Springhill is in the townland of Ballindrum near Moneymore, County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. It is a pretty 17th-century 'Plantation' home with a significant costume collection. Experience the beguiling spirit of this inimitable 17th-century 'Plantation' home, with its walled gardens and parkland, full of tempting waymarked paths. There are ten generations of Lenox-Conyngham family tales to enthrall you, as well as numerous portraits and much furniture to admire and not forgetting Ireland's best-documented ghost: Olivia. The old laundry houses the celebrated Costume Collection, which features some fine 18th to 20th-century pieces that highlight its great charm and enthralling past.
This 17th-century unfortified house was built about 1680 and was originally surrounded by a defensive bawn. Around 1765 two single-storey wings were added and the entrance front was modified to its present arrangement of seven windows across its width.
The Conyngham family had come from Ayrshire in Scotland in about 1611, possibly from Glengarnock and the first of the family in Ulster was said to have been one of the family of the Earls of Glencairn. Alexander Conyngham, Dean of Raphoe, ancestor of the later Marquesses Conyngham, was probably a near relative - his son Sir Albert Conyngham's portrait is at Springhill and not Slane Castle. They were granted lands under James I's Plantation of Ulster in County Armagh. They purchased the Springhill estate in around 1630. It is believed that some form of farm dwelling was constructed on the estate at this time (probably on the site of the present carpark) but this was almost certainly destroyed during the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
William Conyngham I was the first of the family to have owned Springhill. He was a Colonel in the Civil War and one of Cromwell's Commissioners for Co. Armagh and held land at Drumcrow in the County and property in the town of Armagh itself. He was granted new title deeds by Cromwell in 1652, 'the old ones having been destroyed in the recent wars'. He died in 1666, when High Sheriff of County Londonderry. In 1676 his widow lived in a house on the north side of Armagh with a garden and a little parke called Garreturne. Marriage articles between William Conyngham II and Ann Upton of Castle Upton near Templepatrick, executed 1680, stated that he was required "to build a convenient house of lime and stone, two stories high ... with necessary office houses" for his wife-to-be. It is widely believed that the present house owes its origin to this document though dendrochronological examination of the roof timbers on the central part of the house date the beams to after 1690. At this time, many of the surviving outbuildings along with the rare Dutch styled gardens were created. The gardens are currently undergoing a process of restoration.
From William Conyngham II (better known as "Good Will"), the estate passed to his nephew George Butle in 1721 who thereupon adopted the name Butle Conyngham. Under the terms of the Plantation Grant, he constructed the village of Coagh in about 1755, naming the main square Hanover Square in deference to King George II. From George Butle Conyngham, the estate passed to his eldest son, Col. William Conyngham of the Black Horse Regiment in 1765. Col William added the two wings to either side of the house as a nursery and ballroom respectively.
As Colonel William did not marry until the age of 52, he died without issue. The estate passed to his brother David Conyngham who also died childless. As a result, the estate passed to the son of their sister Ann who had married Clotworthy Lenox of Derry, grandson of James Lenox, Alderman of Derry (Mayor of Derry 1689), remembered as one of the leaders of the Siege of Derry and the city's Member of Parliament 1703-1713. Col. George Lenox, upon inheriting the estate, adopted the name Lenox-Conyngham and his descendants lived in the house until 1957. George served under Castlereagh in the Irish Volunteers but, after being betrayed by Castlereagh, resigned his commission in disgrace in 1816. As a result of this, combined with his depressive nature, he committed suicide later that year. His 2nd wife Olivia (4th daughter of William Irvine of Castle Irvine, Co. Fermanagh) is said to haunt the house to this day and is reputed to be the best documented ghost in Ireland. George Lenox-Conyngham married as his first wife Jane Hamilton of Castlefin, by whom he had a son and heir William Lenox-Conyngham. Jane's mother was Jean Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton of Brown Hall Co. Donegal; Jean married John Hamilton of Castlefin Co. Donegal, and after his death married George Lenox-Conyngham's uncle William Conyngham.
From George, the house passed to his eldest son William Lenox-Conyngham. He had been a talented lawyer in Glasgow but left his legal career to run the estate. In 1818 he married Charlotte Staples, daughter of the Rt. Hon. John Staples of Lissan House near Cookstown. John Staples was a well known lawyer and orator and was the last speaker in the Irish House of Commons in 1801; his wife was the Hon. Henrietta Molesworth, daughter of Field Marshal Richard Molesworth, 3rd Viscount Molesworth. Their son Thomas Staples became the 9th Baronet. During William Lenox-Conyngham's tenure, the estate was drained and improved and a large well-appointed dining room was added to the rear of the house, complete with a 17th-century Italian chimneypiece salvaged from Frederick Augustus Hervey's (the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry) Ballyscullion House near Bellaghy which was demolished in about 1825.
When William Lenox-Conyngham died in 1858, the estate passed to his eldest son Lt. Col. Sir William Fitzwilliam Lenox-Conyngham who had married Laura Arbuthnot, daughter of George Arbuthnot of Elderslie (Founder of the Indian Bank, Arbuthnot & Co) in 1856. Her father's elder brother was Sir William Arbuthnot 1st Baronet, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and Lord Lieutenant of Edinburgh. Sir William Lenox-Conyngham was highly involved in military matters and was knighted (KCB) by Queen Victoria in 1880. During his tenure, the estate was largely sold off under the Ashbourne and Wyndham Acts and was reduced to around three hundred acres. Finances became a grave concern for the family. Sir William was the last Agent of The Drapers' Company, overseeing their remaining estate in Northern Ireland, which had been extensive and included Draperstown and Moneymore.
By the time of Sir William's death in 1906, there was little left of the estate and as a result of some unwise investments, his son Lt. Col. William Arbuthnot Lenox-Conyngham found financial matters very trying. In 1899 he married Mina Lowry of Rockdale near Cookstown in County Tyrone. She was the last member of the family to live on the estate and she continued to do so even after the death of her son and the National Trust taking over in 1957 until her own death in 1960. Col. William Arbuthnot fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and his younger brother Lt. Col. John Staples Molesworth Lenox-Conyngham was killed in action at Guillemont during the battle of the Somme, on 3 September 1916, personally leading the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers over the top and into the attack armed only with an ancient revolver. He is buried at Carnoy in France. The two wooden crosses that marked his grave were returned to Ireland and now lie inside St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh, next to his memorial.
William Arbuthnot Lenox-Conyngham died in 1938 and the estate passed to his elder and somewhat sickly son Capt. William Lowry Lenox-Conyngham who led the local Home Guard during the Second World War as a result of being invalided out of the National Defence Corps in 1940. Realising that the finances of the family were now in terminal decline and recognising that neither he nor his brother had any children to carry on the line, although his uncle Reverend George Hugh Lenox-Conyngham had a surviving son and two daughters, William Lowry entered into negotiations with the National Trust in 1956 with a view to handing over the house. This had followed a chance meeting with Nancy, Countess of Enniskillen who had presented Florence Court in County Fermanagh to the Trust the previous year. In the event, he signed his will bequeathing the house and estate to the National Trust only three days before his death in 1957.
William's uncle George Hugh Lenox-Conyngham married Barbara Josephine née Turton whose mother Lady Cecilia was the daughter of Joseph Leeson, 4th Earl of Milltown of Russborough Co. Wicklow. They had two sons Denis Hugh and Alwyn Douglas and two daughters Cecilia Laura and Eileen Mary, born in Edinburgh. Their father had, like previous members of the family been educated in Edinburgh, in George's case at Fettes College where he was the first former pupil to return as a school master. After being Housemaster of Kimmerghame House, he became a priest. His first living was at Denver in Norfolk, then he was appointed was Rector of Lavenham, a living that was held by his old Cambridge College Gonville & Caius. Eileen, Denis, their mother Barbara and aunt Alice Lenox-Conyngham travelled on the Titanic. Following the death of William Lowry in 1957, the head of the family became Captain Alwyn Douglas Lenox-Conyngham RN, his elder brother Denis having died in China whilst serving with his regiment The Cameronians in 1928. His eldest son Charles Denis Lenox-Conyngham, former Managing Director of Blue Funnel Line and Chairman of Sealink is the current head of the family.
Upon adopting the property, the National Trust undertook a large-scale programme of restoration and re-construction adopting the orthodoxy of 1950's conservation practice which saw the Victorian smoking room demolished, large portions of the house stripped back to stone and all the rooms re-arranged to reflect their appearance when first constructed. The house today contains a vitally important and almost complete collection of one family's occupation for three hundred years. In the Gun Room can be found one of the largest surviving 18th century wallpaper schemes surviving in the UK, along with a "long gun" dating to about 1680 which was presented to Alderman James Lenox after the Siege of Derry. The Library contains one of the most important collections of 17th and 18th century books in Ireland and is composed of around 3000 volumes, the oldest of which is a small Latin psalter of 1541. In the old laundry can be found the largest costume collection in Northern Ireland (established by Viscount Clanwilliam in 1960) and a selection from the collection is displayed annually in the costume museum. The National Trust owned Beetling Mill is a sister property of Springhill.
When the National Trust received Springhill house in 1957, it contained one of the most remarkable historic libraries in Ireland - going back to the middle of the 17th century. Springhill has one of the largest collections not only because it is the result of of three hundred years of reading, but because it contains considerable amounts of rare 17th and 18th-century books. The majority of texts are still in their original bindings. However, the library owes much of its existence to families associated with Springhill as to the Lenox-Conyngham’s. In addition to the books of the Conyngham’s who first built the house, it includes books assembled in the city of Derry by their merchant cousins the Lenox’s, whom they later married into, to combine their names into the Lenox-Conyngham’s of today.
There are also a large number of books inherited in the 18th and 19th century through marriage and the female line of the family, firstly from Blessington House in Co. Wicklow and then to Lissan House, County Tyrone, before ending their journey at Springhill with the marriage of Charlotte Staples to William Lenox-Conyngham. The family would have had a strong connection with this book as the Conyngham’s had been originally from the West Coast of Scotland and, although chosen from the Springhill library, we know from inspection that this book once belonged to Eleanor Blessington - the wife of the Earl of Blessington - the final major contributor to the Springhill book collection. We know this from her signature on the first title leaf. We can also see from further inspection that pressed fern leaves have been placed within the pages of this book. It was common practice in the 1840s' to collect specimens of fern and other flora and use it as a decorative device to adorn everything from garden benches to glassware.
The costume closet exhibition includes a magical wardrobe, complete with amazing costumes to try on for girls and boys aged up to 12. Come along and dress up as a Victorian detective, a medieval princess, King Henry VIII, a tin soldier, a Victorian nanny, a Japanese princess or even a 1920s' gangster! Once you've chosen which character you want to be, take a walk on our new red carpet area where you can pose for pictures in front of a background of your choice. The costume closet also includes a touchscreen console where you can play guessing games about historic costume, and a colouring in area where you can design your very own wonderful creations. Also well worth a visit is the costume display 'Naturally Inspired, Beautifully Attired'. The display explores the way in which nature influences the clothes we wear and how and what we decorate them with. As usual it will feature a selection of our most beautiful costumes and accessories, in silk, linen, cotton, wool, feathers and fur.
Every year Springhill takes down the previous temporary exhibition in the Butler’s Pantry and replaces it with an exciting new display and refreshes the tour for visitors. During the tour this year, visitors will experience a new exhibition on how they keep their collections safe from the agents of deterioration. This display will give you a look at some bugs up close, the power of light on an object and what it does as a consequence and also a look at how much dust they can collect after a good clean. Something they love to do at Springhill when they see the seasonal flowers in bloom on their estate is to add a little of that flavour to the house. They enjoy picking whatever flowers are in abundance on site and placing them around the house so that you can really get a sense of smell and a visual aesthetic that you would normally see whilst walking outside on the grounds. From snowdrops to daffodils to azaleas they like to give you a sense of the outside coming in to this beautiful historic house.
The Beech walk leads you through an avenue of Beech trees that were replanted in 1984. Only one of the original beech trees remains at the beginning of the beech walk, and is approximately 300 years old. The walk leads up to the tower, built in 1731. From the tower views of the Sperrins and Slieve Gallion can be enjoyed on a clear day. The beech trees provide stunning colour throughout the year, from vivid green in the spring to rich reds in the autumn. Sawpit hill walk. Enjoy splendid views of Slieve Gallion on this path that runs along the perimeter of the estate marked by the great oaks and a ring of trees where the sawpit was once located.
The Visitor centre has a retail and refreshment area and the visitor can enjoy a picnic in the garden or select a book in the 'Well Read' bookshop. Parking is approximately 50 yards from the house. Suitable for school groups. Hip-carrying infant seats for loan and Pushchairs and baby back-carriers are admitted. Baby-changing facilities are available. There is a Children's play area and Children's quiz/trail. There are family days at Easter, a teddy bears' picnic and 'Clueso for Kids'. There are two drop-off points, one at the rear of the house and another at the side of the Costume Museum, a ramp is available. There is an adapted toilet in the laundry garden near the house. An Induction loop is available. There are four steps to the entrance of the building. There is an alternative accessible entrance, at the rear. One wheelchair is available for loan. The Ground floor is fully accessible but there are stairs to the other floors. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Springhill House, 20 Springhill Road, Moneymore, Magherafelt, County Londonderry, BT45 7NQ
Transport: Belfast (NI Rail) then bus (110). Bus Routes : 110 and 110b stop 20 minutes away
Opening Times: April - September, Weekends 10:00 to 17:00; + June, Thursday, Friday and July August, Daily 10:00 to 17:00; October, Sunday 10:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Adult £5.45; Children £2.27
Tel: 028 8674 8210