- Born: 1770 Died: 1850
Architect, of Kilkenny. William Robertson was born in Kilkenny in 1770.(1) He was probably a son or close connection of the nurseryman, William Robertson, who traded as 'William Robertson and Son' in Kilkenny.(2) He 'received some Lessons in his early days' from the landscape and topographical artist George Holmes(3) and was awarded a silver medal for drawing by the Dublin Society in 1795.(4) Identifying his works is complicated by the fact that the names 'Robertson' and 'Robinson' are often confused, but it is possible that he may already have received at least one architectural commission as early as 1794, for stables at Woodstock, Co. Kilkenny.(5) In 1796, 1797 and 1798 he was in England, possibly working in the office of a London architect. His diary-cum-notebook in the National Library of Ireland records excursions from London in August 1796 and April and September 1797. Places which he visited included Painshill, Woburn Park (Surrey), Oatlands, Wanstead, Wotton House, Blenheim and Tintern. The notebook shows clearly that his main interests were architecture and gardening. He had a London address when he exhibited two views of Kilkenny and a design for the garden front of a villa at the Royal Academy in 1797 and 1798 respectively. He is almost certainly the 'W. Robertson' who was the author of two works published by Ackermann in London at about this time: A Collection of Various Forms of Stoves, Used for forcing Pine Plants, Fruit Trees, And Preserving Tender Exotics(1798) and Designs in Architecture, For Garden Chairs, Small Gates for Villas, Park Entrances, Aviarys, Temples, Boat Houses, Mausoleums, and Bridges (1800).(6) The first plate of the latter contains an allegorical vignette drawn by Robertson's master George Holmes above a dedication to MICHAEL FREDERICK TRENCH of Heywood, Co. Laois.
Robertson was back in Kilkenny by 1801, when he was entrusted with the design of the new county gaol.(7) In Kilkenny he developed a busy architectural practice.(8) It appears that he may have had the Earl of Ormonde as a client as early as 1802(9) and that he was working with a partner named Wylie for a time circa 1804.(10) Joseph Bourke, Dean of Ossory, suggesting to William Gregory in 1813 that Robertson might be employed to enlarge the barracks at Kilkenny, describes him, perhaps with some exaggeration, as 'a very eminent architect in this part of the world, who has had the building of most of the public Edifices in the South, &c.'.(11) In the same year Robertson reported to the Dean and Chapter of St Canice's Cathedral on the fabric of the cathedral.(12)
William Robertson died at Rosehill, the house which he had built for himself on the Callan road,(13) in May 1850.(14) His large library - 'the result of Fity Years' collecting' - was sold at auction in Dublin over a number of days the following April.(15) For many years he had been keenly interested in local history and topography. In about 1808 he had 'employed two talented Artists to make drawings of every object remarkable for its antiquity or picturesque beauty, then to be found in the County of Kilkenny, with the intention of publishing a Topographical Work'.(16) Some of these he had had engraved. After building up a large collection of material, he had never found time to produce the proposed book. This task fell to JAMES GEORGE ROBERTSON , a Scottish-born relative, who, in about 1828, when he was a boy of about twelve, had joined William Robertson and had presumably become his pupil and assistant. James George Robertson published a selection of the material with some additional notes of his own in a rather haphazard series of parts from 1851-53 under the title The Antiquities and Scenery of the County of Kilkenny.(17) In 1853 James George Robertson presented the Kilkenny Archaeological Society with the manuscript report on the fabric of St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, which William Robertson had prepared in 1813.(18) William Robertson's other pupils included JOHN JONES  of Clonmel.
The Irish Architectural Archive holds presentation elevations by Robertson for the enlargement and Gothicization of Kilkenny Castle, 1826 (Acc. 80/35) and sketch designs for Powerstown glebe house, Co. Kilkenny, with a related letter from Robertson to the Rev. Thomas Mercer Vigors, dated William Street, 5 April 1818 (Acc.78/36.B4,4a). It also holds a letter from Robertson, written from Kilkenny on 7 November 1813 to the London bookseller Joseph Taylor (Acc. 2006/112) in which he discusses Sir James Hall's Essay on the Origin, History and Principles of Gothic Architecture (1813).(19)
Addresses: 19 George Street, Surrey Road, London, 1797-98;(20) William Street, Kilkenny, <=1813(21)->=1839;(22) Rosehill, Kilkenny, at time of death.
See WORKS and BIBLIOGRAPHY.
(1) Note by James George Robertson on flyleaf of William Robertson's diary, 1796-97, in NLI, MS. 248.
(2) An undated copy of the firm's printed seed and plant list is in the IAA, Burgage Collection, Acc. 78/36.E16. A William Robertson was a nurseryman in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny in the 1760s (Ray Desmond, Dictionary of British & Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists (1994), 587).
(3) Note by James George Robertson on a sketch by Holmes, quoted by Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, The Watercolours of Ireland (1994), 129.
(4) See note 1, above. There is no record of this in Gitta Willemson, The Dublin Society Drawing Schools 1746-1876(2000), though a 'William Robinson' was admitted to the school of architecture in 1793 and to the school of figure daraing in 1794 (p.84).
(5) See Terence Reeves-Smyth and Belinda Jupp, 'Woodstock Gardens & Demesne', unpaginated typescript report, Feb 2000, citing PRONI D2685/15/4; here too there is confusion between 'Robertson' and 'Robinson'.
(6) See P.W. Nash & al., British Architectural Library…Early Printed Books 1478-1840 III (1999), 1662-3.
(7) W. Tighe, Survey of Co. Kilkenny (1802), 42,519.
(8) The nursery business appears to have been carried on by a John Robertson (d. 1839), perhaps a brother.
(9) Bryan Bolger notes measuring work ordered by 'Mr Robinson' at Kilkenny Castle and the cottage in the park of Dunmore House in Oct-Nov 1802 (NLI MS. 10,711
(10) Estimates, 1804, for additions to Woodstock, Co. Kilkenny, in PRONI D2685/15/6.
(11) NA/SPO OP 554/403/1 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44); Gregory, it seems, did not act on the recommendation.
(12) J. Graves & J.G. Prim, The History, architecture & antiquities of the Cathedral Church of St Canice, Kilkenny (1857), ?.
(13) For a description of the house see J. Williams, Companion guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (1994), 248.
(14) See note 1, above.
(15) Freeman's Journal, 14,15 Apr 1851.
(16) Preface by J.G. Robertson to The Antiquities and Scenery of the County of Kilkenny; the two artists have been identified by Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin as Robert Gibbs and George Miller.
(17) For more information about this publication, see the facsimile edition published by the Boethius Press, 1983. An album of drawings from Robertson's collection, some of which are reproduced in the Antiquities, is in the RSAI (photographs in IAA). Some of the modern buildings shown in it may have been designed by Robertson; this possibility is explored by Jeremy Williams, 'The lost Swiss Cottage of Woodstock', Old Kilkenny Review 1999, 103-111. Another sketchbook of Robertson's was in the collection of the late Daniel Gillman.
(18) JRSAI 2 (1852-53), 354.
(19) Graves, III, 333.
(20) Copy in IAA, RIAI collection.
(21) Letter from Robertson to Taylor, 7 Nov 1813 (IAA, Acc. 2006/112).
(22) Shearman's Commercial Directory for the Cities of Waterford and Kilkenny (1839).
29 work entries listed in chronological order for ROBERTSON, WILLIAM
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, DUNMORE HOUSE|
|Nature:||Painting and plastering at cottage in park ordered by 'Mr Robinson' measured by Bryan Bolger Oct-Nov 1802. For Earl of Ormonde.|
|Refs:||E.McP files, citing Bryan Bolger notebook, NLI MS. 10,711(1)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, PARADE, KILKENNY CASTLE|
|Nature:||Carpenter's work ordered by 'Mr Robinson' measured by Bryan Bolger, Nov 1802.. For Earl of Ormonde.|
|Refs:||WE.McP files, citing Bryan Bolger notebook, NLI MS. 10,711(1)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, WOODSTOCK|
|Nature:||Flanking wings over raised basement (replacing quadrant wing?) and service yards, for William Tighe. With - Wiley.|
|Refs:||Estimates, elevation, 1804, in PRONI D2685/15/6,12, cited by Terence Reeves-Smyth and Belinda Jupp, 'Woodstock Gardens & Demesne', unpaginated typescript report, Feb 2000|
|Building:||CO. CORK, CORK, REILLY'S MARSH, CITY GAOL (PROPOSED)|
|Nature:||Robertson wins competition with Morrison to design gaol, 1805. Project abandoned when half finished as location in Reilly's Marsh was found to be unsuitable.|
|Refs:||Frederick O'Dwyer, The Architecture of Deane and Woodward (1997), 551|
|Building:||CO. CORK, CORK (NEAR), BARRACKS|
|Nature:||Plans for same by 'Mr Robertson'.|
|Refs:||NA/PRO (Kew), MPH 185 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44)|
|Building:||CO. CORK, CORK, ARTILLERY DEPOT|
|Nature:||Plans for same by Mssrs. Robertson and Wilks.|
|Refs:||NA/PRO (Kew?) Guide to Maps.|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, COUNTY GAOL (OLD)|
|Nature:||Intended architect of gaol 'to be immediately begun' 1801. Paid £28.14.4 for work on same 1808.|
|Refs:||William Tighe, Statistical Observations relative to the County of Kilkenny (1802), 42,519; 'Observations in a Tour made through Leinster, Munster & Connaught by the Rev F. Archer, Inspector General of the Prisons of Ireland', 1801, British Library Add MS 35,920, f.4v (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44); Parliamentary Papers 1808 XIII (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44); Parliamentary Papers 1819 (534) XII.453 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, WELLINGTON HOUSE (CAHIRLESKE)|
|Nature:||New Classical 3-bay, 2-storey-over-basement house, with advanced, pedimented centray bay, for Wiliiam Pitt Blunden. Carpentry by Charles Reilly, masonry by Walter Dwyer and slating by Patrick Smyth.
Building agreements, 11 Jun 1811, at Castle Blunden, Co. Kilkenny, published by John Kirwan, 'Under Hand' in Short Schrift: an offering to Frank McEvoy on the occasion of his 80th birthday (Kilkenny, n.d.), 19-22(illus.).
|Building:||CO. WATERFORD, CAPPOQUIN, BRIDGE|
|Nature:||Plans, elevation, section for same in NLI.
Signed dated drawings cited in NLI, MS 16.J.6(1) (see Hayes Catalogue).
|Building:||CO. TIPPERARY, LISMACUE|
|Nature:||Castellated house, for William Baker (d. 1815).|
Presentation design in collection of Mr C. Nicholson, Lismacue (photographs in IAA); information from Jim Nicholson, Lismacue, citing Augustine Baker, Chronicle of the Baker family (1922).
|Building:||CO. WATERFORD, WATERFORD, CATHERINE STREET, COURT HOUSE|
|Nature:||WR orders statue of Justice for Waterford? court house.|
|Refs:||John Ruch, 'Coade Stone in Ireland', BIGS 13. No. 4 (Oct-Dec 1970)4; Alison Kelly, Mrs Coade's Stone(1990), 143,n.35, 326|
|Building:||CO. WATERFORD, WATERFORD, CATHEDRAL SQUARE, CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL (CI)|
|Nature:||Payments totalling £350 to WR for repairs after fire of 1815 (which destroyed ceiling, gallery & organ).
|Refs:||Waterford Cathedral Economy Fund Books in Cathedral (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44, citing information from John Redmill, 1993)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, GOWRAN CASTLE|
|Nature:||New classical house replacing earlier building, for 2nd Viscount Clifden.|
|Refs:||J.N. Brewer, Beauties of Ireland I (1825), 463; J.P. Neale, Views of Seats, 2nd ser. III (IX), 1826, no. 60; APSD, R, 52; Mark Bence-Jones, Burke’s Guide to Country Houses. Volume I, Ireland. (London, 1978), 144,145(illus.)|
|Building:||CO. LAOIS, GRACEFIELD LODGE|
|Nature:||Cottage ornée, for Mrs Kavanagh, erected in modified and reduced form by WR after designs by Nash.|
|Refs:||Howard Colvin, A Biographical dictionary of British architects 1600-1840 (3rd edn., 1995), 694, citing J.N. Brewer, The Beauties of Ireland II (1826), 105; J.P. Neale, Views if Seats (1822), V, No. 72; Sheffield Grace, Memoirs of the Family of Grace (London, 1823), 52-3; APSD VI, R, 52; Mark Bence-Jones, Burke’s Guide to Country Houses. Volume I, Ireland. (London, 1978), 145(illus.)|
|Building:||CO. CORK, CORK, CONVENT AVENUE, CITY GAOL|
|Nature:||Castellated, red sandstone prison built 'to a Plan of Robertson of Kilkenny, finished by Thomas Deane'. Described by Pigot, 1824, as 'just completed, which when viewed from a distance has the appearance of a magnificent castle'. Cost £60,000.|
|Refs:||NA, CSO/RP/1818/180 (formerly CSORP1818/C154); Pigot and Co.'s City of Dublin and Hibernian Provincial Directory (1824), 241; Fourth (and seventh) report of the Association for the Improvement of Prisons…in Ireland (1823-1826); T.C. Croker, MS account of Cork, c. 1832; TCD MS 1206 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44); Parliamentary Papers 1819 (534) XII.453 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44); APSD, II, C, 148; Frederick O'Dwyer, The Architecture of Deane and Woodward (1997), 14,550-551|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, DEAN STREET, CHURCH OF ST CANICE (RC)|
|Nature:||New church; 'handome modern edifice, in the later English style' (Lewis). FS laid 17 Mar 1824.
Douglas Scott Richardson, Gothic Revival Architecture in Ireland (1983), 215, Pl.113; Robertson's authorship from article by Walter Walsh in In the Shadow the Steeple 10 (Tullaherin Heritage Society, 2009), ? (information from John Kirwan, Kilkenny, 2010); date of foundation inscr. on drawings by Ralph Henry Byrne formerly in office archives of W.H. Byrne & Son.
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, PARLIAMENT STREET, CITY & COUNTY COURT HOUSE|
|Nature:||'a capacious and handsome structure, recently completed by Mr. Robertson, the architect' (Brewer). Paid £15 for repairs, 1830.|
|Refs:||J.N. Brewer, Beauties of Ireland I, (1825); E.McP files, citing NA/PRO Kilkenny City Presentments.|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, PARADE, KILKENNY CASTLE|
|Nature:||New wing, enlargement of towers, gothicization, for James Butler, 1st Marquess of Ormonde.|
|Refs:||Drawings in IAA, Acc. 80/35 (elevations repr. D.J. Griffin and S. Lincoln, Drawings from the Irish Architectural Archive (1993), 56); Dublin Penny Journal, 8 Sep 1832, 81; Ireland Illustrated (1829), 34 (cited in APSD, R, 52; Frederick O'Dwyer, The Architecture of Deane and Woodward (1997), 341-344,345(illus.)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, GOWRAN, CHURCH OF ST MARY (CI)|
|Nature:||New chancel 'on much the same footprint as the medieval chancel' to design of WR. Lewis describes church as being 'part of a very ancient cruciform structure…fitted up for divine service in 1826'.|
|Refs:||S. Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), I, 668; St Mary's Church: Visitors' Guide, leaflet by Duchas The Heritage Service|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, CASTLE MORRES|
|Nature:||Alterations. Also gate lodge? (Similar to that at Castleboro, Co. Wexford.)
The Knight of Glin, David J. Griffin & Nicholas Robinson, Vanishing country houses of Ireland (Irish Architectural Archive & Irish Georgian Society, 1988), 89; information from J.A.K. Dean, 2010.
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, THEATRE|
|Refs:||Signed, undated plan in collection of Kilkenny Archaeological Society (photograph in IAA)|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILRUSH HOUSE (FRESHFORD)|
|Nature:||Designed by WR for A.J. St George (circa 1820 according to family)|
|Refs:||Signed undated plan and elevation in collection of St George family, Kilrush House (2001)|
|Building:||?, ?, MONUMENT TO GENERAL GORE (PROPOSED)|
|Nature:||WR in correspondence with Coade stone factory about monument to include soldier's bust, figure of Hibernia, trophies &c. (For Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny? But monument erected to Gen. Gore in church at Goresbridge was executed by John Smyth in marble)|
|Refs:||John Ruch, 'Coade Stone in Ireland', BIGS 13. No. 4 (Oct-Dec 1970)4|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, WILLIAM STREET, NO. 004 (DIOCESAN HALL)|
|Nature:||Attr. by Williams to WR as a documented work.|
|Refs:||Jeremy Williams, 'The lost Swiss Cottage of Woodstock', Old Kilkenny Review 1999, 110|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, JENKINSTOWN|
|Nature:||'pasteboard Gothic castle built by William Robertson for the Bellews, c. 1820'|
|Refs:||J. Williams, Companion guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (1994), 142|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILKENNY, COLLEGE ROAD, ROSEHILL|
|Nature:||House for himself in mixed architectural style.|
|Refs:||Katherine M. Lanigan & Gerald Tyler, eds., Kilkenny: its architecture and history (An Taisce, 1977), 54(illus.); J. Williams, Companion guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (1994), 248|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, ORCHARDTON|
|Nature:||WR orders Gothic pinnacles in Coade stone.|
|Refs:||Alison Kelly, Mrs Coade's Stone(1990), 326,438|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, SHANKILL CASTLE|
|Nature:||By William Robertson? Also early part of Gothic gateway? (Burke's |Vistations| (1855) says that house was 'renovated and improved' by Nicholas Aylward (d. 1832) 'father of the present proprietor'.)|
|Refs:||Attr. (informally) by Knight of Glin to WR; perspective view inscr. by J.G. Robertson repr.Crookshank & Glin, Watercolours of Ireland (1994), 146; J. Williams, Companion guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (1994), 249|
|Building:||CO. KILKENNY, KILFANE HOUSE|
|Nature:||J.A.K. Dean suggests that WR may have worked there as gate lodge is identical to that at the Ballyraggett road entrance to Jenkinstown, Co. Kilkenny.|
|Refs:||Letter to IAA from J.A.K. Dean, Lisburn, 25 Nov 1996|
|Williams, Jeremy||'The lost Swiss Cottage of Woodstock, its architect and its illustrator'||1999||Old Kilkenny Review 1999, 103-111.|