Friday, 30 August 2013

Northern Ireland Adventures : Mount Stewart House

Hey, sorry for the lack of posts been busy back in Northern Ireland with Jonathan having more adventures. One of the places we visited was the National Trust run Mount Stewart House and Gardens just outside Newtownards. 

Hidden behind the tree line as you drive alongside Strangford Loch is the beautiful 18th century house and gardens owned by the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. The house is now run by the National Trust for six months of the year and is still occupied by the family for the other six. The family were important in past politics between Great Britain and Ireland which are reflected in the vast collection inside the house. 

The exterior of the house, wish I could transport myself back to it's creation and see the everyday runnings of the property.  

The History

Mount Stewart, originally called Mount Pleasant,  was formed by the Stewart family in 1816. The estate itself was bought with money from the late Alexander Stewart (1699-1781) which came from the sales of textiles. Alexander's son, Robert Stewart, became the first Marquess of Londonderry and after his death in 1821 the property was left to his son, Robert Castlereagh, who became Britain's Foreign Secretary. The next owner of the house, Lord Castlereagh's half-brother Charles. Charles married twice and it was his second marriage to Lady Frances Ann Vane-Tempest that was vital to the families finances. She was a wealthy heiress and this promoted the refurbishment and enlargement of the newly renamed Mount Stewart. Controversially, £150,000 was spent on this refurbishment and yet only £30 was given by the family for famine relief during the Great Famine. 
The next 3 Marquess's of Londonderry did not live in the house and during the next several decades the house was neglected and came close to destroying the house.When the 7th Marquess, Charles, a Unionist, and his wife, Edith Chaplin came to inherit the house they bought with them a new lease of life. Edith's ancestral home was Dunrobin Castle in Scotland and this is where inspiration for the gardens came from. She is the one who redesigned and redecorated much of the interior that can be seen today. 
In 1957 the National Trust took over the gardens and in 1977 the Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess, gave the house and most the contents to the Trust. Lady Bury died in 2009 and was the last member to live in the house. The present estate is 98 acres and is fully run by the National Trust who are currently doing conservation and restoration work within the house. 

The beautiful lake which forms most of the grounds, one day I want to try and visit during the Autumn because those trees are going to be stunning!


We visited on a Sunday, which seems a great day to visit as the Wildlife Hut was also open and we got to learn more about the local wildlife who live around Stangford Loch and the Mount Stewart property. The best part was a pair of binoculars that were set up to spy on a group of fur seals resting in the middle of the rocks. I've never seen them in the wild before so this was a real treat for the animal lover in me. It was busy, but not crowded and we easily got on the house tour without booking. Sadly half the house is currently closed as it's all being refurbished and renovated but it was still a treat getting a glimpse into the families life. The study was a dream come true with all the beautiful hardback books and open fireplace and just so beautiful!
The gardens are equally beautiful, walking around the grounds takes less than an hour and I suggest comfortable shoes to walk in as the path is rural. The lake is stunning and even with several families around it was so quiet. I would have loved to have sat under a tree with one of my books and just relaxed. This is also one of the best places to spot the endangered red squirrel! We weren't lucky enough to glimpse any but I'm glad that they have little haven's like this and I know the National Trust will work hard at keeping their population stable. Walking around the more structured gardens for some reason made me feel like Mary Lennox, star of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden'. I felt like each garden was leading into a new special place and I could imagine members of the family walking through past the beautiful flowers during the summer. Sadly, the Spanish garden was closed as it's being used as part of the set for the upcoming Dracula film but we're planning to visit again in a few years time to see the house so I'm sure we'll be able to enjoy it then. 

Jonathan caught in one of the stunning gardens. 

We had a beautiful afternoon and as usual the National Trust run a beautiful property to a high standard for all to enjoy. I really need to get myself National Trust membership soon though as paying £8 each place can get a little exhausting on the wallet!


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