Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Fisherwick Park

THE Chichesters, Earls of Donegall, lived at their Jacobean ancestral seat, BELFAST CASTLE, until it was gutted by a catastrophic fire in 1708.

Arthur, the 3rd Earl (1666-1706), was killed fighting in Spain.

His son Arthur, 4th Earl (1695-1757), lived with his mother, Lady Donegall, his brother John, and his six sisters at the Castle in central Belfast.

Three of the 4th Earl's sisters were tragically killed in the 1708 fire.

Lady Donegall, left homeless, returned to England with the 4th Earl and surviving siblings.

Lady Donegall died at Abinger in Surrey, which may have been the residence of her younger son; so perhaps this was where the family lived for a period.

The 4th Earl died childless in 1757, and the title passed to his nephew, the 5th Earl, who was created Baron Fisherwick in 1790.

The 5th Earl was advanced to a marquessate in 1791.

His son and successor, George Augustus, 2nd Marquess, was born in London in 1769 (possibly at the family's townhouse in ST JAMES'S SQUARE), and died in 1844.

Constantly in financial difficulties despite an annual income of £30,000, he was released from debtors’ prison by SIR EDWARD MAY, a moneylender who also ran a gaming house.

May then offered his daughter Anna in marriage, an offer that Donegall could hardly refuse.

The couple came to Belfast in 1802, again to escape his creditors, and brought the May family with them.

They lived at DONEGALL HOUSE, at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square.

In 1807, the family moved to ORMEAU PARK and Hay Park (the home farm).


FISHERWICK was originally recorded as a manor in 1167, but evidence has suggested the possibility of a Neolithic settlement, Iron Age activity and a Roman-British farmstead in the area, though it is not mentioned in the domesday book.

In the twelfth century, "Fysherwyck" was in the possession of the Walter Durdent, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry.

It passed through the Durdent Family, with one Roger Durdent living there in 1296.

In 1450, Fisherwick was granted to the SKEFFINGTONS, who erected a fine Tudor mansion.

The Skeffingtons, afterwards VISCOUNTS MASSEREENE, resided in Fisherwick until 1756, when the house was acquired by Samuel Swinfen of Swinfen.

The mansion was sold again and had two further owners before Swinfen re-purchased the property and selling it, ca 1761, to Arthur, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Donegall.

Lord Donegall planned to use his income from tenanted land in Ireland to create a magnificent estate in Staffordshire for his home.

Within a mere five years, he had instructed Lancelot "Capability" Brown to redesign and remodel the house and parkland.

Brown removed the Tudor house and created a colossal Palladian mansion; removed formal, tree-lined avenues; and designed a natural parkland with the addition of a great lake.

His scheme also included stone-lined ha-has, a feature he liked to include as they were less intrusive than fences and walls.

Following the 1st Marquess's decease in 1799, the estate pasted to his third son, Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester (1775-1819), who sold it to clear family debt.

Lord Spencer, of DUNBRODY PARK in County Wexford, MP for Carrickfergus, 1802-7, sold Fisherwick in 1804 to George Stedman, a potato merchant of Spitalfields, London.

Stedman failed to pay the deposit and was declared bankrupt in 1805; his assignees released their interest in 1807. 

In 1808, Lord Spencer sold the manorial rights, the hall, and much of the land to Richard Bagot Howard, of Ashtead Park, Surrey, feudal lord of Elford.

Howard died in 1818, having demolished Fisherwick Hall.

Unhappily the estate could not be sold in its entirety, so it was divided up into nine farms, with Woodhouse being one of them.

FISHERWICK HALL, Staffordshire, had been rebuilt on the site of the Tudor mansion for Lord Donegall by Lancelot "Capability" Brown between 1766 and 1779.

The original design evidently comprised four ranges forming a court, with fronts of 180 feet and 150 feet.

The north range was not built, and the west range was finished in a reduced form. 

The irregular plan of the service corridor behind the main front and the manifestation of two unequal canted bay windows looking into the court indicate that part of the earlier house might have been retained.

The ashlar-faced south front was eleven bays long and three storeys high.

At its centre there was an irregular Corinthian hexastyle portico dated 1774.

The end bays, which projected like towers on the plan but were roofed in line with the adjacent range, had venetian windows on the ground floor.

Behind the portico lay the hall, the largest of the nine principal rooms.

The hall had a floor inlaid with black marble, a scagliola chimney piece, marble pilasters around the walls, scagliola statues in niches, and a richly moulded ceiling.

To the west was the main dining-room, and to the east the principal drawing-room.

The east range included two more drawing-rooms, a second dining-room, and two libraries.

Many of the rooms had marble fireplaces, some had painted walls, and others were hung with silk.

Most of the doors were of mahogany, and the lower sashes of the main rooms on the south front were filled with plate glass.

Joseph Rose executed some of the decorative plasterwork, and Joseph Bonomi designed some of the furniture.

The ceiling of the principal drawing-room incorporated paintings by John Francis Rigaud.

On the first floor there were nine bedrooms and six dressing rooms, besides the housekeeper's bedroom.

The attic storey consisted of eighteen bedrooms.

The basement included the housekeeper's room, the servants' hall, the kitchen, and other offices.

A reservoir at the top of the house, fed by an engine, supplied water to the rooms requiring it, and to water closets on each floor. 

West of the house there were service and stable courts of two storeys in red brick, with ashlar-faced archways.

The public roads through the park were blocked under an Act of 1766, thus enabling Capability Brown to carry out landscaping.

He removed the avenues and laid out two drives, one to a lodge at Hademore and the other to Tamworth Gate.

Over 50,000 trees were planted, for which Lord Donegall was awarded a medal from the Society of Arts.

By 1808 a scheme had been prepared by J B Papworth for reducing the house to "a residence on a moderate scale" by the retention of the eastern part only.

This scheme was not carried out, and Howard had the house demolished.

The sale of contents had begun by the spring of 1814 and culminated in a four-day sale in May, 1816.

Fisherwick Place 

FISHERWICK PLACE, Belfast, named after Lord Donegall's residence in Staffordshire, was originally a Georgian terrace on the site of the present Jury's Inn hotel.

First published in July, 2019..

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