The Sheils Almshouse, Carrickfergus, was the practice’s first commission in the Historic Building sector. It was also the first conservation project undertaken by Architect Paul Millar, who joined the practice in 1978 and is now a Partner.
“It was a unique and very interesting building, designed by the celebrated architect Charles Lanyon in 1868,” said Paul. “The design consists of a horseshoe-shaped terrace of houses, each one of which is bespoke, along with new houses which were added in 1918.
“The Sheils Institutions, for poor widowed and single women, were built in several parts of Ireland, including Dungannon, Armagh, Killough and Stillorgan, Co Dublin. They were possible thanks to a bequest by Charles Sheils, who left around £90,000 – well over £5 million in today’s money – in his will for the project.
“Charles, who was a Killough native, had amassed a large fortune in the mercantile trade in Liverpool and was a very astute investor. However, despite his wealth and status, he deplored the evils of slavery and the horrendous conditions of the Irish tenant farmer.
“He was well ahead of his time regarding what we now call sheltered housing. Each almshouse was designed to include a warden’s house and clocktower. Large underground tanks stored rainwater accessed by pumps in the yard. Residents received allowances each week for food, beds and linens.”
This particular restoration, in 1982, called for re-roofing, new kitchens and a complete internal refurbishment. To his astonishment, during the works Paul uncovered what is probably one of the first examples of cavity wall construction.
“However, I think the builder was not familiar with the concept, because we found mortar debris piled into the cavity up to about the metre mark,” he added. “We also found cat’s paw marks in some of the bricks, which was somewhat unexpected!
“It was a very memorable project, particularly for me as my first restoration, and I am delighted that the almhouses are still operational today and still fulfilling Charles’ vision of helping those in need across the community.”