Archive of the Month
An Even Wider Window to an Ecclesiastical World
By Dr Michael O’Neill
As well as 6,900 architectural drawings in 50 portfolios for new churches and extensions and restorations of those existing, and cathedrals already catalogued and available online, the Church of Ireland’s architectural drawings collections at the RCB Library further include ten albums of bound drawings of churches. These contain some 1,500 drawings, which have just been added to the online searchable database
The “Pain” and “Welland” Albums – as they are known in–house among Library staff – can be regarded as part of the inventory work of the newly established Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1833 getting to grips with its role – taking over from the Board of First Fruits in church building and repairs. They additionally provided the funding for the day to day running of each church – salaries for clerks and sextons, purchasing the elements (bread and wine) etc., money which was formerly raised through vestry assessment (cess).
The ten albums, or rather 8 of the ten (the final two contain proposals and working drawings) record the result of frenetic building activity by the Board of First Fruits (founded in 1711) in the period 1784 to c.1827, when the Board’s funds were very significantly increased by parliamentary grants. During the years 1808 to 1821 government funding was enormous and restrictions on church rebuilding was lifted. The Board also provided significant loans for the building of glebe houses.
The six earliest albums contain drawings by James Pain and record the churches in the dioceses of Cashel & Emly (44 churches), Cloyne (65 churches), Cork & Ross (78 churches), Killaloe & Kilfenora (59 churches), Limerick & Ardfert (72 churches), and Waterford & Lismore (39 churches), totalling 357 churches. Pain generally provided a ground plan, showing the internal arrangements, an external elevation, and a site plan for each church.
A number of the churches recorded here had actually been designed by Pain himself or in partnership with his brother George Richard (they arrived in Ireland in 1813 and 1814 respectively), and James was provincial architect since 1823, but unfortunately he did not identify these or date his own work.
The four later albums contain the drawings by Joseph Welland. Welland was born in Midleton, Co. Cork, and trained in the office of John Bowden, the first architect employed by the Board of First Fruits. When Bowden died in 1822, Welland inherited some at least of his practice and also became provincial architect for the province of Tuam. Two of his albums cover the ecclesiastical province of Tuam and part of the province of Armagh. They cover the dioceses of Killala (11 churches), Achonry (9 churches), Ardagh (11 churches), Elphin (28 churches), Kilmore (28 churches), Meath (64 churches), Tuam (26 churches), Clonfert (10 churches), and Kilmacduagh (4 churches). Ardagh, Kilmore and Meath were in Armagh province, the other dioceses were in Tuam province.
Welland devoted a single page to each church, providing a ground plan with the internal arrangements rendered in detail and a site plan. Unfortunately he did not provide elevations, so we cannot read the massing of the buildings as easily as we can with the Pain inventories.
These drawings are of First Fruit Churches – rectangular buildings with a west tower – still are iconic feature in the Irish landscape. Often dramatically located, sometimes in seemingly isolated places, they generally replaced medieval churches on the same sites. They mark medieval settlement patterns in what is the palimpsest of the Irish landscape which is now largely overlain with the eighteenth century field system. The Church of Ireland inherited the apparatus of the medieval church, some of the sites are from an even earlier dispensation.
The attached map shows the extent of the country covered by the drawing inventories. While Cashel and Tuam provinces were recorded more or less in their entirety, only three of the dioceses in Armagh province were recorded (omitting Armagh, Clogher, Connor, Derry, Down, Dromore, and Raphoe). And Dublin province was not recorded (Dublin (and Glendalough), Ferns, Kildare, Leighlin and Ossory). There is some slight internal evidence that there may have been other volumes – and one might have expected that John Semple or Frederick Darley would have inventoried Dublin province and likewise William Farrell the remaining dioceses in Armagh province.
However it is important to concentrate on what we have. What is striking about the churches in Cashel province is the sheer variety of solutions within a limited enough palette. What are depicted are nave and chancel churches (often with a bow chancel) or more commonly a nave with integrated (structurally undifferentiated) chancel. While some churches have a west entrance porch – and many of these look old – the majority have a west tower, and here there is a huge variety of treatments. Strings generally mark off the stages which can be two, three, or four in height, battlemented on top or not, and more rarely topped with a spire. The great variety suggests local contractors and builders following the instructions of the parish vestry who expressed a generic requirement for a rectangular building and west tower in generally a gothic idiom. There is nearly always a window in the east gable. And when John Bowden became architect to the Board c.1814, he too provided drawings and supervised building in this style. In is then easy enough to spot the architect designed buildings, those of the Pains’ – spiky Gothic detailing and Greek cross plans, diagonally placed vestries at the east end, or flanking the western tower and thus wider than the nave. And certainly those few in a Classical idiom seem to be architect designed.
Welland’s two survey volumes do not include elevations so the variations in tower design is not recorded. However as in Cashel province, in Tuam and part of Armagh, the west tower is an almost ubiquitous feature. Again there are many integrated chancels, some bow chancels, and in Meath diocese in particular there are quite a number of short narrow chancels. In Killala diocese on the other hand, there are a significant number of eastern vestries at a lower height beyond the east gable of the integrated nave and chancel churches.
Perhaps as interesting is the fact that both architects assiduously recorded the internal arrangement of each church. These show in particular the ubiquity of box pews, seating set on three sides with an entrance door on the fourth which was duplicated throughout the church. Box pews were in effect private property owned by either families or individuals, and thus we may argue that aspects of individual church interiors were privatised in this period. This seems surprising given how these churches were funded. The Board of First Fruits gave outright gifts and loans. The loans were generally paid back over a number of years by means of the parish cess – a charge on the whole population of the parish irrespective of religious affiliation. Given that the churches were built from a combination of parliamentary grants and local taxation it seems strange perhaps that the interiors were thoroughly privatised, that class divisions and advantage were adhered to so assiduously, but it all contributed to the income and sustentation of the buildings themselves. That so many new churches had been built by the 1820s must have been a factor in the announcement of the Second Reformation campaign by Archbishop Magee in October 1822. The fact however that real accommodation was so limited in these churches may have been a factor in the ultimate failure of this campaign. In fact a clearly stated early policy of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners continued over the next decades was to put in single seating (benches) in new churches and remove box pews in the refurbishment of existing ones.
To build additional churches and rebuild existing ones in the 1830s and 1840s, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners resorted to a simplified church design, sometimes referred to as bell–cote churches, where a bell turret on the west gable substituted for a more expensive tower, with or without spire. Many of these drawings are found in the portfolios. The final two Welland albums post–date the ‘bell–cote’ building phase and reflect the period when Joseph Welland became the sole architect employed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, effectively supervising the whole country from 1843 until his death in 1860. The designs in these albums, the Z–plan church, the larger urban church: cruciform, twin aisled, with increasingly elaborate towers with spires on the side rather than west elevation, are duplicated, elaborated, and simplified again and again in the portfolio drawings for each diocese.
The albums then provide a key source for understanding the major First Fruits church building phase (1780s to 1820s). Many of these churches were repaired, rebuilt or extended from the later 1830s to the late 1860s – see graph below.
This inventory work (the Albums) coincided with the Ordnance Survey mapping project of the whole country, which definitively mapped the Civil (Church of Ireland) parishes, a project not undertaken since the 17th–century Down Survey. As with the Ordnance Survey Letters (John O’Donovan et al), and the recording of antiquities by George Petrie and George Victor Du Noyer, our architects also knowingly recorded quite a significant number of medieval churches, still then in use. Inevitably, many of these too were replaced in the ensuing decades.
The Library is most grateful to the Irish Architectural Archive and its CEO, Colum O’Riordan, who facilitated the imaging of the albums using state–of–the art digital equipment, which greatly enhances the quality of their reproduction. The addition of these 1,500 drawings with the corresponding searchable finding aid is another significant milestone along the road to both making sense of and availability to the Church of Ireland’s immensely rich architectural collection for a worldwide audience.