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

Front elevation of Ballysakeery Glebe House, drawn c. 1815, from the portfolio of Glebe House and Rectory Drawings, RCB Library GH/1.
Front elevation of Ballysakeery Glebe House, drawn c. 1815, from the portfolio of Glebe House and Rectory Drawings, RCB Library GH/1.

‘A Roof Over Clerical Heads’ is the working title of the new online exhibition from the Church of Ireland’s RCB Library, showcasing the Library’s small but significant collection of architectural drawings of glebe houses from various parts of the country. Many former glebe houses are now in private ownership so the exhibition should be of particular interest to those who live in such houses, as well as valuable for others with historical and architectural interests.

The collection consists of some 70 sets of drawings – 280 drawings in all, some with related specifications. Some 28 of these sets are 20th century, mainly from the 1960s, while the remainder date from the 19th century, the majority from the first three decades. The collection forms one component of the Library’s extensive collection of architectural drawings of churches, cathedrals and clergy residences which are systematically being catalogued, imaged, and web–published through the Church of Ireland website for all the world to see at this link: https://archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org

To date (as of February 2017) over 4,500 drawings have been made available online for the churches in 15 of the 26 dioceses. Further background description information about the project is also available here: www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6357/architectural–drawings–archive

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 or 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. 

Over 800 glebe houses were built throughout Ireland during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Drawings also sometimes survive bound up in parish collections and occasionally in vestry books, many of which are also held in the Library’s collections. However, 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), with maps or terriers of glebe lands 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 during the Irish Civil War. Thus, what survives, for whatever reasons, prior to 1922 is infinitely precious. Church drawings survive in much larger quantities.

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. Early 19th–century drawings in this collection 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 from 1789 to 1821, was involved in the design of Ardbraccan See House, Dungannon, Paynestown, Nobber and Allenstown glebe houses, as well as the design of Navan, Collon and Ardbraccan churches. Beaufort was one of 49 clergymen 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.
The online exhibition brings these and other examples of glebe houses and rectories to light, adding 280 drawings to the viewable online catalogue, and demonstrating their unique visual impact on the Irish landscape. A standalone list of the glebe house drawings is available here: www.ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/pdf/AboutUs/library/AoftM/2017/GlebeHouses.pdf

The Architectural Drawings Project (which is carried out for the Church of Ireland by the architectural historian, Dr Michael O’Neill) has been supported by public and private funding, and an ongoing commitment from central church funds to see it to completion. The 280 drawings themselves have been integrated to the main online collection, which can be viewed here: https://archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org

For further information please contact:

Church of Ireland Press Office 
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Peter Cheney

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Janet Maxwell

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