Buffered by its manicured acres, this elegant home links Ireland’s story of barley and brewing, writes Tommy Barker.
Charleston House, Ballinacurra, Midleton
€795,000 house/€3.7 million with dev land
Size: 538 sq m (5,800 sq ft), on 2 acres or 12 acres
Bedrooms: 6 plus attic rooms
Best Feature: Pride of Midleton
THERE’S 200 years of history going with the well-chronicled East Cork’s Charleston House, as it moves into a new chapter of ownership and change.
It comprises a pristine, always-maintained 106-year-old period home offered on two acres of gardens, plus a further ten acres of woodland-fringed pasture in several divisions, zoned for residential development, within a walk of Midleton town, and near several well-regarded housing developments.
The upstanding, finely-placed and gracious Edwardian home is steeped in local community lore and life and commerce.
It was built in 1911 overlooking the waters of Cork harbour at Ballinacurra, so that its first owner could survey from there the primary interests of his life.
Those interests spanned 19th century barley malthouses, the regular shipping of malt from Leeside to Guinness on the Liffey’s quays in Dublin, and the state of the tides, as the house’s first owner — one John H Bennett — also was an accomplished and competitive yachtsman.
Charleston House (originally Charlestown) is inextricably linked to the falls and rises of Midleton’s prosperity and development, set as it is in the midst of some of Ireland’s finest tillage lands.
In latter years it passed down to Prof Trevor West, a Trinity mathematician and one-time senator who wrote books on topics as diverse as mathematical theory, sport, the cooperative movement, Horace Plunkett and local and family history centered on Charleston House, as well as on the evolution of barley growing and malting in Ireland.
and Horace Plunkett, and on local and family history, centered on Charleston House, as well as the evolution of barley growing and malting in Ireland.
Access to quality grains, in abundance, and the broader agricultural base made the region, and Cork harbour, a centre for provisioning much of the British Empire t across the Atlantic in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, generatingenormous wealth.
Along with distilling as a worldwide claim to fame for Midleton, malting came to nearby Ballinacurra in the 18th century, thanks to the diligence of Scots entrepreneurs, with grains from the region going to brewers Murphys, Beamish & Crawford, and Guinness. at St James Gate.
By the late 1800s, a young John Bennett got involved after his father’s death, eventually forging a strong link to the rapidly expanding Guinness dynasty, malting barley for them on commission, and was a key player in propagating new strains of barley seed, via the Ballinacurra Cereal Station,in popularising the dependable Spratt-Archer seed across Ireland, and into England via Norfolk.
Bennett was an excellent diarist, and his records are hugely valuable snapshot of commerce and genetics over many decades and into and out of momentous wars and uprisings.
It wasn’t all work and no play: John H Bennett also kept meticulous records of his days shooting birds, and competing in yacht races in Cork Harbour and on the Clyde in world-class yachts such as the 20-tonne Verve, Vanity and Lucifer, under seemingly acres of billowing sails. Consider the
Iconic images of classic sailing yachts of early America’s Cup days, and , well, original photographs of Irish and English equivalents and their professional crews grace the walls of Charleston House.
Its early owner was Commodore of the Royal Munster Yacht Club in Queenstown (now Cobh,) and to this day a large RMYC club pennant hangs with pride in the house’s formal dining room.
And, for whoever buys Charleston House, — as it is now for sale — he also kept detailed records of its design under its architect Robert Walker, listing the sources of tiles, girders, gates and even wallpapers.
Those files, and copies of correspondence with the clearly accomplished architect Robert Walker in the run-up to this house’s construction, are set to go the Architectural Archive in Dublin, while an enormous collection of invaluable estate and maltings records are already with Cork City Archivist Brian Magee.
Having been widowed, and after the death in World War l of his son Jack (who had helped him to build the new Charleston House at a remove from the original one), John H Bennett married Esther MacNeill, who also had been widowed.
She had a 13-year old daughter, Dorothy, and after her stepfather Bennett’s death in 1935, Dorothy took over the company. , after his 50 years steering it through choppy waters.
Oxford-educated Dorothy Trevor McNeill was the only woman to head up a malting firm in all of Europe, as she was told when she hosted the European Barley Convention on a 1957/1958 Grand Tour, when delegates visited Charleston House, so enmeshed was it in the region’s fields of barley, and stout prowess.
The highly-capable Dorothy married Timothy West, who was Headmaster at Midleton College, and they had four sons, Trevor, Neill, Brian, and John: the latter, John West, became very well known as an astute rugby referee.
described as the Nigel Owen of his day.
The many facets of Dorothy and Timothy West’s eldest son Trevor’s life are acknowledged in a book of memories, Trevor West, The Bold Collegian, with a forward by Mary Robinson, as he had served as her election agent to the Seanad.
Gaining a doctorate at Cambridge, he taught at Glasgow University and UCLA, before returning to Trinity, and alway maintained his link to Charleston.
He married Maura Lee, who worked in RTÉ as in a programme maker, including a senior role in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, after the couple had been introduced by Trevor West’s friend, poet Brendan Kennelly. Prof West passed away in 2012.
Apart from its long, and proudly documented history, it is a first-rate house, in first-rate condition having always been carefully maintained, and after renovations and refurbishment in the early 2000s.
It comes to market in three lots, via agents Savills in Cork City, who have a two-pronged approach to its sale.
The six-bed house, with all its brasses gleaming, bright and lovely and authentic to its core, is guided at a surely-modest €795,000, on a sufficiently buffering two acres.
Agent Michael O’Donovan says it’s a glory, “an exceptionally well-built and well-designed property, in impeccable condition.”
His Savills colleague, Peter O’Meara picks up the mantle on the development land front with its ten acres of largely level land, with extensive dual frontage to public roads, with views to the water through mature trees and hedgerows.
Surrounding is a mix of mature residential developments such as The Cotswolds, Castleredmond, and niche townhouses at Charleston Court, as well as one-off detached houses: one, the modern but Victorian-styled Charleston Lodge on the Bailick Road abutting this property made €550,000 in 2016.
The ten development acres here have a split zoning, including high- and mid-density, and the Midleton Local Area Plan notes that any development proposal “should take cognisance of the period property nearby,” namely Charleston House.
Guide for the development land as lot 2 is around €2.95 million, and the third lot is the entire bought as one, for c €3.7 million.
Charleston House has changed only gently over the past century or so, maturing to a patina of glossed age, with its heavy dash walls a canvas for clambering cloaking plants, including Wisteria, Virginia Creeper, and roses.
Under its roofs of many thousands of small, red clay tiles over the main house, rear wing and outbuildings, it has its original, weighted sash windows, many with a distinctive twelve-pane-over-one-pane pattern, and a hardwood front door, with secondary side and rear courtyard access points, by a large garage and a network of garden store rooms, as well as a private, courtyard garden off a family den/library.
Workmanship day one was exemplary (overseen by the hands-on John H and Jack Bennett) with pitch pine and Scots pine timbers used, as well as oak. Ceiling heights at ground level off a central hall are a good 10’ plus, with unostentatious plasterwork.
Its front, formal rooms, drawing and dining, have garden and water glimpses, with a feature undulating hedge rippling across the large expanse of lawn and flowering trees and shrubs.
Those views open out all the more from the upper level’s two front bedrooms, where a timber garden pavilion room almost as old as the house still stands.
Overall, it’s a generous house, thanks to its c 5,500 sq ft with well-proportioned rooms, not too many of them, with a morning room and a study backing up the two front ‘good’ rooms.
The hall’s wide, with feature staircase and return leading to an equally wide landing, complete with zebra hide in pride of place.
While the main two-storey-plus-attic level section is quite square, there’s a return annexe over two levels, plus hideaway attic rooms that house the more practical, older-era sections such as two staff bedrooms, two full his-and-hers bathrooms, each with cast-iron baths.
There’s a separate WC with old wooden seat, and two of the four principal bedrooms are en-suite.
The ground level off the annexe section has a back hall, a dry parlour, a wet parlour, a modern kitchen with range, and a scullery/utility, with courtyard access.
That might seem plenty for any family, but almost a crowning glory is the top floor and its suite of attic rooms.
A discrete door on the landing leads up a second flight of stairs to a whole other world, with three large rooms, one of which is called the tank room after the days when it held an enormous water storage tank, with water pumped up from a garage tank and which originally came from the two wells on the property. Now, mains water does the job at the turn of a tap.
Indicative of the scale of investment in building this house at the outset are the long runs of steel RSJs visible up here in the bone-dry attic rooms, and they and a ‘secret’ room, reached through a low, brick arch ope, will exert an almost magnetic draw to children and those with imagination, or stuff to be stored, or artistic creativity looking for a studio with soul.
The house’s aspect is facing south-west, and it’s screened from the Midleton/Ballinacurra road by a high, anonymous, stone wall that gives nothing away about the glories within, once past its electric gates and watchful security features.
A private delight is the hedge-fringed private garden off the study, with south-east terrace, select planting and water feature, while a leafy woodland path with carpet-soft surface leads out around the overall 12 acres boundary toward the quays at Ballinacurra, a former place of commerce that enabled a home as good as this to be built, and maintained.
While the character on the broader front will change once more after new residential development takes place, the two acres staying with this house will be more than enough compensation for most.