Mount Stewart House and Gardens

Mountstewart House

Mountstewart House and Gardens

All photographs and most of the text is taken from the National Trust Website.

Mount Stewart House and Gardens is located on the shores of Strangford Lough in County Down, just 5 ½ miles from Newtownards and 2 miles from Greyabbey.

It is one of Northern Ireland’s much loved family homes.

Following a three year, £8 million restoration programme, the 19th- century, Mount Stewart House has been significantly transformed, making it a must-see attraction on the island of Ireland.

Voted as one of the Top Ten gardens in the world, Mount Stewart reflects a rich tapestry of design and planting artistry bearing the hallmark of its creator.

Edith, Lady Londonderry’s passion for bold planting schemes coupled with the mild climate of Strangford Lough allows rare and tender plants from across the globe to thrive in this celebrated garden. Each of the formal gardens exudes a distinct character and appeal.

Mount Stewart is a delight for the senses with a series of formal themed garden compartments around the house including The Italian, Spanish, Mairi and Shamrock Garden.

Further afield visitors can enjoy the beautifully landscaped and informal grounds surrounding the picturesque lake walk. There is opportunity to view the restoration of the walled rose garden, gradually being brought back to life and walk amongst the many ferns in our recently extended Fernery.

The Shamrock Garden reflects Edith’s love of Irish mythology and the topiary surmounting the Shamrock hedge is a beautifully depicted children’s story. Visitors can keep an eye out for the topiary statue being created depicting a Formorian (a half human, half demon) that is associated with Strangford Lough.

For a different view of Mount Stewart, stroll around miles of new walking trails and discover a landscape lost in time. Taking in the stunning vis from the Temple of the Winds, our trails will take you through magical woodland and farmland, set within an iconic rolling drumlin landscape beside Strangford Lough.

The main block of Mount Stewart, with a giant portico fronting a balustrade entrance court, was built for the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry in the mid-1840s, possibly to designs by the Irish architect William Vitruvius Morrison.

The earlier 19th-century west wing is by George Dance the Younger, founder-member of the Royal Academy and pioneer of Neo-classicism.

The Temple of the Winds, a banqueting house on a hill to the south of the main building, built in 1782–5, is by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart.

The interiors of Mount Stewart range from the splendid, monumental Ionic hall and drawing room to Dance’s more sophisticated work, especially his music room, with an inlaid floor of oak and mahogany surrounded by bog fir, and the beautiful domed staircase hall.

Much of the house was refurnished in the 1920s and 1930s by Edith, Lady Londonderry, wife of the 7th Marquess and redecorated in the 1950s. Three years of extensive restoration work was carried out by the National Trust, from 2012 to 2015.

A collection of objects relating to the career of Lord Castlereagh (later 2nd Marquess of Londonderry), now remembered as one of Britain’s most important foreign secretaries, including the set of chairs used by the 1815 Congress of Vienna delegates (Wellington and Talleyrand amongst them) and a bust of Helen of Troy by Antonio Canova.

A fine collection of paintings, including Grand Tour portraits of Robert Stewart (later 1st Marquess of Londonderry) by Anton Rafael Mengs and of Alexander Stewart by Pompeo Batoni; many portraits of the family by Sir Thomas Lawrence whose career was bolstered by his association with Robert, Viscount Castlereagh and his half-brother Sir Charles Stewart.

Equestrian paintings, including George Stubbs’ ‘Hambletonian Rubbing Down’ painted after the horse’s greatest win at Newmarket; important 20th-century portraits commissioned from the most prominent portraitists of the day including Philip Alexius de László de Lombos, Sir John Lavery and Edmond Brock. Brock’s group portrait ‘Circe and the Sirens’, which depicts Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry and her three youngest daughters, captures the magical and creative spirit of Mount Stewart in the 1920`s – the heyday of the house.

The library contains many 20th century books, as well as books from the 18 and 19th centuries, owned and read by all the key members of the family. The 20th-century book collection was formed by Charles and Edith, 7th Marquess of Londonderry and his wife.

Charles was a politician and writer; his wife created the gardens at Mount Stewart and her library reflects her interests in Irish and Scottish literature, history, archaeology, mythology, horticulture and design, as well as her own writings.

Mount Stewart Sunk Garden.

Mount Stewart Sunk Garden

Mount Stewart Sunk Garden

The Sunk Garden on the west of the house was the second garden compartment Lady Londonderry embarked upon after the Italian Garden. Centred on the Little Dining Room or Breakfast Room and Lord Londonderry’s bedroom above, it and the Shamrock Garden beyond are the only part of Lady Londonderry’s design which relate directly with the ground floor of the house. The planting is based on a sketch in one of nine garden notebooks, dated 1922.

Mount Stewart Shamrock Garden.

Mount Stewart Shamrock Garden

Mount Stewart Shamrock Garden

Lady Londonderry was fascinated by Irish mythology; the Red Hand of Ulster, The Formorians – a race of half human half demons and a children’s story in topiary on top of the shamrock hedge. The family friend and artist Edmund Brock worked with Lady Londonderry to craft the figures inspired by Mary Queen of Scot’s Psalter or prayer book. The artist himself is depicted holding a bottle of whisky in the curragh bringing the Stewart family to Ireland, with the macaw, Edward on his shoulder!

Mount Stewart Italian Garden.

Mount Stewart - The Italian Garden

Mount Stewart – The Italian Garden

There is a richness to the Italian Garden unequalled elsewhere, in its architectural detail, its planting and a humorous allegory. Lady Londonderry was known as Circe, the sorceress goddess, Odysseus’ sailors meet on the most westerly Isle the Greeks knew of. Circe turned half of Odysseus’ crew into pigs and their faces and that of Circe are depicted on the herms on the southern wall. The planting is derived from an article Lady Londonderry wrote for the RHS Journal in 1935.

Mount Stewart Dodo Terrace.

Mount Stewart - The Dodo Terrace

Mount Stewart – The Dodo Terrace

During the dark years of the 1st World War, Edith and Charles hosted a weekly social gathering at their London base, Londonderry House which became their “Ark” or haven of escapism, safety and fun during those troubled times.

It was open to a great range of people, many of whom were involved in the war effort, including politicians, artists, writers and poets, and members of the armed forces and Women’s Legion (which Edith founded).

The one thing that guests were not allowed to discuss was the war.

Members of the Ark all took pseudonyms which was usually a pun on their name, and pledged allegiance to Edith who adopted the name of Circe the Sorceress.

Charles became Charley the Cheetah – he was tall and elegant and as sleek as a cat, and his infidelities were also an open secret.

Charley’s mother, the formidable Theresa, was dubbed Theresa the Tigress.

His cousin, Winston Churchill became Winston the Warlock.

Hazel Lavery took the name of Hazel the Hen.

John Buchan – John the Buck.

Sir Philip Sassoon – Philip the Phoenix

The artist Edmond Brock became Brock the Badger.

The Ark remained active for many years, and there are many references to it at Mount Stewart, especially in the gardens. Here, some of the animal characters were recreated in concrete by Thomas Beattie in the 1920s and 30s, with Noah’s Ark taking pride of place.

Beattie added some creations of his own, including the Mermaid of Mahee, while the Dodos refer to Edith’s father, Henry Chaplin, who was caricatured as such after serving for 35 years in the House of Commons in 1903.

The Cheetas are for Charley, the frogs for Freddy the Frog (Lord Dufferin) and Sir Cyril Hankey (Head of the King’s Messenger Service) features as Cyril the Squirrel.

Beattie created most of the remarkable sculptures around the garden, including the tall herm pillars topped with orang-utans, which Edith adapted from the classical versions at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola near Rome.

Below the orang-utans are men’s faces, and careful observation shows that each one becomes more pig-like.

Mount Stewart Spanish Garden.

Mount Stewart - The Spanish Garden

Mount Stewart – The Spanish Garden

The arcades of Cypress designed by Lady Londonderry were inspired by an early 16th-century description written by a Venetian traveller who described how similar arcades were used by the Moors to line the water parterre of the Garden of the Generalife near Grenada.

The colour palette comes from the blue/green hue of the Casita tiles and the salmon pink limestone of the decorative well head, which was bought by Lady Londonderry at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1926.

Mount Stewart Mairi Garden.

Mount Stewart - The Mairi Garden

Mount Stewart – The Mairi Garden

Lady Londonderry founded and directed the Women’s Legion, a voluntary organization which placed women into the work place during WWI and whose emblem was a stylized Tudor Rose.

Lady Londonderry gave this emblem the Stewart family colours of blue and white. Today, the Mairi Garden has a succession of blue and white flowers. A bronze statue commemorates the birth of Lady Mairi in 1921, surrounded by bells and cockle shells based on the nursery rhyme.

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