Castle Ward, in Northern Ireland, is a remarkable building, though it is not known for architectural brilliance, opulent interiors, great artworks, or beautiful gardens. Instead, what strikes you when you visit Castle Ward is the overwhelming sense that the architect must have been deranged. This is because one half of the stone mansion is done up entirely in Georgian classical style, while the other half – right down to the furnishings – is constructed in eighteenth-century Gothic Revival style. One might suspect this to be some morbid joke on the part of the architect, or the wild frolic of some mad craftsman. However, the house’s dual aspect was in fact intentional and is, as far as I know, the only example of its kind.
Originally known as Carrick na Sheannagh and owned by the Earls of Kildare, Castle Ward had been the home of the Ward family since around 1570. The Wards were prominent Anglo-Irish gentry, elevated into the aristocracy when Bernard Ward was made 1st Viscount Bangor, in recognition of his political service. In 1747, Bernard married the widow Lady Ann Bligh and started building a new, grander edifice suitable for the dignity of his position.
However, Bernard ran into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in his quest to design the perfect house: namely, his wife. While Bernard favoured a cool and masculine classical style, Ann much preferred Georgian Gothic Revival, with its turrets, spires, fan vault ceilings and pseudo-medieval décor. It might be supposed that in the 18th century, the taste of the wife would have to be subservient to that of her husband; the building (along with the wife) was generally his property, after all. Clearly, however, Ann felt so strongly about the architecture and interior of the proposed house that Bernard was obliged to relent and allow her to have half the house built and decorated as she wished. Their subsequent joint efforts were mocked by the Bluestocking artist Mrs Delany, who visited in July 1762 and wrote in a letter that Bernard lacked taste and Ann was ‘so whimsical that I doubt her judgment’.
In her excellent book, Behind Closed Doors: At home in Georgian England, Amanda Vickery writes of the Wards and their house:
“…division was unmissable at Castle Ward in County Down in Ireland in the early 1760s, where marital disagreement over style resulted in clashing Gothic and classical wings. The Wards separated shortly after the building was completed – architectural incompatibility was prophetic.”
I suspect that Vickery is being tongue-in-cheek; notwithstanding their different architectural tastes, we don’t know whether Bernard and Ann were unhappy for a long time or whether the separation came on suddenly. Ann did stick around to bear her husband eight children, after all. In fact, some sources claim that Ann and Bernard never actually separated.
The entrance side of the building is done in Bernard’s preferred stern Palladian style, with columns supporting a triangular pediment. Ann was allowed to have the back of the house done up in the way she wanted, built in the Georgian Gothic style with pointed windows, spires, and even battlements.
The interior followed a strict division along these lines, with the front half of the house decked out in Palladian/classical style, and the back half in Gothic Revival, covering everything from ceilings to bookcases to stairwells. On the one hand it is noteworthy that Ann was allowed to decorate half of the house entirely in her own style; on the other, it is telling that she was given the back of the house, with its private sitting rooms, while the reception rooms were all done in her husband’s preferred neoclassical style.
The following rooms are from Bernard’s side of the house, and follow a cool neoclassical theme in both decoration and architectural features.
The following rooms, designed according to Ann’s taste, present a strong contrast. They are full of Gothic Revival decoration and furniture, and the overall effect is, in my opinion, much more domestic and warm. She must have found these rooms more comfortable to spend time in than the draughty neoclassical reception rooms favoured by her husband.
Interestingly, Ann’s architecture and furnishings somewhat resemble that of Strawberry Hill House, a Gothic Revival villa built from the 1740s-70s by author Horace Walpole. I don’t know for sure whether Ann was influenced by Walpole’s design, or just more generally by the Gothic Revival, but the similarities are striking.