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.

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