Spanish Garden, Mount Stewart

Spanish Garden, Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart from gardens

Mount Stewart from gardens

Mount Stewart is an 19th-century house and garden in County Down, Northern Ireland, owned by the National Trust. Situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside the town of Newtownards and near Greyabbey, it was the Irish seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. The house and its contents reflect the history of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, who played a leading role in British and Irish social and political life.

 

Mount Stewart was formed by the Stewart family (later Vane-Tempest-Stewart), holders of the title Marquess of Londonderry since 1816. The family bought the estate in 1744 with money acquired by Alexander Stewart (1699–1781). This new wealth came from the sales of materials like linen. At the time, the house was known as Mount Pleasant. Alexander Stewart's son, Robert Stewart, became the first Marquess of Londonderry. In about 1800 he added a temporary wing to the west. He died in 1821 leaving the house to his son, also Robert, better known as Viscount Castlereagh, one of Britain's most famous Foreign Secretaries. Castlereagh lived in Mount Stewart during his childhood until he went to University in Cambridge.

Lord Castlereagh inherited his father's title only a year before his own death. The next owner of the house was his half-brother, Charles, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778–1854). He married twice but it was his later marriage which increased the family's finances greatly. His second wife was Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest. She was the greatest heiress of her time. This huge new wealth prompted the refurbishment and enlargement of the newly renamed Mount Stewart.

Controversially the Londonderrys, while spending £150,000 on the refurbishment only gave £30 to famine relief in Ireland in the 1840s. This remodelling created the present exterior of Mount Stewart. The small Georgian house and the small portico on the west wing were demolished and the house was increased to eleven bays. On the entrance front, a huge portico was added in the centre, and a smaller 'half portico' was added to the other side. The marriage also brought in much of the Vane-Tempest property, including land. Wynyard Park, County Durham was redesigned in the Neo-classical style. The couple bought Seaham Hall, also in County Durham, and then later bought Holdernesse House on London's Park Lane. This was later renamed Londonderry House.

The 4th Marquess of Londonderry married the widow of Viscount Powerscourt and lived at her home, Powerscourt, near Dublin. The 5th Marquess lived at his wife's ancestral property, Plas Machynlleth in Wales, and his son, the 6th Marquess, lived at Wynyard. These long periods of neglect nearly destroyed Mount Stewart. The 7th Marquess (1878–1949), a well-known Ulster Unionist politician, and his wife brought a new lease of life to the house and its plain grounds. The Marchioness of Londonderry's ancestral home was Dunrobin Castle in Scotland and it was that house's gardens which inspired the Mount Stewart's. She also redesigned and redecorated much of the interior, for example, the huge drawing room, smoking room, the Castlereagh Room and many of the guest bedrooms. She named the latter after European cities including Rome and Moscow.

 

After the house's interior, the Marchioness redesigned the gardens in the most lavish way possible. Prior to her husband's succession to the Marquessate in 1915 the gardens had been plain lawns with large decorative pots. She added the Shamrock Garden, the Sunken Garden, increased the size of the lake, added a Spanish Garden with a small hut, the Italian Garden, the Dodo Terrace, Menagerie, the Fountain Pool and laid out walks in the Lily Wood and rest of the estate. In 1957, she gave the gardens to the National Trust.

The National Trust took over the gardens in 1957. The last chatelaine of the house (and the last surviving child of the 7th Marquess), Lady Mairi Bury (née Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Dowager Viscountess Bury), gave the house and most of its contents to the Trust in 1977. The Trust operates the property under the name "Mount Stewart House, Garden & Temple of the Winds". Lady Mairi was the last Londonderry family member to live at Mount Stewart, and the last member of this Anglo-Irish family to live in Ireland. She died at Mount Stewart on 18 November 2009, at the age of 88. On her death her daughter Lady Rose Lauritzen, wife of the American art historian, became the live-in family member; she lives also in Venice. In 1999, the Mount Stewart Gardens were added to the United Kingdom "Tentative List" of sites for potential nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The garden reflects a rich tapestry of design and great planting artistry that was the hallmark of Edith, Lady Londonderry. The mild climate of Strangford Lough allows astonishing levels of planting experimentation. The formal areas exude a strong Mediterranean feel and resemble an Italian villa landscape; the wooded areas support a range of plants from all corners of the world, ensuring something to see whatever the season. The seven acre lake looks stunning no matter what the season. Paths lined with Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias lead you around the banks of the lake which are planted with Primulas, Irises, and large-leafed Gunneras. Take a walk through the Walled Garden. They are currently restoring this area to save the rose garden and home of one of the oldest grape vines in the UK and Ireland, 'The White Syrian' planted in 1769.

Mount Stewart had many good and bad times. It was in almost permanent use when the 3rd Marquess was alive and was greatly extended to become the principal family residence. It was increased in size greatly with a collection of new rooms which were suitable to house the family's growing art collections, furnishings and general treasures. The main room was (and still is) the 'Drawing Room'. This looks out onto the main gardens and in the past it would have been possible to see Strangford Lough. Another main entertaining room was the 'Dining Room' which looks out onto the entrance front and was almost twice its present size, but was altered to make a new kitchen some time after its construction and lavish decoration. One of the most stunning rooms at Mount Stewart is that of the private 'Chapel'. This hidden gem is a double-height room with stained glass windows and Italian paintings on its walls.

" Gardens are meant to be lived in and enjoyed and I hope they may long continue to be a source of pleasure to those who visit them…" - Lady Edith, 7th Marchioness of Londonderry.

 

Toilets are located in the reception area, courtyard, and car park. There is free public wi-fi available in the reception, tea room and courtyard. Their gift shop is located just off reception and sells a wide range of gifts, souvenirs and local crafts. There is an Ice cream shop and coffee kiosk located in the courtyard and a Tea Room offering a wide selection of fresh, home made food including light lunches. There is a Garden shop located beyond the courtyard. Please don't cycle in the grounds. Photography is permitted in the grounds however they do not allow flash photography or tripods to be used inside the house. BBQ's are not permitted in the grounds.

Baby-changing facilities are available. Pushchairs and baby back-carriers are admitted. There are Family activity packs and seasonal activities available from reception. There are Hip-carrying infant seats for loan.

Free parking in the main car park, 100 yards from the house. There are Disabled car parking spaces available close to the house and gardens. Disabled toilets are available in the reception area, courtyard, and car park. The one mile path around the lake is accessible to wheelchair users. Lift to the top floor of the house available for those with mobility issues (must be able to climb/be carried down the stairs in the event of a fire). Wheelchairs and batricars are available, but booking is essential. Partly accessible grounds with loose gravel paths. There is a map of the accessible routes. Dogs are permitted in the gardens on short, fixed leads, and under close control. Guide dogs are allowed inside the house and the Temple of the Winds. Dog waste units are located close to the reception area. Electric car charging points are located at the back of the reception area.

 

Location : Portaferry Road, Newtownards, County Down, BT22 2AD

Transport: Bangor (NI Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 9, 10, 10b, 10c and 10d stop at the gates.

Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 17:00 (Gardens open at 10:00)

Tickets : Adults £8.63;  Children £4.31

Tel: 028 4278 8387