“It was impossible to save when nobody had heard of Bonomi.”
In 1961, Kitty Cruft, the leading officer of the Scottish National Buildings Record, visited Rosneath Castle to record its last dying days. Shortly afterwards, an unsafe ruin, this grand old country house, a ghost of its past, was blown up with 200 LBs of gelignite. There wasn’t much enthusiasm to save Rosneath, as Cruft said at the time, “It was impossible to save when nobody had heard of Bonomi.” And so Rosneath Castle (or House) became another casualty of post-war severity when nobody seemed to want a crumbling old mansion.
The story behind Rosneath Castle is sad, considering that
this had belonged to the Dukes of Argyll, although only ever playing
second-string to their seat at Inveraray. It was situated on the southern
extremity of the Rosneath peninsula jutting out into the Firth of Clyde.
Rosneath Castle was built between 1803 and 1805 replacing an
earlier castle, an ancient stronghold of the Argylls, that had burnt down in
May 1802. Considering its replacement, the Duke of Argyll was persuaded by his
son, the Marquess of Lorne, resident at Rosneath, to rebuild the mansion on a fresh
site, taking advantage of the picturesque views.
The Italian architect, Joseph Bonomi, was selected to realise
artist Alexander Nasmyth’s idealistic oil painting and watercolour interpretation
of what the new house should look like. Nasmyth had already been the
inspiration behind a circular court of farm offices with Gothic crenelated turrets
surrounding a high tower with fretwork parapet.
Bonomi died in 1808 and his design proved too expensive to
be completed in its entirety. In 1806, the Marquess had succeeded his father
and became the 6th Duke of Argyll, diverting his attentions to Inveraray.
However, the house later attracted Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter,
who married the Marquess of Lorne in 1871. Lord Lorne succeeded his father as 9th
Duke of Argyll in 1900, but died in 1914, and Rosneath became the Princess’s Dower
House during her long widowhood, offering it to convalescing officers during
World War One.
The Princess and the 9th Duke were childless, and
he was succeeded by their nephew, the 10th Duke. Her death in 1939
prompted the sale of Rosneath’s contents, held on the premises, by Dowells of
Edinburgh, between 7 and 11 October 1940.
Soon afterwards the 10th Duke attempted to sell Rosneath,
but wartime events had the upper hand. During the Second World War it was used
as an American Navy base and, in 1942, this was where Churchill, Eisenhower and
Montgomery planned Operation Torch, the successful invasion of French North
Africa. Outside its walls amphibious units were trained in preparation for the
Rosneath almost certainly became another one of those ‘casualties
of war’ from which it never recovered. Afterwards it was unoccupied and in
1949, shortly after the closure of the naval base, there was another
unsuccessful attempt to sell the house and woodland. The grounds became a
caravan park with plans to use the mansion’s redundant rooms as support
facilities. These never materialised and the mansion became the domain of
children keen to explore the empty cavernous rooms.
Rosneath Castle suffered a fire, but its future had already
been determined. It was gutted and demolished in breath-taking style in 1961.
Hunton Court, near Maidstone, dates to the thirteenth century and the traditional framed farmhouse dating to the fourteenth century, with a large roof structure and three crown posts can still be found in the attic rooms.
The house has long been associated with the Bannerman
family, starting with Henry Bannerman (1798-1871), descended from a Perthshire
family of farmers and distillers who, by the 1820s, had graduated into
cotton-trading and manufacturing in Manchester. The firm of Henry Bannerman
& Sons dealt with cotton, calicoes, muslins and plain fabrics before
diversifying into manufacturing cotton goods.
It was from this fortune that Henry Bannerman bought the
Court Lodge estate in Kent in 1848, enlarging and remodelling the existing
farmhouse, adding a Georgian façade, with central pediment, canted bay windows
and balustraded parapet.
Henry Bannerman lived at Court Lodge until his death in 1871, leaving the estate to his wife, Mary, for life, and then to a nephew, Henry Campbell, on condition that he took the name of Bannerman, which he had reluctantly agreed to in 1872. He resided at nearby Gennings Park, part of the family estate, before moving into Court Lodge, renaming it Hunton Court, on Mary’s death in 1894.
Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908), the son of Sir James Campbell, a Glasgow merchant and Lord Provost, entered politics and became leader of the Liberal Party between 1899 and 1908, and Prime Minister between 1905 and 1908.
He died a few days after leaving office and the Hunton Court
estate passed to his cousin, James Campbell-Bannerman, whose descendants remained
until the death of Captain Michael Campbell Devas in 2007. The following year
it was sold ‘in need of renovation’ and completely restored.
Sixty years ago, Chevening was bequeathed to the nation to ensure that the estate would not be broken up, but would instead retain a significant role as a private house in public life.
In May 1959, the Chevening Estate Bill, published details about Lord Stanhope’s gift of Chevening, Kent, to the nation. Lord Stanhope, the owner, who would leave no heir to the earldom, and had been a widower since 1940, said that as long ago as 1937 he had told Neville Chamberlain of his intention to bequeath Chevening to the country. During the Second World War he had told Winston Churchill of his wish.
However, it fell to Harold Macmillan to make a formal acknowledgement of the gift.
An endowment provided for the upkeep and maintenance of the house and the 3,000-acre estate, which could be used by Prime Ministers, or nominated members of the Cabinet, or members of the Royal Family. There was also provision in the Bill for its use as the residence of the American Ambassador if other nominees failed to make use of the house.
Mr Macmillan said that the mansion had associations with
many distinguished statesmen. Lord Stanhope’s long service to the State, had
been crowned with a gift which would allow the rare beauty of Chevening and its
peace and serenity to serve the same high purpose which he and his forbears had
Chevening had been in the possession and occupation of seven
generations of Stanhopes, except for a brief period in 1769 when Lord Chatham
stayed here with his family. During this period Pitt planned the carriage drive
known as Lord Chatham’s Ride, partly to facilitate visits from his family
residence at Hayes to see his only daughter, who married Charles, later the
third Lord Stanhope.
This country house, described as “one of the finest houses in the South of England” was Anthony Salvin’s first major commission.
Mamhead House, in the Haldon Hills, Devon, is one of those country houses that hasn’t been able to find its identity in recent times. For many years we have known this Grade I-listed Tudor-Gothic property as Mamhead Park, and it has just been launched on the market at Strutt & Parker, price on application.
This is one of many houses that has stood on the estate.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the estate passed through several distinguished
families. In 1547 it was bought by the Balle family. In 1672, Peter Balle, an
attorney to Queen Henrietta Mara, was awarded a baronetcy for his services.
Later, William of Orange billeted his supporters on the estate. It passed into
the hands of the Earl of Lisburne who sold it to Robert William Newman, MP, in
Robert Newman was a senior partner of Newman and Co, general
merchants of Dartmouth. Originally Hunt, Newman, Roope, Teague and Co, the
company had buccaneered out to Newfoundland, and commenced selling salted
codfish to Portugal in the 1500s, encountering wines of that country through
bartering fish for wine. In time, the company built up its own shipping fleet.
When Robert Newman bought Mamhead Park for £106,000 the
original house was built on low-ground, without the views across the Exe
Estuary. He turned to Charles Fowler, an architect born in Cullompton and
articled in Exeter, who produced several E-shaped plans for his client. Fowler
probably intended to rebuild Mamhead Park on the site of the existing house.
Alas, Newman rejected each plan, excited by new building styles and preferring
a new house about 400 yards up a hill to the west of the old mansion.
Newman instead gambled on Anthony Salvin, an aspiring young
architect, who grasped his first major commission. Built of mellow Bath stone,
Salvin retained one of Fowler’s original ground plans into the design and
construction commenced in 1827 and the shell completed by the following year.
It was a slow-build. The new house was funded out of Newman’s income and its
interiors weren’t completed until 1833.
Mamhead Park was a ‘marriage house’ for his new bride, Mary, and one befitting a man of his status. Robert Newman had become MP for Exeter in 1818 and became a baronet in 1836.
He was succeeded by his son, Captain. Sir Robert Lydston
Newman, who was killed at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854, and Mamhead
passed to his brother, Sir Lydston Newman, whose son, a prominent churchman,
was created Lord Mamhead in 1931.
He died unmarried in 1945, leaving life tenancy of the
estate to his brother-in-law, Frederick Lumley.
On succeeding in 1948, Sir Ralph Newman, great-grandson of
the first baronet, was able to buy back furnishings but eventually abandoned
the idea of living on a grand scale.
In 1954, he sold the estate, but retained the house and 20
acres, choosing to let the fully furnished property to an evangelical
organisation. Mamhead was sold to Dawlish College for Boys in 1963 and was
acquired by a property company in 1988, who converted the house and stables
into offices, at one time occupied by the Forestry Commission.
Mamhead Park returned to private use in 2000 and twelve
years later was bought by a group of overseas investors, headed by Richard
Fuller, for £8 million.
After considering various uses, including an ill-fated
wedding business, the mansion is once again available to buy.
The sale also includes Grade II*-listed Mamhead Castle, also
designed by Salvin as stables at the same time as the big house, a copy of a
pele tower at 14th century Belsay Castle in Northumberland, and
currently providing six office suites.
One hundred years ago. The mid-Gloucester correspondent for the Cheltenham Chronicle reported that the whole of the Lypiatt Estate had been sold by private treaty and that the new owner intended to take up residence soon.
“There is much historical lore surrounding the fine old Elizabethan mansion. The mansion has been in the hands of faithful servants since the death of Lady Dorington, and it is hoped that with the advent of a new owner some of the former glories of Lypiatt will be revived.”
The house was Lypiatt Park, mostly of the 16th century, once belonging to Throckmorton, of Gunpowder Plot fame. A west tower and crenelated parapet were added by Jeffry Wyatville as part of his works of 1809-1815. An extension was added by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1877 for Sir John Edward Dorington, a Conservative politician. He died in 1911 and his widow had been in failing health until her own death in 1913.
The house and most of the estate was bought by Walter John Gwyn in 1919 and occupied by his sister and brother-in-law, Judge Hubert Bayley Drysdale Woodcock. However, the house was later leased to Barbara Grace Talbot, widow of Major John Talbot, until her death in 1938. It is debatable how long Walter Gwyn spent at Lypiatt Park, but he was certainly resident here from 1939 alongside the Woodcocks.
Gwyn died in 1940 and Judge Woodcock remained here with his daughter until it was sold in the early 1950s. Falling into a state of disrepair it was bought by the Modernist sculptor Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) who restored the house, and which remains in the family.
On this day, one hundred years ago, the Daily Express reported that Lord Swansea had decided to sell his ancestral home, Singleton Abbey, Swansea, owing to rates, taxes and the general increase of the cost of upkeep.
The whole estate of 250 acres and the mansion, with its priceless contents of 70 fully furnished rooms was going to auction.
“I don’t want to do it,” said Lord Swansea, “but it is a sad necessity. To keep up the place as I should like would entail £100,000 a year, and I have not the means to do it. That accounts for my living away from Swansea so largely. It will be a great wrench to part with the place, but it is inevitable.”
The nucleus of the house was built in 1784 by Edward King, a customs official. In 1817 it was bought by the industrialist John Henry Vivian who extended the house and later engaged architect Peter Frederick Robinson to re-model it in neo-gothic style.
Ernest Vivian, 2nd Baron Swansea, sold Singleton Abbey to Swansea Corporation for £115,000 in July 1919, and died three years later.
The council wanted to develop the estate largely for housing purposes and gifted the mansion to the Swansea University College in 1923 – still used today as offices for Swansea University on its Singleton Park campus.
The descendants of Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon look on with anguish, as this Victorian country house, gifted to the people of Belfast in the 1950’s, falls into ruin.
Back in April 1956, the gift of Wilmont House, at Dunmurry, Co Antrim, might have seemed a blessing to Belfast Corporation. Lady Edith Dixon offered Wilmont and its 140 acres of land to the city, with the wish that it be used as a hospital, convalescent home or home for old people, and that the lands be used as a public park. The old lady was winding down her affairs, the only other stipulation was that she be able to occupy the house and lands for her lifetime, thereafter they should be managed by the Corporation for “the greatest good of the citizens of the city.”
Lady Edith died in 1964 and her wishes were granted. Wilmont House became a home for the elderly, a role it carefully fulfilled until closure in 1992. However, by now the old house was less of a good thing, and more of a burden for Belfast City Council.
By 2013, Wilmont House had been used for occasional events, as a parks office for the council and briefly as the headquarters for the Belfast Marathon. A proposal for a seven-year refurbishment was rejected, the house was too expensive to maintain, and the only viable option might have been to hand back Wilmont to the Dixon family.
Six years later, the situation hasn’t changed. Wilmont House has deteriorated, windows are broken and boarded-up, and the Grade B1 listed former country house is designated a ‘Building at Risk.’
Its sorry condition hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Dixon family. This week the Belfast Telegraph reports that Andrew Dixon (58), a great, great nephew of Lady Edith, has told Belfast City Council that it should make “alternative arrangements” if it cannot look after the stately home in its most famous park. ‘The family has watched on in horror as the derelict house in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast has gradually decayed since it was handed over to the council by his great, great aunt.’
It is suggested that discussions took place at Belfast City Council several years ago on the future of Wilmont House during which it was suggested the Dixon family should be contacted to discuss its future. According to Andrew Dixon that call never came.
The situation at Wilmont House is no different to many other country houses that ended up in the care of local authorities. A recent Country Life article on Oldway Mansion at Paignton, in Devon, reads remarkably similar, although on a grander scale.
Wilmont House was one of three houses that belonged to the Dixon family – the others being Drumadarragh House and Cairndhu, also in Co Antrim. Drumadarragh remains in the family, the seat of Lord and Lady Glentoran, but Mr Dixon fears that Wilmont might go the same way as Cairndhu in Larne, another property gifted by the family, presented to the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority in 1947, which now lies in ruins.
Andrew Dixon might be frustrated by events at Wilmont, but Belfast City Council remains restrained over the situation. “We’re currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, to bring it into a new use. As part of this, we’re pursuing efforts to get in touch and engage with the beneficiaries of the will of Lady Dixon.”
For now, Wilmont House is surplus to requirement and only time will see how it emerges from a distinctly despondent period.
The house was built in 1859, ‘a plain two-storey red-brick Victorian house, with a three-bay front and balustraded porch.’ It replaced a 1740 property built for William Stewart, the son of John Stewart of Ballydrain, an important farming family.
In 1855, the estate had been sold to Alexander Mackenzie Shaw, a Belfast brewer, but he was quickly forced to sign over the property to the Northern Banking Company in lieu of debts of £12,505. About 1858, it became the property of James Bristow (1796-1866), a director of the aforesaid bank, who demolished the run-down old house and substituted it with the present mansion designed by Thomas Jackson, one of Belfast’s outstanding architects.
According to historian Eileen Black, Wilmont House was really a house of two-halves. One part was occupied by James Bristow, the other by his son, James Thomson Bristow (1827-1877), another banker.
Following J. T. Bristow’s death in 1877 the estate passed to his trustees, William Laird of Birkenhead, and his brother, Samual Smith Bristow of Liverpool, and was sold in 1879 to Robert Henry Sturrock Reade (1873-1913), of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. After his death, Wilmont passed to his son George who sold it to Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon in 1919.
Sir Thomas Dixon (1868-1950), Privy Councillor for Northern Ireland, and a well-known figure in Irish and British racing circles, belonged to a family of shipowners and timber merchants who had been among the founders of modern Belfast.
His father, Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, was the first Lord Mayor of Belfast and MP for North Belfast, half-brother to Lord Glentoran, president of the Ulster Unionist Council.
Thomas Dixon entered the business of his father, Thomas Dixon & Sons, timber merchants, and owners of the Lord Line Shipping Company of which he was a director. On the death of his father in 1907 he became managing director, a position in which he remained until the closing of the firm in 1938. (He was also a director of the York Street Flax Spinning Company).
When Larne was created a Borough in 1939, Sir Thomas was elected its first Mayor. He was a Senator until 1949, was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council from its inception and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1930.
He died in Harrogate in 1950 and was survived by Lady Edith Dixon (1871-1964), formerly Miss Edith Stewart Clark, daughter of Stewart Clark, of Cairndhu, and Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, whom he married in 1906.
Lady Dixon was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in June 1921, in recognition of her valuable work on behalf of all the services during World War One.
For the time being, Wilmont House must live with its memories. To the time when Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, visited during his stay in Belfast in 1904. To 1934, when it became the temporary residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland when Government House at Hillsborough was damaged by fire, and to the Second World War when it was the headquarters of the American Army in Northern Ireland.
The last word goes to Andrew Dixon and the uncertainty over Belfast City Council’s ownership of the property: –
“They have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that’s more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has been handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way,” he said.