Saturday, 20 October 2018

Queen's Arcade, Belfast

Donegall Place Entrance in 2014

QUEEN'S ARCADE, Belfast, runs from Donegall Place to Fountain Street.

Fountain Street Entrance in 2014

Marcus Patton OBE, in his invaluable Central Belfast: A Historical Gazetteer, provides this apt description:-

Long shopping arcade from Donegall Place to Fountain Street, built in 1880 for George Fisher of the Castle Restaurant to designs by James MacKinnon, with new shopfronts inserted 1932 by Sage of London.

Two-storey arcade with pitched, glazed roof carried on perforated iron trusses with pannelled barrel soffits; first-floor windows semicircular with spoke divisions; cornice above first floor with richly-carved floral ornament.

A stone doorcase survives near the Donegall Place entrance. New canopies added at both ends ca 1987.

In 1890 it was described as "at once fashionable as a promenade and highly attractive as a business thoroughfare", containing "upwards of thirty finely fitted shops"; but the existing shops are all modern.

A monogram "AR" on third floor level at the Donegall Place facade alludes to Austin Reed Ltd, which came to the arcade in 1935.

At the apexof the gable is a fanciful model of a fantasy castle, possibly an allusion to the original Belfast Castle which stood across the street.

Donegall Place Entrance

HERE is a list of the tenants in 1910, including five milliners, two tailors, one confectioner's shop and one café:-

1-3   Wm Dickson & Co, Manufacturers of Umbrellas & Walking-Sticks

5      The Irish Art Depot ~ Miss S Burke

7-9   The Queen's Linen Company

11    Mrs Smith, Milliner

13    The Ulster Dairy Company

15    Miss Holmes, Milliner

17    P F Gulbransen, Watchmaker

19    Ladies' Blouse Depot ~ Miss Spence

21-23   Letitia Mayes, Milliner

25    Mills' Lending Library

27-29   Mrs Snugg, Milliner

31   S Bamford, Merchant Tailor


2    Side door

4-6     The Queen's Café

8-10   Miss Hanna, Costumier and Ladies' Tailor

12       S I Cronne, Milliner

14     The Vienna Photographic Art Co ~ W L Allison, proprietor

16     Miss Nicholson, Boot, Shoe & Slipper Warehouse

18     Universal Knitting Machine Company

20     Howden & P H Charley ~ Coal Merchants

22     Miss Beresford, Milliner

24     North of Ireland Loan Bank ~ J Lamont, Manager

26     Miss Mary Bill, Confectioner

Let us hope that Mrs Snugg lived up to her name.

First published in October, 2012.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Warren House

The family of CHARLEY or CHORLEY, passing over from the north of England, settled in Ulster in the 17th century, at first at Belfast, where they were owners of house property for two hundred years; and afterwards at Finaghy, County Antrim, where  

RALPH CHARLEY (1664-1746), of Finaghy House, County Antrim, left a son,

JOHN CHARLEY (1712-93), of Finaghy House, who died aged 81, leaving a son and successor,

JOHN CHARLEY (1744-1812), of Finaghy House, who married, in 1783, Anne Jane, daughter of Richard Wolfenden, of Harmony Hill, County Down.

His second son, 

MATTHEW CHARLEY (1788-1846), of Finaghy House, married, in 1819, Mary Anne, daughter of Walter Roberts, of Colin House. His eldest son,

JOHN STOUPPE CHARLEY JP (1825-78), of Finaghy House, and of Arranmore Island, County Donegal,

a magistrate for counties Donegal, Antrim, and Belfast; High Sheriff of County Donegal, 1875-6. Mr Charley owned 6,498 acres of land in County Donegal.
This gentleman married, in 1851, Mary, daughter of Francis Forster JP, of Roshine Lodge, County Donegal.

His third son,

WILLIAM CHARLEY, of Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, married, in 1817, Isabella, eldest daughter of William Hunter JP, of Dunmurry; and dying in 1838, was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN CHARLEY, of Seymour Hill,  who died unmarried in 1843, aged 25, and was succeeded by his brother, 

WILLIAM CHARLEY JP DL (1826-1904), of Seymour Hill, who wedded, in 1856, Ellen Anna Matilda, daughter of Edward Johnson JP, of Ballymacash, near Lisburn, and granddaughter of Rev Philip Johnson JP DL. 
Mr Charley was juror of Great Exhibition, 1851; chairman of J & W Charley & Company. He wrote the book Flax And Its Products.
He was succeeded by his son,

EDWARD JOHNSON CHARLEY (1859-1932), of Seymour Hill; whose sixth son, 

officer, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles; fought in the Boer War, and 1st World War, with 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles; wounded and became a PoW. In 1916 he started workshops for interned British servicemen at Murren. He was Officer-in-Charge for Technical Instruction for servicemen interned in Switzerland, 1917; Commissioner, British Red Cross Society, Switzerland, 1918; commander, 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, 1919-23. CBE, 1920; City Commandant, Ulster Special Constabulary, 1924-52; originator of the British Legion Car Park Attendants scheme (adopted throughout Great Britain); Honorary Colonel, 1938, Antrim Coast Regiment (Territorial Army). 
His eldest son, 

COLONEL WILLIAM ROBERT (Robin) HUNTER CHARLEY OBE (b 1924), married Catherine Janet, daughter of William Sinclair Kingan, in 1960.

WARREN HOUSE, originally called Warren View, formed part of the Charley estate though, until 1922, was occupied by different members of the Johnston family. 

In 1923, Edward Charley, of Seymour Hill, presented it to his brother, Colonel Harold Charley (1875-1956) on his marriage to Phyllis Hunter MBE (1893-1988). 

They extended the house and enlarged it over a number of years. 

Estate agents describe it today thus:
Detached house; six bedrooms; three reception rooms; self-contained annex set on ca 1 acre of gardens; approved guest-house, full of potential. Once the home of flamboyant car magnate John De Lorean; also former home of the Charley family involved in the linen industry, this historic Edwardian dwelling is now run as a successful guest-house. Set in tranquil riverside gardens, the impressive façade gives way to a sumptuous living space. 
Warren House looks across the river Derriaghy to an ancient mound and rabbit warren.

The Charleys sold the house in 1951.

It was sold again thereafter, and is is understood that one later owner converted the large drawing-room into a Plymouth Brethren chapel.

In 1970, when the De Lorean factory was built in the nearby fields, Warren House became the residence of John De Lorean. 

A special road-way was made directly from the factory to the house.

First published in March, 2011.

Belle Isle: IV

Corrard ca 1970. Photo credit: Julian Brown


The summers of our childhood were always sunny; or, looking back, that is how it seems.

I recall my father Esmond saying just that.

His youthful recollections of life on the family farm, Corrard, in County Fermanagh, were of days filled with sunshine.

He was born in the 1920s, and his early memories included being ‘glued’ to an old Bush valve radio during World War Two, listening to Lord Haw-Haw broadcasting propaganda from Germany.

His long summer days were spent on the land or on Lough Erne.

Once the chores and daily tasks of the farm were in hand, he would go fishing or rabbiting or shooting. 

My father told a story of how, as a young man, he put his hand down a rabbit hole and a rat bit him. 

The rat clamped its teeth and would not let go of his finger.

My grandfather, John James Brown (Esmond’s father) removed the rat by cutting the end of my father’s finger away with a pen knife!

My grandmother Margaret Brown’s larder was well supplemented during the war; the family was insulated from the full effects of rationing due to my father’s activities.

In addition, my grandmother was practically self-sufficient: Vegetables were grown and stored; fruit was abundant in the Corrard orchard and was bottled, preserved and made into wine; hens, ducks, geese and turkeys were kept, as were dairy animals, beef cattle, pigs and sheep.

My grandmother had a pony and trap, and every few weeks she would ride into Enniskillen to buy those provisions that she could not grow, like sugar and tea.

I recall her as a very industrious and intelligent woman who did not suffer fools gladly!

Corrard is just across the lake from Belle Isle.

The road into Corrard is less than a mile from the road to the island of Belle Isle.

Corrard had once been the seat of the King baronets, and Sir Charles had owned it until his death in 1920.

The two estates, Belle Isle and Corrard, are separated by a thin ribbon of the water at one point, a mere hundred yards or so.

In winters gone by, Lough Erne could surround Corrard and it became an island, when the waters rose in winter.

I recall flooding during winters in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Lough came up and Corrard did become an island for a short time.

The approach into Corrard is by means of a steep, downward hill, through a pair of imposing stone gate-posts.

I remember beautiful white gates hung here, when I was a child, but they were removed many years ago.

At this point there is a crossroads, and it was here that the road could flood.

Beyond the crossroads is a steep hill leading to what was the mansion at Corrard.

The roads that fork to the left and the right led, in former times, to cottages that belonged to the estate.

There were, at one time, five cottages.

For anyone who knows Corrard the cottages were, on the point hill, at Innishbeg gravel pit, at what became the Glenn farm, in the Church Meadow and near the Lough shore behind Corrard House.

Corrard House was badly damaged by fire in 1921.

My grandfather knocked half of the house down and restored the remainder when he and my grandmother acquired Corrard in 1921.

My father was brought up on the land and the Lough.

He worked the land with love and knew every mood of the Lough.

He would go out in a boat in all weathers and was fearless.

As a young man, having finished his schooling at Portora, in Enniskillen, he worked with his father on Corrard.

His brother Cyril was, during the Second World War, a ‘Pathfinder’ in the Royal Air Force.

My father’s war contribution was made by increasing the yield from the farm.

Esmond was enterprising and modern in outlook: he wanted a tractor and machinery.

To this end, he began logging timber and floating it down the Lough for milling and sale.

Esmond is famous, too, for driving a tractor across the Lough from Corrard to Belle Isle in the hard winter of 1963 when Lough Erne was frozen!

This, and other hair raising escapades, are another story for another time! 

First published in May, 2012.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Moydrum Castle


WILLIAM HANDCOCK (c1631-1707), of Twyford, County Westmeath, descended from a family of considerable antiquity in Lancashire, MP for that county in the first parliament after the restoration of CHARLES II, was nominated one of the Council of Connaught, and obtained a patent, 1680, to erect his estates into a manor, under the designation of the Manor of Twyford, with ample privileges.

Mr Handcock married, in 1652, Abigail, sister of Sir Thomas Stanley, by whom he had, with other issue,
THOMAS, his heir;
William (Sir), Recorder of Dublin;
Stephen (Very Rev), Dean of Clonmacnoise;
Matthew (Ven), Archdeacon of Kilmore;
Stanley, drowned;
Hannah; Sarah; Elizabeth.
The eldest son,

THOMAS HANDCOCK (1654-1726), of Twyford, MP for Lanesborough, 1692-5, espoused, in 1677, Dorothy Green, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;
Sarah; Abigail; Mary; Dorothy.
Mr Handcock was succeeded by his eldest son,

WILLIAM HANDCOCK (1676-1723), MP for Athlone, 1703-14, County Westmeath, 1721-23, who wedded Sarah, daughter of Richard Warburton, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;
RICHARD, of whom hereafter;
John Gustavus;
Abigail; Susan; Dorothy; Susanna.
Mr Handcock was succeeded by his eldest son,

WILLIAM HANDCOCK (1704-41), MP for Fore, 1727-41, who espoused Elizabeth, second daughter of the Rt Rev Sir Thomas Vesey Bt, Lord Bishop of Ossory, though the marriage was without issue, and he was succeeded by his brother, 

THE VERY REV RICHARD HANDCOCK (c1716-91), of Twyford, Dean of Achonry, who married Sarah, only daughter and heiress of Richard Toler, of Ballintore, County Kildare, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;
Sarah; Susanna; Dorothy; Mary; Elizabeth; Anne.
The Dean was succeeded by his eldest son,

THE RT HON WILLIAM HANDCOCK MP (1761-1839), MP for Athlone, 1783-1800, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1812, in the dignity of Baron Castlemaine.

His lordship was advanced to a viscountcy, in 1822, as VISCOUNT CASTLEMAINE.

On his lordship's death the viscountcy expired, though the barony passed to his brother.
The heir apparent is the present holder's only son, the Hon Ronan Michael Handcock. 
The 5th Baron was the last Lord-Lieutenant of County Westmeath, from 1899 until 1922.

Roland Thomas John [Handcock], 8th and present Lord Castlemaine, MBE, lives at Salisbury, Wiltshire.

The heir is the present holder's son, the Hon Ronan Michael Handcock (b 1989).

MOYDRUM CASTLE, near Athlone, County Westmeath, was a seven-bay, two-storey over basement castellated country house, rebuilt ca 1812 (incorporating the fabric of an earlier house built c1750), having an advanced three-storey breakfront/gate tower (offset) to the west side of centre.

There were turrets on an octagonal plan to the corners of an advanced tower and to the west end of the front façade (north); a turret on square plan to the east end.

The house is now out of use, derelict and partially collapsed to the west side.

There were rough-cast, cement-rendered walls, now failing and exposing limestone rubble construction below, with cut stone plinth to base.

Clasping buttresses between bays to the east side of tower; extensive decoration to walls with incised cross loop motifs, cut stone quatrefoils and cut stone hoodmouldings over window openings.

The walls are now largely overgrown with ivy.

Square-headed openings to main body of structure, originally having cut stone surrounds and cut-stone tracery.

Tudor Gothic-arched doorcase to front face of tower, inset within a Tudor-Gothic arched recess and originally with cut stone surrounds (now gone).

Pointed-arched window over doorcase to first storey, originally with Geometric tracery.

Set back from road in extensive mature grounds with remains of a walled garden and ancillary structures to the rear.

These remain impressive and picturesque ruins of a large-scale, Gothic-Revival, castellated country house.

The scale and the attention to detail are still apparent, despite its ruinous condition; and fragments of the early cut stone detailing are still evident to a number of openings from behind the extensive ivy growth.

This important Gothic-Revival essay was built to designs by Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849), who was commissioned by William Handcock to rebuild an existing house befitting of his new status as Lord Castlemaine, c.1812.

The house was burnt by the IRA in 1921 and has remained a ruin ever since.
Moydrum Castle, given its status as the seat of HM Lord-Lieutenant of County Westmeath and a member of the House of Lords, was chosen as a suitably symbolic target for Irish republican reprisals: On the night of July 3rd, 1921, an assembly of IRA members marched on the castle.

The 5th Baron was out of Ireland at the time, but Lady Castlemaine and their daughter, together with several servants, were in residence and were woken from their sleep by knocking at the door.

They were given time to gather together a few valuable belongings before the building was set alight. The blaze completely destroyed the castle.
Following the establishment of the Irish Free State, much of the land belonging to Lord Castlemaine was acquired by the Irish Land Commission.

The Castlemaines were never to return to Moydrum.

These impressive and romantic ruins have been much photographed since and a picture of the remains featured on the cover of the U2 album 'The Unforgettable Fire'.

These ruins have now become almost a place of pilgrimage for U2 fans and the interior walls are now covered with graffiti relating to the band, giving this site a new cultural significance.

Castlemaine arms courtesy of European Heraldry.  First published in May, 2012.

Darragh Island

I spent yesterday on Darragh Island, a property of The National Trust, on the western side of Strangford Lough, not far from Killinchy and Whiterock, County Down.

Darragh comprises about nineteen acres in extent and was donated to the National Trust in 1978 by John Metcalfe.

There were eight us of yesterday, less than usual because the little boat can only handle about four or five people.

Our boat took us from Whiterock, passing Braddock Island and Conly Island.

It's close to Conly Island.

We were excavating a series of ponds.

Darragh is a great example of how the correct management can produce species-rich grassland with superb displays of wild flowers and insects.

The National Trust uses a purpose-built barge to bring cattle out to this island, whenever possible.

This ensures that the grass is grazed to the optimum height to maximize biodiversity.

In the summer, the island is carpeted in colourful meadows – a rare sight in the countryside these days.

There are the remains of a kelp-house at the southern end (see photograph above).

This simple stone building was built at the end of the 18th century and similar structures would have been common on many of Strangford Lough's islands.

Back then, many local farmers supplemented their income by harvesting seaweed from the shore and burning it in stone kilns.

The residue that was left after burning (called kelp) was an important source of sodium carbonate, which was used in industrial processes such as the production of glass and soap.

It was also used as a bleaching agent in the linen industry.

The kelp was stored in the kelp-houses until it was sold and transported to the various factories and mills.

The remains of a kelp kiln is found just a short distance from the kelp-house.

There are other kelp kilns on the National Trust islands of Taggart, Chapel and South.

Interestingly, they are all built to slightly different designs.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Seymour Hill


The family of CHARLEY, or CHORLEY, passing over from the north of England, settled in Ulster during the 17th century, at first in Belfast, where they were owners of house property for two hundred years; and afterwards at Finaghy, County Antrim, where

JOHN CHARLEY (c1659-1743), of Belfast, left a son,

RALPH CHARLEY (1674-1756), of Finaghy House, County Antrim, who wedded Elizabeth Hill, and had an only child,

JOHN CHARLEY (1711-93), of Finaghy House, who married Mary, daughter of John Ussher, and had issue,

Matthew, died unmarried;
JOHN, of whom hereafter;
Hill, died unmarried;
Jane, died unmarried.
The eldest surviving son,

JOHN CHARLEY (1744-1812), of Finaghy House, married, in 1783, Anne Jane, daughter of Richard Wolfenden, of Harmony Hill, County Down, and had issue,
John, of Finaghy House (1784-1844), dsp;
Matthew, of Finaghy House and Woodbourne;
WILLIAM, of whom we treat.
The third son,

WILLIAM CHARLEY (1790-1838), of Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, married, in 1817, Isabella, eldest daughter of William Hunter JP, of Dunmurry, and had issue,
JOHN, of Seymour Hill;
WILLIAM, succeeded his brother;
Edward, of Conway House;
Mary; Anne Jane; Eliza; Isabella; Emily.
The eldest son,

JOHN CHARLEY (1818-43), of Seymour Hill, died unmarried, and was succeeded by his brother, 

WILLIAM CHARLEY JP DL (1826-90), of Seymour Hill, who wedded, in 1856, Ellen Anna Matilda, daughter of Edward Johnson JP, of Ballymacash, near Lisburn, and granddaughter of Rev Philip Johnson, and had issue,

William (1857-1904), dsp;
EDWARD JOHNSON, of Seymour Hill;
John George Stewart;
Thomas Henry FitzWilliam;
HAROLD RICHARD, of whom hereafter;
Ellen Frances Isabella; Elizabeth Mary Florence;
Emily Constance Jane; Wilhelmina Maud Isabel.
Mr Charley was succeeded by his third son,

EDWARD JOHNSON CHARLEY JP (1859-1932), of Seymour Hill, High Sheriff of County Antrim, 1913, who died unmarried, and was succeeded by his brother,

ARTHUR FREDERICK CHARLEY JP (1870-1944), of Seymour Hill and Mossvale, who wedded, in 1917, Clare, daughter of Patrick Burgess Fenn, by whom he had no issue.

Mr Charley was succeeded by his brother,

COLONEL HAROLD RICHARD CHARLEY CBE DL (1875-1956), of Warren House and Seymour Hill, County Antrim, and The Trees, Helen's Bay, County Down, who married, in 1923, Phyllis, daughter of Robert Samuel Hunter, and had issue,
Maureen June (1926-54).
Colonel Charley's only son,

COLONEL WILLIAM ROBERT (Robin) HUNTER CHARLEY OBE (b 1924), of Craigavad, County Down, married, in 1960, Catherine Janet, daughter of William Sinclair Kingan, and had issue,
Catherine June, b 1961;
Elizabeth Jane, b 1962;
Jane Mary Isabella, b 1968.

SEYMOUR HILL HOUSE, Dunmurry, Belfast, was built ca 1790 by the son of Archibald Johnston, Robert Allen Johnston, who owned the Seymour Hill estate (which, by 1813, comprised 89 acres and included a bleaching green, mill, yard and a mill dam at the Derriaghy Burn).

Seymour was the Marquess of Hertford's family surname, and at the time Mr Charley owned 400 acres of land surrounding the house.

However, the house does not appear captioned as "Seymour Hill House" until 1858.

William Charley bought the estate in 1822 and quickly invested capital to improve the bleach works.

Mr Charley had also purchased and remodelled the Dunmurry and Mossvale Bleach Greens two years previously in 1820, and subsequently transferred his business to Seymour Hill.

The house itself by this stage was in a ruinous state, but by 1825 Charley expended almost £5,000 in remodelling and reconstructing the house, having engaged the architect, John McHenry.

It is thought that much of the detailing found on the building, such as the heavily vermiculated double quoins, was added as a result of the improvements.

By 1865, the additional buildings included a steward's house, a coachman's house and a gate lodge, suggesting that the family's linen business was flourishing.

William Charley was chairman of J&W Charley & Co, linen merchants, whose high quality work received several commissions from the Royal family.

He was also a founding member of the Northern Banking Company.

The Charley family continued to occupy Seymour Hill House throughout the 1800s, developing their linen business and bleaching techniques, eventually coming ownership of several bleach greens in the area.

They were credited with introducing the use of chlorine into the bleaching process.

The last of the Charley family to occupy Seymour Hill House was Captain Arthur Frederick Charley who, in 1944, met his death during an accident felling trees in the grounds.
Arthur's nephew, Colonel William Robert Hunter Charley, desired to pursue a military career rather the linen industry, which subsequently lead to the Charley business merging with Barbour Linen Thread Ltd; and the sale of Seymour Hill and the surrounding grounds to the Northern Ireland Housing Trust.
The once extensive kitchens, wine cellars, servants hall, dining rooms, morning rooms, bedrooms and library were converted into six apartments.

By this stage the house was losing much of its internal character.

Following further vandalising and extensive fire damage in 1986, a local account describes the house as being an empty shell with no roof.

In 1990, the house was transferred to the then named BIH housing association, which invited Colonel Robin Charley to open the fully-restored house providing six new one-person flats.


SEYMOUR HILL stands on a hill with a wide view of the Lagan Valley.

The Charley estate on both sides of the River Lagan in counties Antrim and Down once comprised over 400 acres.

They were tenants of the Marquess of Hertford, who owned all the land from Dunmurry to the southern shore of Lough Neagh.

A large walled garden and grounds were maintained by a head gardener and five or six under-gardeners.

Between the house and the walled garden there were lawns with landscaped trees and shrubs.

Near the rock garden was the dogs' cemetery, all with their individual headstones.

Every day the head of the family would walk across the paddock field to the factory of J & W Charley & Company, which was hidden from the house by a line of trees.

Here he supervised the finishing and production of the finest Ulster Linen.

It was of a particularly high quality and for many years the usual gifts from Northern Ireland to any member of the Royal Family when they married were linen sheets from J & W Charley, specially embroidered with the relevant royal cypher.

Within the grounds of Seymour Hill was a lake and a waterfall leading into a fish ponds.

The River Derriaghy flowed under the main Belfast-Lisburn road into the lake and then was divided into two mill races to work the factory water wheels.

The top stream was known locally as 'Little Harry' because baby Harold Charley's (1875-1956) pram once ran away down the drive and ended up upside down in the river!

He was none the worse for the experience, it is said.

During the 2nd World War the laundry in the upper yard was occupied by up to 100 women and children evacuated from the centre of Belfast during the air raid blitzes of 1941-42. 

I am grateful to Lisburn Historical Society as a source of reference for this article.  First published in February, 2011.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Belle Isle: III



Miss McDougal arrived at Belle Isle from her home in Lockerbie, Scotland, when she was a very young woman in the 1920s.

She came to Belle Isle to work under the direction of her aunt, an earlier Miss McDougal, who was the housekeeper at Belle Isle in the halcyon days between the great wars.

At that time a full complement of servants were on hand to ensure the smooth running of the castle.

Miss Ellen McDougal joined the brigade as a humble scullery maid.

By the time of my arrival on the scene in 1948, the indoor servants had reduced to three and been transformed with changing times from servants into domestic help!

These were Minnie Cathcart, my mother Pearl Brown and Miss Ellen McDougal. 

By the early 1950s Miss McDougal, known to all as ‘Dougie’, was a very accomplished cook, keeper of the kitchens and chief bottle washer!

I don’t know when she gained full charge of culinary activity but she was firmly in control from my earliest memories and remained so up until almost the end of the 1960s.

The Dougie  of my childhood was approaching fifty years of age: slight of stature, her grey hair firmly held within the confines of a hairnet and usually dressed in a lengthy ‘wrap around’ floral pinafore. 

A pair of steel rimmed glasses were perched on her sharp nose but could not hide the bright gleam in her all seeing eyes.

Dougie worked tirelessly from early morning till late at night all day, every day (she did have the odd half day off but grumbled about it).

It was not that she was put upon but just that it was her kitchen and she loved being in it.

She did all this for the princely sum of £5.00 per month, but did live in, all found!

Dougie was of the old school; she knew her place and wanted everyone else to know theirs.

She had immense respect for Mr Henry Archdale Porter, ‘The Master’, and he often popped his head round the kitchen door for a cheery word with Ellen. 

I remember him being slightly ill at ease in her presence, her clear devotion somewhat unsettling him but he was very fond of her and valued her highly.

It was prudent to be ill at ease with Dougie.

For while she had a solid heart of gold there was also a fierce temper, easily lost.

It did not matter who you were, if you were in the firing line heaven help you! 

A tirade of abuse was common and she was not averse to throwing the odd implement or chasing the offender with her rolling pin!

It did not matter if you were Mr Porter or Mrs Leigh attired in her finest new London creation or a naughty little boy like me! 

When the temper was up - flee, "scarper" quickly! Stand on your dignity at your peril!

On one memorable occasion I boldly rode my tricycle into the kitchen and pedalled as fast as I could round and round the central table.

Dougie was making pastry at one end of the table and gave chase with a threatening fist raised and shrieking at the top of her voice “he’s a little bugger that’s what he is, wait till I get my hands on you.” 

I was always playing pranks on Dougie but her bark was worse than her bite as far as my sister Audrey and I were concerned.

She loved us with a passion.

She had no family of her own and made us hers.

She was a great help to our mother by looking after us while she was at work elsewhere in the castle during the day.

Wary we were, but everyone adored her.

She had been there forever, as far as most people were concerned and could have given any of today’s television chefs and celebrity cooks a run for their money. 

An earlier cook at Belle Isle had trained her in basic skills but she had a natural talent.

It was astonishing to watch her ‘throw’ ingredients together without weighing scales or any apparent measures.   

The most wonderful, cakes, breads and puddings would result, even soufflés!

 She could turn out any entree or concoction to a very high standard.

The most amazing smells wafted from the Aga, oxtail, Jugged Hare, Partridge and the best rice pudding ever made!

All manner of braises and ragouts would bubble away in huge cooking pots on the Aga hobs.

An old metal Nabisco Frears biscuit tin was permanently lodged at the back of the Aga hotplate filled with meringues the like of which I have never seen anywhere.

Golden and tasting of honey. 

Dougie could always rise to the occasion and dinner in the evening was eagerly anticipated.

Whenever a special occasion or party event took place the food was of exceptional standard, beautifully cooked, presented with style and garnished to perfection. 

All this in the days before cooking became a national obsession and even pre- Elizabeth David.

Of course as a boy this all this seemed absolutely normal, it was not till later when out in the world I appreciated just how good Miss McDougal was.

Dougie’s kitchen was the central room in a complex of rooms. 

A cavernous room with two large windows.

One to the west and one facing the southern front of the castle.

The south facing kitchen block is recessed and not in line with the main block, which houses what were then, the Dining, Drawing and Morning Rooms. 

The south facing kitchen window was placed high up in the wall.

Presumably so that in the former days of elegance to which the castle belonged, ladies and gentlemen strolling in the formal gardens at the front of the castle did not have their view sullied by ‘scullery maids a scrubbing’ behind the kitchen window.

The kitchen had two huge tables.

One in the centre under an old blackened gas fitting where the preparation of food was carried out.

The home-made gas supply had been a product of a bygone period and no longer functional.

The fitting was used now to hang sticky papers to catch flies! 

The other table under the high window was where the household dined in the evening and where the workforce dined at other times.

This included some of the men who worked on the home farm who came in for luncheon and tea, except during hay-making when tea was taken out to the field in large enamel jugs and generous wicker baskets.

The huge Aga commanded one wall almost in its entirety.

The west facing window wall had floor to ceiling wooden dressers atop of wider cupboards.

The dressers filled the entire wall and framed the window.

These fixtures were painted a dirty brown colour and some of the shelves were of scrubbed pine.

The dressers were filled with large gleaming copper domed covers for meat serving dishes and an assortment of porcelain. 

I never saw any of the copper covers used, they belonged to another era but they sparkled and gleamed in the oil lamps glow reflecting in what I now know were rare and valuable plates.

To the rear of this kitchen was a scullery with an assortment of sinks and I remember a mechanical ‘separator’ that Miss McDougal filled with milk to make butter?

Beyond this were some pantries and at least one of these had wire mesh in the windows and not glass.

This was before refrigerators arrived in Belle Isle. 

In a covered outhouse adjoining this (now demolished) game was hung to season. Pheasants, Hares and other birds.

This was a source of consternation to my father, Esmond.

He used to say that they hung there till they were rotten and stinking and that they were crawling with maggots! 

He could not understand how they could then be eaten! 

The Belle Isle folk used to laugh at him and try to educate his palate:
“Come now Esmond, you shot it and should be rewarded, now do try some, it is delicious! “ – “No thank you madam, I will take your word for it!” Gales of laughter. “We really will have to see what we can do with you!” “No fear of that madam!”
One last memory of the old kitchen at this time is of my sister Audrey and I climbing up onto the cupboards from a chair and standing in the large west window recess as small children.

The window sill was wide and deep and there were curtains that could be drawn by a cord. 

We would sing and recite and I suppose we thought we were most entertaining. 

Everyone was amused and indulgent (on most occasions!) but with reflection they were being kind we must have been an awful nuisance!

Finally at the end of the day Miss McDougal would trundle up the steep scrubbed wooden back stairs to her room. 

This was fitted with a large brass bed and an assortment of unmatched Victorian furniture. 

There was a real fire with logs burning in the winter and some shabby black curtains a remnant of the blackout in the war at the windows.

My father, mother and we children shared a set of rooms with Dougie for many years and on occasion as small children we would sleep with her in her big bed if our parents were away. 

This happened rarely but was an adventure!

We would open a sleepy eye as Dougie came into the room and watch her divest herself of her glasses, hairnet, footwear and finally her outer garments.

In the flickering firelight she was revealed in her bed attire.  

An all in one garment with leggings attached of quite course material that covered her from top to almost the ground known as ‘combinations’.

A fierce garment of immense fascination to us. ... And so to bed....Clean combinations and another day tomorrow....

Dougie lived out her life at Belle Isle. 

When she became old and infirm they created a beautiful bedroom for her on the ground floor and put in a ramp for a wheelchair.

Her final days were spent in the county hospital. 

She is buried along with the Belle Isle household of her era and rests beside Mr Henry Archdale Porter, Mrs and Miss Brunt and Mrs Leigh.

They are all together on the grassy bank at the top of the gentle slope behind Derrybrusk Church. 

There was no distinction in death. She had become part of the Belle Isle family. 

She was a lovely lady. The salt of the earth. A rare character.

I cannot do her justice.

I knew her all my life and yet I did not really know her.

I wish I had spent more time with her."

The photograph above is of Miss Ellen McDougal; Julian Brown's mother Pearl Brown; his sister Audrey; and Julian himself, as small children. A rare day out for Miss McDougal.

First Published in 2010.