The Bishop’s Palace in Cathedral Square was magnificently conserved in 2010/11 and opened as a museum in June 2011, displaying the treasures of Georgian and Victorian Waterford. The ground and first floors are laid out as a historic house with some of the finest displays in Ireland of 18th century glass, silver, furniture and paintings. The oldest piece of Waterford Glass in the world – the Penrose decanter – is a highlight. The top floor continues the story up to 1970 ending with the Hucklebuck shoes. The present palace, built on the site of several previous palaces, was commissioned by Bishop Charles Este in 1743 to the design of Richard Cassel. However, Cassel soon departed the project to build Leinster House. This led to the palace being completed by the Waterford architect-builder ‘Honest’ John Roberts, who built so many of Waterford’s fine buildings in the 1700s.
Este’s letter to Archbishop Bolton of Cashel requesting permission to build a new palace is on display in the Bishop’s Palace near a fine portrait of him. Este writes that the existing palace is in ‘so ruinous a condition that part of it has fallen down … and what is left is so small and dangerous to live in’ that he had to hire another house to live in. He specifies the dimensions and materials he intends to use. The Bishop’s Palace is a fine Palladian building faced on both sides in Leinster limestone. The two main facades are quite different: one having seven bays – the central bay having an more elaborate window treatment and a Gibbsian doorway; the other facade has eight bays with a more elaborate entrance and shallow pediment with blank niches. The medieval city wall was lowered on the garden/the Mall side of the building to make a ‘great terrace’ and gardens as befitting a gentleman’s elegant townhouse in the 18th century.