Another glorious warm and sunny day in N Ireland so off I went to visit this most interesting house and gardens near Newtownards, Co Down. I had never managed to get past the gate lodge on previous visits to the area. A second visit or maybe a third will be necessary to get the full flavour of the place. A major restoration of the main house is about to begin and should be finished in three years time. As always I never seem to have enough time to explore every nook and cranny of the gardens and today I managed to be last out of the gate again. But I experienced enough of the serenity of the place to make a return visit or visits most likely.
Mount Stewart is an 18th-century house and garden in County Down, Northern Ireland, owned by the National Trust. Situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside the town of Newtownards and near Greyabbey, it was the home of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. The house and its contents reflect the history of the Vane-Tempest-Stewarts, who played a leading role in British and Irish social and political life.
Mount Stewart was formed by the Stewart family (later Vane-Tempest-Stewart), holders of the title Marquess of Londonderry since 1816. The family bought the estate in 1744 with money acquired by Alexander Stewart (1699–1781). This new wealth came from the sales of materials like linen. At the time, the house was known as Mount Pleasant.
Alexander Stewart’s son, Robert Stewart, became the first Marquess of Londonderry. In about 1800 he added a temporary wing to the west. He died in 1821 leaving the house to his son, also Robert, better known as Viscount Castlereagh, a prominent politician. Robert lived in Mount Stewart during his childhood until he went to University in Cambridge.
Lord Castlereagh inherited his father’s title only a year before his own death. The next owner of the house was his half-brother, Charles, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778–1854). He married twice but it was his later marriage which increased the family’s finances greatly. His second wife was Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest. She was the greatest heiress of her time. This huge new wealth prompted the refurbishment and enlargement of the newly renamed Mount Stewart. Controversially the Londonderrys, while spending £150,000 on the refurbishment only gave £30 to famine relief in Ireland in the 1840s, despite the fact that the Londonderry estates were directly affected by starvation. This remodelling created the present exterior of Mount Stewart. The small Georgian house and the small portico on the west wing were demolished and the house was increased to eleven bays. On the entrance front, a huge portico was added in the centre, and a smaller ‘half portico’ was added to the other side.
The marriage also brought in much of the Vane-Tempest property, including land. Wynyard Park in County Durham was also redesigned in the Neo-classical style. The couple bought Seaham Hall, also in County Durham, and then later bought Holdernesse House on London’s Park Lane. This was later renamed Londonderry House.
The 4th Marquess of Londonderry married the widow of Viscount Powerscourt and lived at her home, Powerscourt, near Dublin. The 5th Marquess lived at his wife’s ancestral property, Plas Machynlleth in Wales, and his son, the 6th Marquess, lived at Wynyard. These long periods of neglect nearly destroyed Mount Stewart.
The 7th Marquess (1878–1949), a well-known Ulster Unionist politician, and his wife brought a new lease of life to the house and its plain grounds. The Marchioness of Londonderry’s ancestral home was Dunrobin Castle in Scotland and it was that house’s gardens which inspired the Mount Stewart’s. She also redesigned and redecorated much of the interior, for example, the huge drawing room, smoking room, the Castlereagh Room and many of the guest bedrooms. She named the latter after European cities including Rome and Moscow.
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