Friday, 8 January 2021

Orangefield House


The family of HOUSTON is believed to have fixed its abode in Ulster during the 17th century as a result of the Scottish plantations (of Protestant settlers), soldiers under CROMWELL who stayed, and, later, persecuted the Covenanters. They settled mainly in the counties of Antrim, Londonderry, Armagh, and Down.
WILLIAM HOUSTON wedded, in 1732, Elizabeth, daughter of Joshua McGeough, of Drumsill, County Armagh, and had (with two other sons and a daughter, all of whom died unmarried) an eldest son,

THOMAS HOUSTON, who married, in 1765, Mary, daughter of John Holmes (c1773-1825), a Belfast merchant and banker.
John Holmes was a founding member of the Belfast Bank. Known as the ‘Bank of the Four Johns’, it soon was doing decent business in the town. Indeed, such was the extent of their success that other merchants in the town set up a rival partnership. 
Holmes was sent by the Belfast Charitable Society to London to negotiate with Lord Donegall, for rights to water for the Poor House and to discover whether elm, lead or iron pipes would be best to use in Belfast’s new water system.
Mr Houston died in 1771, leaving a son,

JOHN HOLMES HOUSTON (c1767-1843), of Orangefield, County Down, High Sheriff of County Down, 1826, who espoused, in 1792, his cousin Eliza, daughter of John Holmes, of Belfast.

There is a fine memorial to John Holmes Houston at the First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast.

His eldest and last surviving daughter,

MARY ISABELLA HOUSTON, espoused, in 1827, Richard Bayly Blakiston, Royal Artillery, afterwards BLAKISTON-HOUSTON, of Orangefield and Roddens, County Down, and had issue,
JOHN, his heir;
Richard Matthew, d 1847;
Thomas, 1833-60;
Charles William, 1836-61;
Anne; Eliza Houston.
Mr Blakiston, High Sheriff of County Down, 1848, was the fifth son of Sir Matthew Blakiston Bt.

On the death of his father-in-law, in 1843, he assumed the surname of HOUSTON, in addition to his patronymic, BLAKISTON.

His eldest son,

JOHN BLAKISTON-HOUSTON JP DL (1829-1920), of Orangefield and Roddens, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, High Sheriff of County Down, 1860, MP for North Down, 1898, married, in 1859, Marian, second daughter of Richard Streatfeild, of The Rocks, Sussex, and had issue,
RICHARD, his heir;
Charles, MP for Belfast Dock, 1929-33;
James Edward;
John (1881-1959), major-general;
Mary Charlotte; Annie Marian; Dora; Mabel; Isabel; Ethel; Hilda.
His eldest son,

RICHARD BLAKISTON-HOUSTON JP DL (1864-1933), of Orangefield and Roddens, High Sheriff of County Down, 1922, wedded, in 1897, Lilian Agnes, daughter of George Jardine Kidston, and had issue,
George, 1900-25;
Marian, 1905-91;
Elizabeth Agnes, 1911-56.
His eldest son,

JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), of Beltrim Castle, County Tyrone, Lieutenant-Colonel, 11th Hussars, High Sheriff of County Down, 1944, wedded, in 1931, Lettice Arden, daughter of Henry Gervas Stobart.
Colonel Blakiston-Houston was raised at Orangefield House and lived there or at the other family homes of Finlaystone Langbank, Renfrewshire, and Roddens, near Ballywalter, County Down.
He served in 1st World War from 1916, and left the army in 1934 after his grandfather died. It's thought that he no longer inhabited Orangefield after that date, and the house was sold in a dilapidated state, with the freehold retained, which itself was sold, it is thought, in the early 1960s. 
By his wife he had issue,
Mary Bridget; Anne; Prudence; Elizabeth; Patience.
Colonel Blakiston-Houston's only son,

RICHARD PATRICK BLAKISTON-HOUSTON OBE JP DL (1948-), of Beltrim Castle and Roddens, High Sheriff of County Down, 1989, married, in 1988, Lucinda Mary Lavinia, daughter of Lieutenant-Commander Theodore Bernard Peregrine Hubbard RN, by his wife, the Lady Miriam Fitzalan-Howard, and granddaughter of the 3rd Baron Howard of Glossop MBE, and had issue,
Jack Peregrine, b 1989;
Christopher George, b 1991;
Letitia Sadhbh Miriam, b 1993;
Felicia Grace Miriam, b 1994;
Harry Charles, b 1996;
Michael Peter, b 1998.
I have written about the Bateson family and Belvoir House here.

The Blakiston-Houston family appear to be related to General Sam Houston, after which Houston, Texas, USA, was named.

Orangefield House, 1902, by the Lady Mabel Annesley (Image: PRONI © 2011)

ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, Knockbreda, Belfast, was built ca 1857 for John Blakiston-Houston to replace an older 18th century mansion.

It stood on an elevated position overlooking its surrounding parkland.

The parkland was bounded by Grand Parade, Castlereagh Road, Knock Road, and the old railway line to the north.

The Victorian mansion-house consisted of two storeys (possibly above a basement) with three U-shaped dormers.

The garden front, facing westwards, consisting of a central curved bow with three bays on either side.

The south elevation had an identical curved bow, with one bay on each side of it.

There was a smaller, two storey office or service wing to the north side, of a lower height and with prominent chimneys.

1903 Map of Orangefield House

The north wing extended to the stable-yard.

Extensive sweeping lawns, landscaped gardens, paths, greenhouses and parkland; a walled garden, and paddocks.

IN 1934, the Blakiston-Houston family offered Belfast Corporation (now the city council) part of the Orangefield estate to develop as a public park.

The corporation, although keen to buy the land, felt that the price was too high at the time.  

Parkland to the west; glasshouses and walled gardens to the east

After lengthy negotiations, they bought part of the site in 1938 for £20,000 (roughly £1 million in today's money).

Much of the demesne developed ca 1938 as the Orby housing estate (named after the 1909 Derby winner); most of the remainder acquired in the 1950s for schools and playing-fields.

Site of the home farm at the River Knock in 2013

Development work was put on hold due to the 2nd World War and plans for the park were only drawn up in 1947. 

Original ideas included football, hockey and cricket pitches, a polo pitch, a bowling green, a quoits and marbles pitch, a cycle track and pitch and putt course, tennis courts, pavilions and store buildings.

Mr R H Blakiston-Houston tells me that the polo ground was only built over about 2002; and was located at Orangefield Crescent, having been previously let to Glentoran Football Club as a practice ground.
There is an interesting account of the wildlife in the old estate grounds in the 1950s. It talks of wrens, kestrels, redwings, tree creepers, fieldfares, sand martins, corncrakes, snipe, a heron “waiting for its breakfast to swim along”. And kingfishers:- ‘suddenly a flash of brilliant blue darts down the river, could he be nest-site hunting?" Hard to believe if you see that river now, though a trusted friend swears he spotted a kingfisher there in the early 1980s!
After the war, the remnant of the estate was purchased by the Education Authority.

Building work commenced in the mid 50s in what was the garden of the big house.

The Boys’ school opened in 1957 and the Girls’ school 1960, due to difficulties with the foundations.

The mansion’s charred shell remained until the early 1970s when it was demolished to make way for an extension to the girls’ school.

The mansion-house stood where Houston Park is today.

I believe part of the stone wall still exists in two locations.

The stable block was demolished approximately ten years ago.

During the building of this extension a worker discovered an old brick-lined well.

The brick was removed and used in the construction of the chimney breasts of the printers workshop in the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra.

Home Farm, 1903

Some distance to the north of the house was the Home Farm, including an estate school, corn-mill, water-mill, mill-pond and mill-race.

Th farm was lately managed by the Buller family (now of Scarva) prior to the land being developed in the 1930s.

No trace of the once-thriving farm exists today. Its site is now playing-fields.

Site of Orangefield House at Houston Park in 2013

The main entrance was to the north-west: a pair a gate lodges at the Knock River.

They began at what is now Orangefield Lane. Today there is no trace of them at all.
2013: Former main entrance, where twin lodges once stood

There were four lodges at one time, to the north, south, east and west.


THE PINKERTON MANUSCRIPTS state that WILLIAM III  reviewed his army at Orangefield in 1690, though there is no documentary evidence to verify this claim.

It's probable that Orangefield was given its name by the family of De Beers, Huguenots who once lived in the area.

Their estate in Europe was called Orangefield.

A troop of Lord Hewitt's Horse, later known as 6th Dragoon Guards/Carabiniers, under the command of Colonel Robert Byerley, was stationed at Orangefield in 1690.

The first mention of Orange-Field [sic] would appear to be on a lease dated the 4th September, 1720, in which Robert Bateson of Belfast, merchant, acquired a leasehold interest.

I know little of the original 18th century Orangefield House.

The Bateson family were certainly living at Orangefield in 1779.

Between 1809-18, Sir Robert Bateson acquired Belvoir Park, a large mansion and estate at Newtownbreda, within close proximity to Orangefield.

Orangefield's new owner became Hugh Crawford, whose family resided there until about 1837, when it was purchased by the wealthy banker John Holmes Houston.

The original house was demolished about 1857 to make way for the Victorian mansion.   

First published in August, 2011; revised 2015. Photograph of Orangefield House by kind permission of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.


Sweet Thing said...

Very interesting article - thanks Lord Belmont!

Gavin Bamford said...

The best picture to date that you have provided on your site. Well done. A couple of snippits:

1) go east on your maps and see Clara Park, off Sandown Road and note the site of Neill's Hill Railway Station

2) was Orangefield not one of the sites that was considered for the future NI Parliament Buildings complex?


David said...

I think you have done us all a great service here in the research and production of this post, Timothy. I passed down Houston Park every day for seven years of my teenage life on my way to school at Grosvenor without knowing anything at all of the distinguished history of that particular area. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Gerry There was a walled garden beside the river where it passes under Grand pde until the 1970s but may have been part of Greenville house which stood on what I now think is Greenville liner park I was always told this was the estate mgrs house for Orangefield House.Also I remember Orangefield house standing in the early 70s From memory it was behind the canteen used by all the schools

Anonymous said...

I remember we would go through the grounds to and from orangefield primary school. The house was still standing but a wreck - we used to play in it.

Anonymous said...

remember the house behind dunraven which stood into the 70s the sinclairs lived in it at one stage and the house at orangefield although the latter was in ruins and then burnt one day whilst we were sitting in class at school it had the look of a grand building such a pity to have lost it - even remember cattlebeing kept behind the houses in grand parade (vaguely ) early1960s

GRB said...

What are the Pinkerton manuscripts?

Larry Brown said...

The Market garden was operated by the Sheridan family. The stone cottage at the top of Orangefield Lane was occupied by a Mr Poyntz. Bullers Hill sloped down to a marshy area that was full of snipe. The old flax sheds were still there in the 1940's. Park Rangers two house. I can draw a sketch of the Estate as it was in 1940. The mill race was still there but overgrown. There was a POW camp on the Estate occupied by Italian POW's. Across Orangefield Lane from Buller's Hill was the 'Sledge Field' that was used by all in winter with their sleds. The long Driveway went to the Collier's house, who I believe owned Sinclairs. The gatekeeper lived in a little stone cottage overlooking the "Orngy" River and in the 40's he still caught trout. West lived in a cottage near the perimeter of the Estate. He had the reputation of shooting trespassers with salt pellets shot from an air rifle.
The Estate stretched nearly to the old Cnoc cemetery. Many happy hours spent there.
In addition to Bullers Hill and the Sledge field there was also the "Rabbit Field" My brother and many others who sheltered in the lee of the Sheridan garden walls during the German Easter Raids and saw a parachuted land mine falling in the Rabbit Field. Fortunately, it did not explode. The "Big" House, although empty, was in good condition right through the 40's. The "Football Field" was adjacent to the pre-fabs-and the cycle Velodrame was built later. Wonderful memories.

Unknown said...

Your work on Orangeville House and the blogs mention Greenville and the possible remains of Greenville Houser. My interest here lies with the Rainey family, John of Grenville (1720-93) and William of Grenville (1757-1790), the latter being the father of William Henry of Mt Panther. Their impressive family mausoleum is nearby in the Knockbreda Parish churchyard. Do you have information on where these Raineys lived and what happened to their land, was it acquired by John Houston? Peter

Lindsey said...

My mum has always said she lived in a cottage or gate lodge off grand parade in the 60s. Her dad worked for the sinclairs at the time. I now live in Orby and very interested in the history of the area also...

Maruth said...

Re. William III at Orangefield. There is a small stone bridge crossing the Connswater river - between Abetta Parade and Elmgrove School Grounds which William reputedly crossed - so maybe that was the same day he was at Orangefield.

William said...

My great aunt Dolina Macpherson who grew up in the Highlands of Scotland and in her old age lived with her mother at Esperanza, a house in the village of Halkirk, Caithness was for some years the cook at Orangefield House. I have a collection of postcards she received from friends and family all posted to her at Orangefield House.
William Wilson, previously director of Lyth Arts Centre, Wick