Possibly the most dramatically sited of the many tin mines scattered across Cornwall, the Wheal Coates mine operated from 1802 to 1889. This building is the Towanroath Pumping Engine House of 1872 that was used to pump water out of the adjacent mine shaft that extended under the sea. A great steam powered beam engine was once enclosed by the building. Though at third floor the back wall was open to allow the beam to project. Beautiful and full of character today, it would have been an extreme environment to work in, with sheer cliffs below and bog land above. Now part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site
St Michael's Mount is a dramatic island monastery/fortress connected to the land by a tidal causeway. The island is crowned by a church and is very similar in appearance to Mont Saint Michel across the English Channel in Normandy. it was, in fact, a priory owned by that monastery from the tenth century up to the 1414 when Henry V dissolved the link during the 100 Years War with France. it became a parish church thereafter. The current church is thought to have been built in the late 14th century following an earthquake. The defensible position of the island mean that it was involved in a number of incidents, including being held by Royalists during the English Civil War. In 1659 it was sold to a Colonel John St Aubyn a former soldier in the New Model Army and his decedents adapted and expanded the former monastic buildings into the fine castellated house that now encloses the church. The most recent works were carried out in the 1870's. The site is managed by the National Trust
The Minack Theatre near Porthcurrno Cornwall is a remarkable place. From a natural amphitheatre overlooking the sea, it was developed from 1932 onwards by Rowena Cade and her gardener. A delight to the eye, the reinforced concrete interventions are decorated with Celtic motifs and swirls and the names and dates of plays performed. Everywhere are dates recording when a particular piece was added. Rowena kept adapting the place until she was in her 80's and died in 1983. All built by hand, it shows the quirkiness of a project that was never on a drawing board and just developed organically over time as needs were understood and refined. Visiting is a real experience, driving up the steep narrow road from Porthcurno you arrive at a flat car parking field with expansive views and then walk down to the theatre though boundary walls and kiosks to a sudden vertiginous view down to the stage. When I was there the sun was very strong, the sea calm and the actors easily heard. A unique experience in a wonderful place.
Brackfield Bawn, beside Lower Cumber Presbyterian Church. One of two bawns or fortified houses built by the Skinners Company of London on their 'proportion' as part of the Plantation of Ulster in the early Seventeenth Century. The other bawn was in the village of Dungiven and reused the historic priory in that village. The construction of bawns was.a requirement of the Plantation and provided refuge for the new settlers from Scotland and England in times of uncertainty. They all tended to have a fortified stone house with a courtyard defended by corner turrets or 'flankers'. The bawn was the focus of a small settlement and 12 houses and a church are recorded outside its walls in a map of 1622. A mill was also recorded between the village and the nearby Faughan river. Of all this nothing survives above ground. The bawn itself was abandoned by the end of the Seventeenth century. It is now a Monument in State Care.
Next door. Lower Cumber Presbyterian church. This dates from 1883 and unusually has a lecture hall underneath which results in the grand stepped entrance up to the front door.
Out into the country. This is the former Cumber Primary School near Brackfield Bawn off the main road from Derry to Belfast. It dates from 1931 and is an elegant well designed building with simple, sparse, Georgian Revival detailing, a symmetrical layout, and with a white painted exterior that sits well in its rural surroundings. It is now used as a rural development centre. Windows unfortunately replaced in PvC and a bit flat, but it still sits very well in its surroundings.
Around the corner on Bishop Street is the former Northern Counties Club remodelled in 1902 by the same architect Alfred Forman. Full of spikes and bays this was a gentleman's club until the early 2000's. After a long period of vacancy it was bought by the Inner City Trust and remodelled as a boutique hotel. which opened in 2016. The works retained the Edwardian grandeur of the interior, with its magnificent staircase, inglenook fire place and fine function rooms on the first floor overlooking the street.
On the other side of the Diamond, a smaller building from the same period is worth a look. This is Diamond Chambers (1899) another confident piece of architecture. it was designed by Alfred Foreman who was responsible for a number of fine buildings in the city during the following ten years.
Dominating the Diamond today is the Austin's building. Unfortunately vacant for a number of years, following the demise of a company that prided itself in being the 'worlds oldest department store'. Austins is a great, confident building, full of bays, columns, and swagger. Inside, it has a double height space on the ground floor and a fine, if slightly tilted, staircase. The building was designed by Matthew A Robinson at the height of the city's economic boom in the early years of the Twentieth Century and replaced an earlier department store on the same spot. In December 2022 the Council passed a motion to set up a taskforce to encourage a new use for this important building. Unlocking a new future will not only preserve a historic building, but will add life and activity to the Diamond and enhance the atmosphere of the city centre.
The market house the centre of the Diamond was destroyed in the Great Siege of 1689 and rebuilt with money donated by William and Mary in thanks for the 108 day defence of the city against King James which had been important in securing their throne. Like many market houses across Ulster it was arcaded at the base with a meeting/ court room over. Over time the arcades were filled in and in the 1830's the building was significantly rebuilt, remodelled and extended to function as the Corporation Hall hall. In the 1890's this function moved to the new Guildhall and the building became an art college. This suffered a fire in 1903 and was repaired but it was demolished and replaced with a civic garden in 1910. A war memorial was added in 1928. The cellars of the Corporation Hall remain under the surface. This image is based upon a photo of c.1890.
Marks of Time
Sketches of buildings in the North West of Ireland and further afield with a little information about their history.