Saturday, 20 August 2016

Stranmillis House


In 1603, Sir Arthur Chichester was granted expansive lands in Ulster, including all of the County Antrim side of the River Lagan from Carrickfergus to Dunmurry and the site of the future city of Belfast.

The date of the grant marks the date of the foundation of the town.

Sir Arthur leased his Stranmillis lands in 1606 for 61 years to Sir Moses Hill (ancestor of the Marquesses of Downshire), who built a plantation castle (described in the Report of the Plantation Commissioner ca 1611 as being located at a place called "Stranmellis").

This castle was the predecessor of Stranmillis House and was probably built to control a Lagan crossing.

The ford as indicated on the Donegall estate map of 1770 was situated just below the tidal limit and provided a crossing point for carts.

The Hills moved before their lease expired, and the property reverted to the Donegall family to become Lady Donegall's deer-park. 

Richard Dobbs, writing in 1683, described the deer-park thus:
From Lambeg the way leads direct to Belfast, which is all along for the most part furnished with houses, little orchards and gardens and on the right hand the Countess of Donegall hath a very fine Park well stored with venison and in it a Horse Course of Two Miles, and may be called an English Road.
A Donegall family document of 1692 more precisely defines the deer park: "...100 acres were then enclosed in a Deer Park, and called Stranmellis Park"

It is probable that this estate included all of the area now enclosed by the Stranmillis and Malone Roads and that the horse course followed its perimeter, possibly formed by the roads themselves.

On the Donegall estate map of 1770 the area is referred to as "the course lands', almost exactly 100 acres enclosed by about two miles of road.

From 1770 most of the demesne was put up for lease after being divided into small parcels of land, the size and shape of the farms perhaps relating to the hilly topography of the area. 

An area of 40 acres in the southern part of the 'Deerpark" was leased by prominent merchants, the Black family, who built a summer residence, the predecessor of the present Victorian Stranmillis House.


They later acquired the freehold and, in 1857, sold the property to Thomas Batt, a director of the Ulster Bank who, within a year, rebuilt Stranmillis House in the Gothic-Revival style. 

Thomas Batt once had a town residence at 4 Donegall Place in Belfast.

Batt was from one of Belfast’s most prominent business families, founders of the Belfast bank and owners of Purdysburn House (later the hospital).

They also gave their name to Batt’s Mountain in the Mournes.

South Belfast, including Stranmillis, developed rapidly in the latter half of the 19th Century and especially during the 1870s.

However, building on the eastern slopes of the Malone Ridge was restricted by land ownership and hampered by stream erosion so that the Stranmillis Road itself remained little more than a country lane.

Cart traffic moving south took the Malone Road to avoid Stranmillis hill and it was not until 1882 that the city's tram line was extended to Stranmillis.

Some development of note did take place, however, with the construction in 1863 of the fine terrace at Mount Pleasant adjoining Summer Hill, itself built a few years earlier around 1854-56. 

The arrival of the tram line also saw the construction of the impressive Chilworth terrace in 1893-4 and the Kinahan Mansions followed around 1901.

The Victorian Stranmillis House was built for Thomas Batt by Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon.

Originally it had an open belfry and ogee pyramidal roof on the corner tower but these have been removed.

The original entrance porch and low wing to the north have been replaced by a large extension in simplified Elizabethan style in 1924 after the house became part of Stranmillis (University) College.

About 46 acres of undulating grounds are walled in.

The demesne originated in the early 17th century, though the present house dates from ca 1855.

It replaced an earlier house of ca 1801 and much of the present planting is associated with these two buildings.

The site became a college in 1922 and was subsequently adapted.

The well developed and attractively planted ornamental grounds enhance the many buildings that now occupy the site, many of which are listed - the main building of 1928-30; two gate lodges of 1933 and 1940s. 

There is some interesting plant material amongst the maintained landscape.

There are fine mature shelter belt and woodland trees, including an impressive turkey oak and a sycamore avenue now hidden in woodland.

First published in January, 2011.

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