John Bowden ( - 1822):
John Bowden was considered one of the leading neo-classical architects in Ireland in the years either side of 1800, with a specialisation in Church of Ireland related buildings. A great deal of his work was carried on in Ulster.
He was born (it is assumed) in Blessington, County Wicklow, and was based in Dublin, where he had been educated at the Dublin School of Architectural Drawing and apprenticed to the leading architect Richard Morrison, but he executed many buildings in Ulster. As a member of the Board of First Fruits, a body of the Church of Ireland (the established, Anglican church) founded by Queen Anne in 1711 for this end, he produced glebe houses and several church buildings (a “glebe” was a small portion of land occupied by clergy), some in County Londonderry, at Eglinton, Aghanloo and Binevanagh; in County Armagh it is generally assumed that St Paul’s at Tartaraghan, built in 1816 and consecrated in 1819, with the building costs of £1300 defrayed by the Board of First Fruits, was designed by Bowden.
He applied to be superintendant of the construction of the Belfast Academical Institution, founded in 1810 (later the Royal Belfast Academical Institution) and designed by Sir John Soane, but was unsuccessful. However, he produced St George’s Church in High Street, Belfast. Architectural historian Paul Larmour describes the church as “a fairly plain Georgian preaching box behind a splendid portico”, the portico having been brought from Ballyscullion House at Castledawson, County Londonderry, a residence intended for the Earl Bishop of Derry, but unfinished. Elsewhere in County Antrim, he supplied plans and elevations for Ballintoy parish church on the north coast and the tower of St John Baptist, Bushmills is attributed to him. Between 1809 and 1832 the Board of First Fruits would provide 18 new rectories throughout the county, and it is generally assumed that Bowden supplied the basic designs for them. His name is often linked to the entrance tower at Antrim Castle though this is doubted by one leading architectural historian, Charles Brett. In County Londonderry, he designed Old Foyle College in Derry city and also the Courthouse in that city.
Dictionary of Irish Biography; Dictionary of Irish Architects; Paul Larmour: Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide (Friar’s Bush Press, Belfast, 1987); CEB Brett: Buildings of County Armagh (Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1999), Buildings of County Antrim (joint publication of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and the Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast, 1996)
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