The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
It was lately announced that Drayton Villa, Clara and some lands adjoining are to be acquired by Offaly County Council for public purposes. Offaly History asked Michael Goodbody to contribute this piece on the story of this important house. He is currently working on ‘One Hundred years of Clara History’ to be published later this year and from a preview we can say that it will represent an important contribution to the story of Clara from the 1840s to the 1940s. Thanks to Michael Goodbody for the article and the pictures. We have added the subheadings.
Drayton Villa (courtesy Stephen Williamson)
Drayton Villa, built by Lewis Frederick Goodbody in the mid-nineteenth century, is largely untouched by more recent additions and alterations, so that many of its original features are intact. The main block of three bays, with a basement underneath, dates from 1849. There can be no disputing this date for it is recorded by Lydia Goodbody – future sister-in-law of Lewis – in her diary entries for that year.
Lewis apparently had an understanding with Lydia’s younger sister Rebecca Clibborn, who he had got to know when she was staying at Clara on a number of occasions in the previous years. Rebecca was looking after an ailing aunt in Clonmel and it was clear that she would soon be in a position to marry him. They would then need somewhere permanent to live and raise a family.
Silhouette of Rebecca Clibborn who married Lewis Frederick Goodbody 1851 (courtesy Malcolm Pim)
A new home for Lewis Frederick Goodbody, one of the five surviving sons of Robert who came to Clara in 1825
According to Lydia, Lewis was looking at the site ‘to build on’ in February 1849. ‘Preparations for digging’ started on 6 April and the first stone was laid, with the assistance of her three young children, on 21 April. The plot selected by Lewis and the fields behind it lay to the north of the road leading from Charlestown to Kilbeggan and formed part of the Kilcoursey estate, which had belonged to the Bagot family since the late 1600s. Lewis rented it on a long lease, starting with a payment of £19. 3. 5d. to Charles Bagot on 14 December 1849.
Drayton Villa (courtesy Stephen Williamson)
There were evidently cottages along the side of the road for Lydia says that on 16 July Lewis was ‘throwing down the cabins before the house’. These were probably unoccupied at the time as it would have been most uncharacteristic of him to have evicted tenants in the manner of a callous absentee landlord. The Goodbodys were Quakers, one of whose fundamental beliefs was to look after those less fortunate than themselves, and they had done much to alleviate the suffering and disease which had prevailed around Clara during the late 1840s. It is more likely that the cabins had become vacant through emigration, or the occupants had been rehoused by the family elsewhere as employees. In the following years Lewis was involved in a number of projects to help the poor, eventually starting a jute factory at Clashawaun with his brother Jonathan in order to provide employment for local people, especially young women.
Lewis Frederick Goodbody with his mutton-chop whiskers
Construction under the supervision of Jonnie Burke, the Goodbody family’s building foreman, progressed rapidly and Lewis moved in at the beginning of February the following year. He ‘paid his respects to Rebecca’ in October and they married at the Quaker meeting house at Clonmel on 16 January 1851. Lewis was a good catch for Rebecca; he was a partner with his two brothers, Marcus and Jonathan, in M., J. & L. Goodbody, a milling business started by their father Robert Goodbody in 1826. Flour milling had done well in the years leading up to and during the Famine and the firm had made substantial profits, largely due to having converted one of the mills at Charlestown to steam power, giving them an edge over their competitors. After the repeal of the Corn Laws these profits diminished but they still enabled the partners to build up considerable assets in the following years.
Lewis spent £1,421 on building work in 1849 and a further £950 in April 1850. There is no breakdown of these costs and another £660 was debited to his account in the partnership books in the latter year, perhaps to cover furnishings and fittings. There was no shortage of funds to do all this as he had built up a balance of £8,443 by the beginning of 1849.
Lydia records that, when the newly married couple arrived at Clara at 6 o’clock on the day of their wedding, there were ‘bonfires on the hills’. The following month Lewis gave a dinner ‘to the men’ who worked in the mills and a few days later they had their first dinner party at Drayton Villa. This nearly ended in disaster for soon after it had finished Lewis was ‘alarmingly ill with inflammation’ and Dr. Ridley had to be called from Tullamore. It is believed that he had eaten too many walnuts at dinner and probably had an allergic reaction to them. In the event he recovered but was seriously ill and confined to bed for the next ten days.
Death of Lewis’ young wife Rebecca, aged 38
Lewis and Rebecca had two sons, Frederick Robert (Fred) in 1851 and John Barclay Clibborn (Clibborn) – named after his maternal grandfather – in 1853. Rebecca had a further son in 1855 but the baby survived for barely an hour. The birth took its toll on her health and she died ten days later aged 38. Lewis’s father Robert, who came to live at Drayton Villa soon after, recorded in his memoirs that she died peacefully, he never ‘heard of her repining at being taken, tho’ she had everything the world calls happiness; independence as regards the worlds comforts, a good husband and children, a handsome residence, a good home neatly furnished’.
Robert, father of Lewis Frederick dies at Drayton Villa in 1860
Together with an unmarried cousin, Anna Pim who looked after the two young boys, Robert remained at Drayton Villa until his own death five years later in January 1860. The previous year Lydia was called to the house on 1 January as Robert had been found ‘on the parlour floor insensible by the servant man’, presumably as a result of a heart attack.
Lewis Frederick and Kate Goodbody with children Ellis & Lewis c. 1867.
Lewis Frederick marries a former governess, Katherine Ellis in 1862
In 1862 Lewis married again, to a Yorkshire born Quaker, Katherine Ellis, who had worked for a time at Charlestown as governess to Jonathan and Lydia’s children. Kate was a trim, upright woman, deeply religious and with an interest in medicine which she practiced on minor ailments in the Goodbody households. She bore Lewis two further sons, James Ellis (Ellis) in 1864 and Lewis (1866), followed six years later by a daughter Mary in 1872. In the same year a Swiss governess was taken on to look after the two young boys but she did not last long, leaving a few months later.
A new wing added to Drayton Villa in 1865–66
Meanwhile Lewis, whose main passion appears to have been architectural design and construction, continued to expand his property, as well as carrying out improvements to the factories and buildings in Clara. In 1865-66, which is probably when the two-storey extension was added, he spent a total of £1,736 on Drayton Villa. In the same years his annual ‘house expenses’, presumably covering all the family’s living costs, indoor and outdoor staff wages and routine maintenance, varied between £1,563 and £2,090. In later photographs the new wing to the left of the house had an ornate iron surround below the roof similar to that over the porch. There was also an elegant conservatory entered through the morning room on the right. These additions are likely to have been made at the time and have some similarities to those at nearby Charlestown House, which were to the design of an architect named Turner.
A coach house and stables were built some way to the west of the house, connected to it by a brick-lined tunnel, a feature often used in stately homes but not so common in more modest family ones. Behind the house was a walled garden and beyond that a large landscaped area which had been laid out with considerable skill. Harold Goodbody, who was born in 1880, remembered seeing as a boy ‘acres of ornamental flower beds’ which were turned back into a grass field after Lewis’s death. The head gardener was an Englishman, William Bellerby, who lived in a house on the opposite side of the road.
Lewis with his mutton chop whiskers could be hot tempered
Harold’s memory of Lewis was of a tall man with mutton chop whiskers, somewhat impatient and with a hot temper. As children they were slightly afraid of him. He died suddenly at Matlock, Derbyshire, where he had gone to take advantage of the health-giving springs in August 1887. Although a partner with a one third share in M., J. & L. Goodbody, which was essentially a private bank owning the milling business and the large Erry-Maryborough estate, and also a partner in the jute factory which he had started with Jonathan, he left little in the way of cash and realisable assets. He had spent extravagantly on his pet projects during his lifetime and had few reserves. His widow Kate was executor, along with Jonathan, the will having been made in 1869, with codicils in 1873 and 1875. His assets, principally his home, a small farm and his interests in the two partnerships were sworn at £12,257.
Death of Lewis Frederick in 1887 and agricultural depression
Kate found herself short of money and was forced to scale back the household which now consisted of herself, Fred, Clibborn and Mary and a number of staff to look after them. Ellis had left home in 1882 aged just eighteen to run a flour mill the partnership had bought in England and the younger Lewis was then at Trinity College, Dublin studying law. The will left Lewis Frederick Goodbody’s estate between Fred and Clibborn, although there was an unwritten understanding (which was quite usual in Quaker circles) that they would adjust matters with the children from his second marriage when it was possible to do so.
Both the milling and jute trades were going through a difficult patch as a result of the agricultural depression of the 1870s and the subsequent Land War, and profits from these activities were depressed. Clibborn however had considerable business ability and concentrated on sales for the jute factory, building up a useful customer base in England. He also developed a good relationship with James Bannatyne, who had profitable flour mills in Limerick which the Goodbodys then bought. Unfortunately for the family he died in 1897, leaving Fred as the principal beneficiary of Lewis’s estate, Kate having died in 1890. Unlike his brother Fred had little business sense, was easily influenced and had up until then been guided in most matters by Clibborn. Eventually he was somewhat reluctantly persuaded to hand over half his shares in the Limerick mills to his two brothers.
A little scandal at Drayton Villa, Fred and the evangelical Mrs Seeds
Fred then embroiled the family in an unwelcome scandal as he had become involved with the wife of the former Drayton Villa butler, Robert Seeds. This began at the Institute, which had been built by Lewis Frederick at Charlestown and was often used for religious meetings. Fred was interested in evangelical religion and used to attend prayer meetings along with Isabella Seeds, whose husband had by then left Clara to work at Ballycumber. Isabella persuaded Fred to join the Plymouth Brethren religious sect and the close relationship became a serious embarrassment to the rest of the family. After a number of rows between Fred and his cousins in the business, he was forced to leave Clara in 1902, moving to Dublin where he set up home with Isabella, eventually marrying her in North Wales. Mary married in 1900, leaving Fred as the sole family occupant of Drayton Villa when the 1901 census was taken. Living with him at the time was a housekeeper, Jane Elizabeth Sutcliffe, a general servant and domestic called Anne Walsh and a visitor Elizabeth Sugden, who is described as a hospital nurse born in England. The house was rated as a ‘1st. class’ property with 26 rooms.
Fred & Clibborn Goodbody with Mary, Alice, Madge & Audrey at Drayton Villa 1893 (courtesy Harry St. John)
Enter young Lewis Goodbody, Solicitor and a partner in A & L Goodbody of Dublin and Tullamore
Tullamore solicitor Lewis Goodbody (1866-1933)
On leaving Clara Fred handed over the house to his younger brother Lewis, who had qualified as a solicitor in 1891 and had an office in Tullamore. He had married Edith Lizetta Pim (Edie) in 1892 and they were then living with two small daughters at Upton, diagonally across the road from Drayton Villa. Lewis had a growing practice and was then in partnership with his cousin Alfred Goodbody, who ran the firm’s office in Dublin, so Drayton Villa suited him well. He moved in in 1903 and lived there until he died thirty years later.
Lewis was a pioneer of early motoring
Drayton Villa roads conference July 1906
When the first motor cars began to appear in Ireland the Goodbody family took to what was then regarded as a gentleman’s sport with considerable enthusiasm. Lewis was among the first to do so with a 12 h.p. Gladiator, which he shipped to England in 1904 for what he described as a ‘motor cruise’ around the southern counties. He was a founder member of the Irish Automobile Club and organised a ‘Roads Conference’ at Drayton Villa in July 1906, bringing together club representatives with the local county councillors and county surveyors in an attempt to persuade them to improved the roads by steam rolling as they were then in appalling condition. Those present enjoyed ‘an excellent lunch’, followed by speeches and a line-up of cars in front of the house for a photograph.
Lewis Goodbody with his daughter Catherine at Drayton Villa, c. 1902
Catherine, daughter of Lewis was Mayor of Canterbury
Lewis’s daughter Catherine, born in 1896, who went on to be the first woman Mayor of Canterbury and stood unsuccessfully as a Labour party candidate in the general election of 1950, recalled her childhood in Clara in the early 1900s in Come Along With Me, a book describing various times in her life. The children’s lives were lived in the nursery under the care of a governess, and they would often find themselves looking out of the window at a ‘vast number of visitors arriving for a tea party’. They would wonder when they would all go so that they could once again be allowed to talk to their parents. She looked upon it as a happy time in her life, but slightly surreal in view of the poverty that prevailed for the majority of the Irish population.
Despite the relative comforts of Drayton Villa, there were many drawbacks, although the family took these in their stride. Rats were a regular problem and they often used to climb up the outside walls of the house and come in through the open windows, only to disappear beneath the floorboards. Drainage was poor and the household relied on maids to empty chamber pots and provide jugs of hot water in the bedrooms for washing. Outside was a large boiler which had to be constantly refuelled and stoked.
The 1911 census return has Lewis and Edie living at Drayton Villa with their five year-old son John, their daughters Eirene and Catherine being away at boarding school. There was also an English ‘Lady nurse’ for John, a cook, a chamber maid and a kitchen maid. The chamber maid, Elizabeth Brandon had been born in India. Lewis clearly welcomed some foreign influence in the household for in 1901 they had living with them an Italian-born parlour maid, Erma Delfino.
Edie Goodbody with daughter Eirene 1893
The War of Independence and Drayton
As one of the only local Protestant solicitors, Lewis handled the sale of a number of landed estates which were put up for sale following the Wyndham Land Purchase Act of 1903. He was also involved in the management of others where there were disputes with tenants. This began to be a problem in the years leading up to Irish independence, when law and order was precarious at the best. Catherine writes of these years, when her parents were constantly worried about his safety, and recalls an occasion when a number of British army officers were billeted on them – somewhat against their wishes – at Drayton Villa. During dinner there was some careless talk by one of them and her father had to caution them about what they were saying as he was conscious that the people serving them their food were probably republican sympathisers. In fact it turned out that one of the gardeners was the local I.R.A. commandant.
She goes on to say that in the summer of 1921, when the army garrison at Tullamore selected Drayton Villa as the headquarters for an outpost in Clara, a body of local people blocked the road leading to the house. After some negotiation an agreement was reached that they should take over the nearby house Avonmore instead, much to the relief of everyone. Drayton Villa had shutters on the downstairs windows and these were closed at night, Lewis drawing back the curtains after dark in order to pull them up, thus exposing himself in silhouette to any snipers waiting outside. Many people were shot in this way so Edie, worried about the frequent threats to her husband’s life, insisted on doing it herself.
Evening light for Lewis at Drayton
Lewis Goodbody’s seven grandchildren at Drayton Villa 1932 (courtesy Stephen Williamson)
After the Civil War of 1922-23 life gradually settled down once more, although rising costs and sharply increased wages had a noticeable effect of the family’s standard of living. Their two daughters married and John at university in England, Lewis and Edie found themselves living alone during the 1920s, entertaining on a quiet scale and visited from time to time by grandchildren and other relatives. Lewis would drive to his office in Tullamore, accompanied by his chauffeur, Sam Verrall, who had come to Drayton Villa as a coachman many years before, in his Wolseley 2-seater car. Bunny Goodbody, one of the younger generation of Goodbodys, who lived at Inchmore, said that, as they got older Lewis was particularly good to them and would invite them to dinner, also playing on the bowling green as he had none of his own family to share it with him. He also had a fine cellar where Bunny had his first taste of vintage port.
Lewis Dodd, one of Lewis and Edie’s seven grandchildren, also recalled visits to Clara during the 1920s. He writes of the ’weird echo’ that followed their footsteps as they walked along the tunnel to the stable yard where, in the tack room there was a distinct smell of leather mingled with strong plug tobacco. Sam Verrall was then an old man, almost bent double who walked on ‘a stick barely 18 inches high’. The walled garden was still intact, providing fruit and vegetables for the household and the glass houses contained peaches and nectarines.
Lewis died suddenly aged 66 in 1933; his legal practice in Tullamore passed to Kenneth Kennedy
Lewis died without warning in his arm chair after lunch in January 1933 aged 66. He had a valuable legal practice and also had shares in several public companies, as well as in the jute factory and the Limerick flour mills. When the latter ran into difficulties in 1929 and had to be rescued by a bid from Ranks, the family shareholders took a substantial hit in the value of their holdings. Along with his will Lewis left a letter, written in 1931, addressed to Edie in which he advised her on how to deal with her financial affairs after his death. He thought his assets were worth about £30,000, a figure clearly overoptimistic as the probate value of his estate was £17,710, perhaps a reflection of the harsh economic times then developing around the world.
Having asked her to dispose of this capital on her own death to even up its distribution between their three children, he wished her to make a number of cash gifts to his sister Mary and his business partners: Achie Overend who was then running the Dublin office of A. & L. Goodbody, and Kenneth Kennedy in Tullamore. He mentions some personal items, including three cigarette cases, one of which was gold and one which had been bought in Japan by Lord Digby, who had given it to him as a thank you for dealing with his estate at Geashill. Lastly, probably anticipating future problems with Fred, he tells her ‘to try to get out of Drayton’ as soon as possible, and to give the maids and ‘all our men outside’ £5 each. Edie took his advice and, soon afterwards, packed up the house and left for Dublin, where she died in 1941. Drayton Villa reverted to Fred, a somewhat fractious handover as he successfully claimed ownership of many of the contents, there being no written agreement in place.
Rear view of Drayton Villa – winter scene 1890s (courtesy Harry St. John)
Sale of Drayton in 1934 by Fred brother of Lewis to Fr Richard McCullen, Adm and PP Clara
In 1934 Fred sold the house to the local Roman Catholic Church to be used as a residence for the Parish Priest. Following the death of Father Bracken, who had been parish priest in Clara from 1901 until 1933, his curate Richard MacCullen took over but was translated to Kells two years later. The Reverend James Flynn followed but was moved to Tullamore in 1937. After that Drayton Villa had a more permanent occupant in the Reverend John McCormack.
[Offaly History adds from the work of Olive Curran: Fr McCullen was appoined Administrator at Clara in September 1933 and parish priest in December 1933. It was he who secured the house. He was translated to Kells in June 1935. He was a builder and made many improvements to St Finian’s, Mullingar during his time as president of the college. Revd James Flynn was appointed to Clara in 1935 and translated to Tullamore in 1937 and died there in 1949. His successors as parish priests in Clara included John McCormack, 1937–57, Laurence Lenihan 1958–65, Daniel Crilly, 1965–80, James Deignan, from 1980. The office is now held by Fr Joe Deegan who was very helpful in securing Drayton for social developements in Clara.