Thursday, 14 April 2016

Crom Castle

THE EARLS OF ERNE WERE THE SECOND LARGEST LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY FERMANAGH, WITH 31,389 ACRES

This family is said to descend from a branch of the Creightons or Crichtons, Viscounts Frendraught, in Scotland, which title ceased with Lewis, the 5th Viscount, about 1690.

JOHN CREIGHTON, of Crum [sic] Castle, County Fermanagh, settled in County Fermanagh during the 17th century.

This John married Mary, daughter of Sir Gerald Irvine, of Castle Irvine, and was succeeded by his son,

ABRAHAM CREIGHTON, MP for County Fermanagh, who commanded a regiment of foot at Aughrim, in 1692.

Colonel Creighton married Mary, daughter of the Rt Rev James Spotiswood, Lord Bishop of Clogher, and was succeeded by his only surviving son,

DAVID CREIGHTON,
 
celebrated for his gallant defence, in 1689, of the family seat of Crom Castle, against a large body of the royal army (JAMES II's).
Having repulsed the assailants, young Creighton made a sally, at the instant that a corps of Enniskilleners was approaching to the relief of the castle, which movement placed the besiegers between two fires, and caused dreadful slaughter.

The enemy attempting to accomplish his retreat across an arm of Lough Erne, near Crom Castle, that spot became the scene of such carnage, that it bore the name of the "Bloody Pass".
This gentleman represented Enniskillen in parliament, and attaining the rank of major-general in the army, was appointed governor of the royal hospital of Kilmainham. 
He wedded, in 1700, Catherine, second daughter of Richard Southwell, of Castle Mattress, County Limerick, and sister of 1st Lord Southwell.

Dying in 1728, he was succeeded by his only son,

ABRAHAM CREIGHTON
, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1768, as Baron Erne, of Crom Castle.

This nobleman espoused Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Lord Chief Justice Rogerson, of the court of King's Bench, by whom he had issue, his elder surviving son,

JOHN, 2nd Baron, who was created Viscount Erne, in 1781; and advanced to the dignity of an earldom, as EARL OF ERNE, in 1789.

His lordship wedded firstly, in 1761, Catherine, 2nd daughter of the Rt Rev Robert Howard DD, Lord Bishop of Elphin, and sister of the Viscount Wicklow.

This nobleman espoused secondly, in 1776, Lady Mary Hervey, eldest daughter of the Rt Hon and Rt Rev Frederick Augustus [Hervey], Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry, and had an only daughter, Lady Elizabeth Caroline Mary Crichton, who wedded James Archibald, Lord Wharncliffe.

Abraham Creighton, 2nd Earl (1765–1842)
John Crichton, 3rd Earl (1802–85)
John Henry Crichton, 4th Earl (1839–1914)
Henry William Crichton, Viscount Crichton (1872–1914)
Hon George David Hugh Crichton (1904–1904)
John Henry George Crichton, 5th Earl (1907–40)
Henry George Victor John Crichton, 6th Earl (1937-2015).
John Henry Michael Ninian [Crichton] succeeds his father as 7th Earl.

CROM CASTLE, near Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh, is one of the the finest estates in County Fermanagh and Northern Ireland.

The Castle stands in a commanding position, with the entrance front to the east, the south front looks out towards the deer-park and Old Castle; while the west front (above) has the prospect of the boat-house and Inisherk Island.

I do admit to a prejudice here: My fondness for Crom cannot be overstated.


Books have been written about Crom. It used to be a thriving community, virtually self-contained, complete with its own post-office; stable-yard; school-house; church; riding school; turf-house and saw-mill; petrol pump; court-yard; and staff accommodation.

The old farm-yard has been transformed into visitor accommodation with a visitor centre, exhibition, tea-room, jetty and more besides.

There is the Crichton Tower, too, a stone folly built as a Famine relief project ca 1847 to serve as an observatory.

The demesne is situated in a heavily wooded lough shore and island setting, the nearest village being Newtownbutler.

The estate was established in the 17th century and the ruins of the original Plantation castle - built about 1611 and destroyed by fire in 1764 - are still accessible on the shores of Upper Lough Erne, surrounded by vestiges of a formal garden; and near to a pair of venerable old yew trees.

The formal garden resembles a garden that would have graced the old castle; but is, in fact, a later garden, made when a plan was laid out in the early 19th century for the present mansion of 1831, by Edward Blore.


It was what I have termed one of the Big Five in the county; though the total income from all the Erne estates, reaching far beyond County Fermanagh, generated £23,850 per annum by 1883 with an overall acreage of 40,365.

In today's terms, that would equate to an annual income of £1.1 million.

The mansion is on an elevated site and is surrounded by mature trees; with vistas cut through the planting to the lough,  buildings used as "eye-catchers" in the distance, including the old Castle.

The Castle combines Baronial and Tudor-Revival elements.

The entrance front has a gabled projection with a corbelled oriel at each end, though they're not totally similar; while the tall, battlemented entrance tower, incorporating a porte-cochére, is not central but to one side, against the left-hand gable.

There are stone-carvings on the south and east fronts of the Castle.

Inside there is a series of heraldic stained-glass panels in the bay window at the foot of the staircase, one of which commemorates the marriage of the 1st Earl to Lady Mary Hervey, daughter of the Earl Bishop of Derry and a sister of Lady Elizabeth Hervey (Duchess of Devonshire).
The hall and staircase at Crom Castle are among Edward Blore's finest surviving interiors: Classical in form, the staircase was given a late-Perpendicular veneer by the arcades at top and bottom - the latter rather in the feeling of a chantry chapel - while the cathedral atmosphere was enhanced by the encapsulation tiles of the floor and the armorial stained glass windows.
Although the other rooms have been greatly altered since Blore's day, Crom remains one of the most impressive Victorian houses in Northern Ireland.

The adjoining garden front is symmetrical, dominated by a very tall central tower with slender octagonal turrets.

On either side of it is a gable and oriel.

The landscaping scheme was planned by the eminent landscaper, W Gilpin, in 1838 and is one of the very few sites designed by a named English employee, at a time when English landscape design was pre-eminent.

Crom survives as an outstanding landscape park in the Picturesque style.

The natural features of lough and islands are embellished with trees, bridges and buildings.

The formal garden, with its parterre, is long gone. The parterre was at the west front and has since, I believe, been turned to lawn.
Parterres were a common feature of large country houses: Florence Court used to have one immediately to its rear; while Castle Ward had what was known as the Windsor Garden, a parterre in the sunken garden within its walled garden.
These features were relatively easy to maintain, since a small army of gardeners was employed for the purpose!

The house is set in wonderful surroundings, affording fine views.

There are some very fine trees, including a number of a great age both in the woodland and in the parkland, which includes a small Deer Park.

Victorian bedding schemes at the house, known from contemporary photographs, have been grassed over, but the conservatory of 1851 remains.

The walled garden survives, with glasshouses and bothies.

It is not planted up and the buildings are presently disused. The many attractive demesne buildings are in good repair and are listed.

The stables are used as offices and the farm is a Visitors Centre, with holiday accommodation.

I visited the Castle about thirty years ago and can vouch for its substantial size.

There used to be an indoor swimming-pool, though this has been taken away and, it is thought, turned into accommodation in the west wing.


The Erne Papers are held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

The 4th Earl's time at Crom coincided with the Land Acts and the Land Courts.

The latter appreciably reduced the rents payable to the landlord in most of the land cases which were brought judicially before it, with the result that land purchase, when it came, was calculated on the basis of these new and lower 'judicial' rents.

Terence Reeves-Smyth writes:
... The large bulk of the Erne estates were sold by the 4th Earl between 1904 and 1909 under the ... Land Act of 1903. ... By April 1908 ..., [most] of the Fermanagh estates had been sold to their tenants for £240,440. Only 49 holdings remained unsold, valued at £12,770. ...
When the amounts already received for the Sligo and Donegal estates are added - £25,000 and £83,427 respectively, both sold in October 1905 - the grand total comes to £348,867, or £20 million at 2010 values.

Mr Reeves-Smyth does not mention Mayo, part of which was still unsold in 1912.

It also looks as if a further ca £70,000 remained to be realised, post-1908, out of the Donegal estate, and a further £26,000 out of the Sligo.

The Dublin estate, being entirely urban, was unaffected by the Land Acts.

The 5th Earl, for a time, served as lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards, his father's old regiment.

Soon after the outbreak of war in 1939, he raised the North Irish Horse, which was based in Enniskillen between November 1939 and February 1940.

In 1940, Lord Erne was killed near Dunkirk, and the castle and the demesne passed into the control of trustees whose most immediate problem was to protect the castle and demesne from the depredations of, firstly, British and then American forces, for whose use it was requisitioned at the beginning of the 2nd World War.

Terence Reeves-Smyth writes:
... From 1940 ... to 1958, the castle and demesne were controlled by a board of trustees. During the war the demesne actually made a profit, but the trustees throughout this period were considering leasing or selling the property to the Ministry of Agriculture. During the war and later in the 1950s the trustees undertook a number of tree fellings in the demesne woods to raise capital for the estate.

When the 6th Earl inherited in 1958, he attempted to create a dairy farm out of the farm lands, and later a toy factory in the farm yard, but neither enterprise was totally successful. Eventually part of the demesne was sold to the Department of the Environment in 1980 and subsequently, in 1987, the National Trust acquired the rest of the demesne, in part as a gift, while the castle itself has been retained by Lord Erne...
The Crom Estate is now held inalienably by the National Trust, including crucial rights to islands in, and parts of, Upper Lough Erne.

If its sale or lease to the Ministry of Agriculture had gone ahead, its "... great wealth of wildlife would have completely vanished under a monoculture of spruce" (Reeves-Smyth), and Crom Castle "may have been turned into a hotel or perhaps even demolished."

Under the 6th Earl, many changes were made and continued to be made to render the castle suitable for present-day living.

The 6th Earl's aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Abercorn GCVO, was Mistress of the Robes to HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

The 5th Earl was a Page of Honour to HM King George V 1921-4, and a Lord-in-Waiting to HM King George VI 1936-9.

The 6th Earl served as HM Lord-Lieutenant of County Fermanagh, 1986-2012.

The West Wing at Crom Castle is available to rent, further details being available here.

The opening of the West Wing as holiday accommodation marks a new departure for Crom Castle which, as the family home, remains closed to the general public.

Erne arms courtesy of European Heraldry.  Photo credits: 6th Earl of Erne and Mr Noel Johnston.   First published in January, 2010.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Lord B, have you considered doing an article on St Hubert's in Upper Lough Erne? The former estate of the Massy-Beresfords. Or also Knockballymore House which is extant, and is a small architectural 'gem', and formerly linked to the Erne Estate. VC