Thursday, 12 May 2016

Florida Manor

THE FAMILY OF GORDON OWNED 4,768 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY DOWN


THE MANOR OF FLORIDA WAS GRANTED BY KING CHARLES I, WITH MANORIAL RIGHTS AND ROYALTIES


Florida Manor was created in 1638 on lands previously acquired by Sir James Montgomery (2nd son of Sir Hugh Montgomery) from Con O'Neill, the name Florida apparently having been derived from Sir James's love of flora or flowers.

During the Commonwealth (1649-60), the lands were placed in the custody of a Colonel Barrow, but returned to Montgomery hands, after much wrangling, in 1664.

In 1691-2, the Manor came into possession of the Crawford family and passed to Robert Gordon of Delamont Park, through marriage to Ann, the niece and sole heiress to the estate of David Crawford, ca 1770.

It was undoubtedly one of the Gordons who built the present house, probably ca 1780-1800, possibly constructed around an earlier Montgomery dwelling which (if a later date stone in the adjacent farmyard is to be believed) may have dated from in or around 1676.

The Manor House is shown on a map of 1834 (along with the large farmyard to the rear, the steward's house and the gate lodges to the east and north).

The rear conservatory or porch and the early Victorian chimney pots may have been added around this time also.

In the later 1800s, with the passing of successive land acts, much of the Gordon lands began to be sold off.

By the 1880s, the manor house itself appears to have been leased by Thomas Brand.

By 1917 (at least), the demesne and its buildings had been acquired by William Devenney, a local farmer who appears to have lived in the steward's house.

Thus Florida, unoccupied, fell into disrepair; but after the 2nd World War, it was bought by Milo Pickaar, who renovated much of the building.

The estate now belongs to the Lagan family.

The manor of Florida, near Killinchy, County Down, comprised the townlands of Ballybunden, Drumreagh and part of the townland of Kilmood.

Photo credit ©  Stuart Blakely

The house is a Listed Building as being of special architectural and historic interest. The lands of Killinchy and Kilmood were constituted as the Manor of Florida in 1638. The present Florida Manor is thought to date from the period 1796.

The Department of Environment lists the house B+ and suggests construction dates of 1780 to 1799. It is a substantial Georgian three storey rendered house of the handsome boxy variety. 

The entrance front has three wide bays. A balustraded porch with four Ionic columns projects from the narrower central bay which is recessed. The porch has a window on its side elevations and a window on either side of the entrance door which is surmounted by a semicircular fanlight.

The entrance front is made charmingly asymmetric by a curving curtain wall reaching out to a single storey wing attached to the stables quadrangle. Doric pilasters at regular intervals demarcate this section of the house.

The side elevation is similarly treated to the entrance front although the three bays are equal in width. However each bay contains two windows on each floor rather than one as on the entrance front. 

A string course below the first floor windows is aligned with the top of the porch balustrade. It is repeated as an entablature under the very slim parapet. Hipped roofs slope up to the chimneys which unusually are Elizabethan in appearance.

Agar Murdoch & Deane record that the ground floor includes the entrance hall with decorative plasterwork and a “massive carved oak chimney-piece and inset mirror”.  

Three reception rooms, a conservatory, and the kitchen, scullery and pantry are also noted. Four bedrooms and a bathroom are recorded on the first floor. The second floor was laid out as a flat with three bedrooms and two reception rooms. The estate agents described the gardens as follows:-

“With ‘island’ lawn, gravelled drive with trees and shrubs. Formal garden – walled and with perimeter flowerbeds and lawns. Side garden with lawn, flowerbeds and shrubs. Greenhouse and stonewall with arched recessed and bench seats.”


Photo credit © Stuart Blakely

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) states that the Crawford family purchased part of the estate from the Montgomerys of Rosemount, Greyabbey, in 1691.

It later became the seat of the Gordon family through marriage.

The architect of the house is unknown.

A memorandum of agreement dated 1775 in the PRONI archive between Robert Gordon and Hugh Agnew, a brick-maker, is for ‘fifty thousand bricks or any greater number…’

This may relate to the construction of the house. The late Sir Charles Brett wrote in his book Buildings of North County Down,
Florida Manor itself is a rather mysterious house, probably of 17th century origin but much altered, with a disconcerting combination of possibly late 18th century pompous tetra-style Ionic porch and sprouting polygonal Elizabethan-style chimney-pots.
On the basis of the latter, Hugh Dixon has suggested it may have been rebuilt around 1810, and, on the model of Narrow Water Castle, proposed a possible attribution to Thomas Duff.
In 1791, the estate was described as containing 1,300 acres of arable land and 400 acres of bog and it was let for £1,000 per annum.

In 1867, when Robert Francis Gordon took possession of the Florida Manor estate, it was valued at £4,634.

Florida Manor in May, 2012
However, the bulk of Florida Manor, including the townlands of Ballygraffan, Ballyminstragh, Kilmood, Lisbarnet, Raffrey, Ravara and Tullynagee, formed part of the Londonderry Estates.

There is very little information relating directly to Florida Manor itself, though it is possible to draw together some information about the building of the house or, at least, to establish an approximate date of when the house was completed.

A bill of complaint declares that, when John Crawford Gordon died in 1797, his brother David succeeded to the estate, which included the manor-house and demesne.

Moreover, a survey of 1794 for the Florida demesne of John Crawford recorded that it comprised just over 100 acres.

A memorandum of agreement between Robert Gordon and Hugh Agnew, a brick-maker, for 'fifty thousand bricks or any greater number...' is dated 1775.

The Gordons sold Florida Manor in 1910.

More recently, the demesne was purchased by Michael Lagan.


Today, within the demesne's original stone perimeter wall lie 200 acres of extensive landscaped grasslands, private lakes, walkways and bridal paths.

The house still appears derelict at the time of writing, though the original stable-yard has been restored to form apartments of a high calibre.

The restoration and conversion of the stable-yard has transformed it into private dwellings and stables, at a cost of £2 million.

The original stable block dates back to at least the 17th Century as a small cast iron plaque dated July 18th, 1676, has been uncovered and restored within the original grounds.

The design & restoration has been carried out taking into account the unique aspects of the site and using traditional materials such as a natural slate roof, sash windows and stone archways, all adding to create an aesthetically pleasing form to this distinctive development.

The former land-steward’s dwelling, a short distance away from the stables, has also been restored.

In 1755, Robert Gordon married the widow Alice Whyte and through this connection the Gordons acquired Florida Manor.

THE LOYAL FLORIDA INFANTRY YEOMANRY CORPS (GORDON YEOMANRY)

In 1797, David Gordon, son of Robert Gordon, succeeded to the estate on the death of his brother John Gordon.

The estate included the mansion house called Florida Manor and demesne.

David Gordon was a Magistrate and records show that a Court operated at the manor and they highlight the myriad of offences that could be brought before the manor Court.

The court still appeared to be in operation by the early 19th century, as case papers dated 1805 recite David Gordon's title to the lordship of the manor and his accompanying rights.

Records also state that the court met at least once a year, when petty constables were appointed.

David Gordon was also one of the magistrates who collected evidence about the 1803 rebellion.

During the latter part of the 1700s, Yeomanry forces were raised by landed gentry to support the  Crown and the regular army to combat the impending French invasion/Irish rebellion against the Crown [1796-1798].

The local landowner, magistrate and lord of the manor at Killinchy, David Gordon, raised such a force and named it the "Loyal Florida Infantry" Yeomanry Corps [Gordon Yeomanry].

KILMOOD PARISH CHURCH

St Mary’s Church, Kilmood, was open for worship in 1822.

The site on which the church is built has been a place of worship since medieval times, having once been part of the monastic settlement in Comber.

The building of the present church was financed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who gave £900; Lord Dufferin, who gave the bell; and the local squire, David Gordon of Florida Manor, who paid the remainder of the £2,215 bill.

Consequently the Gordons were, for many years, patrons of St Mary’s Kilmood, retaining the right to appoint the vicar.

St Mary’s Kilmood was regarded as the estate church of Florida Manor until 1928, when it was brought into the parish of Killinchy Union.

First published in May, 2012.

1 comment :

Jonathan Kennedy said...

I see that Michael Lagan has developed the stable block as swish apartments, but that the house itself is derelict and boarded up. What a shame he hasn't had the vision to restore like the Mackies at Larchfield, for example.