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The Londonderry Plantation 1609-1914: The History, Architecture, and Planning of the Estates of the City of London and its Livery Companies in Ulster

Author : James Stevens Curl

Publisher : Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1986
ISBN: 0-85033-577-9 (hbk)

In the history of the British Isles no stranger events ever occurred than those which led to the Londonderry Plantation: those events had momentous consequences, not only for Ireland, but for the political development of England. During the Tudor period, both State and Dynasty faced great dangers, not least when Ireland almost became a base for a Counter-Reformation invasion by Spanish and Irish forces. The most unruly part of Ireland was the North, where in Elizabethan times a rebellion took several years to quell. The Flight of the Ulster Earls, in 1607, left huge tracts of Ulster forfeit to the Crown, which then coerced the City of London to finance and carry out the 'Plantation', or colonisation, of part of the area with loyal settlers to prevent further rebellion.

In this massive study, historical events through the centuries are traced, from the original planning and building of towns and villages and the movement of colonists, through the seventeenth century uprising (with its slaughter of settlers, wholesale destruction, and aftermath) and Jacobite war, to the slow recovery in the eighteenth century and the major rebuilding programmes of the nineteenth century. It describes the 'Proportions' of individual Livery Companies that each had been obliged to develop and colonise, identifying their Planners and Architects, and draws on original documentation to reveal the personalities involved. The text brings to life a story that is as invaluable to architectural and urban historians as it is to all with an interest in English, Irish, and London history. For the local historian in Ulster this publication, the result of research over many years, was a landmark. Perhaps most of all it should be read by all to whom the 'Ulster Problem' is an enigma, for it establishes the historical basis of that 'Problem' from impeccable sources, expressed in soberly measured prose.


'It is not a pretty story, ...but Curl tells it with a scholarly detachment… He provides an astonishingly painstaking study of the “saga that links 55 Companies of the City of London with a large tract of one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland”. This judiciously written book is ... “a tale of coercion, of heroism, of disaster, of failure, of noble aspirations, of ineptitude, of perfidy, of perjury, of cupidity, and of remarkable achievements against considerable odds”.'

David Watkin in The Salisbury Review (March 1990)

'Curl’s pioneering study of the Plantation unfolds the little-known story of a major development over three centuries ... He has unearthed a wealth of original documents ... many of the drawings are fascinating. Architecture, for once, is seen in its proper social and political context. The sheer amount of information in the book is daunting, but it is well organised into manageable sections; the author’s vivid and fluent prose, and flair for anecdotes, make it a much less formidable read than might be expected. Curl’s book will surely remain the definitive account of a crucial episode in history.'

Richard Weston in The Architects' Journal (17 January 1988)

'… a valuable addition to the literature on the Plantation of Ulster ... it provides the local historian with a fresh synthesis of a most complex subject. The author rightly sees the Londonderry Plantation as the core of the entire Jacobean plantation of six of the nine Ulster counties. In this he is not parochial, for he points to the significance of the involvement of the London Companies in Ulster in terms of their increasing opposition to the arbitrary rule of the Crown and the onset of the Civil War. He also points to the European implications ... as part of the wider conflict between opposing Catholic and Protestant groups, and subsequently as part of the struggle against the France of Louis XIV. The Londonderry Plantation ... is a detailed and scholarly exposition ... it breaks new ground ... based not only on meticulous archival research ... but on detailed and prolonged field work. It is a... superb guide ... peopled with fascinating characters... Curl has done in this magnum opus for the Londonderry Plantation what Maurice Craig has done for Dublin...or for the ... Georgian houses. His aim is to enable us to understand and accept the past with its complexity and many paradoxes.'

Grenfell Morton in The Local Historian 17/8 (November 1987)

'Space is too brief for adequate praise of this pioneering study... Although daunting in its scholarship, this is no dry work of reference. The text is gracefully fluent and vivid with anecdote ... The author has produced a major reappraisal of “one of the most enchanting places on earth”.'

Naomi May in the RIBA Journal (November 1987)

'No one before has assembled so rich a body of information and illustration dealing with the buildings of the plantation. With Rolf Loeber, Curl is a pioneer among architectural historians in publishing archivally based research on Irish architecture. The publicity described this as “a very big book, in every sense”. So it is: the prodigious amount of detail is sustained by Curl’s passionate interest in the subject, and his sense of its importance. He takes great pains to set the Londonderry plantation in its historical contexts.'

Edward McParland in The Times Literary Supplement (12 June 1987)

'This book, as the publisher’s puff asserts, is a big book in every sense of the word. It is also a lucid and balanced study of a process rarely adequately understood on either side of the Irish Sea... Having equipped the reader to appreciate the difficulties and opportunities facing those involved, the author then deals in comprehensive detail with the estates of each of the Livery Companies, and in doing so fills a glaring gap in the literature on the subject by concentrating on the buildings actually erected ... during the period. This is ... a volume which demonstrates what is meant by the term “the definitive work”. It unfolds with commendable balance a story of endeavour and struggle which is all too often treated with more heat than light. It is a book  which no-one with an interest in modern Ireland should leave unread.'

Denis McCoy in The Planner: The Journal of the Royal Town Planning Institute (March 1987)

'... an encyclopaedic work on a subject which is likely to fall outside the knowledge of most architectural historians. Curl ... provides a wealth of information, excellent photographs ... and charming reproductions of drawings ... Despite its weight and size the book will be particularly valuable to readers actually acquainted with the area or able to explore it ... the author has organized his enormous mass of material skilfully into manageable sections. The notes, arranged under chapter headings, give a good indication of the scope of the text and there is an exhaustive index. It is a handsome volume, attractively produced, and is unlikely ever to be superseded as an authority on the unique Plantation enterprise which was so important an element in the tangled history of Ulster.'

Lesley Lewis in The Antiquaries Journal, being the Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London lxvii/Pt.I (1987)
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