Saturday, 28 April 2012

The House of Dawson


The family of Dawson was established in Ulster in 1611 by

CHRISTOPHER DAWSON, of Acorn Bank, Westmorland; who was father of

THOMAS DAWSON, who purchased the lands at Castle Dawson, County Londonderry, during the reign of CHARLES I, 1633, from George and Dudley Philips. His son and successor,


THOMAS DAWSON ESQ, Commissary of the Musters of the army in Ireland, died in 1683 and was succeeded by his son,


THOMAS DAWSON ESQ, of Castle Dawson, MP for Antrim, who married Arabella Upton, of Castle Upton. Dying in 1695, he was succeeded by his brother,

JOSHUA DAWSON ESQ, of Castle Dawson, MP for Wicklow, chief secretary of state for Ireland to the Lords Justices, in 1710. His heir,

ARTHUR DAWSON ESQ, of Castle Dawson, who represented for a considerable time County Londonderry in Parliament, was constituted one of the Barons of the Exchequer in 1742. He was succeeded by his nephew,

ARTHUR DAWSON ESQ, of Castle Dawson, born in 1745, many years MP for Middleton and Banagher [sic]. His heir,

THE RT HON GEORGE ROBERT DAWSON,  of Castle Dawson, born in 1790; married, in 1816, Mary, daughter of Sir Robert Peel Bt. MP for Londonderry, 1815-30; under-secretary of state for the Home Department, 1823; Secretary to the Treasury, 1828; privy counsellor, 1830; Secretary to the Admiralty, 1834-35. His heir,

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL ROBERT PEEL DAWSON, (1818-77), who lived at Moyola Park. He served as MP for County Londonderry from 1859-74.

His daughter Mary married Lord Adolphus John Spencer Churchill Chichester, younger son of 4th Marquess of Donegall; thus his grandson was the MP Robert Chichester and his great-great-grandson was the Rt Hon the Lord Moyola PC DL, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, 1969-71.



MOYOLA PARK, adjacent to the village of Castledawson, County Londonderry, is a handsome two-storey, 18th century house of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings.

It has a five-bay entrance front and a three-bay pedimented breakfront. There is a three-sided bow in the side elevation; a solid roof parapet; flush quoins.

This is a well designed and attractively situated demesne parkland, through which the Moyola River flows.

There are good stands of mature trees in shelter belts and woodland. Although extensively remodelled in the mid-19th century, the demesne has early 17th century origins.

The property was acquired by Thomas Dawson from Sir Thomas Phillips in 1622, and at some time afterwards a house was built close to the present chapel of Ease.

By 1835, little remained of this building 'but foundations of the walls and terraces'.

A second house, built by Joshua Dawson in 1694 and possibly remodelled in 1713, was located some distance to the north-east.
This had an associated formal landscape, including a straight lime avenue approach (still present) and avenues of Scotch firs; a Pinus sylvestris Scotia mentioned in Elwes & Henry, Trees of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. III (1908), as being 80ft high and 11ft in girth in 1906 may be part of the early 18th century landscape.
There are four of these original trees remaining.

South-east of the 1694 house there was also 'an ancient avenue three miles in length opening to a magnificence view of Lough Neagh to which it extends'.

The adjacent town seems to have been created in its present form from 1710-14; it was in 1710 that Joshua Dawson built the Mansion House in Dublin's Dawson Street.

The present house at Moyola, known originally as The Lodge, was built in 1768 for Arthur Dawson (1698-1774) on a new site north-west of the 1694 house.

The informal parkland was subsequently created as a setting for this house.

Planting by Arthur Dawson's nephew, Arthur Dawson (1745-1822), is referred to in the Register of Trees in County Londonderry 1768-1911, supplementing the exisiting ancient oak woodlands.

Paired yews on the riverside walk may belong to this period. However, it was Arthur's son, the Rt Hon George Robert Dawson (1790-1856), brother-in-law to Sir Robert Peel, who remodelled both the house and the parkland and renamed it Moyola Park.

This work was largely undertaken during the 1840s and early 1850s.

Most of the parkland planting to the south and south east of the house belongs to this era, as does the suspension bridge and village gate lodge.

Exotic planting from this time includes a cryptomeria known to have been planted in 1851.

Additional gate lodges at the Hillhead entrance and at the Drumlamph entrance were added in the 1870s by Colonel Robert Dawson, from whom the property passed to the Chichester family through marriage.

In the 20th century, woodland areas and a disused quarry were cleared for ornamental gardens created from the 1960s to the north of the house. These are fully maintained and often open to the public for charity.

A football playing field and an associated building occupies an area west of the lime avenue; while part of the southern portion of the park is now a golf course linked to the Gravend golf course west of the river. 

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