Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mount Stewart House


THE MARQUESSES OF LONDONDERRY WERE MAJOR LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY DOWN, WITH 23,554 ACRES

This branch of the noble house of STEWART claims a common ancestor with the Earls of Galloway; namely, Sir William Stewart, 2nd of Dalswinton and Garlies, from whose second son, Thomas Stewart, of Minto, descended, 

JOHN STEWART, of Ballylawn Castle (the first of the family that settled in Ireland), who received a grant of the manor of Stewart's Court (where he erected Ballylawn Castle) from JAMES I in County Donegal, and erected the said castle.

Mr Stewart was succeeded at his decease by his eldest son,

CHARLES STEWART, whose grandson,

WILLIAM STEWART, of Ballylawn Castle, had issue,
ALEXANDER, his heir;
Martha, m John Kennedy, of Cultra.
The only son,

ALEXANDER STEWART (1697-1781), of Mount Stewart, County Down, represented the city of Londonderry in parliament.

He married, in 1737, Mary, only surviving daughter of Alderman John Cowan, of Londonderry (by his aunt, Anne Stewart), and sister and heir of Sir Robert Cowan, Knight, Governor of Bombay, and had, with other issue,
ROBERT, his heir;
Alexander;
Alexander Stewart was succeeded by his eldest son,

ROBERT STEWART (1739-1821), of Ballylawn Castle, and of Mount Stewart, County Down, who, having represented the latter county in parliament, and having been sworn a member of the Privy Council, was elevated to the peerage in 1789 by the title of Baron Stewart.

His lordship was advanced to a viscountcy, as Viscount Castlereagh, in 1795; and to an earldom, as Earl of Londonderry, in 1796.

In 1816, his lordship was further advanced to the dignity of a marquessate, as MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY.

He married firstly, in 1766, Sarah Frances, second daughter of Francis, Marquess of Hertford, by which lady he had issue,
ROBERT, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess.
His lordship wedded secondly, in 1775, Frances, eldest daughter of Charles, 1st Earl Camden, and sister of the Marquess Camden, by whom he had issue,
CHARLES WILLIAM, 3rd Marquess;
Frances Anne; Caroline; Georgiana;
Selina; Matilda; Emily Jane; Octavia.
His lordship was succeeded by the son of his first marriage,

ROBERT, 2nd Marquess (1769-1822), KG, GCH, PC; who had already distinguished himself in the political world as Viscount Castlereagh, and filled, under that designation, several high ministerial offices.

His lordship espoused, in 1794, Amelia (Emily), youngest daughter and co-heir of John (Hobart), 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, by whom he had no issue.

The 2nd Marquess died at his seat, North Cray, Kent, in 1822 (at which period he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs), and was succeeded by his half-brother, Lord Stewart, as

CHARLES WILLIAM, 3rd Marquess (1778-1854); who was further created Viscount Seaham and Earl Vane in 1823.

He wedded, in 1804, Catherine, youngest daughter of John, 3rd Earl of Darnley, by whom he had a son,
FREDERICK WILLIAM ROBERT, 4th Marquess.
His lordship espoused secondly, in 1819, Frances Anne, only daughter and heir of Sir Harry Vane-Tempest, by Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim in her own right (upon which occasion his lordship assumed the additional surname and arms of VANE), by whom he had issue,
GEORGE HENRY ROBERT CHARLES WILLIAM, 5th Marquess;
Adolphus Frederick Charles William;
Ernest McDonnell;
A son;
Frances Anne Emily; Alexandrina Octavia Maria; Adelaide Emelina Caroline.
  • Frederick Aubrey Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 10th Marquess (b 1972).
The heir presumptive is his brother Lord Reginald Alexander Vane-Tempest-Stewart (b 1977).The heir presumptive's heir apparent is his son Robin Gabriel Vane-Tempest-Stewart (b 2004).
MOUNT STEWART HOUSE, near Newtownards, County Down, is a long, two-storey, Classical house of the 1820s.

The main interior feature is a vast central hall consisting of an octagon, top-lit through a balustraded gallery from a dome filled with stained glass.

I have written fondly of Mount Stewart's former swimming-pool here.

The estate has one of the most outstanding gardens in the British Isles and has been proposed as a World Heritage Site.

It was formulated within an already established walled demesne on the shores of Strangford Lough on the Ards Peninsula, County Down, with mature shelter tree cover some two hundred years old.

The site benefits from an excellent climate in which a vast range of plants can thrive.

The climatic conditions, the plant collection and the design all combine to make this an outstanding garden in any context; and it is rightfully renowned throughout Europe.
The demesne owes its origin to Alexander Stewart MP (1699-1781), a minor County Donegal landowner and successful linen merchant who, having married his cousin, Mary Cowan, a rich heiress, in 1737, purchased the Colville manors of Comber and Newtownards in 1744 and resolved to build a seat on the present site, then known as Templecrone.
This building, which he initially called Mount Pleasant, was a large, long, low two-storey building, originally painted blue, occupying much the same ground as the present William Morrison house.

Young also mentioned ‘some new plantations, which surround an improved lawn, where Mr. Stewart intends building’ - a reference to landscaping round a planned new house that Alexander Stewart intended to built on the hill lying just south-west of the present walled garden.

His son Robert, later 1st Marquess of Londonderry, advanced his father’s plans once he inherited in 1781.

In June, 1783, the architect James Wyatt was paid for providing plans for ‘New Offices’ and ‘Mansion house intended at Mount Stewart’.

Just south of this house, facing the Portaferry Road running close to the house, he built a small settlement known as Newtown Stewart, which Young described in 1776 as ‘a row of neat stone and slate cabins’ and shown on David Geddas’s Demesne map of 1779 [presently in the house].

The latter was never built, but evidently intended for the same location on Bean Hill near the walled garden.

The walled garden itself was probably completed by 1780-1 for, in 1781, there are payments for the ‘freight for tiles for hothouse’; while, in 1780, the head gardener replanted a vine ‘in the west pine stove’ – apparently the same ancient vine that occupies the west end of the glasshouse today.

The adjacent sprawling farm yard complex, which includes a hexagonal dovecote, was also built around this time, possibly in 1784-5, with the yard being repaired in 1816-17 following a fire.

Further additions were erected here in the 1870s.

The landscape gardener, William King, who may already have been involved in landscaping here in the 1770s, was paid for work in July 1781, May and November 1782.

The park layout as shown on the 1834 Ordnance Survey map is probably largely King’s work, and was laid down sympathetically to the drumlin country, probably assuming the house to be located near the walled garden.

However, most of the demesne plantations were put down over the much longer period, with payments being made between 1785 and 1801.


An important focal point in the park is the Temple of the Winds, reckoned by some to be the finest garden building in Northern Ireland.

Located on a hill on the south side of the park, overlooking the lough, this was begun in 1782 to the designs of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, who was paid for his work in 1783.

His plans were based on the 1st century BC building of the same name in Athens and sourced from illustrations in the second volume of Stuart and Revett’s Antiquities of Athens (1763).

It is of two storeys over a basement and hipped; an octagonal banqueting house, constructed in Scrabo stone and completed in late 1785, as is evident from payments made to the stonemason David McBlain, the joiner John Ferguson and others (refurbished in 1965 and again in 1994).

It is evident that the temple was formerly a very striking feature in the park-scape, for the plantations around it do not appear to have been established until fifteen or twenty years after its completion.

In the 1790s there was little building activity at Mount Stewart, following the expense of electing Robert’s son, Lord Castlereagh, into Parliament in 1790.

However, in 1802 he decided to modernise part of his existing house and so engaged George Dance, the Younger (1741-1825), who produced plans in 1804 for a Classical Regency replacement of the west wing, which was completed around 1806.

This incorporated grand new reception rooms, complete with a Grecian porte-cochère and gravel sweep on the north front; the wing survives in modified form as the end elevation of the present house.

In the period 1804-18 new approaches were laid down to the house and three gate lodges added.

The new western approach was entered via the Georgian Gothick ‘ink pot’ twin lodges (1808-09), placed on the recently re-aligned Portaferry Road (the road originally ran much closer to the house).

These single-storey twin lodges, notably for their distinctive canted elevations, are probably also the work of George Dance, as is also the nearby contemporary ‘toy fort’ Gothic Clay or Greyabbey gate lodge, notable for its horn-like pinnacles.

At the rear entrance, Hamilton’s Lodge was built in 1817 as part of laying down the new Donaghadee Approach; it was later remodelled.

Other buildings at this time included a single-storey, picturesque "toy fort" hunting lodge of ca 1810, probably by Dance, lying in a wooded area on the north side of the park, and a demesne school house of 1813, formerly a charity school belonging to the Erasmus Smith Foundation; now a house and artist’s studio.

Charles William Stewart (1778-1854) succeeded as 3rd Marquess in 1822, after the suicide of his elder half-brother Lord Castlereagh (who had become 2nd Marquess the previous year); and during the 1820s the family’s resources were focused on building work at Wynyard & Seaham in County Durham and Holdernesse [Londonderry] House in London.

Eventually, in 1835, the 3rd Marquess and his wife, the heiress Frances Anne Vane-Tempest, invited William Vitruvius Morrison to prepare plans to knock down the old house to the east of the Dance Wing at Mount Stewart, with a scheme to rebuild and enlarge the mansion.

Morrison’s plans were not actually implemented until after the architect’s death in 1838, when work was undertaken between 1845-49, supervised by the Newtownards builder, Charles Campbell.

The new block, as wide as the old house was long, created a new south entrance of eleven bays with an Ionic porte-cochère as its central feature; the old porte-cochère on the north was removed and replaced with a tripartite window.

As work was being completed on the house, a U-shaped rubble-built stable yard was added in 1846 to a design of the architect Charles Campbell, while at the same time improvements were being made in the park, most notably work on digging a new lake between 1846-51 in what was formerly a gravel pit to the north of the house.

Water from this lake was subsequently used to supply the house via McComb’s Hill, through the use of a horse-drawn pump and later a hydraulic ram.

A boat house was built on the south shore, whose waters were linked to the house by a ‘lawn’ meadow dotted with trees.

A gas-works was built ca 1859 in the south side of the demesne.

During the second half of the 19th century the house was only occasionally used by its owners, the 4th Marquess (1805-72); his half- brother, the 5th Marquess (1821-84); and Charles Stewart, 6th Marquess (1852-1915), the latter spending much of his time in London.

The parkland consequently remained relatively unchanged, with some minor alterations, such as the extension of the enclosing screen to encompass the whole perimeter in 1901.

The townland boundary was changed in 1906 to encompass the whole demesne.

In 1921 Charles, 7th Marquess, and his wife Edith moved to Mount Stewart, having inherited the property in 1915.

She had once remarked, on a visit prior to 1921, that the property was ‘the dampest, darkest and saddest place I had ever stayed in’.

As soon as she arrived there to live, Lady Londonderry undertook to transform the grounds around the house.

She took advice from expert plants-men and was fortunate to have been able to employ workmen from a post-war labour scheme. She used her resources skilfully.

The result is a lay-out that includes both formal and informal areas, each with their own style and atmosphere.

Compartments are arranged in close proximity to the house around three sides and are separated into differing formal gardens, such as the Italian Garden, the Spanish Garden, the Mairi Garden and the Dodo Terrace.

The latter is decorated with specially made statuary of creatures representing early 20th century British political figures, most of whom formed part of her ‘Ark Club’; these figures were made of moulded chicken wire and cement by Thomas Beattie of Newtownards.

Gertrude Jekyll planned some of the planting for the Sunken Garden.

The north-east front of the house has a rectangular balustraded carriage sweep but, further afield, paths wind past informally planted shrubs, specimen trees and woodland, carpeted with bulbs and drifts of naturalised plants.

These areas contain a great variety of outstanding plant material, particularly of Australasian origin.

Paths and a great deal of planting were focused round the large artificial lake, with the family burial ground, Tir-ña-nOg, built in the 1930s at the north end on high ground.

Like most other demesnes, Mount Stewart was requisitioned by the troops during the war and in the years that followed (until ca 1965) many of the original beech and oak demesne woods were sadly felled and replaced with unsightly conifers.

In 1949 the 7th Marquess died and left the property to his wife for her life-time and then to his youngest daughter, Lady Mairi Bury.

In 1955 the gardens were transferred to the care of the National Trust and two years later, in 1959, Edith, Lady Londonderry died.

The Temple of the Winds was acquired in 1963 and, in 1977, the house plus an endowment were accepted by the National Trust as a generous gift from Lady Mairi.

Tir-ña-nOg was acquired by the Trust from Lady Mairi in 1986.

The gardens are beautifully maintained by the National Trust.

During his many years as head gardener, Nigel Marshal, (retired 2002) continued successfully to build up the garden’s important plant collections. The walled garden is not currently on public display.

 20,222 acres in County Durham; Wynyard Hall, and elsewhere.

They also maintained a grand London residence in Park Lane, Londonderry House, which was demolished to make way for the Hilton Hotel. 

Londonderry arms courtesy of European Heraldry.   First published in June, 2010.

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