Drogheda Independent

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Pink Floyd drummer and the old Aston Martin

Anthony Smith from Smith's Garage tells the story of Tankardstown House, an almost unique Aston Martin and how it now rests amongst million pound vehicles, belonging to Nick mason

This story is about Tankardstown Manor and Estate, sitting on 80 acres, near the Co. Meath, Village of Slane. It's also the story of a 1935 Aston Martin Racing Car. So let's bring the Tankardstown Estate up to the period of 1935.

The estate and Manor date back to the sixteen hundreds, we pick up the records where in 1710 it was occupied by the Coddington family, who after some years moved to Oldbridge House on the site of the Battle of the Boyne. They sold Tankardstown to the Brabazon Family who in 1815 sold it to Francis Blackburn and it remained in their ownership until the mid 1970's.

Francis Blackburne was born in 1782 and lived to the ripe old age of 84. He married a lady called Jane Martley and they had nine children, six boys and three girls. Francis played a big part in Irish History, he was educated in Trinity College, and was called to the Irish Barr in 1805, was nominated a King's Counsel in 1822 and in 1831 he became Attorney General for Ireland.

He continued to progress his career and in 1852 was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Here the story gets a little misty for also in 1852 he bought Rathfarnham Castle where he died in 1867 and was buried in Mount Jerome. He left Tankardstown to one of his sons Judge Francis William who went on to have a family of three a son and two daughters, Jack, Elena and Amabel and on his death, Jack inherited the estate and worked it, although probably half heartedly for his first love was Racing Cars.

Elena married a gentleman called Maurice Townshend on March 22nd 1928. This family were also deep in Irish History, the earliest record is from June 19th 1647 Colonel Richard Townshend arrived in Ireland with a regiment of 1000 soldiers to serve here.

For the next three decades, events in Ireland remained unsettled. During this time the Colonel, Richard made extensive purchases of land in three lots, which were confirmed by Royal Patents in 1666, 1668 and 1680. In total he had 8000 acres. He established himself in Castletownshend about 1665 where he sought to consolidate his estates and lead the settled life of a land owner. So for 360 years the Townshend Descendants can be found all around the world. Indeed in 2013 the year of "The Gathering" 45 descendants of Colonel Richard Townshend and their famileis came together in Castletownshend in West Cork.

So it was that Elena Blackburn married Maurice Townshend on March 22nd 1928 and lived in Tankardstown. Maurice was credited with having second sight, he was able to point out on a map the whereabouts of a missing person or a lost item. He also travelled Ireland divining wells with 100% success. In later years he was diagnosed with Cancer and with a short time to live, so he started to concoct his own herbal remedies and lived for many more years, he died 13th June 1966 and is buried in St. Barrahanes's Church in Castletownshend.

So back to Jack Blackburne and the family estate.

It was no surprise when in 1935 he travelled to England and bought what he always wanted - A Racing Car- This car was something special indeed. It was an Aston Martin 105 litre mark 2 Ulster Series 3. It was designed and built by Augustis Cesare Bertelly and only 21 were ever produced. Even back then it became a collector's item. Jack was a bachelor so he spent as mucvh time as he had to spare with the Aston. He raced it in the Phoenix Park and other tracks around the country, indeed one of the 21 Aston Martins won Le Mans.

When he landed home with the car he had to have a mechanic to look after it. He came to my Dad who had his own Garage in Drogheda and my Dad fell in love with it on first sight.

His job was to ekep it in fine tune, and before a race he would check on steering, wheels, tyres, brakes and then if he felt I wasn't jus tright he would road test it.

The best place he could find was the straight two miels of road between Drogheda and Temonfeckin. There are two cross roads on the stretch which he had to have manned to prevent anyone coming onto the road for at his speed it would be difficult to stop in time. As a very young boy in the early 1940's he often took me with him if he was going to Tankardstown. I used to love seeing the manor house and the maids or maybe it was the two sisters, I would not have known the difference back then.

They would give me cake and milk and generally make a fuss of me. One day he needed to take the Aston Martin back to our garage, so he left his car there and I got home in the Racing Car. A memory I still have now in my 80's. I also got a sty in my eye from the wind coming around the windscreen.

Jack was at his happiest when he was behind the wheel of his beloved Aston Martin.

Sad to say he didn't enjoy enough years for he passed away in the mid 1940's. In his will he left the estate to Elena and the Aston Martin to Amable.

Some weeks later my Dad got a letter from Elena with a cheque for £25 enclosed saying it is what her brother would have wanted. £25 was a lot of money during the war years and was a God send to a man with 10 children and a struggling Garage.

He kept that letter but when we were clearing his office after his own untimely death in 1954 we must have mixed it up with waste papers.

When Elena's husband Maurice Townshend passed away Amable and Elena ran the farm as best they could.

They didn't seem to know the value of the Aston Martin for they used it around the farm, there was even a platform made to fit on to the back of the car to carry Milk Churns etc. There were plenty of people wanted to buy it but they wouldn't sell. Perhaps it was their reminder of the brother they loved that made then keep it.

The years passed by and the time came when the manor house and estate was just too much for the two old ladies, so a decision was made to sell. It was sold in the mid 70's and the sisters build a house at the rear entrance to the estate.

At the same time Amable sold the Aston Martin to a Dr. Kevin Healy who was a member of the irish Beteran and Vintage Car Club and would have known the prize he got.

He spent a lot of money having a tolal refurbishment job done and raced it in Ireland and in the UK at such tracks as Oulton Park, kirkstown and Silverstone.

In 1979 he sold it to a wealthy American for a large sum amount unknown and the Aston Martin left our shores for a new lfie in the USA.

But that is not he end of the Aston Martin Story First we must complete the BNlackburne and Tankardsotwn story. Elena and Amabel were happy in their new home. Sometine in the 1980's I got a call from the sisters to go and see them with view to update their very old car.

When I called I was warmly received and invited in for Tea and Scones. We talked of days gone by, they liked the car I took out to them and they bought it.

There was only one sister present so I asked about the other one.

She said that she was in her room and doesn't come out much when people call, especially men.

She told me of the horrible experience they encountered when they were broken into one night by two masked men who locked both of them in a room and told them what would happen if they made noise. They took a lot of valuable items and left the house, but didn't unlock the door. Her sister couldn't get over the experience.

I delivered the car next day and somehow I knew I wouldn't see them again and that the car would be seldom used.

I thought It would be more like they needed it for a feeling of independence. The two sisters died in 1996 and are buried in Slane beside their brother Jack. Tankardstown estate came back on the market in 2002 and was purchased by a gentleman called Brian Conroy.

Through the years parcels of land of the estate were sold off. The manor house now only standing on 20 acres.

Mr Conroy must be a man of great vision for at that time the house was showing its age and generally the farm facilities, showed that the place was run down.

He must have taken a good look at what he had and could see what he could have. He restored the Manor house to her youthful beauty and with skillful planning.

The extension he built enhances the house.

He has also bought back some of the original land that had been once part of the estate and today Tankardstown house is sitting on 80 acres and is one of the finest Country House Hotels in North Leinster and South Ulster.

Back to the history of the Aston martin.

The new American owner didn't race it very much and let his son drive it.

It seems this young man couldn't handle the power he had under him for he crashed it and did a lot of damage.

A decision was made to sell it in its crashed state. It was bought by another American who once again had it meticulously restored to the specification of the designer and builder, Cesare Bertelly.

It was put up for auction again and was bought by a man called Nick Mason who was the drummer with the music group Pink Floyd.

The price allegedly paid was in the region of 1.5million sterling.

Nick Mason is known to be a collector of vintage racing cars. He published a book in 1998 called "Into the Red" which I was lucky enough to find a copy of.

In it he talks about his Aston Martin Ulster, how much he loves it and has three of the 21 produced Numbers 17,18 and 21 and regrets he didn't buy more of them.

His collection includes a Porsche 935 McLaren F1 Limited Edition, Bugatti T35B and A Ferrari 250 GTO which had a value of 10 million sterling at its peak and so many more.

His wealth amount to 75 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List of 2015/16.

Today both the Aston Martin and the Country house are in the millionaire bracket.

The hotel is of a very high standard, fit for Kings, Queens or any high society person using it, yet it retains that warm welcoming feeling the manor house always had.

The Aston Martin sits in the middle of a collection of the finest vintage cars ever made, its rubs shoulders with cars worth lots of millions of pounds indeed some are priceless.

The people involved in the era 1935 to the eighties have all gone to their rest including my Dad, but I am sure if they look down, it is with pride especially Jack and Amable Blackburn and Mrs Elena Townshend at what the car and the Manor House have achieved.

Thanks to Robert and Freda Salter Townshend and Hubert and Edward Townshend and Aisling Smith Coleman.

Drogheda Independent