Crown Jewel: a simple but stately home in Bray for €750k
Cherry Lawn, Killarney Road, Bray, Co Wicklow
Asking price: €750,000
Agent: Hooke & MacDonald (01) 6318402
We can safely say that William Chamney, the first owner of Cherry Lawn at Killarney Road in Bray, will have remembered the events of Monday June 10 1907 for the rest of his life.
Monday was the day that William landed himself a big promotion at Bank of Ireland and also when his English cousin, John Hodgson, paid him a visit. They met up to celebrate in the Shelbourne Hotel and later in the evening they were joined by one Sir Arthur Vicars.
Vicars was the Registrar of the Order of St Patrick and the custodian of the Irish Crown Jewels. These were held, for special events and royal occasions, under lock and key in Dublin Castle. For his part, Hodgson revealed to Vicars that he was the librarian of the Duke of Northumberland. On hearing this, Vicars thought Hodgson might be interested in visiting the Castle the following day in order to view his own priceless charges.
The next day Hodgson popped in and the pair looked over the collection which included the Grand Master Diamond Star pendant, with its 400 gleaming Brazilian diamonds plus emeralds, rubies and a 22 carat gold setting; as well as a priceless diamond badge and five ceremonial gold collars, together worth around €18m in today’s money. Hodgson’s private inspection would mark the last time anyone saw the Irish Crown Jewels ever again.
They were first discovered to be missing on July 6th by a cleaner at the Castle who raised the alarm just four days before the arrival of King Edward VII to Dublin for a rare royal visit. The Dublin Metropolitan Police were called in to investigate and a reward of €1000 was immediately posted for information leading to their recovery. Eventually the King had to be told. He was furious and personally called for the sacking of Vicars. Without the ceremonial jewels, the King refused to attend a ceremony at the International Exhibition in Dublin, the very reason for his Irish visit. The theft became a national scandal.
The most popular theory today is that the jewels were stolen by Francis Shackleton, an associate and drinking chum of Vicars to whom it was estimated, Vicars had inadvertently given access to the keys. There were seven to the room in Dublin Castle in which the jewels were kept – and there were two to the safe. Vicars kept one on his person, the other in a locked drawer in his home. It is generally accepted that the thief had keys.
In 1913 Shackleton, a cousin of the explorer, was charged with defrauding a Scottish noble of his wealth and was later jailed for passing a cheque stolen from a widow. After his release he changed his name and disappeared. There’s also the noted antiquarian who worked with Vicars in Dublin Castle, Francis Bennett Goldney. Francis was not a suspect wholly on the grounds that he was a high born English gentleman. But following his death after a road crash in 1918, it was discovered that his house was filled with stolen paintings and treasures.
Even the rapier intellect of Sherlock Holmes couldn’t solve the crime – his creator Arthur Conan Doyle was a friend of Vicars and offered help in solving the mystery. To this day the Irish Crown Jewels are still missing. It is thought that they were either broken up and sold jewel by jewel or stashed away and lost after the thief’s death.
While the cousins Hodgson and Chamney would likely have been interviewed by the police, neither were serious suspects. Vicars did get the blame and shame for carelessness and in 1921, perhaps in an attempt to curry the new King’s favour, he is said to have become a royal informer. He was shot dead in that year by the IRA.
The scandal had no ramifications for Bank of Ireland’s man Chamney, who three years later went on to build himself a luxury home near the sea at Killarney Road in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
He called it Schomberg but somewhere between then and now it was rechristened Cherry Lawn. It was one of a string of big houses being built along the road at that time. The area was seen as something of a resort for wealthy professionals from the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Houses like Ardara, Rathlin and Fairy Hill (where the late Garret FitzGerald grew up), would have been the envy of many and the setting of quite a few parties back in the day.
In the housing boom of the 1970s, the road went from quiet and gentrified to built-up and family-friendly. Housing estates were developed where there would have been agricultural holdings and the road close to the town became a sought-after spot for young couples.
But rewind back to 1910, when the arts and crafts movement was enjoying a moment here and hand-crafted workshops were set up around Dublin so artists could work side-by-side while they produced stained-glass, furniture, textiles and graphics.
Cherry Lawn was designed in the proportions and high finishes demanded of that era. From the hand cut stone pillars at the entrance to the panelled ceilings, the design in the 3,165sq ft home fits as well with today’s interior trends as it would have with those back in 1910.
The exterior is simple but stately, with ivy, climbers and trees helping it blend in to its environment. The windows have leaded glass and are painted grey, matching the two entrances to the house.
Inside the main hall is a cloakroom, guest bathroom and stairs down to a cellar. At the front of the house is the sitting room that arts and crafts dreams are made of. The traditional panelled walls and ceilings are the first thing to hit you as you enter the room. Where there probably would have been as huge fireplace, as was the way in most arts and crafts properties, there now sits a more practical wood-burning stove. Two large windows and a polished timber floor make it feel bright and modern.
Beside this is the study with built-in desks and double doors into the living room. This is less formal than the sitting room and comes with a more arts and crafts-inspired tiled fireplace with wooden mantlepiece and plenty of panelling.
A newer extension houses the open-plan kitchen. While the skylights and sliding glass doors make it feel like you’re breaking away from tradition, the vendors have worked hard to keep handcrafted work to the fore. The solid oak units and island were custom-made and marry nicely with the dark blue Aga in the heart of it all. There is space for an extra living and dining area in the extension, as well as a utility room.
Upstairs there are four bedrooms. The master, at the back of the house, has a ‘robes’ room, feature fireplace and en suite bathroom. The other bedrooms also have their original fireplaces, and the main bathroom has a roll-top bath and shower. Although the house has lost land down through the years, there is still plenty left if new owners wished to extend further, subject to planning of course.
While the front of the house has a gravel driveway with parking for six cars, the back is lush and south-west-facing. The sliding doors in the kitchen open out onto a patio that has two separate seating areas. The garden is well-planted with shrubs, apple trees and flowerbeds. There is a glasshouse for growing-your-own, and a shed for storage. The centre of Bray is only a few minutes’ drive away, or about 20 minutes on foot. The Dart is the most popular form of transport for locals, but the 145 bus route also passes close to this house.
While Chamney wasn’t a suspect in the 1907 heist, might there even be an outside chance that he was involved? Consider that Russian Crown jewels were stashed up a chimney in Harry Boland’s mother’s house in Marino from 1922 to 1938. New owners might be advised to sweep Chamney’s chimneys with care.