Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Architect and later a founding partner in the Belleek Pottery, Co. Fermanagh. Robert Williams Armstrong was born in 1824, the son of Francis Armstrong, an architect and builder in Co. Longford.(1) He may be the Robert Armstrong who entered the Dublin Society's School of Drawing in Architecture in 1837.(2) He was living at 35 Lower Baggot St, Dublin, when he exhibited designs for a parish church and a collegiate school at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1848, and a 'design for a Building suitable for the wants of British Architects, sent in competition for the Royal Gold Medal, 1846' in 1849.(3) He also exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1848 and 1857, latterly from addresses in London.(4) He entered several architectural competitions during the 1850s, for Burslem Town Hall in 1852 (in which he was placed second), for Preston Town Hall in 1853 and for the City of London Militia Barracks in 1855.(5)

Some time in or after 1850 Armstrong was employed by W.H. Kerr, a Dubliner who had married the daughter of Walter Chamberlain, director of the Royal Porcelain Works at Worcester, in the improvement of the factory.(6)  According to Kerr's own account, the idea of establishing a porcelain factory in Ireland had come to him as a result of visiting the Dargan Exhibition of 1853.  Together with Armstrong he made a tour of Ireland to find suitable materials for porcelain manufacture and was able to produce samples of Irish porcelain, drawing on the resources of the Royal Worcester factory.  Armstrong left Worcester to become art director of a new pottery at Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, which was established with the backing of the Dublin businessman David McBirney in 1857 and built between 1859 and 1862. The factory went into regular production in 1863.(7) In 1864 Armstrong was described as 'formerly an architect, now a partner of the Belleek potteries, assisting in its earliest processes and productions'.(8) The factory made a delicate Parian porcelain which was highly esteemed and widely marketed, but its future became uncertain following McBirney's death in 1882. Armstrong died at Rose Isle, Belleek, in January 1884, while he was in the midst of litigation with McBirney's son Robert.(9) He was married to Annie Langley Nairn, a landscape painter, who exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1848.(10)

Addresses:(11) 35 Baggot Street Lower, 1848; 3 Calthorpe Street, London, 1851-55; 10 Essex Street, Strand, London, 1857; Rose Isle, Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, at time of death.



A fuller account of Armstrong's career is in the entry on him by Helen Andrews in Dictionary of Irish Biography, ed. by James McGuire and James Quinn, 9 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 2009), I, 163.

(1) Belleek Pottery Archives (information from Helen Andrews).
(2) Gitta Willemson, The Dublin Society Drawing Schools 1746-1876 (2000), 2.
(3) RHA 1848, nos. 291,295,299,306, RHA 1849, no. 402.
(4) Graves.
(5) Roger H. Harper, Victorian Architectural Competitions (1983), 27,137,181. He exhibited his Burslem and Preston town hall designs at the RA in 1854 (no. 1138) and 1855 (no. 1253); his designs for a Corn Exchange in Newcastle (RA 1854, no. 1237) and for a church at Teddington (RA 1857, nos. 1046,1079) may have been competition entries as well.
(6) For W.H. Kerr, see Kevin Curry, 'Painting on porcelain', Irish Arts Review Yearbook 9 (1993), 192-194;  see also letter from Kerr in Irish Times, 10 Jan 1868.
(7) For Armstrong's role at Belleek, see Mairead Reynolds, 'Early Belleek Designs' in Irish Arts Review 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1984), 224-26.
(8) DB 6, 1 Sep 1864, 176.
(9) IB 26, 1 Feb 1884, 32.
(10) Information from Helen Andrews,citing Belleek Pottery Archives(?).
(11) Graves.

4 work entries listed in chronological order for ARMSTRONG, ROBERT WILLIAMS

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Date: 1855
Nature: RWA exhibits design for 'Hotel erecting at Polranny, Co. Mayo' at Architectural Exhibition, Feb 1855. Design 'has many new points, not all of which are improvements.  The best is the pseudo-bay or canted window formed in the thickness of the wall.'
Refs: Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal 18 (Feb 1855), 34.

Date: 1858
Nature: RWA probably instrumental in design. Begun 1858. FS laid Jan 1859. Completed for £10,000 by David McBirney by Mar 1862, 'but a large sum will be required to put it into…complete working order'.
Refs: B 16, 18 Dec 1858, 857; DB 1, ? ? 1859, 9; 4, 1 Mar 1862, 49; S. McCrum, The Belleek Pottery (Ulster Museum, Belfast, 1972), 8; Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (1979), 142

Date: 1861-64
Nature: Remodelled for John Gerard Irvine. Builder: Thomas H. Carroll, Dublin.
Refs: Designs (ceilingplans, sections, details of pedestal mouldings, cornices, roof trusses), 18 Feb 1862 in PRONI, D2966/52/1 (see PRONI e-catalogue); IAA, PKS A03 (May,Jun 1861, Jun 1862, pp.89v,91v); DB 3, 15 Feb 1861, 436; 6, 15 Apr,15 Sep 1864, 70,188; Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (1979), 329

Date: 1861-64
Nature: New church with nave, side aisles, and deep chancel  'erecting'.  Nave piers of a 'beautiful and little known local marble'.  Architect: W. Armstrong  of Belleek.
Refs: IAA, PKS A03 (Jun 1861), p.89v: To d[itt]o [i.e.services] in making out probable estimate for Killadeas church'); DB 6, 1 Sep 1864, 176;  Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster (1979), 328; illus. in Clergy of Clogher  (Ulster Historical Foundation, 2006),62, and Claude Costegalde & Brian Walker, The Church of Ireland: an illustrated history (2013), 153.