Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Manor of Florida: I

(Image: Florida Manor Estate)

I had never been to Kilmood before.

My cousin Robert was married in the parish church many decades ago; though for some reason I wasn't at his wedding.

Kilmood's former courthouse, in 1984, became Nick's restaurant (Nick Price went on to open a well-known restaurant in Hill Street, Belfast, which is now, I believe, the Harp Bar).

The Vicar of Kilmood, the Rev Dr Stanley Gamble, and I both share a passion for heritage and the preservation of historic buildings; and, cognizant of my passion, Stanley got in touch and suggested that we meet at his parish for a tour.

Naturally I was eager to do this.

Accordingly we arranged to meet at Florida Manor, a private estate near Killinchy, County Down.

I've already written about the manor of Florida and its Georgian mansion house.

Michael Lagan purchased the 250-acre estate in 2005, and has been restoring it to its former glory since then.

The demesne and parkland has already been restored; former paths and drives realigned; ponds and a lake revived; and the 17th century courtyard completely rejuvenated as apartments and living accommodation.

Therese showed us the manor house, which awaits imminent restoration inside.

The exterior of the house has been secured, including major repairs to the roof and new window-frames, and so on.

We saw the extensive basement, the ground floor, and the first floor. 

The second floor also awaits restoration.

Florida Manor and its demesne are one of the most historic properties in County Down, and when the manor house is restored there's no doubt that it will be one of the finest in the county and beyond.

Stanley and I drove throughout the estate roads, past paddocks, rolling hillocks, little lakes, ponds, as far as the East Lodge of ca 1840; ruinous and dilapidated in 1994, though fully restored today. 

Restoration work began on this lodge in January, 2007, a complex structure comprising two hexagonal buildings, with elongated sides adjoined by a quadrilateral.

The stones used for East Lodge were excavated from the grounds of the manor.

THE walled garden is roughly two acres in extent.

The stone walls had to be rebuilt in places, sand-blasted, and pointed in lime mortar.

A small potting-shed within the walled garden was rebuilt and re-roofed.

There are currently temporary paths within the garden, where a handsome new orangery has been built.

The new orangery will be used to host receptions, catering functions, and weddings. It has a basement with a kitchen and cloakrooms.

This very handsome neo-classical 1½-storey building is clad in sandstone.

The walled garden will have a formal central lawn, with a vegetable garden around its perimeter; fruit trees have already been planted.

THE former land steward's house has been completely restored, work having commenced in 2006.

It was in a parlous condition, though skilled craftsmen have brought it back to its former glory, including the original bell-tower and bell.

Stanley and I caught up with Michael and Therese in the estate courtyard, completely restored in 2007.

(Image: Florida Manor Estate)

This courtyard pre-dates the manor house by about a century, and was built in 1676.

During restoration, many sections of the stone walls needed to be rebuilt and sand-blasted; re-roofing and slating; underpinning; and major mechanical electrical work.

At one stage more than 90 people were working on this site.

DURING 2008 work began on the west gate lodge or West Lodge, and at the moment it awaits restoration.

The old piggery has been restored, and contains a new generator and technical installations.

This was the building where the Florida Yeomanry militia met during exercises in the early 19th century.

The estate perimeter wall, about one mile in length, had fallen into disrepair and needed to be totally rebuilt.

At one stage during 2008, 22 stone-masons and assistants were employed during this project.

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