The Parish Church of Knockbreda
In medieval times there were two churches in the parishes of Knock and Bredagh. The one at Bredagh was close to the old cemetery in Belvoir. The first record of it was in 1442 but it is possible that it was build earlier. It was ruined by 1662. The parishes were united by Oliver Cromwell in 1657 to form Knockbreda. By the early 1700s the Church of Breda was in ruins, and although the old Knock Church had been repaired, it was unsuitable for worship. A new church had to be built but the decision had to be made about where it was to be built and where the money would come from.
Ann Trevor, Lady Middleton, was responsible for building Knockbreda Parish Church in 1737 at her own expense, but stipulated it must be situated at Breda.
Image of the Knockbreda Parish Church
The Hill family were the family who built Belvoir and were most closely linked with the estate. Moyses Hill was the founder of the “dynasty”. He built forts on the River Lagan and later residences at Hillhall and Hillsborough, hence the names. In 1690 Michael Hill married Anne Trevor who was a very rich lady in her own right. Their eldest son Trevor inherited the Hill properties.
In 1722, their second son Arthur bought Belvoir which extended over a very large area of land. Arthur Hill administered his estate from Belvoir until his death in 1771; he was buried in the family vault in Belvoir cemetery.
The name “Belvoir” was possibly given by Viscountess Middleton, Arthur Hill’s mother. It may be short for “belle voir” or “beautiful view” and could be named after Belvoir Castle near Grantham in Lincolnshire where she spent many happy days of her childhood. Arthur was her favourite son and she created Belvoir for him so the work was done under her instruction. However she died in 1747 before the house was finished.
The whole family, and particularly Arthur, were very rich and powerful. They were also very active in politics and in fact Arthur Hill was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The famous Duke of Wellington had close links with Belvoir. His mother Anne Hill who married the Earl of Mornington in 1759 was the daughter of Arthur 1st Viscount Dungannon. As a girl she lived in the newly built Belvoir House and later in life at Annadale. Arthur Hill-Trevor died in 1771 and was buried in the family vault in Belvoir. The estate should have been passed down to his eldest son but he had died in 1770 so it went to his grandson who was only eight years old. He became the second Viscount Dungannon at the age of 8. This would have been a huge responsibility. From this time on the Hill-Trevors only stayed in the house occasional. The eighteenth century was an age of great parties and the parties in Belvoir would have been no exception. The “Twelfth Night” was on the 12th day after Christmas and was traditionally a big party night. In 1788 Viscount Dungannon, by now 25, held a grand fancy dress party. It was the last party to be held by Hills at Belvoir.
In 1808 there were auctions at Belvoir where they sold crops, cattle, brewing equipment, furniture and a library of over three thousand books.
Between 1809 and 1818 Robert Bateson acquired Belvoir. The Batesons came to Ulster from Yorkshire. One branch of the family established itself at Orangefield in the early 18th Century. Robert Bateson, founder of the house of Deramore, was born in 1782 and died in 1863. He was created a Baronet in 1818. His eldest son Robert had died in 1843 so his second son Thomas inherited the estate and was made Lord Deramore in 1885.
The Batesons figured prominently in the 19th century Irish Political life and there were a lot of important people who came to visit Belvoir.
Lord Deramore died in 1890 leaving no male heirs so the title went to his brother, George William. He sold off the estate and went to live in Yorkshire.
The Ice House
In common with other large country houses of the late 18th and early 19th century an ice house was built to store ice to keep provisions fresh.
This building is situated on the slope of the motte next to the river. The Ice House consists of an entrance at ground level, facing north to keep the temperatures down and a conical underground chamber which would have contained the ice. It is brick-lined for extra insulation.
The reason it is underground is to keep the general temperatures down. At the bottom of the chamber there is a drain which lets the melted water from the stored ice to drain away in this case into the River Lagan.
Ice was sourced from the River Lagan and packed into the interior during the winter when the rivers and ponds froze over. This task was probably done by the head gardener and his staff. Once the store was filled it was shut up and the entrance tunnel filled with straw for extra insulation.
The Graveyard at Belvoir
Parts of the walled graveyard go back to medieval times and would have been associated with Breda church. The Hill Family Mausoleum dominates the interior of the cemetery.
Barnett’s Demesne/Malone House
During the Plantation of Ulster the land now known as Barnett’s Demesne was granted to Sir Arthur Chichester who leased it to Moyses Hill. He built a fort in the area where the present house is situated. In the rebellion of 1641 the house was burnt. Subsequently the Hill family got land of their own in County Down (Hillsborough became their main seat) and they left the land at Malone.
The next tenants were the Legg family. Alexander Legge probably built the second Malone House which was on the site of the old stables of the present house. The house at this point was a large farm house but later on the family became successful merchants – they part-owned the Old Sugar House in Rosemary Lane which was Belfast’s first factory and “Legg’s Lane” which later became “Lombard Street” was named after them. Alexander Legg (1706 – 1777) was a successful linen merchant. Remnants of the 18th century house can still be seen to the north west of the house. William Legg died childless in 1821 and left the house to William Wallace his nephew William Wallace Legge.
In the late 1820s William Wallace Legge built a new house on the site of Moyses Hill’s original 17th century fort. He married late in life and his only son was a wild young man who squandered his money and was disinherited.
The house went to William’s daughter who had married Lord Harberton in 1861. He was a renowned academic and she was an early feminist supporting votes for women, wearing bloomers (a kind of trouser suit for women). However the Legge family did not live in the house after the death of William Wallace Legge in 1868. There followed a series of tenants including Thomas Montgomery of Ballydrain, Edmund Kertland, manager of John Shaw Brown & Co in Edenderry and William Higgin who was the owner of the Avoniel distillery. In 1921 William Barnett, a very rich man with a keen interest in horse racing (his horse Trigo won the Derby and the St Leger in 1929). He died in 1943 and left the house and grounds to the city of Belfast.
In 1940 the house had been taken over by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and Short Brothers and Harland had their drawing office there. There were concrete air raid shelters built alongside the house one of which still remains with its front removed.
After the war the grounds were open to the public and it was officially opened in 1951. In 1970 the National Trust leased it for their headquarters and the Ulster Museum housed their costume collection there. In 1976 a bomb destroyed the house and its contents.
The present house was built in 1982 and is a replica of the 1825 building. Mr Barnett, the last private owner, bequeathed Malone House and approximately 103 acres to the city of Belfast to be preserved as a public park for the recreation of the public.
Ballydrain - Malone Golf Course
The demesne at Ballydrain dates from the 17th century and was originally owned by the Stewart family. The first house was built in 1608 by William Stewart. The estate passed into the hands of Hugh Montgomery in 1834 and he rebuilt the house in 1835. Hugh Montgomery founded Montgomery’s Bank which subsequently became the Northern Bank. His eldest son, also called Hugh, was killed in the Charge of the Light Brigade and the estate passed to his second son.
It was designed by Blore who was a very well-known 19th century architect who also worked on Buckingham Palace. There was also a bleach green at Ballydrain.
During World War II it was an important military headquarters. Since 1961 it has been the clubhouse for Malone Golf Club.
Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park/Wilmont House
Wilmont House was built in 1740 by William Stewart, son of John Stewart who owned Ballydrain. The first house was situated in what is now the barbeque area. In the early 1800s the estate was one of the first to introduce carrots which were an unusual crop at that time! From 1815 there was a bleach green.
The present house was built by James Bristow in 1859, to the designs of Thomas Jackson who was one of Belfast’s most important Victorian architects. It was originally built as two large semi-detached houses to house James Bristow and his son James Thomas. Features include a false window painted into the brick work above the porch to balance the composition of the façade and James Bristow’s initials inscribed into the side of the house. Having changed hands several times, the estate was purchased by the Dixon family in 1919. Sir Thomas Dixon was His Majesty’s Lieutenant for Belfast and so they took a prominent part in official ceremonies and entertaining royalty. Famous visitors to the house included the Duke of Windsor and Captain Scott, the Antarctic explorer who stayed there on a visit in 1904.
In 1959 Lady Dixon gave the house and park to Belfast Corporation. In 1963 it was opened as an old people’s home. There are various gardens, fine mature trees in undulating woodland and parkland with the river Lagan adding interest for the many visitors to this site.
The rose gardens are internationally renowned and the International Rose Trials have taken place there since 1960.
The Japanese Gardens, created in 1990, were Northern Ireland’s first large scale Japanese gardens.
Other features include the walled gardens and the Ice House.
St Patrick’s Church, Drumbridge
The first church on this site was probably built in the late twelfth century and 1306 there is the first mention of papal tax. In 1348 bubonic plague or Black Death struck and about a quarter of the population died. The present church built 1798 and rebuilt 1870.
The Lych Gate
The “lych gate” was built in 1878 on the site of the old Bell Inn. Lych gates are more of an English tradition. The word “lych” is an Old English word for “corpse” and originally the bodies would have been laid on platforms underneath the canopy which was used for sheltering them. Lych gates are quite rare in Ireland.
The Bell Inn
The Bell Inn was on the site of the Lych Gate and had had a licence since 1600.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the main route to Dublin from Belfast was via Drumbridge along the Ballyskeagh Road to Lambeg, Hilden, Lisnagarvey, Blaris and on south. The ‘Bell Inn’ was a crucial part of the chain of rest and horse change depots along the way.
The Ale Cottage
The more affluent people would have gone to the Bell Inn but further up the road there was the “Ale Cottage” which served the needs of people with less money. There is a record of the Ale Cottage in 1748. This was a small stone cottage with a thatched roof on the river Lagan side of the Ballyskeagh Road on the way to Lambeg. In those days this particular area was notorious for highwaymen (there was a gallows on Drumbridge) and they would have frequented this establishment.
In the 1870s the church decided it did not want the “Bell Inn” at its front door so they started legal proceedings against it. The innkeeper at this time was a man called Bryce Stewart, and under great pressure from the three main landowners, namely of Wilmont, Ballydrain and Drum House, he vacated the site and the lych gate was erected.
Bryce Stewart bought the little ‘Ale Cottage’, approximately two hundred yards up the road from Drumbridge. This move to what was the ‘Ale Cottage’ was in fact the first time that a properly recognised license was attached to what is now known as ‘Robert Stewart’s”.
Bryce Stewart was never able to develop or enlarge his new tenancy to the size or style of the Bell Inn as road travel had improved over the previous sixty years or so and with the Railway taking more people, the facility that was offered by the ‘Bell Inn’ disappeared. Bryce Stewart passed the pub on to his son Issac Stewart who ran the spirit grocers until his death in 1869. Robert Stewart was granted a lease on the 1st November 1877 and it has changed hands several times since.
The Charleys were pioneers in the linen industry and it is said that looms were set up in this house in the 18th century and the new process of bleaching linen cloth with chlorine was perhaps discovered and first used here.
For over 200 hundred years members of the Charley Family lived in the Dunmurry area. They had a number of properties in the area, the first recorded house being Finaghy House when Ballyfinaghy was purchased in 1727 by Ralph Charley (1674 - 1756), a successful merchant of Belfast. It was an imposing mansion in a large park with extensive outhouses and stables. It had six reception rooms and 12 bedrooms with dressing rooms etc , a remarkable feature being a revolving fireplace between the drawing room and the dining room. The Charley family armorial bearings were built into the outside gables and on a landing, half way up the wide oak bannistered stairs. The Coat of Arms are still engraved on the landing window. At the time of the house sale in 1885 one of the conditions of sale was that if the house was demolished the Coat of Arms was to be restored to the Charley family. Five generations of the family lived at Finaghy until shortly after John Stouppe Charley (1825 - 1878) died. Finaghy House is now known as Faith House, a comfortable home for senior citizens in the middle of a large housing estate.
The Charley family occupied Seymour Hill from 1822 until 1946. In 1820 William Charley purchased and remodelled the bleach green at Dunmurry and also the nearby Mossvale works. In 1822 later he bought Seymour Hill House. Three generations of the family lived there.
Seymour Hill stands on a hill with a wide view of the Lagan Valley. The Charley estate on both sides of the River Lagan in counties Antrim and Down amounted to over four hundred acres. They were tenants of the Marquess of Hereford who owned all the land from Dunmurry to the southern shore of Lough Neagh. Seymour Hill was named after the Marquess of Hereford's surname which was Seymour. In the 1880's Irish Land Acts, the Charley family assumed full possession of the lands.
The house had four floors - the basement below ground level had extensive kitchens, scullery, larder, pantries, dairy rooms, wine cellars and a large servants' hall. On the ground floor the entrance hall had suits of armour standing in front of painted mural walls and there was a grandfather clock with the name William Charley in place of the numerals. To the left of the front door was the dinning room which contained the large family portraits. Behind the dinning room was the cloakroom, gun room and butler's pantry. To the right was the drawing room and, behind it, a comfortable morning room and library.
Water was pumped up to the house from a well in the centre of a large paddock in front of the house. There was a large wheel at the back door which had to be turned from time to time to pump water up to the roof tank. There was stabling for 12 horses in the yard.
A large walled garden and grounds were maintained by a head gardener and five or six under gardeners. Old box edgings and stones from the Giants Causeway gave it an unusual character. Outside the walled garden was the Yew Tree Walk which led from the house down to the front drive entrance. Between the house and walled garden were lawns with landscaped trees and shrubs. Near the rock garden was the dogs' cemetery, all with their individual headstones. There were front and back avenues, the front drive entering via gates with a gate lodge. In spring this avenue had daffodils all along the border from gate to the main house.
Within the grounds of Seymour Hill was a lake and a waterfall leading into a fish pond. The Derriaghy River flowed under the main Belfast - Lisburn road into the lake and then was divided into two mill races to work the factory water wheels.
During World War 2 the laundry premises in the upper yard were occupied by up to 100 women and children evacuated from the centre of Belfast during the air mid blitzes of 1941 and 1942.
Just after World War 2 the Northern Ireland Housing Trust was formed and, by the first vesting order issued in Northern Ireland, the family was compelled to sell Seymour Hill House and all the grounds on the county Antrim side of the river Lagan. This was the first enterprise undertaken by the Trust, now the NI Housing Executive. In no time the house was surrounded by a well laid out but vast housing estate.
In 1986 the house was vandalised and badly damaged by firebombs and it was feared it might have to be pulled down but the Housing Executive transferred the listed building and part of the grounds to Belfast Improved Housing Association Ltd which has now successfully restored it into six one person flats with a warden's flat on the top floor and shared launderette facilities in the old basement.
The Charley family vaults are in Drumbeg Church.
The Wolfenden family came to settle here in the late 17th century when they bought a bleach green at Lambeg.
The family linen business prospered in the 18th century and expanded to include the manufacture of blankets and paper on another site beside the Lagan about 1750.
The house and business at Lambeg were bought by Richard Niven of Manchester who had discovered the use of bichromates for the fixing of colours in the textile printing process. Niven renamed the house Chrome Hill to commemorate that discovery.