Chesterfield House is located on Cross Avenue, midway between Booterstown and Blackrock. When the house was first built, it lay in a village, now swallowed up by the city, called Williamstown. Even in 1847, the Parliamentary Gazetteer noted how the housing here ‘extends along the road in an almost continuous manner from the village of Booterstown to that of Blackrock so as to be nearly a fusion of these places into one town’. There were big houses all around –Frescati, Maretimo, Sans Souci, Mountainville, Stillorgan House, Stillorgan Park, Chesterfield. The population in 1841 was 355, mostly farmers with some in manufacture and trade.
Bishop Pococke, the great traveler, mentions that in 1725, Lord Fitzwilliam was letting the lands of Booterstown in small parcels for the building of country houses. Peter Pearson suggests that Chesterfield House was built by Thomas Meade, a builder, who leased the land from the FitzWilliams. In 1757, Meade became Lord Mayor of Dublin. One of the few accounts we have of him concerns the Donnybrook fair of 1757 when he and the high sheriffs and all the Dublin constables and a clatter of soldiers camped out at Donnybrook to ensure there was no rioting. When Mr Meade needed time out, he probably slipped down to "The Sign of the Ship," a fine pub with a spacious ballroom attached, ‘where an excellent band of music, a man cook, and a good larder were to be found’. Twenty years later, he might have enjoyed "The Three Tun Tavern," kept by a Bishop and renowned for its good cheer.
In 1745, over a decade before Meade built his house, the man for which it was named came to Ireland. Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. Lord Lieutenant - or Viceroy - of Ireland from January 1745 to November 1746. A very short tenure for a most ambitious man. Chesterfield’s time as Viceroy was a tremendous success, certainly by the standards of the Londoners later achievements. He maintained peace and stability in the kingdom during a year the coincided with Jacobite Rebellion. He was the first Englishman to show any sympathy with Irish Catholics, condoning the Penal Laws and actively encouraging public worship, irrespective of religion. He also opened the Phoenix Park to the public, planting hundreds of trees, and deliberately corrupting the original name Fionn-Uisce (or ‘clear water’) by erecting a 30 foot high Corinthian column supporting a sculpture of the fabled Arabian phoenix rising from the ashes. One assumes he was amongst the first people to come to the increasingly fashionable seaside resort of Blakcrock. Conway's Tavern had a great reputation for its ball-room, 70 feet in length, and highly ornamented ceiling. It stood in the main street of Blackrock, on the right-hand side entering George's Avenue. Perhaps he came here for the annual melon feast and handed out some of the gold and silver medals to the producers of the best melons grown in the neighbourhood. He may also have doused his tootsies in the baths along the Rock Road, crowded with every sort of vehicle, ‘from the fine family coach to the humble noddy and cart’.
By the early 19th century, Blackrock and Booterstown had become exceedingly popular with Dublin’s upper classes. The Duke and Duchess of Leinster had a summer house at Frescati where many of their 19 children were educated in the Rousseaun traditions of daily exercise, cold swims and free-spirits by the mysterious William Ogilvie. When the Duchess later eloped to France with Ogilvie, she recalled Frescati as an Eden. Curiously, when John Wesley visited Arabella Denny, the philanthropic granddaughter of Sir William Petty, he described her house of Lisaniskea as an earthly paradise. Arabella spent her life trying to introduce silk worms and silk culture into Ireland. It was in this environment of toleration and intellectual freedom that young Lord Edward FitzGerald took his first steps towards the revolutionary life that would end his life in 1798. He and his beautiful Pamela, daughter of the Duke of Orleans, lived here briefly together in 1793.
One wonders how often these thoughts of Lord Edward passed through the mind of Kevin O'Higgins, Minister of Justice for the Irish Free State, who had his house at Dunamase House on Cross Avenue. This is where the was assassinated on his way to Mass in 1927, just after he’d just got back from a League of Nations conference in Geneva. He was 35 years old. Many decades later, Eamon de Valera lived at nearby Bellevue with his family after his Presidential term ended.
The Republicans Charles Kickham and James Stephens also both lived in the Blackrock area for a time.
Another family living locally who made an impact were the Clotworthys who entertained George III at their Maretimo residence when he came to stay. A little further on, at the junction of Temple Road, was Temple Hill House, or Neptune, sometime home to John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, Chief Justice of the King's Bench. His arch-enemy, John Magee, owner of the Dublin Evening Post, purchased a small piece of ground close to and in front of Lord Clonmell's mansion, and named it Fiat Hill. "He had amassed £14,000 - ten of which he settled on his family and 'the remainder, with God’s blessing, to spend on Lord Clonmell.' Accordingly, placards appeared all over Dublin inviting the inhabitants to a great Olympic pig-hunt to be given at Magee's exclusive cost. Here the most ludicrous games and exhibitions took place: dancing dogs in barristers' costumes, ass races - the jockies wearing wigs and gowns. "The scene was not describable; Donnybrook never saw its equal, and Clonmell, almost in fits, marked the gradual operation of the poteen by the comparative unanimity of the uproar."
Not long after the 1798 Rising, Chesterfield House became home to Nathaniel Sneyd, an eminent wine merchant, MP for County Cavan, Custos Rotulorum for the County of Dublin and Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ireland. In 1806, he married Anne Burgh, eldest daughter of Thomas Burgh Esq, Commissioner of Revenue, and sister to the 2nd Lord Downes. (See: De Burgh of Oldtown). In 1794, Mr Sneyd was returned to the Irish House of Commons for the borough of Carrick. In 1802 he was returned for County Cavan, which he continued to represent during six parliaments until the dissolution in 1826. He was a supporter of Mr Pitt's administration but would not have won the Earl of Chesterfield’s affections, voting against the 1805 Catholic Petition to abolish the Penal Laws. During the Napoleonic Wars, he raised a troop of volunteer cavalry in the neighbourhood of his seat at Ballyconnel, Co Cavan. On 29th July 1833, the 66-year-old Sneyd was strolling along Westmoreland Street to his townhouse in Sackville Street when attacked by a maniac by name of John Mason outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green. Mason discharged a loaded pistol at Sneyd’s head. Sneyd fell immediately and then received a second shot and a violent blow from the but end of the pistol. Mason, the son of a wealthy ironmonger, was secured by the sentries of the Bank and made no resistance or attempt to escape. He was examined at the Police office but nothing was extracted from him except an avowal that to have shot either of Mr Sneyd's partners, Mr French or Mr Barton, would have answered his purpose equally well. It appeared that the assassin had been confined in a lunatic asylum some years ago.
Sneyd’s remains were deposited on the 3rd of August in Lord Downes' family vault in St Mary's churchyard Dublin. The attendance was confined to the intimate friends and relatives of the deceased. The chief mourners were Lord Downes, Colonel Rochfort, Mr Barton and Mr French. The pall was borne by Mr Gregory, former Under Secretary of State, Mr Ford, Mr A French, Mr Handcock, Mr GM Knipe and Captain Cottingham. The various tradesmen and others connected with the establishment of Sneyd, French & Barton attended and bore the coffin from the hearse to the place of its final destination. He was buried at St Mary's Dublin and a handsome monument was erected in Christ Church Cathedral by public subscription. This read: ‘Inscrutable are the dispensations of Providence This man so blameless in all the relations of his being so respected and so beloved perished by the hand of violence but it was the indiscriminating violence of an unhappy maniac while the universal sentiment of profound and poignant sorrow excited by the afflicting event amongst all classes of his fellow citizens supplied the truest and the most expressive tribute to those virtues of which it is the purpose of this memorial to preserve the record and to perpetuate the remembrance’.
After the exodus of the gentry from Dublin and its neighbourhood consequent upon the Union, Blackrock went into decline. Many of the large houses were untenanted or abandoned for years. However, in 1851, a great icon moved to the community in the form of Field Marshall Lord Gough who purchased a Georgian residence on the Stillorgan Road. Formerly called ‘Seamount’, this was one of the first houses, erected in 1750 by Thomas Cooley, a barrister, and MP for Duleek. It was renamed St Helen’s about fie years before Lord Gough moved in. He lived there for the remainder of his 18 years. It was later owned by Sir John Nutting and then by the Christian Brothers, who owned the house from 1925 to 1988. It is now the Radisson SAS Hotel.
In 1837, Lewis said it was home to the Rev. W. Betty. By 1845, it was described as one of the villas in Williamstown, a village now submerged into Blackrock and Booterstown. It was then home to Ambrose Cox, a brewer and merchant who later moved to FitzWilliam Square. The house was vacant in 1860 while in 1862, it was the stated address of Henry Dwyer, a solicitor, who had offices on Talbot Street
The idea of the latest business tycoons taking the biggest house probably goes back to whoever had biggest cave. In the 20th century, Chesterfield was owned by the Dublin business family, the Bradburys. In the 1970s, it was purchased by Tom Roche, co-founder of Roadstone and the National Toll Roads company, who dismantled the original house and then rebuilt it.
‘Mr Roche, who died in July 1999 at the age of 83, was one of the most successful Dublin businessmen in the 20th century. When his father, a civil servant, died in 1932 his family was left with little more than personal savings and moved from Sandymount to Inchicore. With the savings, his mother Kathleen bought a sweet shop for £250. Tom Roche subsequently purchased a small coal and sand business for £800 and even before he was 16 he found himself running the business with three employees and a 1.5 ton truck. In 1944 he established a gravel business called Castle Sand Company; he was managing director and his brother Donal was his assistant. In 1949, the company went public as Roadstone. He will be best remembered for his audacious move to take over the gilt-edged Cement group in 1970. The move succeeded even though Roadstone did not have sufficient funds to mount such a bid for the cash rich cement company. Roadstone offered shares instead. In more recent years, Mr Roche founded National Toll Roads, the company that owns the East-Link and WestLink toll bridges’. (The Irish Times, May 2004).
In 2004, the 9-acre property was purchased by Myles Crofton's Avenue Homes for €47 million. At the time, it was the second highest price paid for a house and grounds in south Dublin. In January 2007, An Bord Pleanála gave permission for around 150 apartments to be built in the land to the back of the property. The large rambling house, a protected structure, has been refurbished as the headquarters of the development. It has considerable frontage onto Cross Avenue and also adjoins several other housing developments including Booterstown Park and Cherbury Gardens on one side and Glenvar Park and South Wood Park on the opposite side. On the sun-drenched evening of May 7th 2008, I delivered a short speech about Chesterfield House and the aforementioned Earl to a group of approximately 50 local residents.
With thanks to Rosie Mosie and Maurice Sheerin.