Buxton House’s grandeur makes a grand home

A pristine, 200-year-old Georgian in an enclave on Cork’s Sunday’s Well has been lovingly restored by the vendors, says Tommy Barker

The house is in mint order, a real period deal done up over several decades by its downsizing occupants ... they’ve lavished love on it

OVER 200 years old, Buxton House has had two watchful eyes on it: first, it was the birthplace of the talented photographer, the Jesuit priest Fr Frank Browne, whose most notable images were of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, and, second, its current owners have made it picture-perfect once more.

Fr Browne was born into comfortable family surroundings in Sunday’s Well, Cork city, in 1880, and later was reared by his uncle, the bishop of Cloyne, Dr Peter Browne. But the Georgian Buxton House had stood long ever before the pioneering photographer’s arrival in salubrious society. His mother, Bridgid Hegarty was the daughter of a wealthy lord mayor of Cork, and had grown up in the country-home-style period house, Ardfallen, close-by. When she married, she and her new husband, James Browne, were given this house in Ardfallen’s grounds. Their son Francis or Frank, was one of eight children, and he began his photography in 1897, when he set off on a grand tour upon leaving school in Dublin. He was given a ticket by Bishop Browne for the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to Queenstown (Cobh) in April, 1912. He documented the attractions of the ship, passenger and crew, and his images are world-renowned.

Buxton House is likely to have new owners by the time of the April, 2012 centenary of the Titanic’s sinking.

The house is in mint order, a real period deal done up over several decades by its now-downsizing occupants, whose family are reared and have flown the nest. They took several years of deliberation before taking the hard decision to sell, such is their love for the house and grounds.

They’ve clearly lavished that love, and their labours, on Buxton House down the 23 years since they bought it. Back then, it had been empty for a few years after spending years subdivided as flats, a different entity to what it is restored. It’s as good as our images show, yet homely.

Their work included making new sash windows in pitch pine and hardwood, fashioning furniture, window seats and bookcases aplenty for their private, colonising library of books, scraping back plastic tiles and concrete to reveal original ‘buried’ kitchen-floor tiles, repairing decorative plaster work, doing fabrics and curtains, and painstaking decor, all with a sense of passion, purpose and appropriateness.

Now, it’s new to market as a pristine period property within an easy walk of the city centre, with agents, Sheila O’Flynn and Michael O’Donovan, of Sherry FitzGerald, who know they’ve something rare on their hands, a place to appeal to the purists.

And, while much of Sunday’s Well’s houses rightly made millions during the boom, and had millions more lavished on them following purchase, this is good to go as-is, at, around, or even over its €680,000 price, and comes with a few handy extra attributes as well.

It’s one of about four or five very different, very private and distinct houses invisibly set behind old, low-key limestone pillars and suitably-restrained electric access gates, all with garden bowers screened by mature trees, laurels, pines and hardwoods, and lots of parking.

If ever there was an unexpected niche, city residential enclave, this Buxton collection fits the description.

Buxton House was originally one very long house, with 6,000 sq ft: now, its been split into two equal-sized semis, Nos 110 and 111 Sunday’s Well, each deferring sufficiently to one another’s privacy.

You really wouldn’t know that No 111 is a semi, or ‘half’ of an earlier mansion — and you won’t be short of quality space either.

Many of Sunday’s Well’s best houses suffer from lack of parking, but no such problem here, there’s room for a clutch of cars in the private grounds and driveway, plus there’s a double garage almost hidden in the greenery. Internally, all is Georgian grace, yet manageable. Two fine, well-proportioned reception rooms compete for ‘best room’ status, with elegant marble fireplaces, restored sash windows, tall ceilings and cornice work, all made for art and books display, decorated — nay, appointed — with taste. Old bells by fireplaces here, and in the main bedrooms, used originally to summon servants, have been renewed and wired-up, and have been known to successfully conjure up cups of tea from obliging offspring.

The family dining room is in the place of the original, big old kitchen, with a solid-fuel stove in lieu of the old, blackened range set into a wall of glazed white-and-blue tiles, and has a small but super-efficient kitchen behind, plus utility/pantry, as well as a guest WC with bath. French doors open from the dining space to a sheltered, east-facing and lushly-green courtyard for morning coffees.

There’s quality woodwork in abundance, restored windows, working sashes, three bathrooms serving the two floors and the five bedrooms, with a rear annexe allowing for back landing/library and even more walls for display purposes. Don’t at all underestimate the wall area, or ceiling heights. One wall, by the elegant carpeted stairs, is so high that each ‘drop’ for wallpapers takes the best part of a full roll to cover.

VERDICT: Fine, 200-year-old city homes don’t come more complete than this, especially in the price range.

Fr Frank Brown, whose most notable images were of the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

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