Monday, 6 July 2015

1st Earl of Ranfurly

THE EARLS OF RANFURLY WERE MAJOR LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY TYRONE, WITH 10,153 ACRES
The patriarch of the family of KNOX is Adam, the son of Uchtred, who, in the reign of ALEXANDER II, King of Scotland, obtained the lands of Knox in Renfrewshire, whence he assumed his surname. 
Uchtred Knox, his descendant, had a charter of the lands of Ranfurly, in 1474, from JAMES III. They were inherited by three Uchtreds: his son, grandson, and great-grandson; and alienated by the daughter and heir of the last, in 1665. 
William, the grandson of the first, and younger son of the second, Uchtred Knox of Ranfurly, was ancestor in the fifth degree of two brothers, THOMAS and JOHN KNOX, who both settled in Ulster about the period of the Revolution.
THE RT HON THOMAS KNOX (c1640-1728), the elder brother, who was a zealous promoter of the Hanovarian succession, obtained lands at Dungannon, in County Tyrone.

He was MP for Newtownards, 1692-3, and Dungannon, 1695-1727; was appointed a privy counsellor by GEORGE I, and declined the offer of a peerage, leaving no male issue.

Mr Knox married Mary, daughter of Robert Bruce, of Kilroot, County Antrim, by whom he had two daughters,
Mary, m to Rt Hon Oliver St George;
Anne, to Charles Echlin.
JOHN KNOX, the younger brother, marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Keith, of County Down, was succeeded at his decease, in 1722, by his only son,

THOMAS KNOX, of Dungannon, who inherited the fortune of his uncle, William Knox, of Glasgow.

Mr Knox represented Dungannon in parliament for several years, and was Deputy Governor of County Tyrone.

He married Hester, daughter of John Echlin, of Ardquin, County Down, and had issue,
THOMAS, his heir;
John, m only daughter of H Waring, of Waringstown;
Hester, m to James Mountray MP, of Favour Royal;
Mary;
Elizabeth, m to Mathew Forde, of Seaforde.
Mr Knox dying in 1769, was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,

THOMAS KNOX (1729-1818), MP for Dungannon, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1781, as Baron Wells; and advanced to a viscountcy, in 1791, as Viscount Northland.

His lordship wedded, in 1753, Anne, second daughter of John, 1st Lord Knapton, and aunt of John, 2nd Viscount de Vesci, by whom he had issue,
THOMAS, his successor;
John, major-general and Governor of Jamaica;
Vesey, m Catherine, daughter of General Gisborne;
William (Rt Rev), Lord Bishop of Derry;
George (Rt Hon), MP;
Charles, in holy orders;
Edmund (Rt Rev), Lord Bishop of Limerick.
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

THOMAS, 2nd Viscount (1754-1840), who espoused, in 1785, Diana Jane, eldest daughter and co-heir of Edmund, 1st Viscount Pery (Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, 1771, 1776, and 1783).

In 1826, he was created Baron Ranfurly, of Ramphorlie in the County of Renfrew, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, which entitled him and his successors to a seat in the upper chamber of parliament.

He was further advanced the the dignity of an earldom, in 1831, as  EARL OF RANFURLY.
    The heir apparent is the present holder's son Edward John Knox, styled Viscount Northland.
*****

IN 1692 the town of Dungannon and surrounding estates in County Tyrone, then reputedly worth £1,000 a year, were sold by Arthur Chichester, 3rd Earl of Donegall, to Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant who had settled in Belfast prior to 1669.

Knox had been elected a free burgess of the corporation of Belfast in 1680, and he had then served as sovereign (mayor) of Belfast for the year ending Michaelmas, 1686.

In 1692, the year in which he purchased the manor of Dungannon, he was returned as MP for Newtownards, County Down.

In 1695, he changed his place of residence from Belfast to Dungannon.

Interestingly, the Earls of Ranfurly owned land in east Belfast and it is believed that business men such as Sir Thomas McClure Bt purchased land from them in the vicinity of Strandtown (Ranfurly Drive still exists there).

In 1707, Knox registered his arms in Ulster's Office, Dublin Castle, as the male representative of the Scottish landed family of Knox of Ramphorlie, or Ranfurly, Renfrewshire. He died in 1728.


According to John Marshall's History of Dungannon, the original house of Thomas Knox was on the western side of Market Square, which is now occupied by shops.

The second residence was known as the Farmhouse and stood in the demesne, on the outskirts of the town.


The third residence, known variously as Northland House, Northland Park and Dungannon Park, was built by Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland, for his eldest son and heir, Thomas Knox, 2nd Viscount and 1st Earl of Ranfurly, on his marriage.

A letter from Elizabeth J Knox on 31 July 1842 (quoted in Marshall's ‘Dungannon’) reads:

I had a long letter from Mary the other day, with an account of the improvements uncle R[anfurly] is making at Dungannon. Part of the Park house is to be converted into a dairy, and 40 cows bought to begin with.

They are setting up three new schools - in short they seem to be doing much good there. They never see any company even at dinner, on account of the house not being in reception order. However I think they like being there. The house is no longer to be called 'Northland House', but 'Dungannon Park.

Northland House was a three-storey, irregular classical mansion, dating in its final form from ca 1840.

The principal front consisted of five bays between two projecting pedimented end bays, extended to the left by a nine-bay wing of the same height and style, but set a little back.

At the junction of the main block and the wing was a single-storey projecting porch of three bays, fronted by a portico of four Ionic columns.

Along the adjoining front stood an Ionic colonnade with a central pediment, running into an orangery at one end.


Jutting out from the orangery was a conservatory of graceful curving glass, in the Crystal Palace manner.

Rising from the corner of the main body of the house, behind the orangery, was a belfry with Ionic columns.

The House was, sadly, completely demolished, though one of its classical gate lodges survives.


In 1880 the 5th Earl (above) married Constance Elizabeth Caulfeild (1858-1932), only child of James Alfred Caulfield, 7th Viscount Charlemont.

In 1883 the Ranfurly Estate consisted of 9,647 acres in County Tyrone and 506 acres in County Fermanagh.

This amounted to a total of 10,153 acres.

However, the 5th Earl died in comparative poverty and was the last earl to live at Dungannon Park.


The contents of Northland House were put up for sale in 1922, and the house and demesne were sold either in 1927 or at his death in 1933.

Due to the premature death of the 5th Earl's son, Lord Northland, in 1915, the earldom passed in 1933 from Lord Ranfurly directly to his grandson, Thomas Daniel Knox (1913-1988) who, according to his widow, inherited nothing but the obligation to pay a pension to the retired butler from Northland Park!

According to Lady Ranfurly, her husband, the 6th Earl (following their very successful term of office in the Bahamas), was offered the governorship of Northern Ireland, but declined.

His reasons were (a) that he needed to go into the City in order to retrieve the family fortunes, and (b) that he felt that his having been installed as an Orangeman by his grandfather in the mid-1920s might prove an embarrassment to the Queen's Representative in Northern Ireland if it came to light!

The 6th Earl and Countess's wartime experiences have been recounted, humorously and movingly, in ‘To War with Whitaker: the Wartime Diaries of Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, 1939-1945’ (London, 1994).

I have this book at home and can thoroughly recommend it!

The present and 7th Earl lives at the family seat, Maltings Chase, near Nayland in Suffolk.

First published in April, 2009.

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