Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Belvoir Shoot

Belvoir House: eastern elevation

I really must pay Belvoir forest park another visit.

It is, after all, the nearest forest park (I almost said demesne) to the city of Belfast.

There even used to be a touring caravan park, adjacent to the stable yard, though the forestry service closed it down 20 or 30 years ago.

Belvoir was once a superb demesne, originally the seat of the 1st Viscount Dungannon (second creation) though Lord Dungannon sold it to Sir Robert Bateson, 1st Baronet, less than a century later.

I have a large, A4-sized paperback book entitled A Treasured Landscape: the Heritage of Belvoir Park, edited by Ben Simon.

If you are are interested in Belvoir park, seek it out.

Shortly after Sir Thomas Bateson, 2nd Baronet (later 1st Baron Deramore) died in 1890, the family decided to lease the estate, which in those days comprised no less than 6,348 acres of land.

The former demesne with the motte in the background

The first lessee was Walter Wilson, a director of the Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff, who lived there with his family from 1900 till about 1918.

Sir James Johnson, Lord Mayor of Belfast, was the final resident of Belvoir House.

He and his family lived there from 1919 until 1925.

I have already written about the ultimate fate of the great mansion and its shameful demolition in 1961, though the house was considered as the official residence of the new Governor of Northern Ireland.

Hillsborough Castle was chosen instead.

The estate was also a contender as the seat of the new Parliament of Northern Ireland, though Stormont was selected.

Belvoir House from the east with parkland

BELVOIR was a renowned shooting estate in its day: A shooting party stayed there for the weekend in 1904, and it is recorded that 431 pheasants, 32 hares, 2 rabbits, 2 woodcocks, and 17 ducks were bagged.

There was a pheasantry at the Big Meadow near the river Lagan.

Three years prior to this, the household comprised seventeen members of staff, including a governess, a housekeeper, under-butler, 1st footman, 2nd footman, page, lady's maid, cook, children's maid, stillroom maid, four housemaids, kitchen maid, scullery maid, and dairy maid.

In those days the estate comprised over 6,000 acres; today that acreage has shrunk to 185.

First published in February, 2016.

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