Buildings of County Antrim

By C E B Brett, photographs by Michael O'Connell 1996

    Our Price: £24.00

    A4, xiv & 306pp, Hardback, 30 col and 351 b&w illustrations.


    Bendhu, Ballintoy:


    Even the listers categorise this as "an eccentric and highly original house", built with his own hands by Newton Penprase, a Cornishman, born in 1888, son of an interior decorator, who at the age of 23 was appointed to a teaching post at Belfast College of Art. He began work in 1936 and, despite his retirement in 1953, persevered with it until an accident to his hands prevented him from carrying out any further work. It was his intention that the house should be "all of concrete": to quote the exhibition catalogue of 1977, "The building shows how he interpreted this intention, for part is reinforced concrete, which has been cast in situ using shuttering, part has been built from several varieties of concrete bricks and blocks many of which have been made individually as required, and there are, too, many different surface textures, frequently applied with a hand trowel. It is no exaggeration of Pen's when he tells you that his house was built out of a bucket." 

    After his death in 1978, it was bought by Richard McCullogh, who plastered the exterior, and rendered the house habitable after a fashion; in 1993, it was bought and (more or less) completed by its present owners. On an exceptionally dramatic site, its strange prickly silhouette and primitive-seeming structure of cubes, squares and rectangles are still pretty disconcerting, though less so since the exterior has been very well painted in a subtle mixture of white and cream (inspired by the interior of Ballintoy parish church, close by, perhaps?). 

    There are some surprising details; home-sculpted horse and bull, rising from the waves above the front door: "bird-table, garden pool, and cliff face stairway" included in the listing; Zodiac ceiling in the bedroom though, alas, "Prometheus stealing flame from Heaven" has disappeared; and innumerable idiosyncratic domestic details, some of them worthy of Heath Robinson, or of Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht. 

    This is what most people probably think of as 'modern' architecture. For over fifty years it lay, raw and incomplete, and probably - on that prominent site - turned more Ulster people against contemporary architecture than any other building. Yet its origins are indeterminate; its author seems never to have left Ireland after 1911; it belongs in no style or school; its fidgety detailing would have appalled the members of the Bauhaus school. As the effusive comment in the official list puts it, "a uniquely sculpturesque product of a highly individual and creative artistic personality." 

    Refs: Michael O'Connell. (See also colour plate).
    Situation: 40 Harbour Road, Ballintoy; td, Ballintoy Dememesne; Parish, Ballintoy; District Council, Moyle; Grid ref: D 039 454.
    References: Listed B1 (!). P Larmour, 'Bendhu House', ill 'Big A', III, 1973; Johnston, 'All his own work', Catalogue, Arts Council exhibition, 1977; A Cowser, in 'Perspective', May/June 1995, pp 20-23.

    Methodist Chapel, Islandmagee:

    methodist church

    A very pleasing simple little preaching-box; the plaque over the door is inscribed "Wesleyan Methodist Chapel MDCCCXXIX". "In the erection of their place of worship the young congregation received friendly support from the Presbyterians of the district and the neighbouring farmers carted the materials free of cost. It was opened for public worship on Sunday, 13th September 1829". The little Methodist community here dates back to the visit in 1800 of an "eccentric but devoted young American evangelist," the Rev. Lorenzo Dew. The chapel, however, is quite un-American. Three bays wide, four bays deep, its walls are of painted stucco with contrasting quoins; all the openings are round headed: the front door is surmounted hy a nice geometrical-Gothick fanlight, but alas, the Georgian glazing bars in the windows (shown in Donaldson's illustration) have been removed: it would not be too late to restore them. "The chapel will accommodate about 450 persons at 14 inches to each sitter" - more cramped than tourist class air travel? "Total number at present in society or class, 25, all from Island Magee" (1840). Modestly sited in a stone-walled and grassed enclosure on the spine of the peninsula, "all planted round with alder trees at the same time the house was built"; but these last have all gone.

    Refs: Photograph: Michael O'Connell.
    Situation: Middle Road Islandmagee; Td, Ballymoney; Parish, Islandmagee; District Council, Larne; Grid ref D 463 002.
    References: Listed B. J Boyle, OSM, 1840, and J Bleakly, 1839, Antrim, III, pp 21, 78; Donaldson, 'Islandmagee,' 1927, p 129.

    [Note: This chapel was listed, but is currently (2000) proposed by EHS for de-listing on the grounds of alterations. Unfortunate as these alterations are, the chapel retains much of its original feeling and is capable of restoration. The Society believes that it should remain listed.]

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