Sunday, 18 October 2020

Seymour Hill


The family of CHARLEY, or CHORLEY, passing over from the north of England, settled in Ulster during the 17th century, at first in Belfast, where they were owners of house property for two hundred years; and afterwards at Finaghy, County Antrim, where

JOHN CHARLEY (c1659-1743), of Belfast, left a son,

RALPH CHARLEY (1674-1756), of Finaghy House, County Antrim, who wedded Elizabeth Hill, and had an only child,

JOHN CHARLEY (1711-93), of Finaghy House, who married Mary, daughter of John Ussher, and had issue,

Matthew, died unmarried;
JOHN, of whom hereafter;
Hill, died unmarried;
Jane, died unmarried.
The eldest surviving son,

JOHN CHARLEY (1744-1812), of Finaghy House, married, in 1783, Anne Jane, daughter of Richard Wolfenden, of Harmony Hill, County Down, and had issue,
John, of Finaghy House (1784-1844), dsp;
Matthew, of Finaghy House and Woodbourne;
WILLIAM, of whom we treat.
The third son,

WILLIAM CHARLEY (1790-1838), of Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, married, in 1817, Isabella, eldest daughter of William Hunter JP, of Dunmurry, and had issue,
JOHN, of Seymour Hill;
WILLIAM, succeeded his brother;
Edward, of Conway House;
Mary; Anne Jane; Eliza; Isabella; Emily.
The eldest son,

JOHN CHARLEY (1818-43), of Seymour Hill, died unmarried, and was succeeded by his brother, 

WILLIAM CHARLEY JP DL (1826-90), of Seymour Hill, who wedded, in 1856, Ellen Anna Matilda, daughter of Edward Johnson JP, of Ballymacash, near Lisburn, and granddaughter of Rev Philip Johnson, and had issue,

William (1857-1904), dsp;
EDWARD JOHNSON, of Seymour Hill;
John George Stewart;
Thomas Henry FitzWilliam;
HAROLD RICHARD, of whom hereafter;
Ellen Frances Isabella; Elizabeth Mary Florence;
Emily Constance Jane; Wilhelmina Maud Isabel.
Mr Charley was succeeded by his third son,

EDWARD JOHNSON CHARLEY JP (1859-1932), of Seymour Hill, High Sheriff of County Antrim, 1913, who died unmarried, and was succeeded by his brother,

ARTHUR FREDERICK CHARLEY JP (1870-1944), of Seymour Hill and Mossvale, who wedded, in 1917, Clare, daughter of Patrick Burgess Fenn, by whom he had no issue.

Mr Charley was succeeded by his brother,

COLONEL HAROLD RICHARD CHARLEY CBE DL (1875-1956), of Warren House and Seymour Hill, County Antrim, and The Trees, Helen's Bay, County Down, who married, in 1923, Phyllis, daughter of Robert Samuel Hunter, and had issue,
Maureen June (1926-54).
Colonel Charley's only son,

COLONEL WILLIAM ROBERT (Robin) HUNTER CHARLEY OBE (1924-2019)), of Craigavad, County Down, married, in 1960, Catherine Janet, daughter of William Sinclair Kingan, and had issue,
Catherine June, b 1961;
Elizabeth Jane, b 1962;
Jane Mary Isabella, b 1968.

SEYMOUR HILL HOUSE, Dunmurry, Belfast, was built ca 1790 by the son of Archibald Johnston, Robert Allen Johnston, who owned the Seymour Hill estate (which, by 1813, comprised 89 acres and included a bleaching green, mill, yard and a mill dam at the Derriaghy Burn).

Seymour was the Marquess of Hertford's family surname, and at the time Mr Charley owned 400 acres of land surrounding the house.

However, the house does not appear captioned as "Seymour Hill House" until 1858.

William Charley bought the estate in 1822 and quickly invested capital to improve the bleach works.

Mr Charley had also purchased and remodelled the Dunmurry and Mossvale Bleach Greens two years previously in 1820, and subsequently transferred his business to Seymour Hill.

The house itself by this stage was in a ruinous state, but by 1825 Charley expended almost £5,000 in remodelling and reconstructing the house, having engaged the architect, John McHenry.

It is thought that much of the detailing found on the building, such as the heavily vermiculated double quoins, was added as a result of the improvements.

By 1865, the additional buildings included a steward's house, a coachman's house and a gate lodge, suggesting that the family's linen business was flourishing.

William Charley was chairman of J&W Charley & Co, linen merchants, whose high quality work received several commissions from the Royal family.

He was also a founding member of the Northern Banking Company.

The Charley family continued to occupy Seymour Hill House throughout the 1800s, developing their linen business and bleaching techniques, eventually coming ownership of several bleach greens in the area.

They were credited with introducing the use of chlorine into the bleaching process.

The last of the Charley family to occupy Seymour Hill House was Captain Arthur Frederick Charley who, in 1944, met his death during an accident felling trees in the grounds.
Arthur's nephew, Colonel William Robert Hunter Charley, desired to pursue a military career rather the linen industry, which subsequently lead to the Charley business merging with Barbour Linen Thread Ltd; and the sale of Seymour Hill and the surrounding grounds to the Northern Ireland Housing Trust.
The once extensive kitchens, wine cellars, servants hall, dining rooms, morning rooms, bedrooms and library were converted into six apartments.

By this stage the house was losing much of its internal character.

Following further vandalising and extensive fire damage in 1986, a local account describes the house as being an empty shell with no roof.

In 1990, the house was transferred to the then named BIH housing association, which invited Colonel Robin Charley to open the fully-restored house providing six new one-person flats.


SEYMOUR HILL stands on a hill with a wide view of the Lagan Valley.

The Charley estate on both sides of the River Lagan in counties Antrim and Down once comprised over 400 acres.

They were tenants of the Marquess of Hertford, who owned all the land from Dunmurry to the southern shore of Lough Neagh.

A large walled garden and grounds were maintained by a head gardener and five or six under-gardeners.

Between the house and the walled garden there were lawns with landscaped trees and shrubs.

Near the rock garden was the dogs' cemetery, all with their individual headstones.

Every day the head of the family would walk across the paddock field to the factory of J & W Charley & Company, which was hidden from the house by a line of trees.

Here he supervised the finishing and production of the finest Ulster Linen.

It was of a particularly high quality and for many years the usual gifts from Northern Ireland to any member of the Royal Family when they married were linen sheets from J & W Charley, specially embroidered with the relevant royal cypher.

Within the grounds of Seymour Hill was a lake and a waterfall leading into a fish ponds.

The River Derriaghy flowed under the main Belfast-Lisburn road into the lake and then was divided into two mill races to work the factory water wheels.

The top stream was known locally as 'Little Harry' because baby Harold Charley's (1875-1956) pram once ran away down the drive and ended up upside down in the river!

He was none the worse for the experience, it is said.

During the 2nd World War the laundry in the upper yard was occupied by up to 100 women and children evacuated from the centre of Belfast during the air raid blitzes of 1941-42. 

I am grateful to Lisburn Historical Society as a source of reference for this article.  First published in February, 2011.


Timothy Belmont said...

Anonymous Gavin said...

Timothy, my mothers family, Coates were in residence in Mossvale last century but were not responsible for burning it down with a can of petrol. Col Charley helped a few years ago with a family tree of Coates which he had obtained. Dr Adgey purchased the land and knocked down Mossvale and rebuilt a new house. She closed off a 'right of way' down the lane to the old canala nd a court case ensued between her and Lisburn City Council.

See page 212 of this website:


22 February 2011 17:35

Daniel Guggenheim said...

I live in an apartment in the attic of Seymour hill house for about 3 years. Beautiful from the outside but the inside has been completely gutted of any original features. The basement was occupied by the house caretaker and it had the cellar wine racks and some corn icing intact.

Unknown said...

I went to school in nearby Rathmore House which was the mansion owned by Victor Coates. Edward VIII danced once in its ballroom.