Friday, 24 February 2017

Wilmont House

THE BRISTOWS OWNED 124 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY ANTRIM


WILMONT HOUSE, Dunmurry, is located on Upper Malone Road in south Belfast.

It is a plain two-storey Victorian house, built in 1859, with a three-bay front and a balustraded porch.

There is a lower wing, ending with the wing as high as the main block.

The adjoining front has a central curved bow and one bay on either side; and camber-headed windows in the upper storey of the main block.

The roof is eaved on a bracket cornice.

There is a good article here about Wilmont's history.

The estate was formed in the mid-18th century by William Stewart, a member of a family which had come from Scotland, over a century before, to neighbouring Ballydrain.

The Stewarts were prominent farmers.
It is recorded that carrots, on a field scale, were grown at Wilmont in the early 1800s - a novel crop in those days - and that one of the early threshing machines was erected on the Wilmont Farm in 1811. There was a bleach-green on the property until 1815.
Bleach-greens, common features of the Lagan Valley during the 18th and 19th centuries, consisted of grass areas where long strips of brown linen were pegged out to bleach in natural light.

The original house, which stood on the site of the present-day barbecue area, dated back to 1740 and was replaced by the present red-bricked house in 1859.


This house was designed by Thomas Jackson (1807-90), one of Belfast`s most notable Victorian architects.

Wilmont House is typical of Jackson's domestic designs, sensibly and comfortably planned, undemonstrative in an age when many buildings were excessively ornate, and providing a composition entirely suiting the situation.

One unusual feature of the house is the false window which has been painted on the brickwork above the porch to balance the facade composition.

In the 19th century, Wilmont was inhabited by the Bristow family, influential bankers who were descendants of the Rev William Bristow, Sovereign (mayor) of Belfast in the latter years of the 18th century.

The initials of James Bristow, the first of the family to take up residence, are inscribed on the side of the house.


The Bristows sold Wilmont to Robert Henry Sturrock Reade, JP, DL (1837-1913) in 1879.

His son, George Reade, subsequently sold the house to Sir Thomas Dixon Bt.

Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon purchased Wilmont demesne in 1919.

Wilmont was one of three homes belonging to the Dixons, the others being Drumadarragh and Cairndhu, both in County Antrim.

The Dixons were a highly respected and illustrious couple.

Sir Thomas, 2nd Baronet, born in Groomsport, County Down in 1868, was the eldest son of Sir Daniel Dixon, Bt.


Both Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon had distinguished public careers: From 1939-41 they served as first Mayor and Mayoress of Larne, and were great benefactors to the Borough.

In 1935, they donated Dixon Park to Larne Borough Council as a gift, together with £500 for the provision of music in the park.

Cairndhu was donated to the Hospitals Authority, for use as a convalescent home.

In 1957, Lady Dixon presented the Mayoress's chain of office to Larne Borough Council; and in 1964, robes, to be worn by Aldermen, Councillors and Mace Bearer.

In the early 1960s, Lady Dixon donated £10,000 towards the cost of converting and renovating the former technical college into Council Offices.

They are now known as Sir Thomas Dixon Buildings.

Sir Thomas died at Harrowgate in 1950. Lady Dixon, who was appointed DBE after the 1st World War in recognition of her service to HM Forces, died in 1964. 

A year before her death, in 1963, Wilmont demesne was officially handed over to Belfast Corporation.

The house, according to her wishes, was shortly afterwards opened as a home for the elderly; while the grounds, at her behest, were opened to the public.

The present park, named after its benefactors, consists of 134 acres and has been the venue for the City of Belfast International Rose Trials since 1964.

Over the years, it has become one of the most popular parkland areas in the city of Belfast.

Many distinguished visitors have stayed at Wilmont House in the past: Captain Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, was a guest, during his visit to Belfast in 1904.

In 1934, the house became the temporary residence of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland when Government House, Hillsborough, was damaged by fire on 7th August of that year.

The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Ulster, was a guest in 1935, during Sir Thomas's period as Lord-Lieutenant. 

During World war II, the house served as the Northern Ireland headquarters of the United States Army.

The property, as already mentioned, was given to Belfast Corporation by Lady Dixon in 1963.

ALAS, the future of Wilmont House is uncertain at the time of this article (February, 2015).

***** 

The 134 acres formed part of a demesne founded in the 18th century for a house of 1740, which is now gone.

The grounds retain many features from the gardens for this house and many subsequent developments added by Belfast City Council.

There are fine mature trees in undulating woodland and parkland, with the River Lagan adding interest.

A large part of the park contains the International Rose Trial grounds, set up in 1964 and remodelled from the late 1980s. 

Judging takes place over a long period but the highlight is Rose Week, which has been marked every year in July since 1975.

Camellia trials have taken place since 1981. 

A Japanese Garden was added in 1991.

The walled gardens have been redesigned from their traditional layout and contain interesting plant material.

There are also remains from former times: for example, an ice house; gate lodge; stable block; and a yew walk.

The recreational facilities take the form of picnic benches, children’s playground, lawns, good planting, band concerts, café and shop. 

This is not a park designated for organised sports, though part of the original holding is now a private golf course.

First published August, 2010.

3 comments :

Anonymous said...

Do you know why they gave away so much of their property? There were obviously nephews / nieces who could have taken them on? Seems odd, I wonder if there were family feuds?

Anonymous said...

Well, whatever their reasons, the people of Belfast have a lot to thank them for!

Irishlad said...

Where there's a will there's a relative. :)