Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Learmount Castle

7,946 ACRES

THE RT HON JOHN BERESFORD MP (1738-1805), of Abbeville, County Dublin, and Walworth*, County Londonderry, second son of MARCUS, 1st EARL OF TYRONE (third creation) by his wife, the Lady Catherine Power, Baroness La Poer in her own right, daughter and heiress of James, last Earl of Tyrone (second creation), married firstly, in 1760, Anne Constantia (d 1772), granddaughter of the Count de Ligondes, and had issue,
Marcus (1764-97);
George de la Poer (Rt Rev), Lord Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh;
John Claudius (1766-1846);
Charles Cobbe (Rev), Rector of Termon;
Annette Constantia; Jane; Catherine.
He wedded secondly, in 1774, Barbara, daughter and co-heir of Sir William Montgomery Bt, of Macbie Hill, Peebles, and had further issue,
James Hamilton (1782-1806);
HENRY BARRÉ, of whom we treat;
The youngest son,

HENRY BARRÉ BERESFORD (1784-1837), of Learmount Park, County Londonderry, wedded, in 1812, Eliza, youngest daughter of John Bayly, of Bristol, and had issue,
JOHN BARRÉ, his heir;
Henry Barré (1816-71), Commander RN;
William Montgomery, in holy orders;
James David, a military officer;
George de la Poer, a military officer;
Mary Barbara; Eliza Frances.
Mr Beresford's eldest son,

JOHN BARRÉ BERESFORD JP DL (1815-95), of Learmount Park, married firstly, in 1840, Sophia, sister of Hugh Lyons-Montgomery, MP for County Leitrim, and had issue,
Henry Barré Blacker (1848-82), Lieutenant RN;
JOHN CLAUDIUS MONTGOMERY, of whom hereafter.
He wedded secondly, in 1853, Caroline, only child of William Hamilton-Ash, of Ashbrook, by the Lady Elizabeth Emma Douglas his wife, sister of George, 17th Earl of Morton, and had further issue,
William Randal Hamilton, of Ashbrook;
MARCUS JOHN BARRÉ, of whom we treat;
Emma Clara; Barbara Caroline; Mary Elizabeth; Louisa Gertrude Douglas.
Mr Beresford's second son,

JOHN CLAUDIUS MONTGOMERY BERESFORD (1850-94), of Learmount, Major, Royal Engineers, wedded, in 1884, Rose Sophia Montgomery, daughter of Ralph Smith, and had issue, an only child,

RALPH HENRY BARRÉ BERESFORD (1886-1925), of Learmount, who died unmarried, when the estate devolved upon his cousin,

MARCUS JOHN BARRÉ BERESFORD (1868-1944), of Learmount, who married, in 1914, Alma, daughter of David Methven, 

Mr Beresford was killed in action, 1944, and was survived by an only daughter,

Patricia Douglas Methven Beresford (1924-2012), who sold Learmount Park in 1944 to the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture.
Walworth*, near Ballykelly, features in J A K Dean's Plight of the Big House in Northern Ireland.

THE BERESFORDS acquired Learmount Park through the marriage of John Beresford to the heiress Barbara Montgomery, but he never lived in it and died at Walworth, Ballykelly, in 1805.

His son, Henry Barré Beresford, did not live in it either: His estate was let out to the McCauslands.

He himself worked as estate agent to his own brother Marcus, on his estate at Ballyquin.

It was only when Henry Barré Beresford retired from this position that he started to modernize the Beresford estate.

He began with great plans for the old Montgomery house.

Instead of demolishing it, his architect, John B Keane, incorporated it as an east wing on to a new mock Tudor-styled castle.

The same architect also designed, in the same style, the western gate lodge house at Stratton's Brae, which is now sadly gone.

He may even have been responsible for the design of the parish church which was built on land donated by the Beresfords, and consecrated in 1831.

A school and schoolhouse had already been established on a site close by.

Henry Barré Beresford died in 1837 and was succeeded by his son John Barré Beresford, who continued with the building plans begun by his father.

Another gate lodge house, in a different design, was built at the western entrance, where Park Recycling Centre is now located.

Another lodge was also built on the main entrance.

At Learmount Castle, coaching houses were provided for the horses, including those which worked on the farm, and grooms and coachmen employed to look after them. 

A walled garden provided vegetables and work for gardeners. Gamekeepers and bailiffs were also employed, all overseen by an estate manager.

Control of the estate passed from John Barré Beresford to his grandson Ralph, when the former died in 1895 and was commemorated by a stained glass window in the parish church. 

Ralph was a minor aged 11 at the time, and did not inherit the property until 1922.

When Harry Ralph Beresford died in 1925, the estate began to decline.

Compulsory sale of tenant lands and death duties would in due course take its toil.

The Osgood family, tea planters from overseas, hired out the property for about four years, long enough it has been reported, for them to marry off two daughters.

While they were there they played tennis, looked after horses and dogs, and even installed electricity, supplied by a water wheel in the estate grounds.

During this time the estate was owned by Colonel Marcus Beresford, though he never lived in it and Learmount Castle was left vacant until the 2nd World War.

Local people were employed as cook and janitor, and an Aga cooker and the telephone were installed.

Colonel Beresford was killed in London due to enemy action and his daughter, Patricia, decided to sell the property.

The Forestry Service promptly bought it and the buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair.

The Castle was granted a temporary reprieve, when the Youth Hostel Association set up a hostel in the main building, run by wardens Doreen and Marcus Lowther.

However, still no money was available for repairs.

It was decided that the old (Montgomery) wing should be demolished and replaced by a low wall, compatible with the style of the newer building.

But when the lease for the hostel expired in 1983, the youth hostel association refused to renew it, so the Lowthers left and the cycle of decay continued.

Prior to this, the gate lodges at the western and eastern entrances to the estate were demolished.

Only the old coaching house survived intact, bought by Mr Peter Mullan, who converted it into a home and a self catering apartment.

He has also reclaimed the gardens, reseeding them as a neat lawn and adding a very attractive pond.

He stabilized the back of the castle which has enhanced its appearance.

LEARMOUNT CASTLE, near Claudy, County Londonderry, is a Tudor-Gothic house, built in 1830 by Henry Barré Beresford.

The main block has a gabled front and pointed finials on the gables; and a battlemented porch.

There is a battlemented wing set back, ending in a slender, round battlemented tower and turret.

The house is situated above a steep, terraced drop to the River Faughan below. The terracing is grassed and decorated with ornamental yew trees.

There is an unused walled garden to the immediate south of the house.

Learmount is close to the village of Park in County Londonderry.

Learmount Forest covers just over 3,000 acres of the foothills at the northern face of the Sperrin Mountains.

Bought by the Forest Service at the end of the 2nd World War, it has over fifteen different tree species planted, with some well over 100 years old.

This is due to the planting of selected trees by Henry Barré de la Poer Beresford, who came from Staffordshire as landlord at the time of the Plantation by the Livery Companies.

The imposing castle was built by him in 1830 as an extension of an older building erected by a Captain Montgomery around 1710.

The castle was used by Ashleigh House Girls School (Belfast) during the war, and then by the Youth Hostel Association until later it was bought by the present private owner.

The Beresford coat-of-arms emblazons the doorway of the Castle, with the family motto Nil Nisi Cruce - No dependence but in the cross; and the Arms, a semée of cross crosslets fitchée and three fleurs-de-lis within a border engrained sable.

The demesne contains commercial plantations and mature trees in an area noted by Lewis in 1837 in the Topographical Dictionary, for its ‘large and valuable timber …’.

Paths are maintained and the site is an amenity.

Sal Lim, who has kindly provided me with photographs of the Castle:

"The way I remember it may not actually be the way it was, - the memory does play tricks after forty years. One thing I do know is that the far side in the photo was already derelict at that stage and was blocked off although it was possible to get in through the basement.

It was said to be haunted so had not been used for some time. Apart from that I remember a very impressive staircase opposite the front entrance. There was a large room to the right of the front door. It was used as the common room with dining area at that time but it had obviously been a beautiful room.

The fireplace matched the proportions of the room. It was so big that my brother was able to sit cross-legged on the mantelpiece ... the staircase went straight up opposite the front door towards the back of the house and then divided on the first landing with flights going up in both directions.

When we were there the room behind the large common room was the kitchen but originally when it was a family home, the kitchen was probably in the basement, which you can see from the photos went the full length of the house."

First published in February, 2010.


Sandy said...

Just spend ah hour or two looking through Sal's photostream from your link!
Highly recommended.

Northern Scrivener said...

Learmount features in Tarquin Blake's , "Abandoned Mansions of Ireland."

Kevin said...

I grew up near there and spent a lot of time playing in the grounds of Learmount - it was a magical place for kids. I must go back and look at it from the viewpoint of an adult to see if the magic has gone? I was always sorry that the youth hostel idea didn't work out - it was the perfect place for one. Thanks for the potted history.

WeeGee said...

Spent a night here many years (maybe 1956!) ago when the place was a Youth Hostel. My outstanding memory was of a huge plasterwork eagle stooping from the ceiling in the entrance hall. The marble fireplaces were still in-situ in the communal areas, as were family photographs of holidays in the Jura. Visited again in 80s - the place had become very run-down, the eagle had disappeared.

Anonymous said...

About to have a school reunion and part of it is about the Learmont Castle years of Ashleigh House School. Glad I looked it up

Justman said...

My Father, Arthur Edward Redman built the water wheel and installed the electicity.

Unknown said...

I stayed there in the early 1970’s as it was a Youth Hostel for a while. Amazing place!

Karen said...

I remember staying there in the 60's with my parents when it was a youth hostel although very young at the time I remember getting a tour of the basement the beautiful grand staircase and sleeping upstairs all on my own in a huge bedroom. The gardens were great to play in and the ghost stories told to me. I thought I could hear the sound of a carriage pull up outside as I lay in bed. Fond memories