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Building of the Month - July 2014

Batty Langley Lodge at Castletown, CASTLETOWN Td., Celbridge, County Kildare

Batty Langley Lodge 01 - Building of the Month July 2014

Nestled in the woods on the eastern boundary of the Castletown estate, County Kildare, the eighteenth-century gate lodge informally known as the Batty Langley Lodge is one of the finest features of this renowned demesne (fig. 1).  It was built for Lady Louise Conolly (1743-1821), wife of Thomas Conolly MP (1738-1803), and was one of the numerous improvements she made to maintain the prestigious status of Castletown and its surroundings.

The gate lodge is mentioned for the first time in 1772 when Lady Louisa is described as 'building a little Cottage and making a Pheasantry by the riverside, in a sweet spot'.  By August, the 'little Cottage' was finished and was described as 'very pretty'.  The gate lodge was further embellished in 1785 when a semi-polygonal Gothic façade, built in finely-cut deep grey limestone, was applied to the existing front: the two stages of construction – the plain 'little Cottage' and the later façade – are still clearly visible today.

Batty Langley Lodge 02 - Gothic Architecture Plate I   Batty Langley Lodge 03 - Gothic Architecture Plate XLIII

Figures 2-3: Batty Langley's Gothic Architecture (1742; reissued 1747) attempted to improve Gothic architecture by imposing on it the rules and proportions of Classical architecture.  In Plate I Langley shows the transformation of the fluted Doric order into a comparable Gothic guise with the 'five new Orders of Columns, Plain & EnrichedForming Designs for Frontispieces, to Doors, Windows, Chimney-Pieces, Insides of Rooms &c. in the Gothick manner'.  Plate XLIII shows a Gothic chimneypiece.  The engraving is signed Batty Langley Inv. 1742 and T. [Thomas] Langley Sculp.

As unusual, stylised structures, Gothic buildings were appreciated for their picturesque impact on designed landscapes, especially when adopting the form of exotic follies and sham ruins.  Thomas Whately (1726-72), a politician and garden theorist whose books were part of the collection of the library in Castletown, wrote that 'in gardens every species of architecture may be admitted, from the Grecian down to the Chinese'.

The design for the new façade was adapted from Gothic Architecture (1742; reissued 1747) by Batty Langley (1696-1751), the English architect and garden designer (figs. 2-5).  An architectural pattern book 'to which is added An Historical Dissertation', Gothic Architecture showcased 'many Grand Designs…with Plans, Elevations and Profiles' to inspire prospective builders of 'Columns, Doors, Windows, Chimney-Pieces, Arcades, Colonades, Porticos, Umbrellos, Temples, and Pavilions &c. '.  Langley's designs were by and large characterised by an eclectic and mildly eccentric flowery style which made them indisputably appealing if not always consistent with "refined taste".  His influence was far reaching, particularly in America, and we have evidence, for example, that George Washington (1732-99) derived many of the features for his house and gardens at Mount Vernon (1758-78) from Langley patterns.

Batty Langley Lodge 04 - Gothic Architecture Plate LVII   Batty Langley Lodge 05 - Gothic Architecture Plate LVII Detail

Figures 4-5: Plate LVII and a detail of Plate LVII from Gothic Architecture showing the elevation and plan for a Gothick Temple.  Batty Langley's Gothic was not a recreation of medieval Gothic, rather an "improved" Gothic incorporating Greco-Roman Classical principles.  For instance, the windows are centrally placed between each buttress, adorning each wall with elegant proportions and thereby typical of eighteenth-century taste: windows typically occupy the whole space in medieval Gothic buildings, thus creating a wall made entirely of glass and light.  Furthermore, the mouldings between the windows and crowning pinnacles recall a Classical entablature and cornice

Batty Langley Lodge 06 - Representative View

Figure 6: The design for the new façade for the gate lodge was not copied directly from Langley's published pattern: originally conceived as a polygonal "garden temple", only a portion of the structure was applied to the pre-existing rectangular gate lodge.  In addition, the fleuron pinnacles crowing the ogee wimpergs in Langley's design were replaced at Castletown with slender obelisk pinnacles to lend the design a dramatic flair

‌In contrast to the formal symmetry of the new façade, one can easily be surprised by the irregularity of the remaining fronts (figs. 7-8).  Of the northern front only the doorcase on the right hand side is original: a second doorcase was added in the 1980s to replace a window lighting the staircase.  The southern front shows little formality in its composition, suggesting that it originally faced a small yard and was concealed from public view.  The small tin-roofed outbuilding that we can still see beside the gate lodge may be a vestige of the pheasantry alluded to in contemporary records.

Batty Langley Lodge 07 - North Front   Batty Langley Lodge 08 - South Front

‌Over time the exterior of the gate lodge was little altered: most of the slates on the roof are original and the render, while recent, was ruled and lined in the spirit of the eighteenth century.  By contrast, however, the interior has been significantly altered and only the moulded cornices, some parts of the lath-and-plaster ceilings, and a section of the stairs are original.  These too were repaired with respect for their provenance.  The restoration of Batty Langley Lodge was carried out in 2003 by the Irish Landmark Trust, a non-profit organisation which refurbishes historical buildings to transform them into sustainable holiday accommodations.

Batty Langley Lodge 09 - Setting or View from River Liffey

Figure 9: Batty Langley Lodge viewed from the bank of the River Liffey

While the surviving building is known as a gate lodge, due to its position adjacent to one of the gates onto the estate, it is almost without doubt that Batty Langley Lodge was intended to double as a cottage orné, a small garden retreat to where landlords and their family could escape their official duties and enjoy the pleasure of the countryside.  Certainly, the gate lodge is unusual in that its frontispiece faces into the estate rather than onto the public road as if specifically designed to be viewed from the River Liffey below (fig. 9).  Apart from its architecture, what makes the Batty Langley Lodge exceptional is the fact that the landscape into which it was designed to fit is relatively well preserved.  The Gothic façade closes the vista of a walking trail created along the river before 1760; Lady Louisa also created the serpentine approach linking the gate and its lodge to the house.  The reinstatement of these historic trails has been carried out by the Office of Public Works in recent years.  The trails, together with Batty Langley Lodge and the rest of the designed landscape, make the Castletown estate a joy to visit.

Thomas Morel, a student in the École Nationale des Chartes in Paris, completed a one-month placement with the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in Spring 2014

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