A Metropolitan Air

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In his Irish Sketchbook of 1842, William Thackeray describes visiting a cotton mill in Belfast: ‘There are nearly five hundred girls employed in it. They work in huge long chambers, lighted by numbers of windows, hot with steam, buzzing and humming with hundreds and thousands of whirling wheels, that all take their motion from a steam-engine which lives apart in a hot cast-iron temple of its own, from which it communicates with the innumerable machines that the five hundred girls preside over. They have seemingly but to take away the work when done – the enormous monster in the cast-iron room does it all…I have seldom, I think, seen more good looks than amongst the young women employed in this place. They work for twelve hours daily, in rooms in which the heat is intolerable to a stranger; but in spite of it they looked gay, stout and healthy; nor were their forms much concealed by the very simple clothes they wear while in the mill.’ Thackeray came to Belfast with introductions from the Irish novelist Charles Lever who he had met in Dublin (and who the following year in a review of the Irish Sketchbook described it as ‘the pleasantest reading for a morning in the country, and the most amusing text of an evening’s conversation in town.’) Thus he was able to meet the owner of the cotton mill he visited, one of the era’s most successful entrepreneurs, Andrew Mulholland.

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Before the Beerage came into existence, there was the Linenocracy: a group of predominantly Ulster families who became exceedingly rich thanks to their involvement in the region’s linen industry. The Mulhollands were one such family, the origins of their rise traceable to Thomas Mulholland, described as a ‘dealer’ who in 1803 bought two houses on Belfast’s Upper Church Lane: the fact that he signed the contract for this transaction with an X is often taken as indicative of his illiteracy but this could be unfair. In any case, he must have possessed abundant shrewdness because in 1815 he and three of his sons entered an already-flourishing cotton industry by purchasing a mill. Five years later Thomas Mulholland died but the trio of siblings carried on the business, building a large spinning mill in the city near York Street. There was a set-back in June 1818 when this premises was almost completely destroyed by fire. Undaunted, the brothers set about rebuilding their property with one crucial difference: instead of cotton, it was now used for spinning flax. Not only was the former business beginning to experience economic problems, but a new method of flax spinning by machine had recently been developed in northern England without yet being subject to patent. Hence the Mulhollands were able to benefit from this technological advance. As indeed they did: when the York Street mill opened in 1830 it had 8,000 spindles, and by 1856 it had grown to 25,000 and was probably the largest such enterprise in the world. Also by that date it had entirely passed into the control of one brother, the aforementioned Andrew Mulholland and it was he who had shown Thackeray around the site. Where Mulholland led, other Belfast businessmen followed: by 1850 the city boasted 29 flax-spinning mills compared with only four premises spinning cotton. On the advent of the American Civil War in the early 1860s, which had the effect of almost cutting off the supply of raw cotton to Britain, linen became ever more important. In 1864, Andrew Mulholland & Son became a limited company, the York Street Flax Spinning Company Limited, its prospectus proclaiming the business possessed ‘the largest flax mill and linen factory in the North of Ireland, covering about four acres of land.’ With branches in Paris (opened 1870) New York (1871) London (1874) Berlin (1876) and Melbourne (1882) it soon became the largest firm of flax spinners, linen manufacturers and distributors in the world.

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One of Andrew Mulholland’s brothers, St Clair was a Justice of the Peace for County Down and High Sheriff of County Louth while Andrew was elected Mayor of Belfast in 1845. In his speech of thanks he undertook to ‘ameliorate the condition of the operatives,’ proposing the introduction of public gardens and washhouses, free libraries and coffee shops for workers which would promote ‘their health and cleanliness and give them better tastes.’ The onset of the terrible potato famine later that year put paid to such ideas, and instead Andrew Mulholland was a generous contributor to relief programmes. When better times returned to the country, he provided Belfast’s Ulster Hall with the grand organ still in situ. The donation was initially anonymous but once his identity became known, he explained the intention was ‘to give an opportunity to the working classes to hear from time to time the best music from a truly splendid instrument, at such a rate as would enable the humblest artisan to enjoy advantages which even the opulent could rarely purchase until now.’
Andrew Mulholland died in 1866 but before then the family business had passed into the hands of his only son John. He nurtured more overt political ambitions than had his father, serving as a Justice of the Peace for Antrim and Down, and as High Sheriff of Down in 1868 and of Tyrone in 1873. He stood as Conservative candidate for Belfast in 1868 but was beaten by the Orange populist William Johnston of Ballykilbeg. However John Mulholland was subsequently more successful, being elected MP for Downpatrick between 1874 and 1885. Three years before his death, on the recommendation of the outgoing Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury in 1892 he was created Baron Dunleath of Ballywalter.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that an affluent urban entrepreneur must be in want of a rural retreat. Thus Andrew Mulholland, having acquired great wealth through his early engagement with linen production, sought a spot to which he could retire and found a suitable estate on Ulster’s Ards Peninsula. Originally this was called Ballymagown and in 1729 had been acquired by the Matthews family from the Montgomerys of nearby Grey Abbey. Walter Harris’ Ancient and Present State of the County of Down (published 1744) refers to the property built there and now named Springvale, as being of two storeys over a semi-basement and containing a collection of curios gathered by George Matthews while a captain in the Royal Navy (including ‘several Figures of Mummies in divers kinds of Earth, in wood that is said never to decay…’). In 1805 a remodelling of the house was begun but remained incomplete before being abandoned seven years later: this was the building, together with surrounding estate, bought by Andrew Mulholland in 1846 for £23,500. He also acquired the adjoining Ballyatwood demesne, uniting the two of them with a replanting programme that ran to 41,000 trees and shrubs. The whole was now called Ballywalter Park, taking its name from an adjacent town founded in 1605.
Andrew Mulholland also turned his attention to the old Matthews house which over the next few years was encased inside a much larger structure (although traces of it survive in the basement), the greater part of the building being absorbed into a top-lit inner hall sixty feet long. In addition, the entrance was moved from south to east side, signalled by the presence of a porte-cochere with coupled Doric columns. Two single storey wings were added to either side of the main block and these have bows on the garden front the better to contemplate Ballywalter’s well-planted parkland. The eventual house’s appearance is sometimes described as emulating an Italian palazzo but more often and truthfully is said to look not unlike one of London’s smarter gentlemen’s clubs as designed by Sir Charles Barry. In a much-quoted observation, Professor Alistair Rowan has remarked that Ballywalter possesses ‘a metropolitan air and all the architectural trappings of a London club, dropped as if by chance in the open country of the north Irish coast.’

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Ballywalter Park was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and the interior is one of his most accomplished pieces of work. As mentioned, the core of the building is its inner hall which rises to a gallery from which in turn springs a glazed roof, thereby filling the entire space with natural light: note how plain Doric columns and pilasters of the ground floor give way to the richer Corinthian order above so as to encourage the eye upwards. Also worthy of attention here and in the other main rooms are the deep and heavily ornamented cornice mouldings, and the beautiful parquet floors. The effect throughout is opulent yet by no means overwhelming: as Alistair Rowan commented the house exudes an air of ‘solid comfort.’
One advantage of the inner hall is that it gives direct access to a succession of reception rooms, moving from morning room to library to drawing room and from thence to dining room. Despite having certain decorative elements in common, each of them possesses a different and distinct character, and all of them has – like the space at its core – ample natural lighting: even the library where the pedimented mahogany bookcases were installed in 1866 is a singularly bright room: Ballywalter is entirely free of the oft-cited Victorian gloom. Although the main block was completed by 1852, in 1863 Lanyon returned to carry out further work, adding a billiard room onto the north-west corner of the garden front and, at right angles to this, a large domed conservatory which provides a spectacular conclusion to any tour of the house.

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Ballywalter Park epitomises mid-19th century splendour, but this has proven hard to maintain in subsequent eras. By the time the fourth Lord Dunleath inherited the property more than 100 years after its completion, there were no live-in staff, the house was suffering serious structural problems and its future looked uncertain. What saved the place was both a young owner’s determination to battle on, and a visit in 1961 by future Poet Laureate and life-long champion of Victoriana John Betjeman who urged the house’s preservation at all costs, since he recognised the then-rampant detestation of mid-19th century architecture was a merely a passing fashion in taste. Of course he was proven right, and luckily Ballywalter was not demolished or reduced in size: its survival has become even more precious since two other of Lanyon’s Ulster houses, Dundarave, County Antrim and Drenagh, County Derry, both of which have hitherto remained in the ownership of their original families, are now being offered for sale.
Meanwhile Ballywalter continues to benefit from ample care and attention to its welfare and future. Both inside the house and in the grounds, the sixth Lord Dunleath who succeeded in 1997 has together with his wife tirelessly continued the programme of refurbishment and restoration embarked upon by their predecessors, and as a result Ballywalter today looks better than was likely the case half a century or more ago. Displaying the old Mulholland entrepreneurial spirit, the Dunleaths have made the property available for a variety of events, not least film and television production (as a result of which it has appeared in an disconcerting assortment of guises) and yet the spirit of the place and its distinctive character have remained uncompromised, which is too rarely the case. Ballywalter survives as a tribute to the once-mighty Ulster linen industry and, equally important, as a very happy family home.

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For more information on this house, see: http://ballywalterpark.com (and while there don’t forget to look at Lady Dunleath’s stylish blog – http://ballywalterpark.com/category/walled-garden-blog – in which she displays her encyclopaedic knowledge of food).

Life is Colour

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Through dense planting, a glimpse of the lake at Mount Stewart, County Down. The gardens around the house, created from the mid-1920s onwards by Edith, seventh Marchioness of Londonderry, are justly famous but the attention they attract can mean the rest of the estate receives less attention. This part of the demesne dates from the first half of the 19th century, following the marriage of the third Marquess to the great heiress Frances Anne Vane-Tempest: her wealth allowed the creation of the lake to the north of the house on the site of a former gravel pit, and extensive planting around its borders.

Common Entrance

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The shared carriage gates for a pair of houses on English Street, Downpatrick, County Down. The three-storey over basement buildings were designed c.1835-36 by the English-born John Lynn seemingly for himself. He is believed to have come to this country as clerk of works for the building of Rockingham, County Roscommon, designed by John Nash for Robert, 1st Viscount Lorton. According to Thomas Bell in his Rambles Northwards in Ireland (1827) Lynn ‘was originally a Carpenter by trade, but the Patronage of the noble Lord has it would appear transfused into his mind the theory of his profession, and converted him into an Architect.’ Evidently he did well in his new career because there are a large number of buildings, several of them gaols (including that in Downpatrick) for which he was responsible. With their prominent bows this pretty pair of houses would not look out of place in Cheltenham. That on the right is known as the Judges’ Lodgings since it was formerly used for that purpose by Assize judges presiding at the nearby courthouse.

Great Gas

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The ceiling of the library at Killyleagh Castle, County Down. Although the building dates back to the 12th century when constructed by the Norman knight John de Courcy, its present appearance is the result of a complete renovation undertaken 1849-51 to the designs of Charles Lanyon. Exterior and interior alike display terrific exuberance, as well as a wide variety of sources of inspiration, as this ceiling demonstrates. Originally a gasolier would have hung from the centre of the plasterwork.

Charity Edifieth

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The principal entrance to the former Southwell Charity and Parochial Schools on English Street, Downpatrick, County Down. This long two-storey, red-brick building is centred on a clock tower (directly above the archway seen here) and terminates in a substantial three-bay pavilion at either end. With fine views on a sloping site overlooking the town and providing almshouses for six old men and six old women as well as schools for ten poor boys and ten poor girls, the charity was established in 1733 by Edward Southwell who like his father and grandfather served as Secretary of State for Ireland. As is far too often the case, we do not know who was the architect responsible: in 1996 Maurice Craig proposed Sir Edward Lovett Pearce but five years later Dr Edward McParland declared ‘its mannerisms are not Pearce’s’. Although looking as though a refurbishment would be beneficial, the Southwell Buildings remain one of the most important architectural ensembles in Downpatrick.

Masking the Obvious

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A window shutter in the library of Mount Stewart, County Down. This is located in what is now the west wing, the section designed by English architect George Dance the younger c.1804. Dance had visited the house in 1795 when he came to Ireland with his supposed lover Lady Elizabeth Pratt, sister of the new Lord Lieutenant Lord Camden. She was also sister-in-law of Mount Stewart’s then-owner Robert Stewart, first Baron Londonderry (later first Marquess of Londonderry) who early in the new century decided to enlarge his property and called upon Dance’s services. However, we know the architect did not come to Ireland again until 1815, instead sending drawings from London which were executed by John Ferguson, the estate carpenter. Note how the shutter’s prosaic function is concealed by being lined with leather bindings in imitation of those books filling the surrounding library shelves, a deft touch on the part of either Dance or Ferguson.

Lost Horizon

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Travelling along Belfast’s Outer Ring Road through the the Newtownbreda area one passes signs for Belvoir Park. The picture above, dating from 1805 and painted by Vice Admiral Lord Mark Kerr, shows a house of that name. Today the name is almost all that remains of what was once the largest private residence in this part of the country. An keen amateur watercolourist of some ability Lord Mark, the third son of the 5th Marquess of Lothian, enjoyed a successful career in the Royal Navy until 1805. His connection with Ireland came through marriage in 1799 to Lady Charlotte McDonnell who would later become Countess of Antrim in her own right. During the early 1800s the Kerrs stayed at Belvoir Park, which belonged to Lady Charlotte’s half-brother and it was during this period that Lord Mark painted this picture along with another, both of which were in the collection of the Knight of Glin until sold at Christie’s in 2009.

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There are earlier, and finer, views of Belvoir Park, the first of which is shown immediately above. This is one of four oils painted by the artist Jonathan Fisher (fl. 1763 – d. 1809) at the request of the house’s then-owner Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. Fisher is believed to have been born in the 1740s and to have spent some time in England, first coming to attention here in 1763 when he was awarded a premium for a landscape by the Dublin Society (he would receive another five years later). He exhibited some 57 pictures with the Society of Artists in Ireland between 1765 and 1780, including the four views of Belvoir which were shown in the organisation’s premises on South William Street, Dublin (now the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society, see Restoration Drama, July 15th). The pictures are highly significant because they show us the house from different aspects when it was newly completed and before alterations were made towards the close of the 18th century. They also offer us views of the landscape around Belfast before the city had much expanded and show how lovely this region looked prior to the onset of the industrial revolution (the last of the pictures at the end of this post offers Fisher’s bucolic view of the area as it would have been seen from the house).

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Sir Moyses Hill was the first member of his family to settle in Ireland in the 1570s and it was his descendant Michael Hill who purchased for £2,000 the land on which stood Belvoir, then called Ballyenaghan, although the family’s main estate was at Hillsborough. Michael Hill’s wife Anne Trevor, subsequently married to Viscount Midleton, is reputed to have given the place its new name, in part owing to the view (‘Belle Vue’) and in part in recollection of Belvoir Castle, the Duke of Rutland’s seat in England where she had spent a large part of her childhood. Thanks to Lady Midleton, the property was inherited by her younger son Arthur who in 1766 was created Viscount Dungannon.
When Walter Harris published his survey of County Down in 1744 he described Belvoir as being ‘laid out lately in Taste; the Avenue is large and handsome, the Fruitery, from an irregular Glyn, is now disposed in regular Canals, with Cascades, Slopes and Terraces, and the Kitchin Ground inclosed with Espaliers, the best of the Gardens lying over the Lagan River, which is navigable to this Place. The Offices are finished, but the House not yet build.’ There does appear to have been a small residence on site but building work on something more splendid must have started soon afterwards. Even so when the indefatigable Mrs Delany came to stay in October 1758 she described it as a ‘charming place, a very good house, though not quite finished.’
Faced in brick, Belvoir Park’s main elevation looked north with views over the Lagan river and thence to the mountains beyond. This front was of seven bays, the three centre ones incorporating immense Ionic pilasters beneath a pediment with carved wooden mouldings. The entrance front faced west while the south side featured a canted bow. Belvoir Park is often attributed to Richard Castle, although if this were so it would have been a very late work since he died in 1751. He certainly designed the nearby Knockbreda Church for Lady Midleton (it can be seen to the left of the house in the first of Fisher’s pictures above). More recently the proposal has been made that a lesser known architect Christopher Myers was responsible for Belvoir Park.

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Belvoir just before being blown up

Following the first Lord Dungannon’s death in 1771, title and property alike passed to a young grandson (his only son having predeceased him by a year). The second viscount appears to have lived and entertained lavishly and as a result further work was undertaken on the house, notably by the addition of a third attic storey which can be seen in Lord Mark Kerr’s watercolour. In the mid-1790s Lord Dungannon moved to his Welsh estate and Belvoir Park was left unoccupied except by the agent, and by the Kerrs for a period. Eventually the entire place was sold in 1809 and after passing through various hands was acquired in 1818 by Belfast banker and landowner Robert Bateson around the time he became a baronet. He did much to improve the Belvoir, as did his son Sir Thomas Bateson (later first Lord Deramore) who around 1865 commissioned Newry architect William Barre to carry out some alterations to the house, including balustrades around the roof parapet and a balustraded entrance porch. At that stage the estate ran to more than 6,000 acres but decline set in soon after Lord Deramore’s death in 1890. Belvoir was let to various tenants but by this time Belfast was fast expanding and the land on which house and grounds stood just a few miles from the city centre was wanted for housing. In the 1920s part of the estate became a golf course while it was suggested the house become a residence for the Governor of Northern Ireland (ironically the Hill family’s former principle property, Hillsborough Castle, was instead selected). During the Second World War the site was used by the Admiralty, but from 1950 onwards the buildings started to fall into ruin. The succession of photographs seen here show the building in 1961 shortly before it was blown up by members of the army; today only parts of the old yard remain. 185 acres of the former estate are a forest park but the rest of the land is given over to suburban housing. The loss of Belvoir Park must be judged a grievous one but thankfully the paintings of Jonathan Fisher survive as evidence of this once-fine house. Privately owned, the pictures have been loaned for inclusion in an exhibition on Irish landscape art currently running at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

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Rather Arch

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The gothick drawing room at Grey Abbey, County Down. Dating from the early 1760s the main part of the house was built in the classical manner by William Montgomery. Following his death in September 1781 while leading British troops at the Battle of Groton Heights during the American War of Independence, the estate was inherited by his brother Hugh. In 1793 the latter married the Hon Emilia Ward, daughter of the first Viscount Bangor who lived on the other side of Strangford Lough at Castle Ward. This house is famous for its dual architecture and decoration: owing to the differing tastes of Lord and Lady bangor one half is in the classical style, the other in gothick. It would appear the Hon Emilia preferred her mother’s predilection and thus caused the redecoration of Grey Abbey’s drawing room.

The Wind Beneath My Wings

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A key figure in the emergence of neo-classicism in the 18th century, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart was apprenticed as a child to a London fan painter. In 1742 at the age of 29 he set out on foot for Italy – no Grand Tour for this impoverished young man – and once there worked as both a painter and a guide to antiquities. At some point he met the affluent Suffolk gentleman Nicholas Revett and in 1748 the two men, together with painter Gavin Hamilton and architect Matthew Brettingham visited Naples in order to study Greek monuments in that part of the country.

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As a result of their Neapolitan excursion, Stuart and Revett determined to travel to Greece to measure and record some of that country’s antiquities; while detailed scholarly studies of Roman ruins had already been undertaken, no equivalent work existed for Greek remains. The pair sought funds to undertake a “new and accurate description of the Antiquities &c. in the Province of Attica.” Under the auspices of the Society of Dilettanti and with donations from other patrons, in 1751 Stuart and Revett set off for Greece – then part of the Ottoman Empire – and remained there for several years during which they took accurate measurements and made drawings of various ancient buildings examined.

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Although Stuart and Revett returned to London in 1755, it was only seven years later that the first of their influential five-volume Antiquities of Athens and Other Monuments of Greece appeared. Among the buildings included in this work was the Tower of the Winds or Horologium in Athens. Erected around 100-50 B.C. by Andronicus of Cyrrhus to measure time, it is an octagonal structure 42 feet high and 26 feet wide; each of the building’s eight sides faces a point of the compass and was decorated with a frieze representing a different wind deity and a sundial below. Originally the roof was topped with a weather vane in the form of a bronze triton while the interior contained a water clock to record time when the sun was not shining. By the mid-18th century only half the tower was above ground and in order to produce accurate drawings Stuart and Revett had to organise for a fifteen-feet deep trench to be dug, and for a further seven feet of debris to be removed from its interior, then being used by whirling dervishes.

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The ancient Tower of the Winds in Athens was the inspiration for two garden buildings designed by Stuart, the first a Temple of the Winds completed in 1765 at Shugborough, Staffordshire and originally surrounded by an ornamental lake. Almost twenty years later Stuart revisited the concept to create another Temple of the Winds, this time at Mount Stewart, County Down for Robert Stewart, future first Marquess of Londonderry. As their surname indicates, the Stewarts were a Scottish settler family; their wealth was immeasurably increased when Robert’s father married Mary Cowan, an heiress with shares in the East India Company. It was her money that paid for the purchase of the Mount Stewart estate overlooking Strangford Lough. The site chosen for Stuart’s Temple of the Winds is at the top of a rise in the parkland, and offers sweeping views across the lough and towards the Mourne Mountains.

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Stuart, who died only a couple of years after the building’s completion, never visited Ireland to see his design put into effect. Nevertheless the quality of workmanship throughout is flawless. Mount Stewart’s Temple of the Winds owes much of its inspiration to the Athens original but is not an exact copy (see the gouache of that building made by Stuart while still in Greece). Faced in local Scrabo sandstone, it does not have a frieze running around the upper walls, and the side porticos are not pedimented but have balustrades or viewing platforms to take advantage of the views. To the rear, as at Shugborough, there is a domed three-quarter-round extension holding a spiral staircase. The interior is of three storeys: a basement for services; a relatively plain ground floor reception room; and, the real glory of the building, a saloon or banqueting hall on the first floor. Every detail of this space is superlatively decorated, from the marble chimneypiece supplied by London carver John Adair through the low relief plasterwork ceiling by Dublin stuccadore William Fitzgerald to the complementarily decorated marquetry floor composed of mahogany, walnut, sycamore, box and bog oak: the result is a room of restrained sumptuosity. In the care of the National Trust for the past half-century, the Temple of the Winds is without question one of the most perfect small buildings in Ireland.

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Within a Budding Grove

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The west front of Mount Stewart, County Down speckled in sunlight last weekend. This was the original entrance to the house designed c.1804 by English architect George Dance the younger. Some thirty years afterwards Mount Stewart was greatly enlarged by William Vitruvius Morrison and Dance’s work relegated to being a mere wing. The elaborate gardens are of a later date, created by Edith, seventh Marchioness of Londonderry between the two world wars (see In Circe’s Circle, November 28th). Now in the care of the National Trust they have recently benefitted from extensive replanting.