If Edwin Landseer Lutyens had had his way, the Ha'penny bridge wouldn't exist. When Sir Hugh Lane, who died 100 years ago this year on board the Lusitania, was looking to house his great art collection in Ireland, he naturally consulted the leading architect of his day.
Lutyens’ design was to build the art gallery on the site of what was then known as the Wellington Bridge.
Although it would have blocked the view down the Liffey, it would have been quite an edifice, echoing – perhaps rivalling – Florence’s Ponte Vecchio and Bath’s Pulteney Bridge.
However Dublin City Council rejected the plans and the squabbling was still going on when Lane died, leaving a disputed will and the fate of some of Impressionism's greatest works undecided. They are now shared between the Hugh Lane Gallery and London's Tate.
Even though he is frequently referred to as the Great British Architect and the Architect of Empire, Lutyens had strong Irish connections. A series of talks at the newly minted Howth Literary Festival, taking place in the first week of June in the Lutyens-designed library of Howth Castle, celebrates his life and work.
One of the speakers, the architect’s biographer and great grand-daughter, Jane Ridley, describes his background. His mother was Irishwoman Mary Gallwey, whose own parents rejoiced in the names of Bridget and Neptune Blood.
Mary was orphaned at the age of 12 and ended up in London, “where she met a young soldier, who was Lutyens’ father.
Ned or Edwin was very sentimental about his mother, he was her favourite. She always wore a Claddagh ring which she claimed Tom Moore, the poet, had given her. She left that to Ned and he wore it all his life, then it came to my grandmother and then my father . . . ”
Witty and in love with puns, Lutyens was, by all accounts, very charming, a fact which helped when he went to a tea party in Surrey and met the formidable garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, from whose family Robert Louis Stephenson borrowed the name of his character in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
“She said nothing to him until the end when she said ‘be at my house tomorrow’. She was about 48, a gruff alarming spinster, but they got on well, he called her Bumps and she called him Neddy,” says Ridley.
They collaborated on celebrated projects for the rest of her life.
His friendships with women were to serve him well, another being Maud Baring who, with her husband, commissioned him to build their castle and associated buildings on Lambay Island.
Lutyens' style begins with arts and crafts, but by the time he came to design the master plan and buildings for the new colonial administrative capital for India in New Delhi, he had made the move to neo-classicism, which, according to architect David Averill, who is working on renovations at Lambay, he used to call "The High Game".
Lutyens borrowed inspirations wherever he went. His grand-nephew, Martin Lutyens, who is also speaking at the Howth Festival, believes that influences from his Mughal Gardens in India can be found in the War Memorial Gardens he created in Dublin at Islandbridge.
Another Lutyens war memorial is the Cenotaph in London. Insisting that the memorial would not be specifically Christian, he pointed out that if it was to honour the Unknown Soldier, there was a strong chance that that soldier may be of another religious persuasion altogether, and that the more “unknown” the soldier was, the stronger the chance he wouldn’t be a Christian.
Lutyens lost five nephews in the war and the symbolism of the Cenotaph is remarkably spiritual. “With these subtle geometrical games, he has turned it into something that looks very light on its feet,” says Martin.
Even though Lutyens’ gallery on the bridge was never built, another of his works here may be finally completed. The original drawings for the War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge included a three-arched footbridge connecting them to Phoenix Park.
It is understood the OPW recently commissioned a feasibility study to look into at last fulfilling his designs. Ireland may get its Lutyens bridge after all.
Lutyens’ legacy: From Howth to London
The gardens at Heywood, Co Laois
Built between 1906-1907 they include 10 columns salvaged from the chamber of the Irish House of Commons at College Green.
Renovations and additions including a new tower, library and chapel. 1910-1911. According to current owner Julian Gaisford St Lawrence, whose ancestor commissioned Lutyens, “they needed someone to take a rather rundown house and make it into something fit for a wealthy Edwardian gentleman: add bathrooms, electricity, plumbing, all that stuff . . . ”
The castle, chapel, tomb and guest house on Lambay Island 1910-1911
Lutyens would stay at Howth Castle and make forays to Lambay for the project.
Gallery Bridge over the Liffey
Lutyens' most famous unbuilt work in Ireland was his proposal to replace the Ha'penny Bridge with an art gallery for the Hugh Lane collection in 1912. He also sketched an alternative building on St Stephen's Green. Trá na Rossan Co Donegal
Built as a holiday home for the Hon. Mrs Phillimore, it has been a youth hostel since it was acquired by An Óige in 1937.
Costello House in Connemara
It is attributed to Lutyens, although this is unconfirmed. It was built for Joseph Bruce Ismay in 1913. Ismay was chairman of the White Star Line and was infamous for ignoring "women and children first" as he stepped into a lifeboat on the Titanic. He spent his years as a social outcast at Costello House.
The War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge
Designed 1930-1940. Original design included bridge linking the park to the Phoenix Park.
Bloombsbury Hotel in London
Irish-owned by the Doyle Hotel Group, Lutyens designed the Bloomsbury Hotel as a YWCA. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Mary in 1929. Lovingly restored and including furniture designed by the architect, it is the perfect spot for afternoon tea or even a sleepover. It also gets the stamp of approval from the Lutyens Trust, which holds its Christmas party there each year.
Lutyens in Howth
The Howth Literary Festival takes place in the salubrious surroundings of the Lutyens-designed library at Howth Castle. The programme includes Richard Ford, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, Michael Cunningham and John Banville. A special strand of Edwin Lutyens Talks features Jane Ridley, Michael Lutyens, Edward McParland and Matthew Jebb. The festival take places on June 5th-7th. howthliteraryfestival.com