‘Bendhu’ is the last house on the right, overlooking the sandy cove on the winding road down to Ballintoy Harbour. This eccentric, original and intriguing house was the creation of Newton Penprase who originated from Cornwall, he came to Northern Ireland as a young man and taught at the Belfast College of Art. The house was named after Bendhu or Bendoo the nearby headland that looks across Boheeshane Bay to the limestone headland of Larry Bane.
The house was started in 1936 and he continued working at it long after his retirement in 1953, in fact it became known locally as 'the house that was never completed' and lots of local stories and theories abounded about why, for just when it looked like it had reached its conclusion Newton would find another view or creative idea for his home.
The house is timeless, a wonderful construction, built entirely by hand from buckets of cement and the work of a trowel in an artist's hand. Unfortunately an accident forced him to refrain from building in his latter years and ‘Bendhu’ lay untouched and without additions for many years. It was sold shortly after his death in 1978 to Richard McCullough and later in 1993 passed to the present owners who have lovingly restored the house and continue to live with and refine 'Bendhu' in a tradition that I am sure Newton would have approved of.
As a teenager I was fascinated by' Bendhu', every time I passed by on my way down to the harbour with my uncle it would fire my imagination, it intrigued me like a castle, the sculptures, the contrast between it and all the other houses, the freedom in which it was being built without a final shape on paper. Later in life I had the good fortune of looking inside 'Bendhu' several times when delivering bottles of calor gas from my uncle's store in Ballycastle.
Newton built rooms around views and let his imagination and expression run free. Sunken rooms, portholes, rectangles, triangles, ovals, cubes, wood paneling, wall paintings, ships cabins, sculptures of animals, walkways and parapets, railings, cliff stairs and secluded corners are all combined in this wonderful expression of one man’s creativity and imagination.
It is ironic that during the building of ‘Bendhu’ Newton received numerous problems from the building authorities, the same authorities that shortly after his death, proclaimed 'Bendhu' part of our Architectural Heritage and listed it such. Even the dogs walking by knew that when the first shapes graced the skyline of Ballintoy harbour. The mere ‘uniqueness’, creativity and originality of the building silently told us that.
The concept of a house that has no ultimate destination, that grows as a result of one person's creativity is not one easily understood by the rigidity of building control in our society. I have no doubt that the same problem would arise today, if another Newton began to build another 'unique' structure which did not fit into the mindset of our building guidelines.
Yet within the same guidelines large monstrosities are permitted to deface our natural landscape which show neither thought nor design for the environment, coming off drawing board's with no affinity to their locations and perhaps owing their existence more to the circles moved in than a justified purpose - amongst all this It is truly wonderful and refreshing to see how 'Bendhu' blends timelessly into its environment.
The last time I saw Newton was from a distance, he had retired from Bendhu to a residential home in Ballycastle and was sitting on a bench at the seafront looking out on the seascape, shortly afterwards he passed on. His legacy and immense creativity lives on to remind us that art is not only to be viewed, it can be practical too, like 'Bendhu'. Photograph of Newton Penprase by kind permission of his grandson David Penprase.
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