Saturday, 26 December 2020

Valete: Mount Stewart Pool

If, at Mount Stewart, you stroll along the coast-line to the south of the main road and between two of the gate lodges on the other side of the road, you shall find the remains of a low, stone wall with a sort of tower further along.

This part of the estate is across the main Portaferry Road, opposite the demesne itself.

There's a circular concrete base in the ground, with a rusty, iron rail within it.

Look inland and you will see a sunken wilderness, overgrown with gorse and long grass.

The concrete base was constructed for a wooden, revolving gazebo. 

The sunken wilderness is all that remains of Lord and Lady Londonderry's beautiful salt-water, kidney-shaped swimming-pool.

It was the most picturesque, splendid pool I have ever seen; tranquil and heavenly, surrounded by luxuriant flora, including palm trees.

On the patio beside the pool there were changing-rooms and a little fountain.

The base of the fountain and pool was painted aquamarine.

The changing-rooms were adjacent, their back against a high, stone wall.

I seem to recall a small stone plaque, or lozenge, between the cabins with Charles and Edith Londonderry's monogram.

This wall surrounded three sides of the pool area; and there was an elevated bank at the seaward side with stone steps and various features, like stone benches.

I think there was a diving-board, but I cannot be certain.

It felt like another world, within these walls; a true haven, sheltered from the sea breeze.

The pool was designed and built, it is believed, in the 1930s by Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry DBE, whose husband was the 7th Marquess.

They were really the last of the Londonderrys to live at Mount Stewart.

Their daughter, Lady Mairi, lived at Mount Stewart till her death in 2009.

The pool was in existence for barely sixty years.

This was a haven where family members, including the Lady Jane (The Lady Rayne), the Lady Annabel (Goldsmith), their brother Alastair, Viscount Castlereagh, and other friends spent many happy summers in the 1940s, playing games, swimming and picnicking.

It was still serviceable, though a bit decrepit, by the mid-eighties. 

We did our best to restore it and even managed to get water from the lough flowing in and out again.

By the 1990s, however, gangs of beer-swilling vandals had requisitioned the pool.

Its location across the main road cut it off from the rest of the estate, so it became vulnerable. 

Alas everything, including the walls, was subsequently demolished.

It is now a wilderness.

Imagine the scenario: The owner is advised, in the strongest terms, that, were one of the trespassers to injure themselves, fatally or otherwise, the owner could be held liable.

Either secure the swimming-pool and its environs from trespassers; risk prosecution; or remove the problem entirely.

Obviously the latter, simplest solution was chosen, and a decision was taken at the highest level.

Given such a beautiful creation, it cannot have been taken lightly.

I have taken a few pictures, including a stone memorial cross to some staff on the estate who perished at sea.

I adored this place. I still miss it.

I cherish fond memories of it before it was spoiled.

This is my tribute.

First published in April 2009.   Londonderry arms courtesy of European Heraldry.


Amanda said...

I remember visiting that pool some 20 years ago. My friend and I swam in it though I am sure we should not have been! I went back today to see if it was still there but sadly the pool has gone. All that remains is a see of briars!

Anonymous said...

During a hot August weekend in 1970, hosted at Mount Stewart by her daughter Lady Mairi Bury, Ulick O’Connor described bathing with Montgomery Hyde in its sea water pool: “Monty dives in and swims with quite an impressive trudgeon stroke, up and down.” He quotes Hyde (“He never looks at you straight. Closes his eyes as he encounters yours”) describing his initiation into the Freemasons as “frightening and solemn” and explaining that one of the reasons he lost his “seat was that he had said King Billy was fond of the boys.” (The Ulick O’Connor Diaries 1970-81, pp. 41-46). Lady Bury, who

Hotels donegal said...

Amazing place and beauty of it always in my mind. i can't be forgot it.

Anonymous said...

I remember my mother taking around the shore to show me this swimming pool in the early 70's, I was about 4 or 5 and I stood in front of the sky blue gate my jaw must have hit the ground, it was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen ! Furthermore there were people using it - lying on sunloungers with sunglasses, although embarrassed I just stood there gawping lol. Later in the early 80's some friends and I visited one hot sunny day, run down a bit, we lay our towels down on the patio around the pool and had our gettoblaster on full when the gamekeeper came around and kicked us out, 10 mins later a bunch of punk rockers walked past us singing and drinking beer, their music much louder and a noisy group they were, we walked to the gate to see and there they were diving off the board into the stinking pool !! Gamekeeper must not have heard them !!! A terrible pity it had to be filled in, such a shame as it was an oasis on Strangford Lough !

Anonymous said...

One often wonders where in the salty depths of Strangford the bones of the drowned servants now lie , seemingly all that was found after that fateful day was a food basket washed ashore somewhere between Greyabbey and Portaferry which isn't inconceivable given the force of running tides in the Lough , point well appreciated by anyone who has sailed these waters. Is it a strange Mountstewart / Londonderry trait that there is no mention of their boatmen also drowned on the day ,the memorial cross only lists the house servants , was there some sort of upstairs / downstairs snobbery going on . However , it is sad that one of the young servants only arrived two weeks previously from Scotland to take up her maid's position should meet her death so untimely.

Anonymous said...

Yes , as mentioned in the previous comment , a servant being the first name on the stone memorial Eliza Dougal , was the Scottish servant born South Leith , Midlothian in 1852 , drowned in Strangford Lough 1896 after only two weeks in service at Mountstewart , she drowned with six others and their bodies were never recovered from the Lough. Seven drowned and memorial stone records five names , one wonders where the names of the other two are recorded ? , ( boatmen according to previous comment ) " Vanishing Day " this saga was called in a BBC radio programme about the tragedy .

Anonymous said...

Walking my dogs near the old stone memorial cross I was somewhat surprised to observe that the old winching device ( once upon a time used to land goods or small vessels from the stone pier , - the remains of pier are still visible at low tide ) has been cleared of the overgrowth of weeds and bushes which hide it from full view for many years , it was however interesting to observe and photograph this fine old piece of marine engineering still bearing it's manufacturers hawlmark . However I worry that this rescue work has been carried out for private gain , the winch possibly bound for someone's garden , much better if such an historic artefact was displayed with a story board somewhere suitable within the confines of the Mountstewart main estate .

Anonymous said...

The previously mentioned winch was manufactured by the Tyneside company started by William Hawks in 1754 as borne out by it's plaque stating Hawks & Company , Newcastle. The company started by making chain , cables and anchors. It was one of the largest and most powerful British dynasties to arise during the British Industrial Revolution.
The Hawks company reached its apogee in the early Victorian period, when it employed over 2000 and its reputation for engineering and bridge building was worldwide. The company closed it's ironworks in mysterious circumstances in 1889. So the winch must predate 1889 and it would be interesting to know when it first saw service on the Mountstewart shoreline .

Anonymous said...

The winch and erstwhile jetty of the Londonderry family (keen sailors) projecting into Strangford Lough were indeed installed/built before 1889, as is evidenced by contemporaneous photographs. When King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra stayed at Mount Stewart for several days in 1903 the Royal Yacht was anchored in the Lough at one point during the visit.