Talbot’s Inch, Co. Kilkenny

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Gems of Architecture, Issue 2 (March/April 2013), Volume 21

 Nos 17–22 Talbot’s Inch, a terrace of six houses designed by William Alphonsus Scott in 1906. (NIAH)


Nos 17–22 Talbot’s Inch, a terrace of six houses designed by William Alphonsus Scott in 1906. (NIAH)

The picturesque village of Talbot’s Inch stands on the west bank of the River Nore in the northern suburbs of Kilkenny City. Contemporary accounts described Talbot’s Inch as a ‘garden village’ but it is more accurately described as a model village. A typical model village consists of a self-contained community in close proximity to, but separate from, an industrial centre. Workers’ houses tend to be of a high standard, with integrated community amenities—at Talbot’s Inch including a green and a handball alley—and an attractive physical environment. The term ‘model’ is used in the sense of an ideal to which other developments could aspire. Talbot’s Inch recalls planned industrial communities elsewhere in Ireland, including at Portlaw, Co. Waterford.

The origins of Talbot’s Inch date back to the turn of the twentieth century and the endeavours of Lady Ellen Odette Cuffe (née Bischoffsheim) (1857–1933), fourth Countess Desart, and her brother-in-law, Captain Otway Cuffe (1853–1915), to improve the living conditions of workers employed at the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company and the Greenvale Woollen Mills on the opposite bank of the River Nore. Lady Desart would later (1922) be appointed to the first Seanad Éireann, the first Jew to serve as a senator in Ireland, and would also succeed Captain Cuffe as president of the Kilkenny branch of the Gaelic League.

One of the primary objectives of the Gaelic League was to foster and promote industry and to bring about a strong national identity through the encouragement of traditional Irish crafts, customs and native language. Standish O’Grady (1846–1928), so-called ‘father of the Celtic Revival’, at the same time called on the Ascendancy to ‘reshape themselves in a heroic mould’, thus encouraging a philanthropic spirit among the gentry. The development of industrial activity at Talbot’s Inch was the Cuffes’ valiant attempt to achieve these goals.

Talbot’s Inch was designed and built to a master plan devised by William Alphonsus Scott (1871–1921) and exemplifies the fashionable Arts and Crafts style of the period. Originating in late nineteenth-century England, the Arts and Crafts movement was associated particularly with John Ruskin (1819–1900) and the designer and theorist William Morris (1834–96). It emphasised the importance of craft and materials in the hope that workers would take joy and pride in their handcrafted work. Captain Cuffe befriended Morris while travelling in Iceland and, as a subscriber to the Arts and Crafts movement, endeavoured to implement its ideas at Talbot’s Inch.

Talbot’s Inch consists of 26 houses arranged in semi-detached pairs or terraces around two sides of an open village green. Each house is different, whether in size or in architectural detailing. One terrace of six houses (above), for instance, completed in 1906 for married workers, comprises two-bay single-storey units with dormer attics. The ground floor features a rock-faced surface finish while overhead the surface finish is roughcast: according to local sources, the surface finish masks a cavity block construction, some 60 years before cavity block construction became the norm. The windows, including the distinctive L-shaped dormer attic windows, retain casement fittings with square glazing bars. The high-pitched sprocketed roofs have had their original thatch replaced with tiles laid in diagonal courses forming a diamond pattern.

Another terrace of three houses has decorative brickwork panels, square leaded glazing patterns, a steeply pitched sprocketed roof finished with small clay tiles, and chevron-detailed chimneystacks, while a slightly later phase included a terrace of six houses featuring Diocletian or lunette dormer windows in angular Mansard roofs. On the northern boundary of the village green stands a pair of foremen’s cottages, designs for which were exhibited by Scott at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1907.

Cul-na-Greine on the Kilkenny Road was erected for occupation by Mr Hunter, manager of the Greenvale Woollen Mills. Tigh-na-Cairde (1907), built for William Faulds, general manager of the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company, exhibits an impressive scale in contrast to the houses intended for workers. Details, in particular the square glazing patterns and the decorative brickwork chimneystacks, show a common design aesthetic shared throughout the model village. Captioned Thee-na-Corda on the 1945 edition of the Ordnance Survey (published in 1946), the house has since been renamed Oak Lodge. HI

Oksana Gribaite is an architecture student at Waterford Institute of Technology. Series based on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage’s ‘building of the month’, www.buildingsofireland.ie.

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