Monday, 3 August 2020

Malone House


The LEGGES claim to have been a patrician family of Ravenna, in Italy, and settled in England during the reign of HENRY II.

In 1676, WILLIAM LEGGE, an officer in the army, with recommendations from JAMES II, then Duke of York, served under the Duke of Schomberg in Flanders, and accompanied him to Ireland, 1690.

His son,

WILLIAM LEGGE, settled at Malone, County Antrim, and acquired lands from Arthur, 3rd Earl of Donegall, where he operated a farm and built houses.

Mr Legge died in 1723, and had, with other issue,

BENJAMIN LEGGE, who leased a plot of ground from the Earl of Donegall extending along the west side of North Street, Belfast, for 108 feet and bounded on the south side by Rosemary Lane.

Specifically mentioned are house, sugarhouses, warehouses and other dwellings.

Legg's Lane ran next to the sugar-house from Rosemary Lane.

Benjamin Legg died in 1760, and his obituary stated that it was chiefly owing to his skill and activity that the refining of sugar was brought to such perfection in Belfast.

Another son,

WILLIAM LEGG, who died in 1750, was father of

ALEXANDER LEGGE (1706-77), High Sheriff of County Antrim, 1770, who had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir (d 1821);
Eleanor, m Hill Wallace; mother of WILLIAM;
Marcella, m Anthony Semple.
The son and heir,

WILLIAM LEGGE, High Sheriff of County Antrim, 1780, died in 1821, and was succeeded by his nephew,

WILLIAM WALLACE LEGGE JP DL (1789-1868), of Malone House, Belfast (eldest son of Hill Wallace), High Sheriff of County Antrim, 1823, who adopted the surname of LEGGE.

Mr Legge wedded, in 1838, Eleanor Wilkie, third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Forster, of Adderstone, Northumberland, and had issue,
Florence Wallace, m 1861, 6th Viscount Harberton.
Mrs Wallace wedded secondly, in 1874, the Hon Robert Jack Needham.

Mr William Wallace Legge died in 1868, and was succeeded by his only son,

WILLIAM WALLACE LEGGE (1841-68), of Malone House; on whose decease, the property was acquired by Lord Harberton through marriage.
Harberton Avenue, Drive and Park, Belfast, are all named after the 6th Viscount Harberton, who owned the land.
The Neo-Georgian Malone House today

MALONE HOUSE, Barnett's Demesne, Belfast, was built on the site of a very extensive 17th century fort which was called Castle Cam, or Freeston Castle, but there are no remains of the ancient fort now to be seen. 
One member of the Legg family, Benjamin Legg, was a prosperous merchant and sugar refiner during the 18th century in Belfast. His premises were at Legg's Lane, now Lombard Street; and the sugar-house was located at the corner of Rosemary Street and North Street.
The Georgian mansion-house was built in the 1820s for William Wallace Legge, a prosperous Belfast merchant, who had inherited the surrounding land in 1821.
A keen landscaper, Legge designed and planted most of the demesne, which remains relatively unchanged today. Legge's daughter Florence married, in 1861, the Hon James Spencer Pomeroy (1836-1912), son of the 5th Viscount Harberton, and had issue, Ernest Arthur George, 7th Viscount Harberton.

In the 1870s the Malone estate extended to a considerable 8,565 acres, when Mrs Legge was the owner.

The Legges have a plot at Drumbeg Church where the inscription reads:-

To the memory of Alexander Legge of Malone, Esq. son of William Legge, Esq., who departed this life on the fifth day of September 1777, aged 71 years and of Mary, his wife who departed this life, on the first day of March 1783, aged 63 years. Also of their son-in-law, Hill Wallace, Esq., Captain 14th Regiment of Foot who departed this life, on the 29th day of April 1794, aged 40 years. Also of Ellen Legge, wife of the above Hill Wallace, Esq. died in London aged 90 years and their daughter, Ellen Wallace died, and was interred, at Cheltenham on the 12th of April 1879 in her 91st year.

The last private owner to reside at Malone House was William Barnett, who presented it to the city of Belfast in 1946.

Following its presentation to the city, Malone House was leased to the National Trust in the early 1970s.

It was nearly destroyed by fire in 1976, though was rebuilt by Belfast City Council and was re-opened in June, 1983.


The building of the first Malone House has been described in the Plantation Commissioners' report of 1611. 

It tells of a strong fort built upon the plains of Malone with a sturdy palisade and a drawbridge called "Hilsborowe"; within it a fair, timber house walled with bricks and a slated tower.

Some other homes were built within it containing families of English and Irish settlers.

During the plantation of Ulster, the land now known as Barnett’s Demesne was granted to Sir Arthur Chichester who leased it to Sir Moses Hill.

He built a fort in the area where the present house is situated.

In the rebellion of 1641 the house was burnt.

Subsequently the Hill family acquired their own land in County Down (Hillsborough became their main seat) and they left Malone. 

Hill was granted 2,000 acres in County Antrim and 40,000 acres in County Down for his services to the Crown.

The next tenants were the Legge - or Legg - family.

Alexander Legge probably built the second Malone House, which was on the site of the old stables of the present house.

The house at this point was a large farm-house.

Thereafter the family became successful merchants.

They part-owned the old sugar house in Rosemary Lane, which was Belfast’s first factory.

Legg’s Lane, which later became Lombard Street, was named after them. 

Alexander Legg (1706-77) was a successful linen merchant:-


‘I Alexander Legg of Malone in the County of Antrim, Gent .... do make my last will and testament. I bequeath;’

‘To Gilbert Mathews his children my house and lands in Malone’.
‘To my nephew Robert Legg my farm in Kilwarlin, County Down’.
‘To John Rice of Malone £30 out of my personal estate’.
‘To my little cousin Alexander Legg my Bay Golding’.
‘To my natural daughter Esther Legg £10’.
‘To the poor of the parish of Belfast £3’.

Executors William Legg and Gilbert Mathews. I desire my executors to have me buried in a decent manner in the Church of Drumbo.

Witnessed by Matt McLorinan, Dan: Cunningham, Patrick McCormick, St. John Turnley.

Probate granted December 15, 1729, to Gilbert Mathews (William Legg renounced).

Alexander Legg appears to have purchased the Mulligan farm in 1725 and the lease he purchased fallen in by 1735, when his nephew, Robert Legg took out a new one in his own name. Interestingly, one of his the lives named in his lease is Patrick Mullican.

Remnants of the 18th century building can still be seen to the north-west of Malone House. 

William Legg died childless in 1821 and left the house to William Wallace (Legge), his nephew.

In the late 1820s William Wallace Legge built a new house on the site of Moses Hill’s original 17th century fort.

He married late in life and his only son was a wild young man who squandered his money and was disinherited.

The late 18th century Legg map shows a 17th century edifice with the remains of Moyses Hill's Plantation fort above, described on the map as "a moat in the orchard".

Donegall Estate records tell the progress of the Legge lands during the late 18th century: 260 acres in 1775 became 400 acres by 1810.

Malone House in the 1950s

The third Malone House was built ca 1825.

Even before inheriting his uncle's property in 1821, William Wallace Legge, builder of the third house on the site, had been fascinated with buildings and landscape.

A sketchbook survives from 1816 in which he made a series of over seventy neat pencil drawings of topographical subjects in the Malone area and the Lagan valley, and also around the home of another uncle and aunt, Anthony and Marcella Semple at Malahide. 

At Malone he took the opportunity to turn paper ideas into reality.

His predecessors found it convenient to live close to the main coach road between Belfast and Dublin.

Their house was clearly visible at the end of a short drive.

Such simplicity, or rather, lack of subtlety, held little appeal for W W Legge.

He chose to build anew on the site of the old fort.

Nevertheless the public thoroughfare still seemed too close for proper privacy, and so, with an uncomplicated efficiency which might be expected of the son of an army officer who happened to be high sheriff for the county at the right moment, he moved the road away.

Though unimpressed with the remains of the fort, Legge recognised the advantages of the site.

His new entrance front was to face a wide prospect past the old house to the north-west, while the main rooms were to enjoy views across the Lagan valley.

The house which did finally emerge from its cloak of scaffolding provided a sharp contrast to the informality of its landscape setting.

Its main fa├žades are clear essays in classical symmetry.

The repetition of equal openings, the severely simple Tuscan portico, the dominating cornice and parapet, and the firmly regimented chimney stacks, all combine into a rather stark unity. 

Even the gentle bow on the south front, which might have provided an opportunity for a little light-hearted regency decoration, avoids any hint of frivolity.

External window shutters, though now comparatively rare, were briefly popular in late-Georgian Ulster.

Those at Malone, likely to be original for they appear in an Edwardian photograph, give the house a rather colonial flavour.

The present house has not been precisely dated, nor has the involvement of any architect been discovered, but such evidence as there is suggests that the building was erected in the late 1820s. 

As Trevor Carleton has shown (Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1976, 62-3), there is a map of 1825 with the outline of a house - a plain rectangle with a shallow bow on one long side - superimposed on the earthworks of the old fort. 

The outline is similar to, though significantly smaller than, the house as built.

Malone House thereby passed to William’s daughter, who had married Lord Harberton in 1861.

He was a renowned academic and she was an early feminist supporting votes for women, wearing bloomers (a kind of trouser suit for women)!

However, the Legge family did not live in the house after the death of William Wallace Legge in 1868. 

There followed a series of tenants, including Thomas Montgomery, of Ballydrain; Edmund Kertland, manager of John Shaw Brown & Co in Edenderry; and William Higgin who was proprietor of the Avoniel distillery.

In 1921 William Barnett, a very rich man with a keen interest in horse-racing (his horse Trigo won the Derby and the St Leger in 1929), bought Malone House.

He died in 1943 and left the house and grounds to the city of Belfast.

In 1940 the house had been taken over by the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Short Brothers and Harland had their drawing office there).

There were concrete air raid shelters built alongside the house, one of which still remains with its front removed.

After the war, the grounds were open to the public and the Barnett Demesne officially opened in 1951.

In 1970 the National Trust leased it for their headquarters and the Ulster Museum housed their costume collection there.

In 1976 a bomb destroyed the house and its contents.

The present house was built in 1982 and is a replica of the 1825 building. 

William Barnett, the last private owner, bequeathed Malone House and approximately 103 acres to the city of Belfast to be preserved as a public park for the recreation of the public.

The earlier house of ca 1665 was near the existing stable block.

The layout retains an early 19th century ‘landscape’ style, which was developed round the site of the present house.

The position of the house affords excellent views to and over the River Lagan valley.

The view back across to the house is depicted by Molloy in Proctor’s Belfast Scenery in Thirty Views, of 1832. 

There are good stands of mature trees set in parkland, which is maintained and replanted as an informal landscape.

The gate lodge was rebuilt in 1921 to the designs of Blackwood and Jury.

First published in January, 2011.


Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me the history of the edit on 276 Malone road. Pls email me at

Anne pm said...

hello - thanks for the interesting information. My grandparents, John and Annie Jane Leitch ran a shop at legge's hill, Malone around 1912 - I am assuming it was somewhere on the doesn't seem to exist any longer so I'm wondering how I could locate it now? thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. Very interesting reading as i work there at the moment.

Anonymous said...

The Weir was built by Thomas Somerset, linen manufacturer and sometime MP.


Anonymous said...

The plasterwork is an exact replica of that at Mount Panther, Dundrum, created by taking impressions prior to the removal of the roof there.