AN ICONIC BUILDING WITH A UNIQUE PIECE OF ABSTRACT MOSAIC ART
STRAND HEAD HISTORY
Designed by one of Northern Ireland’s most celebrated architects, Strand Head has been recognised as an iconic building in the seaside town of Portstewart for more than five decades.
AN ICONIC BUILDING
With its distinctive “butterfly” roof and unusual artisan mosaic wall, Strand Head was ahead of its time when designed by celebrated Coleraine architect Noel Campbell in 1958.
Known as “the Master of Modern Style”, his dramatic designs have featured in architectural publications down through the decades.
Strand House is one of his most iconic creations and unsurprisingly is a protected building, listed for its great architectural and historical interest.
Noel Campbell was indeed an architectural visionary, known for his courage in breaking new ground, introducing designs that were never seen or thought of before.
One of the first to use glass walls, his designs made an impact that still pack a punch even today. Strand Head is known as one of the finest examples of his work in the residential field.
So ahead of its time, it has been suggested that, were it to be designed and built today, it would still receive considerable acclaim by the architectural media.
The location facing Portstewart Golf Club with views towards the famous Strand, out to sea and along the coast to the West and Donegal, is something which Campbell maximised.
Using glass and timber sheeting along with a “butterfly” roof became part of his signature.
In what was also part of Campbell’s approach, the bedroom accommodation was designed at ground level while an open tread staircase (again a feature ahead of its time) takes you upstairs to a lounge, dining room and kitchen opening to a sun deck.
All the rooms have spectacular sea and beach vistas, as dramatic in winter time as in summer.
One of the many architectural publications to feature Strand Head said of it: “One senses Noel Campbell’s ability to maximise a location and at the same time break the mould of the traditional, and introduce innovative internal planning into new living and lifestyle patterns.”
MOSAIC WALL ART
The introduction of pieces of art into his projects is another classic Campbell design characteristic and Strand Head boasts one of his most visually striking.
At the entrance to the house, the eye-catching abstract mosaic wall was created by the late Colin Middleton, one of few surrealists of the early part of the last century.
And it wasn’t just any old China used in the design, but pieces of great historical value with their own fascinating tale to tell.
People passing Strand Head have for decades stopped to admire the unique piece of abstract mosaic art which adorns the wall beside the entrance.
Created by one of Northern Ireland’s top artists in the 50s, the late Colin Middleton, it is the source of the distinctive black and white patterned fine bone China he used which has been the subject of much debate over the years.
In this part of the world severe storms were common and the Causeway coast has literally thousands of shipwreck remains buried beneath its waters.
A little bit of research has unearthed a story about one such wreck carrying dinnerware of which some were salvaged and which bear an uncanny resemblance to the crockery used in Strand Head’s mosaic.
It is a story which goes back to Monday, July 7, 1856 when such a huge storm gripped the area it frightened all who were in its path.
Hurricane force winds blew from the northwest, accompanied with such driving rain that crops were flattened, houses lost their roofs, trees were felled and the cargo boat, the George A Hopley ran aground at Portstewart beach.
She had cargo of rum, brandy, linen cloth, pig iron and of course China plates valued at around £66,000.
There were other wrecks off the coast here but the George A Hopley was the most talked about and has made it into local lore.
She was a square rigger, built in 1846 in Charleston, South Carolina sailing to Liverpool where she loaded up her cargo.
She went ashore on the beach at Portstewart at 11pm after a valiant struggle with the elements and despite the late hour, locals were quick to arrive and soon started to “liberate” the cargo from the ship.
To thwart the coastguards and police some of it was buried in the sand hills and to this day the largest sand hill is called the Hopley Hill.
The ship stayed aground until the autumn when the gales completed its destruction.
The book Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast by Ian Wilson states that there was a procession of carts day and night ‘liberating’ the rest of the cargo.
There were 100 tonnes of liqueur, fine quality cloth and China and much later the locals were wearing ‘Hopley’ suits and eating off ‘Hopley’ delf.
According to legend the rum lasted for years brightening up many a wedding and funeral in Coleraine and district as well as Portstewart.
The ship’s barometer found its’ way to a house in Laurel Hill, Coleraine and numerous other relics are still preserved in the locality to this day – including what we believe to be the historic China plates, captured in all their beauty on the front of Strand Head house!