While Bangor Castle is well-known as a stately home within the town, it was actually one of three built in Bangor and the last of the trio to be erected.
A tale of three castles:
The first castle was built by Sir James Hamilton around 1615 and included a granary and stables, with formal gardens surrounding the house. While there are no remaining images of the castle it is, however, depicted on the Raven Map, dated 1626, which can be viewed at the museum.
Little is known about Bangor’s second, Gothic-style castle, although it’s thought to have been built by either Col Robert Ward (1754-1831) or his son Michael Edward Ward (1789-1832). The grounds mostly comprised lawns, with just a few clusters of trees, as Ward wanted to enjoy the beautiful view over Belfast Lough. However, he also erected some buildings out of sight downhill and planted woodland around the rear of the house.
The third castle or stately home, which we know today as Bangor Castle, was an Elizabethan-style structure completed in 1852 for Robert Edward Ward (1816-1904). With stables, gate lodges, a summer house, walled garden and an impressive arboretum, the grounds also featured grassy lawns so Ward’s family and friends could play popular Victorian sports, such as tennis and croquet.
Bangor Castle’s family history
Robert Edward Ward and his wife Harriette had only one child – a daughter called Maude, who married Co Mayo’s Fifth Baron Clanmorris (George Barry Bingham) in 1878. They in turn had three daughters and seven sons, one of whom (Barry) won the Victoria Cross in honour of his service during the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
Lord Clanmorris died in 1916, with Maude surviving him for another 25 years. Both are interred in a private plot in Castle Park. In 1941, their descendants sold the castle and 155 acres of parkland to the local authority, the then Bangor Borough Council, and it re-opened as a Town Hall in 1952. Bangor Castle is now the Town Hall and main civic building of Ards and North Down Borough Council.
The North Down Museum:
Since its creation, North Down Museum has welcomed more than two million visitors and it continues to grow a collection which started out as just a few paintings and artefacts.
With Bangor Borough Council keen to establish a local museum and/or art gallery in the town throughout the 1940s, it wasn’t until they purchased Bangor Castle that they found the perfect space to do so. Converting the castle into offices, Council completed the refurbishments in 1952 and then set about creating a museum.
Launched in 1954 and initially opening for just a few hours a week, the original museum was based in two rooms within the castle. Starting off with a modest collection of paintings and objects which had been left behind by the Ward family, this subsequently grew over time after Council made a public appeal for works of art and furniture.
As the collection expanded, so too did the museum and, 30 years later, on October 16, 1984, it opened permanently as the Visitors and Heritage Centre. Its name changed to North Down Museum in 2004. Now spread across the castle’s former stable block, laundry rooms and food stores, the museum continued to acquire items through gifts and bequests from local artists, collectors and families. Indeed, we’re still adding artefacts of local significance to the collection to this very day.
The Walled Garden:
Bangor Castle’s original Victorian Walled Garden was created in the 1840s by the Ward family and it produced everything from vegetables to fruit and flowers for the estate.
The garden was also the perfect place for the Ward family and their guests to spend a leisurely afternoon.
Although the garden eventually fell into disrepair, North Down Borough Council restored and opened it to the public in April 2009. Occupying 1.5 acres of land, the Walled Garden is divided into four sections, or quadrants, including the:
- Flower garden
- Herb and topiary garden
- Kitchen garden
- Swamp garden
In addition to the myriad of plants located within the Walled Garden, Council also commissioned two pieces of art for the space. The first is a centrally located fountain from Hampshire-based artists Charles Normandale and Julie Brooks-Hill.
Inspired by Northern Ireland’s links to the linen industry and North Down’s maritime and fishing heritage, it also evokes the Victorian tongue-twister, A Twister Twisting, which is etched into the coping stone around the piece.
The second sculpture is The Curved Horn, designed by Dungannon artist Diane McCormick, which celebrates Bangor’s maritime history with a Viking long ship-inspired design, complete with curved horn ‘prows’ representing the ‘curved horn’ meaning of the name Bangor (Beannchor).
Shapes within the bronze sculpture also portray other elements of Bangor’s history, including the gold whale tooth sent to Beannchair in 739, the Bangor Bell and various Victorian plants.
Home Farm was once beside the Walled Garden, where Bangor Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex now stands. These buildings, located on the edge of the estate, also belonged to Robert Edward Ward.
Monday – Thursday: 10am – 8pm
Friday – Sunday (and Bank Holidays): 10am – 6pm