glebe houses, and building, rebuilding and enlargement of 697 churches. By 1832 some 829 glebe houses had been built. Small wonder then that hall and tower ‘First Fruits’ churches and glebe houses are such a prominent feature of the Irish rural landscape.

Revd Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821). Clergyman, architect and cartographer, with copy of his biographical entry from the published clerical succession list: JB Leslie and WJR Wallace, Clergy of Meath and Kildare (Columba Press, 2009) p. 317.
Revd Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821). Clergyman, architect and cartographer, with copy of his biographical entry from the published clerical succession list: JB Leslie and WJR Wallace, Clergy of Meath and Kildare (Columba Press, 2009) p. 317.
Revd Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821). Clergyman, architect and cartographer, with copy of his biographical entry from the published clerical succession list: JB Leslie and WJR Wallace, Clergy of Meath and Kildare (Columba Press, 2009) p. 317.
Revd Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821). Clergyman, architect and cartographer, with copy of his biographical entry from the published clerical succession list: JB Leslie and WJR Wallace, Clergy of Meath and Kildare (Columba Press, 2009) p. 317.

Early 19th–century drawings include designs by prominent architects including William Morrison (Raheny, 1810), John Bowden (Kilgobban, 1817), John Lynn (Collolly, Swinford, 1819), John Semple & Son (Grangegorman 1827, Kinneagh 1830) and Joseph Welland (Kilcolman, Louisburg, Mayo parish, all 1827). Interestingly three designs were by clergymen (Jarratts at Ballymote 1807, Seymour at Kilmovee 1812 and Verschoyle at Ballisakeery 1815), other unsigned drawings are possibly also by the incumbents. The clergyman as amateur architect is not without precedent. Daniel Augustus Beaufort, rector of Navan from 1765 to 1819 and vicar of Collon 1789–1821, was involved in the design of Ardbraccan See House, Dungannon, Paynestown, Nobber and Allenstown glebe house, as well as the design of Navan, Collon and Ardbraccan churches. Beaufort was one of 49 clergyman on the list of subscribers to the Revd John Payne’s Twelve designs of country–houses, of two, three and four rooms on a floor, proper for glebes and small estates, published in Dublin in 1757. Payne was rector of Castlerickard from 1762 to 1771, he died in Dublin in 1785. He designed Trim glebe house and possibly that at Dromiskin (Ardronan), Co. Louth.

Title page from Revd John Payne's Twelve designs of country-houses, of two, three and four rooms on a floor, proper for glebes and small estates, published in Dublin in 1757
Title page from Revd John Payne's Twelve designs of country-houses, of two, three and four rooms on a floor, proper for glebes and small estates, published in Dublin in 1757

Paine’s text and drawings provide a valuable insight into small house design in the mid 18th  century. Only one of his twelve designs has a secondary stair, ‘back–stairs can not easily be had in a small House without contracting or losing some more necessary Part: and certainly one Stair–case is sufficient where nothing is to be met with above but common Lodging Rooms‘. Angle chimneys or corner fireplaces were already out of vogue, ‘but in small houses they cannot always be avoided‘, particularly on the bedroom floor and basement. The influence of architects of the stature of Edward Lovett Pearce and Richard Castle and the pattern books of Gibbs and Ware are seen in the elevations: heavy cornices with blocking courses, floating pediments, tripartite doorcases, keystone enriched architrave and gable ended stacks.

Plate XI from the manuscript of Payne's Twelve designs of country-houses… Note the doorcase treated as a Serliana, windows with shouldered architraves and keystones, plat bands and cornice. The influence of Pearce and Castle is evident in Payne's design.
Plate XI from the manuscript of Payne's Twelve designs of country-houses… Note the doorcase treated as a Serliana, windows with shouldered architraves and keystones, plat bands and cornice. The influence of Pearce and Castle is evident in Payne's design.

It is entirely possible that many later 18th–and 19th–century glebe houses were designed by the first incumbent to inhabit them and who indeed may well have read Payne’s published treatise. Another possibility is that a building clergyman consulted the plans of other glebe house plans laid up in the diocesan registry. Details of the biographies of most Church of Ireland clergy are now available in published format – as the example of Revd Daniel Beaufort above demonstrates.

Dunfeeny glebe house, Killala diocese, Co. Mayo, by Joseph Welland, 1828. The integration of house, rear enclosed yard and out houses is very clear.
Dunfeeny glebe house, Killala diocese, Co. Mayo, by Joseph Welland, 1828. The integration of house, rear enclosed yard and out houses is very clear.

Paine was primarily concerned with the design and layout of the glebe house. What is striking about the early nineteenth drawing collection is on the emphasis on the integration of house, rear enclosed yard and offices (stables, coach house, dairy, barn, out house etc.). This of course reflected the form of transport available – the horse and coach – and the self–sufficiency associated with farming glebe land. The site plan of Balliskeery Glebe for example, shows a walled garden to the rear of the house. Considerable attention was paid to the architectural detailing of these ancillary buildings. And a striking feature of examining glebe houses today is the quality and sophistication of the out buildings.

The elevations on the early 19th century drawings are plainer than those proposed by Paine, it is rare to have plat bands or heavy cornices or blocking courses. (Finglas is an exception with plat bands and gothic hood mouldings). And the ‘floating’ pediment characteristic of so many early eighteenth century houses (and used by Paine) has disappeared. Instead decoration is applied to the openings – including Wyatt (tripartite) windows, doors with side lights and fan lights. In many cases windows (and doors) are recessed in blind round–headed arches – a motif used by Richard Morrison, John Bowden and John Lynn.

Interior arrangements, following Payne, almost all employ a single stair as bedrooms as a piano nobile is not found on the upper floor. Also in the majority of cases a room is designated as a Study, generally located at the rear of the house, indicating the profession for which these houses were designed.

The plan of the house can be described by the disposition of the fireplaces and stacks. The tripartite plan has a central bay hall, the rooms to each side have fireplaces in the walls backing onto the hall and thus the chimney stacks rise in the middle of the roof. A similar plan will have the fireplaces in the end walls and thus the stacks rise from the gables. An alternative plan is to have a spine wall running the length of the house (perpendicular to the gables) in which the fireplaces are set. In this case the chimney flues are gathered in one long impressive stack in the middle of the roof. This is an iconic feature of many glebe houses found in the landscape.

Colloony glebe house, Ballisodare, by John Lynn, 1820. Plain window surrounds, sidelights and fanlight over the door. The plan shows the spine wall chimney arrangement, expressed at roof level by one long stack, an iconic feature of so many glebe houses.
Colloony glebe house, Ballisodare, by John Lynn, 1820. Plain window surrounds, sidelights and fanlight over the door. The plan shows the spine wall chimney arrangement, expressed at roof level by one long stack, an iconic feature of so many glebe houses.

Urban and suburban glebe houses eschew many of the outbuildings associated with farming. The small glebe house at Grangegorman built in 1827 by John Semple had small offices to the rear. (The building was extended in 1836). Ballinrobe Glebe House, dating from 1813 has two segmental  bow windows to rear elevation overlooking an extensive urban garden. It originally had a Gibbsian door surround and has single storey over basement wings. The basement storey of the wings served as office level with stables under one wing , potato and turf houses under the other. This then is a very accomplished urban glebe house design.
www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=MA&regno=31215044

Ballinrobe glebe house, Tuam diocese, Co. Mayo, 1813. The basement plan shows the coach house, stables, turf and potato houses located in the wings, a very sophisticated solution in an urban glebe house setting.
Ballinrobe glebe house, Tuam diocese, Co. Mayo, 1813. The basement plan shows the coach house, stables, turf and potato houses located in the wings, a very sophisticated solution in an urban glebe house setting.
Gormanstown glebe house, 1838, designed by John Semple & Son in 1827. Set in a parkland setting the glebe house is elegant and compact
Gormanstown glebe house, 1838, designed by John Semple & Son in 1827. Set in a parkland setting the glebe house is elegant and compact

John Bowden was architect to the Board of First Fruits from 1814 to 1821. He had been trained in the offices of Richard Morrison. In 1822 or 1823 John Semple was appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for the ecclesiastical province of Dublin. He and his son were responsible for a series of remarkable churches. The plans for many of these are on this website. Joseph Welland, a pupil of Bowden, became Board of First Fruits architect initially for the province of Tuam and after 1843, under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he was church architect for the whole country. Again very many of his church designs are on this website. It is important then to also have glebe house designs from these architects.

Two very fine post–disestablishment glebe house drawings survive for Wicklow (Sterling) and Powerscourt (Thomas Drew and Rawson Carroll).

The mid 20th century – the 1960s and 1980s – is represented by a series of glebe house rebuilds, Fellowes Prynne in Tuam diocese, Hubert Brown at Castlemacadam, McVeigh at Muckamore, McDonnell & Dixon at Geashill and an intriguing Glebe Type ‘A’ designs by the same firm. Later designs include work by George McCaw.

Label from drawings by George A. McCaw & Associates.
Label from drawings by George A. McCaw & Associates.

An interesting aspect of these drawings is the approach taken to siting the study and its relationship to the entrance hall. Rectories are both public and private spaces, this tension is very evident in the twentieth century designs as is the appearance of the garage replacing the ‘offices’ of the nineteenth century buildings.

Crossmolina rectory in Tuam diocese, Co. Mayo. by Fellowes Prynne, 1959. The study is located at the front of the house beside the entrance hall. The garage replaces the agricultural out buildings, stables and coach houses of the past.
Crossmolina rectory in Tuam diocese, Co. Mayo. by Fellowes Prynne, 1959. The study is located at the front of the house beside the entrance hall. The garage replaces the agricultural out buildings, stables and coach houses of the past.

Glebe houses are far more ubiquitous than this small collection of drawings would suggest. To give a good indication of the survival rate of 18th and 19th century glebe houses – most often now in private hands – see the architectural inventories for the Republic of Ireland. www.buildingsofireland.ie/Surveys/Buildings/

In summary then the collection of glebe house drawings provide a useful cross–section of early 19th century designs when glebe house building was most intense and the mid–20th century drawings capture the necessity to continue to provide solid and imposing residences for the clergy in each parish or union. A standalone list of these drawings is available as a pdf at this link, whilst the drawings themselves have been integrated with the church drawings collection, part of the Church’s ongoing digitisation and cataloguing project, and may be viewed here: archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org


Dr Michael O’Neill is an architectural historian and manages the Church of Ireland Architectural Drawings Project.

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