Wednesday, 1 July 2015

McCutcheon's Field


I was out with the National Trust Strangford Lough Group of volunteers today.

We met at a property called McCutcheon's Field.

This comprises several acres of coastline near Groomsport, at Brigg's Rocks and close to Sandeel Bay, in County Down.

There's a holiday park here called Windsor Caravan Park.


We declared War on a considerable number of thistles today.


Earlier I bought a freshly-made egg salad sandwich from the Sandwich Den, a new shop close to Belmont GHQ; and most wholesome and delicious it was, too.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Grace Hall

THE FAMILY OF DOUGLAS OWNED 2,791 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY DOWN

This family is of Scottish descent.

ROBERT DOUGLAS (1655-1733), son of Robert Douglas, of County Down, by Elizabeth Henderson his wife, was a lieutenant in WILLIAM III's army at the battle of the Boyne.

He was thrice married, firstly, to Miss Elliot; secondly, to Miss Whitney; and thirdly, to Miss Usher.

Mr Douglas was succeeded by his son,

CHARLES DOUGLAS, High Sheriff of County Down in 1760, who wedded firstly, Grace, daughter of Richard Waring, of Waringstown, County Down, but had no issue.

He espoused secondly, in 1758, Theodosia, daughter of George St George, of Woodsgift, County Kilkenny, who was created a baronet in 1766, and by her had issue,
THOMAS;
George;
Robert;
Elizabeth; Ellen.
The eldest son,

THOMAS DOUGLAS, of Grace Hall, married, in 1786, Elizabeth, daughter of Mathew Forde, of Seaforde, County Down, and Coolgreaney, County Wexford, by Elizabeth his wife, sister of Thomas, 1st Viscount Northland, and had issue,
CHARLES MATHEW, his successor;
Elizabeth, m Rev S Blacker, of Elm Park, mother to S T BLACKER-DOUGLAS;
Theodosia, m Rev W B Forde, of Seaforde.
The only son,

CHARLES MATHEW DOUGLAS JP DL (1793-1880), of Grace Hall, High Sheriff of County Down, 1836, dsp 1880, and was succeeded under the provisions of his will, proved in 1860, by his nephew, ST JOHN THOMAS BLACKER-DOUGLAS, of Grace Hall etc.


LINEAGE OF BLACKER

SAMUEL BLACKER, of Tandragee, County Armagh, barrister-at-law, third son of William Blacker, of Carrickblacker, County Armagh, by Theodosia his second wife,  daughter of Sir Oliver St John, Knight, of Tandragee Castle, married, in 1734, Mary, daughter of Isaiah Corry, of Rock Corry, County Monaghan, and had by her a son,

THE REV ST JOHN BLACKER (1743-), rector of Moira, County Down, and prebendary of Inver, County Donegal, who married firstly, in 1767, Grace, daughter of Maxwell Close, of Elm Park, County Armagh, by whom he had issue,
SAMUEL (Rev), his heir;
Maxwell, QC, of Dublin;
William;
Valentine;
Mary; Catherine; Grace; Charlotte.
The Rev St John Blacker wedded secondly, Susan, daughter of Dr Messiter, of London, but had no further issue.

His eldest son,

THE REV SAMUEL BLACKER LL.D. (1771-1849), espoused Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Douglas, of Grace Hall, County Down, and had issue,
ST JOHN THOMAS, his heir;
Thomas Samuel, of Castle Martin, Co Kildare, father of WILLIAM BLACKER;
Theodosia; Frances Elizabeth; Isabella.
The Rev Samuel Blacker was succeeded by his eldest son,

ST JOHN THOMAS BLACKER-DOUGLAS JP DL (1822-1900), of Grace Hall, County Down, Elm Park, County Armagh, and Tullahinel, County Kerry, High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1861, who married, in 1855, Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel Crofton Moore Vandeleur MP, of Kilrush, County Clare, by Lady Grace Toler his wife, daughter of Hector John, 2nd Earl of Norbury.

He left issue,
MAXWELL VANDELEUR, his heir;
St John Douglas Stewart;
Grace Elizabeth; Georgina Frances; Emily Theodosia.
Mr Blacker-Douglas assumed, by royal licence, in 1880, the additional surname and arms of DOUGLAS, on succeeding to the estate of his uncle, Charles Mathew Douglas.

His eldest son,

MAXWELL VANDELEUR BLACKER-DOUGLAS JP DL (1859-1929), of Grace Hall, and Elm Park,
High Sheriff of County Kerry, 1905, and of County Dublin, 1909, lieutenant, 4th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers,
married, in 1891, Alice, only child of Robert MacGeough, of Silverbridge, County Armagh, and had issue,
ROBERT ST JOHN (1892-1915);
Charles Maxwell, b 1900;
Alice Florence, b 1895.

GRACE HALL, Dollingstown, County Armagh, is a three-storey, double gable-ended 18th century house in the Regency style.

The Douglases owned most of their land on the County Down side of the border.

It has a front comprising two full-length curved bows, with one bay in between.

There are Wyatt windows; a porch was added at a later stage.


Other former seat ~ Elm Park, County Armagh.
Former residence ~ 2 Bellevue Park, Killiney, County Dublin.

Castle Martyr

THE EARLS OF SHANNON OWNED 11,232 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY CORK

This is a branch of the noble house of BOYLE, Earls of Cork and Orrery, springing from 

THE HON HENRY BOYLE (1682-1764), second son of Roger, 1st Earl of Orrery, whose son, by Lady Mary O'Brien, daughter of Murrough, 1st Earl of Inchiquin,

HENRY BOYLE, of Castle Martyr, being sworn of the Privy Council in Ireland, filled some of the highest political offices in that kingdom (Speaker of the house of commons, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Justice etc).


He was elevated to the peerage, in 1756, as Baron Castle Martyr, Viscount Boyle, and EARL OF SHANNON.

His lordship married firstly, Catherine, daughter of Chidley Coote, of Killester, by whom he had no issue; and secondly, Harriet, youngest daughter of Charles, 3rd Earl of Cork, by whom he had issue,
RICHARD, his successor;
Henry;
William;
Charles;
Robert;
Juliana.
He was succeeded by his eldest son,

RICHARD, 2nd Earl (1728-1807), KP, PC.

This nobleman having filled some high political offices, and being sworn of the Privy Council, was enrolled amongst the peers of Great Britain, as Baron Carleton, in 1786.

Lord Shannon was a Knight Founder of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, 1783.

His lordship wedded, in 1763, Catherine, eldest daughter of Mr Speaker Ponsonby, of the Irish house of commons, by whom he had issue,
HENRY, his successor;
Catherine Henrietta.
His lordship was succeeded by his son,

HENRY, 3rd Earl (1771-1842), KP, PC, who espoused, in 1798, Sarah, fourth daughter of John Hyde, of Castle Hyde, by whom he had issue,
RICHARD, his heir;
Henry Charles;
Robert Francis;
Catherine; Sarah;
Louisa Grace; Jane;
Elizabeth; Charlotte Anne.
His eldest son,
The heir presumptive is the present holder's second cousin, Robert Francis Boyle.


CASTLE MARTYR, County Cork, was built in the early 18th century by Henry Boyle, Speaker of the Irish house of commons, afterwards 1st Earl of Shannon.

The house was substantially enlarged by the 2nd Earl between 1764-71; and further re-modelled in the late Georgian period.

The entrance front is of two storeys and seventeen bays, comprising a five-bay recessed centre and giant pedimented portico between projecting wings.


The entrance front of the house overlooks a sheet of water which is part of the remarkable artificial river made before 1750 by the 1st Earl.

Castle Martyr was sold early in the 20th century to the Arnott family; then became a Carmelite college.


It now forms the nucleus of a luxury hotel resort.

Former town residence ~ 7 Connaught Place, London.

First published in July, 2013.   Shannon arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Coollattin Park

THE EARLS FITZWILLIAM WERE THE GREATEST LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY WICKLOW, WITH 89,981 ACRES

In 1565, HUGH FITZWILLIAM (c1534-c1576), of Emley, Sprotbrough, and Haddlesey, Yorkshire, collected the records of his family, and from these records the following particulars are partly deduced:

SIR WILLIAM FITZ GODRIC, cousin to EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, left a son and heir,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM,
who, being ambassador at the court of WILLIAM, Duke of Normandy, attended that prince in his victorious expedition against England, as marshal of the army, in 1066; and for his valour at the battle of Hastings, THE CONQUEROR presented him with a scarf from his own arm.
This Sir William was father of

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, who wedded Eleanor, daughter and heiress of Sir John Emley, of Emley and Sprotbrough,
by which marriage the Fitzwilliams obtained the lordships of Emley and Sprotbrough, which continued with them until the reign of HENRY VIII, when those lordships were carried, by co-heirs, into the families of Suthill and Copley.
Sir William was succeeded by his son,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Lord of Emley and Sprotbrough, living in 1117, as appears from a grant made by him of a piece of the wood in Emley to the monks of Byland.

To this grant, in a round seal, is represented a man on horseback, completely armed and circumscribed SWillmi Filij Willmi Dni de Emmalaia; and on the reverse, the arms of FITZWILLIAM, viz. Lozenge.

This Sir William, or one of his descendants, caused a cross to be set up in the high street of Sprotbrough; which cross was pulled down in 1520.

From this Sir William we pass to his descendant,

SIR JOHN FITZWILLIAM, who founded, in 1372, the Chantry of St Edward in the church of Sprotbrough; and having married Elizabeth, daughter of William de Clinton, 1st Earl of Huntingdon, had three sons, the eldest of whom,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, married Maud, daughter of Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell, of Tattershall, and co-heir of the Lord Treasurer Cromwell, by whom he had one son and two daughters.

He was succeeded by his son,

SIR JOHN FITZWILLIAM, who wedded Eleanor, daughter of Sir Henry Green, of Drayton, and had six sons. The youngest son,

JOHN FITZWILLIAM, of Milton Hall and Greens Norton, in Northamptonshire, espoused Eleanor, daughter of William Villiers, of Brooksby, Leicestershire, by whom he had three sons and two daughters, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

THE RT HON SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, (c1460-1534), Knight, of Milton and Gaynes Park, Essex, and also of the city of London, of which he was sheriff in 1506.

Sir William married firstly, Anne, daughter of Sir John Hawes, Knight, of the city of London, and had,
WILLIAM, his heir;
Richard;
Elizabeth; Anne.
He wedded secondly, Mildred, daughter of Richard Sackville, of Withyham, Sussex, and had three sons and two daughters,
Christopher;
Francis;
Thomas;
Eleanor; Mary.
Sir William was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, who espoused Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Sapcote, of Elton, Huntingdonshire; and was succeeded by his son and heir,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM (1526-99), Lord Deputy of Ireland and a Lord Justice, who wedded Anne, daughter of Sir William Sydney, and aunt of the 1st Earl of Leicester, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;
John;
Mary; Philippa; Margaret.
Sir William was succeeded by his son,

SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, of Milton and Gaynes Park Hall, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1620, by the title Baron Fitzwilliam, of Lifford, County Donegal.

His lordship wedded Catherine, daughter of William Hyde, of Denchworth, Berkshire; and dying in 1644, was succeeded by his elder son,

WILLIAM, 2nd Baron (c1609-58), who espoused, in 1638, Jane, daughter and co-heir of Alderman Hugh Perry, of London, and had,
WILLIAM, his heir;
Charles;
Jane, m to Sir Christopher Wren, the celebrated architect.
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,

WILLIAM, 3rd Baron (1643-1719); advanced to a viscountcy and earldom, in 1716, as Viscount Milton, County Westmeath, and EARL FITZWILLIAM, of County Tyrone.

His lordship married Anne, daughter and sole heir of Edmund Cremor, of West Winch, Norfolk, by whom he had four sons and six daughters.

He was succeeded by his third, but eldest surviving son,

JOHN, 2nd Earl (1681-1728), who wedded Anne, daughter and sole heir of John Stringer, of Sutton-cum-Lound, Nottinghamshire; and left, with three daughters, a son and successor,

WILLIAM, 3rd Earl (1719-56), then a minor, who was, in 1742, enrolled amongst the peers of Great Britain, by GEORGE II, by the style and title of Lord Fitzwilliam, Baron Milton, in Northamptonshire.

In 1746, this nobleman was advanced to an English viscountcy and earldom, as EARL FITZWILLIAM, in the same county.

His lordship espoused, in 1744, Lady Anne Watson-Wentworth, eldest daughter of Thomas, Marquess of Rockingham, and sister and co-heir of Charles, 2nd Marquess, by whom he had
WILLIAM, his successor;
Charlotte;
Frances Henrietta.
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

WILLIAM, 4th Earl (1748-1833), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a very short period, in 1795.

He married firstly, in 1770, Lady Charlotte Ponsonby, second daughter of William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough, by whom he had an only child, CHARLES WILLIAM WENTWORTH, his heir.
Charles William, 5th Earl (1786-1857)
William Charles, Viscount Milton (1812-35)
William Thomas Spencer, 6th Earl (1815-1902)
William, Viscount Milton (1839-77)
William Charles de Meuron, 7th Earl (1872-1943)
(William Henry Lawrence) Peter, 8th Earl (1910-48)
Eric Spencer, 9th Earl (1883-1952)
William Thomas George, 10th Earl (1904-79). 
The titles expired following the decease of the 10th and last Earl.


COOLLATTIN PARK, is near Shillelagh in County Wicklow.

The history of the Wentworth/Fitzwilliam families has been well documented, but what is less well known is the influence they had on the history of the kingdom of Ireland.

As well as the family seat of Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire (where they owned 22,000 acres in 1870), the Earls Fitzwilliam also resided at Malton House (later Coollattin House) in County Wicklow, from where they managed their vast estate.

Coollattin is now a golf club.

The 4th Earl  built Coollattin House (it was originally called Malton, one of his grandfather’s titles as Earl of Malton). 

The house was designed by the leading architect John Carr, who was also responsible for the grandiose “stable block” at Wentworth Woodhouse as well as the Keppel’s Column and Mausoleum monuments near Wentworth.

The building was started around 1794 but before completion it was burned down in a rebellion in 1798 (along with 160 other houses in the nearby village of Carnew and several Catholic churches).

Work resumed again in 1800 and the house was completed in 1807.

As well as rebuilding their house and the village, the Fitzwilliams contributed to the repairs of the Catholic churches and gave land for other churches (whilst other landlords would not even allow a Catholic church on their estate).

Throughout the family’s time in Ireland they did not take sides in the various Irish struggles through the centuries, and perhaps as a consequence their house was left untouched in the last dash for independence.



As well as undertaking building and agricultural projects, the 4th Earl was also the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a short time in 1795.

In 2003, The Times newspaper wrote: 

When the 10th and last Earl died in 1979 the remnants of the huge Coollattin estate, for centuries the Irish seat of the Earls of Fitzwilliam, was sold by the last Earl’s widow, Lady Juliet De Chairoff, and in the following years, it was broken up and sold on bit by bit.

In 1983, the sprawling Coollattin House, with its vast lands attached, was resold for €128,000. When the farm land value was removed, this amounted to just £8,000 for the house itself — which, with its 120-plus rooms, is still among the largest private houses in the country. In the same year the average price of a standard new home in Dublin was more than four times that, at £35,000.

In living memory, the once-grand Coollattin estate had spanned 88,000 acres, had 20,000 tenants and comprised one quarter of Co Wicklow. There has long been a rumour that the estate harboured a vast tunnel used by inhabitants of the house to escape to the lodge.

The estate began falling apart in 1948 when the last earl, Peter Fitzwilliam, was killed in a plane crash with JFK’s sister, Kathleen (Kick) Kennedy, with whom, it was speculated, he had been having an affair.

His estate tenants genuinely grieved. The Fitzwilliams had a history of being among the most liberal landlords in Ireland. They had paid tenants more, invested in their education and had worked hard to ensure that the built environment in their towns was above average.

When the Great Famine came, the Fitzwilliam family were at least decent enough to ship their excess tenants to America rather than simply turn them off the land as many landlords did. Thousands were sent abroad to start new lives in this manner.

Perhaps this was the reason Coollattin House survived the great burning sprees that erupted through and after the war of independence, when working classes took their revenge on the less benevolent owners of big house.

TODAY, the house is owned by Anne Agnew, who restored it from a decrepit state.

Now that she is selling, Agnew has thrown light on the mystery of the tunnel, that has puzzled generations of people:
There has always been a belief that the Fitzwilliams had a massive escape tunnel which locals believed connected Coollattin House to Coollattin Lodge.

They say that the hidden tunnel is wide and high enough to drive a carriage and four through it. In fact, I can confirm that we did find a hidden tunnel. It was in the yard at the back of the lodge and hidden under scrub.

My son found a rotted wooden cover and under it was a hole which fell down 10ft before running away underground. It’s 5ft high, 5ft wide and stone-lined with a rounded, vaulted ceiling.

He climbed into it one day with the help of a ladder and followed it for about a quarter of a mile before an old iron grid stopped him going any further.

So yes, there is a tunnel here, and we don’t know where it goes, but it doesn’t run towards Coollattin House — it runs the other way".

Former seats ~ Coollattin Park, County Wicklow; Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire; Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire.

Former town residence ~ 4 Grosvenor Square, London.

First published in July, 2011.  Fitzwilliam arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Old Court House

THE BARONS DE ROS OWNED 2,952 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY DOWN

OLD COURT demesne is located at Strangford, County Down.

I have written about the barony of de Ros here.

The 23rd Baron de Ros, a grandson of the 20th Earl of Kildare and 1st Duke of Leinster, inherited the port and village of Strangford, which became his principal seat.

In 1844, he built Old Court and surrounded it with pleasant walks and gardens.

Lord de Ros also made many improvements, extended Payne's Chapel at Old Court and built Katherine's Quay as his own private harbour.

Dudley, the 24th Baron, was equerry to HRH The Prince Consort (Prince Albert), 1853-74.

His life at Court during the period 1850-62, and his manuscript account, gives interesting personal reminiscences of certain events which occurred while he was acquainted with, and in the service of, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, as well as dinner and shooting lists, etc. 

Una Mary, 26th Baroness, attended Court in an application for compensation for criminal injury to property, after a malicious fire had destroyed Old Court at the end of 1921, together with two lists of articles lost.

Nevertheless, it seems that the family were popular with the villagers generally and there was much sadness at the time when the old house was burnt.


OLD COURT was a low, rambling two-storey house with many gables, some of them set on three-sided bows, the angle walls of which curved outwards under the eaves, so that some of the upstairs windows were bent in a vertical plane, like the windows at the stern of an old man-of-war ship.


There were barge-boards on the gables and hood mouldings over the windows.

It was located at the site of the present 1970s house (also called Old Court) in a most picturesque setting overlooking the harbour and Strangford Lough.


In the grounds, nestling in a glade nearby, there is a splendid little private chapel originally built in 1629, surrounded by an old graveyard.

It is believed that the chapel is still used regularly by the family and villagers.

Today the demesne stretches from Strangford Bay to Strangford village, skirting the shore-line.

In the 1980s Georgiana, 27th Baroness, and her husband (Lieutenant-Commander J D Maxwell DL RN) lived in the present Old Court House; while their son Peter Maxwell (present Lord de Ros) had a bachelor pad down in the little boat-house at Katherine's Quay.

When he married and succeeded to the title, he built a relatively modern house in the grounds, not far from the delightful little Old Court chapel.

Peter Maxwell is the 28th and present Baron.

First published in July, 2011.  De Ros arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

St Anne's Church, Belfast


The old parish church of St Anne, named after the wife of the 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Donegall, once stood on the site of the present Cathedral in Donegall Street, Belfast.

The Brown Linen Hall, of 1754, originally stood on this site.

In 1774, The Brown Linen Hall was demolished to make way for St Anne's parish church.

The Belfast News Letter reported at the time that,
"On Saturday last, the Church of this town [in High Street] was thrown down, and on the Monday following the foundations of a new one were begun to be sunk."
The said Church was the old Corporation Church in High Street, where St George's now stands.

The new parish church of St Anne, at Donegall Street, was funded by the town's landlord, Lord Donegall.

The architect was Francis Hiorne, of Warwick, assisted by the Belfast architect, Roger Mulholland.

While the church was being built the congregation had the use of the Second Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street.

The Rights and parish silver of the old Corporation church were duly transferred to St Anne's.

In 1775, the bell of St Anne’s Church was donated by the Charitable Society for the church it had intended to build as part of its proposed Poorhouse and Hospital.

In the event, the church was not built, but the bell was placed prominently in the new premises and used into the 20th century.

In 1776, St Anne’s Church was consecrated.

An entry in the Henry Joy: Historical Collection for Sunday, October 27th, reported that,
“The elegant new Church erected here by the Earl of Donegall was consecrated by the Bishop of Down and Connor” - Dr Traill.
In 1778, John Wesley preached in St Anne’s.

The old parish church of St Anne continued in use until the 31st December, 1903, while the nave of the new cathedral was built around it.

The old church was thereafter demolished.

First published in July, 2013.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Middleton Park

THE FAMILY OF BOYD-ROCHFORT WERE THE GREATEST LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY WESTMEATH, WITH 16,397 ACRES

THE REV JAMES BOYD (1725-75), Rector of Erris, County Mayo, married, in 1752, Mary, daughter of Abraham Martin and widow of Arthur Vernon, and left an only son,

ABRAHAM BOYD (1760-1822), barrister-at-law and King's Counsel, who wedded firstly, in 1786, Catherine Shuttleworth, widow of John Davies, by whom he had one child, Helena.

He espoused secondly, in 1815, Jane, Countess of Belvedere, daughter and eventually sole heiress of the Rev James Mackay, and by her left at his decease an only son,

GEORGE AUGUSTUS ROCHFORT-BOYD JP DL (1817-87), of Middleton Park, County Westmeath, High Sheriff, 1843, who wedded, in 1843, Sarah Jane, eldest daughter of George Woods, of Milverton Hall, by Sarah his wife, daughter of Hans Hamilton, of Abbotstown, for many years MP for County Dublin.

He had issue by her,
ROCHFORT HAMILTON, his heir;
George, died in infancy;
Charles Augustus, CMG;
George Warren Woods;
Francis;
Alice Jane; Edith Sarah Hamilton; Florence.
Mr Rochfort-Boyd inherited from his mother, the Countess of Belvedere, a great portion of the Rochfort estates situated in County Westmeath, and assumed the surname and arms of ROCHFORT by royal licence in 1867.

He was succeeded by his eldest son,

ROCHFORT HAMILTON BOYD-ROCHFORT JP (1844-91), of Middleton Park, who married, in 1875, Florence Louisa, daughter of Richard Hemming, of Bentley Manor and Foxlidiate, Worcestershire, and had issue,
GEORGE ARTHUR, his heir;
Harold;
Cecil Charles (Sir), KCVO;
Ethel Victoria; Alice Eleanor;
Winifred Florence; Muriel.
Major Boyd-Rochfort assumed the surname of ROCHFORT in 1888, on succeeding to the Rochfort estates left by his grandmother, Jane, Countess of Belvedere.

He was succeeded by his eldest son,

GEORGE ARTHUR BOYD-ROCHFORT VC (1880-1940), of Middleton Park, who married, in 1901, Olivia Ellis, daughter of Christopher Ussher, of Eastwell, County Galway.


MIDDLETON PARK HOUSE, near Mullingar, County Westmeath, was built by George Boyd-Rochfort in 1850.

He commissioned George Papworth, Architect and President of the Royal Academy, to design and oversee the building of the House. Drawings of part of the interior were exhibited by Mr Papworth during the Royal Hibernian Annual Exhibition of 1850.

Only the very best craftsmen and materials were used in the building and it is a testimony to those craftsmen and materials that Middleton Park House has stood the test of time since then.

It is a fine example of late Georgian architecture favouring the classic Georgian style over the Gothic style evident in other houses of that era.
 

Acclaimed features of the House are its under-floor heating system, stone bifurcated staircase leading to the Gallery Landing and three-storey high atrium lantern located in the Main Hall.

Middleton Park House also boasts one of a few Richard Turner Conservatories to be found in Ireland.

The House and estate remained in the Boyd-Rochfort family until the early 1960s when it was sold.

Since then it has seen many owners, the most colourful of whom was Barney Curly who famously raffled the House in 1986.

In quite a state of disrepair when acquired by its current owners, it took a lot of time, effort and care to attention to bring it back to life, bringing in specialist professionals to ensure that the original aesthetic and atmosphere remained.

Built between 1840 and 1850, it is unusual in that context, as the Irish famine not only reduced the peasant farmers of Ireland to penury and starvation; it also destroyed the economic basis of the large landed estates held by the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy, as rents could not be paid.

It replaced an older house on the site, which was demolished.

The name Middleton comes from a previous owner of the estate, Mr George Middleton Berry, who subsequently lived in Ballingal House.

Middleton Park House was designed by George Papworth to be a technical wonder of its age.

It had its own gas-house where coal was converted to gas to fuel the house boilers, and an extraordinary heating system buried in its walls, which circulated heated air.

It utilised the most modern materials of the time including cast iron beams for structural supports in the vaulted basement, instead of the usual timber.

Although built well into the Victorian era, it was created in a classical Georgian style, as opposed to the prevailing Victorian Gothic.

It has one of only six turner conservatories left in Ireland. Richard Turner also built Kew Gardens In London and the Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

Its entrance hall and sweeping stone, cantilevered bifurcated staircase is regarded as one of the finest of its kind in Ireland, and was famously described as “suitable for Citizen Kane” in Burke's Country Houses.

Middleton Park House was built for George Boyd-Rochfort, whose wife was the eldest daughter of the last Earl of Belvedere. The Rochforts owned vast estates in excess of 25,000 acres.

GEORGE III stood as godfather to one of them, and they were high-ranking members of the peerage.

Mr Boyd was granted permission to change his name to Rochfort-Boyd in 1867 by a petition to the House of Lords.

Although the behaviour of George Boyd-Rochfort was questionable during the Irish famine, being cited by the House of Lords for his actions, his successors are remembered today as having been good, progressive landlords.

The various land acts and subsequently the Irish land commission reduced the estates to a fraction (470 acres) of what they were.

A noted stud was established on the estate and it was the venue for point-to-points, and a starting or finishing point for the Westmeath Hunt.

The Westmeath Hunt Ball was also held at Middleton for many years, as well as hare coursing.

The estate was a large employer in the area. A great many valuable horses were bred here, including Airborne, Winner of the Derby in 1946.

One of the Rochforts (Sir Cecil) also became the royal horse trainer for both KING GEORGE VI and our current sovereign, ELIZABETH II.


*****

THE FAMILY sold the House in the late 1950s, when many of the contents were auctioned, including a Persian rug, now said to be worth in the region of $15m.

A German family bought the estate, which was sold again in the 1960s to the O’Callaghans who, in turn, sold it to Barney Curley, who famously raffled Middleton Park in 1986.

Subsequent owners broke up the estate up into many smaller parcels. The stud farm ceased to operate around this time as well.

Many of the original fixtures and fittings in the house were sold or removed at this time.

The house, having lost its land, and now existing on only 26 acres, went through a series of owners.

It was, at this stage, in need of major restoration as the roof had deteriorated badly with serous water damage evident throughout the house.

It also lacked modern wiring, plumbing and heating.

The sheer scale of the great mansion, at over 36,000 sq feet, made it impractical as a family home for anybody but the seriously rich.

The current owners purchased it in December 2004. They set about converting it into a Country House Hotel and planning permission was obtained for this.

The immediate requirement was to repair the roof and make it watertight.

Investigations revealed that the roof in the wing and most of the floors were completely beyond repair, as the roof trusses were rotten and some had been cut in a manner that left the roof liable to collapse.

The Turner conservatory had lost its original glass and the metal work was seriously corroded.

The timber supporting beams in the spectacular entrance hall had also rotted and it was in danger of falling in.

These all had to be replaced also.

A specialist iron working firm from Germany was brought in to repair the conservatory and some new castings to replace those corroded beyond use were sourced in the UK.

Specialist roofers from Austria replaced the wing roof structure. Bangor Blue slates were used.

The external render on the house had failed and had to be removed and replaced using, as originally, lime plaster.

New Roman cement decorative reveals also had to be cast.

The decorative plasterwork inside the house had to be extensively repaired. Extensive fire protection works were undertaken.

Three generations of old plumbing and electrics, often surface mounted, were removed and the house completely rewired and re-plumbed.

A new waste treatment plant was installed.

A specialist engineering firm designed the new heating system which includes underfloor heating in the basement to minimise the visual impact of radiators and some elements of the original system are used to duct hot air into the hall.

There are many legends about the house locally most notably that both Napoleon and  T E Lawrence (of Arabia) were conceived here (clearly not true in the case of Napoleon, as the house was not built until 1840 and he had died in 1821!).

The link that Lawrence of Arabia has to the house is that his father was married to one of Mr Boyd-Rochfort’s daughters - Edith - but who also had five illegitimate sons by Miss Sarah Lawrence his children’s Governess.

One of these was T E Lawrence of Arabia. It is not recorded where he was actually conceived, but he was born in Wales.

Many of the original drawings of the house were lost in the destruction of the RAI archive in 1916, but an extensive file is held by the Irish National Architectural archive in Merrion Square in Dublin, and some of the estate papers and deeds are held by the National Library of Ireland.

First published in July, 2011.