« Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal Home »


                                             An Architect Earl

   A newly published life of Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough.

Building developers and speculators have had a bad press in recent times. What we often forget though is that many of the buildings which we most admire from the past were the result of the activities of such speculators.

A newly-published book, An Architect Earl, tells the story of Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough, who was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of late eighteenth-century Ireland. He was born at Belan House near Athy in south county Kildare in 1736, the eldest son of John Stratford and his wife Martha. The family was one of the largest landowners in Ireland and had extensive estates in Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Laois, Wexford and Dublin.

Though he was heir to the family property he was a restless young man with a flair for architecture and the ambition to make his mark in both Ireland and Britain. Between 1770 and his death in 1801 he completed three major building projects each of considerable architectural merit.

From 1775, on part of his estate in Wicklow, he built a remarkable and pioneering industrial town, on a hill overlooking the river Slaney, which he called Stratford-on-Slaney. Here he erected factories and bleach-greens with a view to attracting industry, particularly textiles, to the area. He built over four hundred houses for workers, laid out in a series of spacious squares and streets, modelled on the fashionable resort of Bath in England. He built churches, both Catholic and Protestant, rectories, schools and laid on water and other necessary infrastructure at a total cost of over £10,000. At peak there were several thousand workers employed there, mostly in calico printing, in both the cottage and factory systems. All his life he was aware of the need to provide employment for the poor. In 1782 when the watchmakers of Geneva fled to Ireland he tried to attract them to a site on his estate at Baltinglass but they eventually settled on the south coast near Waterford, at a place which is still called New Geneva. He also established several industrial enterprises at Belan.

While building Stratford-on-Slaney he began to develop Stratford Place, off Oxford Street, which when finished was one of the finest small developments of late Georgian London, and is still substantially intact. This consisted of a mansion house, which he intended for himself but never lived in, flanked by two terraces of town-houses. In all he spent over £50,000 and though he was for many years financially embarrassed as a result it eventually proved to be a sound investment for him. Finally in Dublin, from 1792-8, he built Aldborough House, at the eastern end of the North Circular Road, the last great mansion to be erected in the city before the Union.

Throughout his life he continued to improve and embellish the house, extensive gardens and demesne at Belan. The gardens had originally been set out in 1709 but were remodelled many times during the eighteenth century in the latest taste. Bridges were erected over two tributaries of the Barrow which flowed through the demesne – one in the Palladian style, the other in the Chinese style, which was dubbed the ‘Chainy’ bridge locally. Gate-lodges, dove and pigeon houses, hermitages, grottoes, obelisks and a mock classical temple, which can still be seen from the Waterford-Dublin road, were erected. Ponds and lakes were constructed and stocked with exotic fish imported from England and there was an extensive plantation of timber. The house had its own private theatre and an extensive library. Sadly nothing remains today, except the ruins of the stable block, of a house which was once described as the finest in Ireland.

At the time of his death Edward Stratford was among the ten wealthiest men in Ireland. However he was more than just a speculator. He was admired by his contemporaries for his taste in literature, music and the arts and patronised some of the leading painters of the day, such as Thomas Gainsborough. The buildings which he constructed were characterised by elegant design, fine craftsmanship and materials and the most up-to-date interiors and decoration. He was a practical patriot and capitalist of the best kind who constantly sought to improve the lot of those who were not in a position to help themselves.

Though he was himself of a family of nineteen and was twice married he had no children and the great house at Belan and the rest of his property went after his death to his younger brothers.

An Architect Earl is written by Ronald Lightbown, formerly of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and an internationally renowned author. It is published by OLL Editions in association with the Irish Georgian Society and is available in local bookshops.

An Architect Earl002.jpg

Great new publication on the 2nd Earl of Aldborough, Edward Stratford of Belan, Co. Kildare. Available in local bookshops or from Ossory, Laois and Leinster Editions.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2