Saturday, 30 April 2016

Cabin Hill

CABIN HILL COMPRISED 39 ACRES OF LAND DURING THE VICTORIAN ERA.

CABIN HILL, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, is a fairly large and considerably extended two-to-four storey house, built around a sandstone Tudor-Revival gentleman’s residence of ca 1860, itself extended in similar style ca 1903-5.

A large, modern, flat-roofed, four-storey, rendered block was added to the rear by the school in 1946 with an adjacent, equally large and equally modern, brick wing of about 1980.
When it was built, Cabin Hill was originally closer to the village of Dundonald - or, indeed, Knock - than to the city of Belfast.

This small farm in the townland of Ballycloghan was adjacent to the Belmont estate and the Clelands' Stormont estate.

The name Cabin Hill refers to a "cabin" built in 1786-7 by Samuel McTier and his wife Martha, on a small parcel of land they had acquired for £50 (about £6,700 today).

The house itself, as the name implies, was a single storey, thatched dwelling; however, a painting of 1847 shows that, by the standards of the day, it had a fairly prosperous appearance, being relatively large and prosperous looking ~ not the "cabin" one might have expected.

After Samuel McTier's death in 1795, Martha continued to use Cabin Hill as a country retreat, being joined on frequent occasions by her brother, the Belfast radical and founder of the United Irishmen, Dr William Drennan.

Drennan died in 1820 and Martha in 1837; however, the property appears to have been disposed of some time before the latter date, for in the 1833 valuation it is recorded as the home of a Mr Tomb.

By 1852, it had been acquired by John Dinnen, a Belfast solicitor.

Dinnen appears to have retained the original house for some years, though, by 1861, a new, much larger building appears to have been built.

This new dwelling, a two-storey gentleman's villa in the Tudor-Revival style, remained in possession of Dinnen's descendants until 1903, when it was acquired by Robert James McMordie QC, Lord Mayor of Belfast.

About 1903-5, McMordie greatly extended the house by adding the large section to the eastern side and the new entrance conservatory, all to designs by Hugh Brown.

Mr McMordie died at Cabin Hill in 1914.

Between, 1920-22, his widow leased the property to the Rt Hon Sir James Craig Bt (afterwards 1st Viscount Craigavon), the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Several cabinet meetings were held at the house.


In 1924-25, McMordie's widow sold Cabin Hill to Campbell College, which converted it for use as their preparatory school.

Ca 1935, the school added a porter's lodge to the main gateway and, in 1946, the large four storey modern style wing was added to the rear of the main building itself.

Further separate classrooms were built to the north east side of the building in 1973, with a further modernist extension added to the main school later.

These books give no indication of major building work at Cabin Hill between 1864 and the McMordie extension of ca 1903-5, suggesting that the original section of the Tudor Revival house is pre 1864.

First published in May, 2014.

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