A FINE GENTLEMAN'S RESIDENCE AND SOME LADIES
(A paper by DENNIS KENNEDY, read to the Belfast Literary Society, 2nd October 2017.)
In 2004 a substantial detached house, dating from 1953, was demolished to make way for four new town houses in the cul de sac called Mornington, in south Belfast, off Annadale Avenue. It was next door to my own house. Total demolition took less than a day. The work uncovered a considerable area of cellars, which were rapidly filled in, and the development went ahead.
The cellars, or more probably basements, belonged to Annadale Hall, which had stood on this site for nearly two centuries, before being finally demolished in 1952. The Hall had disappeared, but not the name Annadale. By 2004 Belfast had many Annadales - there was an Avenue, an Embankment, a Crescent, a Drive, a Terrace, a Green, a Grove, a Gardens; there were Annadale Flats, an Annadale Village, plus an Annandale Hockey Club and an Annadale Grammar School. There had once been an Annadale Cottage, an Annadale Brickworks and until the 1980s an Annadale House. The proliferation continues today, with Annadale Mews, Annadale Square.......
Local tradition told us that Anne Countess of Mornington, mother to the Duke of Wellington, had lived in the house sometime in the late 18th century, after which it was named Annadale Hall in her memory. The name Mornington derives from the same source.
When we moved into Mornington in 1986 we knew nothing of the history of the area. We heard from a neighbour the bare bones of the Wellington connection and the big house that had once stood almost exactly where we were now living. Already,on walks through the rough grazing that lay between our house and the Lagan my wife and I had noticed the occasional fruit tree and ornamental shrub that hinted at a once nurtured parkland.
I found one or two old newspaper articles which confirmed the links with the Countess and her son the Duke. But it was only when the remains of the Hall were disturbed in 2004 that I began seriously to research its history. As a historian I had read enough about the life of the Duke of Wellington to know that he had been born in Dublin and lived most of his adult life outside Ireland - in India, in Portugal and Spain, and, mostly, in England.
Given the numerous biographies of Wellington, and the plentiful body of archive material surrounding him, I though it should be fairly easy to find out just when his mother had lived in Annadale Hall, and when he might have lived with her there, or visited her. It was not; the 'fairly easy' task turned out to a laborious attempt to reconstruct three histories - of the house, of the Countess, and of the Duke - and find out where, how and if they intersected.
Annadale Hall had begun life in the mid-18th century under another name - Galwally. A Taylor and Skinner map of 1777 (1) has it clearly marked as Caldwally, the residence of 'Portis, Esquire.' It must have been of considerable significance as it is the only house so marked on the County Down side of the Lagan. between Mountpottinger in the town of Belfast and Belvoir. There is no sign of anywhere called Annadale.
(1): Taylor and ~Skinner map of 1777 showing 'Caldwally' and Belvoir.
George Portis (1734-1797) was appointed Collector of Customs and Excise for Belfast in 1764, and for a time served as Agent for Lord Donegall, posts which presumably made him wealthy enough to afford a substantial new dwelling. As Collector, Portis would have had an official residence in the centre of Belfast and is said to have built Galwally as a country retreat.
Estyn Evans, writing about the development at that time of the Lagan valley refers to the 'wooded demesnes' of the landed gentry and aristocracy being supplemented by the smaller estates of merchants who built their country houses, intended as summer residences only, with romantic English names and lands planted with exotic trees and shrubs.' Among these houses he lists Annadale, along with Parkmount, Richmond Lodge. Maryville, Wilmont, Jennymount, Seaview and Garden Hill. Galwally hardly qualified as a romantic English name, but Annadale does.
Portis barely makes it into the history books, but he gets frequent mentions in the Drennan-McTier Letters, that correspondence between Belfast Presbyterian brother and sister William Drennan and Martha McTier that provides a window into Belfast society in the years from 1776 to 1819.
Martha McTier portrays Portis as a sharp businessman and a rapacious acquirer of land. In January 1776, she records how she had gone to dine at his house with a party of twenty. Regrettably she tells us nothing about either the dinner or the house, or indeed whether it was his Collector's House or Galwally. In 1785 she writes that Mr Portis had surprised his friends by a visit to Dublin, from which he had returned declaring that he had purchased a living for his son George (The Rev George McCartney Portis) worth £1000 a year from the Duke of Leinster, and that the Bishop of Dromore had given him another worth £600.
Later that year she has sad news of 'poor Mr Portis' madness' which it was to be feared, had brought on the ruin of his fortune. The madness, it seems, had taken the form of purchasing lands, houses, presentations, horses, furniture and buildings. His brother, we learn later, had got hold of Portis and was sorting things out, until Portis escaped and turned up in Oxfordshire 'bestowing purchases and drawing bills' to the extent that 'nothing less that absolute confinement can prevent his entire ruin'.
Confined he was, and we learn no more of Mr Portis until his death in 1797, before which date a new name - Chichester Skeffington - had appeared in the Drennan letters for the Collector of Belfast. Portis' son, the Rev George McCartney Portis, had taken over Galwally. In November 1793, we can deduce that he has sold, or at least vacated Galwally, for the Belfast Newsletter on November 1st of that year, is advertising a sale of household furniture by auction 'at the Rev Mr Portis's Galwally, near the Lord Viscount Dungannon's Belvoir; consisting of bedsteads and bedding, mahogany, Northumberland and other tables and chairs, desk and book cases. lookiing glasses, a small church organ, a clock, a jack, with a great variety of kitchen and other furniture too numerous to insert. Add to this two very fine milch cows, four beef ditto, one horse, some very fine black pigs, small Dutch breed. And several dozens of excellent old clarets in bottle.'
It is not clear who owned or lived in the house for the next five years, but it was certainly occupied by Chichester Skeffington for a decade and a half from 1800 on, evidenced by the voluminous correspondence among members of the Skeffington Massereene connection. Skeffington was a brother of the then Viscount Massereene of Antrim Castle and succeeded to the title in 1811. The letters also tell us that from at least 1800 the house called Galwally, was renamed Annadale, or Annadale Hall.
The earliest cartographical evidence of this is the first Ordnance Survey of County Down completed in the late 1820s.(2) The house that is obviously Galwally is clearly marked Annadale, lying in the district named Galwally, close to the Lagan and just to the north of the Belvoir estate. Closer to Belfast there is another house labelled Anna's Cottage.
(2): Early 18th century OS map showing Annadale
What do we know about the house itself? Built possibly as early as 1760, we don't know for sure what the original house looked like. The land was leased part from Viscount Dungannon (Arthur Hill-Trevor of Belvoir) and part from Lord Donegall. The gentry of the day had begun employing architects from Dublin, and Viscountess Middleton, the re-married widow of Dungannon's father, had, somewhat earlier (1737-47), had the new church at Breda (Knockbreda parish) 'executed under the direction of Mr. Castell (the distinguished architect)'. But Cassells, as we know him, was dead by 1751, so it is unlikely he was involved in the building of Galwally.
A much later picture, probably from the early 20th century, shows Annadale Hall to be a substantial, rather plain, mansion in the Georgian style, with a largely undecorated front façade, and a slightly elevated doorway, with fan-light and pillars.(3)
(3): Annadale Hall, c1900?
When the 'House and Demesne of Annadale' was put up for sale in 1819 it was described as 'formerly the residence of the Earl of Massereene' situated on the bank of the River Lagan, within one mile and a half of the Town of Belfast, by the new line of road over the Lagan Bridge.' The house was in 'perfect order, and contains every elegant accommodation for a numerous and respectable family'.
More detailed attention was given to the surrounding demesne of 135 acres.:
'The lands are in the highest state of improvement, almost surrounded by extensive plantations. There is a large walled garden, with a great variety of the finest fruit trees in full berrying; also a modern green-house, hot-houses, kitchen garden, & &. The whole is exceedingly well enclosed, the greater part by a wall and by the River Lagan; the remainder by excellent hedges. The Office Houses are spacious and lately erected, and there is a good Gardeners House and six substantial houses for labourers. A threshing machine of Four Horse power has been lately erected on the most modern construction. In consequence of its contiguity to Belfast any portion of the lands can be lent at high rents.'
When sold almost a century later in 1901 it was described as 'a fine old commodious manor house set in attractive grounds with an unequalled view of the Lagan valley, and certainly one of the most desirable residences in Belfast's suburbs'. The accommodation was listed as drawing room, dining room, morning room and library, nine bedrooms, two bathrooms besides the usual domestic offices suitable for a large establishment.' (A later note refers to its ballroom 'which is, and has been always regarded as one of the finest in Ulster', and to the unmatched views over the river to Belfast from its principal rooms.)
The 1901 sale notice listed excellent stables, coach house and coachman's apartment. The grounds, it said were tastefully laid out, and embellished with trees of magnificent growth and planted with shrubs of the choicest quality' plus a croquet lawn, well stocked fruit gardens and a large and very early vegetable garden...This manor house, from its thorough exclusiveness, adaptability to meet the requirements of a gentleman's family, and at the same time its close touch with the city is certainly one of the most desirable residences in the suburbs.'
One or two references suggest that the house so described was not necessarily the original 18th century one. When it was advertised for sale in 1852 it was stated that 'the mansion was erected by the late Lord Massereene' which would suggest a date around 1800. A newspaper article of 1914 said it was built 'about 80 years ago' (indicating the 1830s) and was 'formerly the old Manor House'. A new owner in the 1860s was said to have renovated and extended the house. The third storey may well have been added at some point, as was quite common with early Georgian houses.
James Moore's watercolour of 1848 (4) shows Annadale Hall in its setting of tastefully laid out grounds with trees and shrubs of the choicest quality, all running down to the first lock on the Lagan Navigation. The riverside elevation of the house tallies with what we know of its general layout as it was in the 20th century.
(4): James Moore's painting of Annadale Hall seen from first lock on Lagan Navigation, 1848.
In 1914 the then unoccupied Hall was set on fire by suffragettes. It was burned again, probably by the IRA, in 1921, and eventually demolished in 1923.
So much for the house. What about the people who lived in it?
Mr George Portis and his Minister son the Rev George McCartney Portis between them probably occupied the house called Galwally from its construction about 1760 until at least 1793. I have not been able to find who lived in it for the next seven years, but we know that from 1800, at the latest, the Hon. Chichester Skeffington and his family were in residence, and remained so for more than a decade.
Skeffington succeeded to the Massereene title and estate in 1811, but continued living in Annadale Hall for another two or three years, presumably while he was rebuilding Antrim Castle. He had followed George Portis as Collector of Revenues for Belfast and was a member of the Dublin Parliament from 1783 to 1798. His mother in law, the Dowager Countess of Roden, of Tullymore Park, was a frequent visitor to the Skeffingtons and these excursions are noted in the sparse diary she kept from 1797 until her death in 1802. Until 1800 these trips were all recorded as being to 'Belfast." From July 1800 she is going to stay with the Skeffingtons at "Annadale" though also travelling to visit other people in "Belfast". She makes no comment in the diary on this change of address. She died during a visit to Annadale Hall in September 1802.
Chitty Skeffington, as he was known to the family, was a wealthy man, and the decade or more from 1800 must have been one of the house's best periods. An indication of Skeffington's prominence in Belfast society, and of the presentable state of Annadale Hall, came in August 1804 when the 'Lord Lieutenant-General and General Governor of Ireland, His Excellency Philip Earl Hardwicke' stopped by for breakfast.
Hardwicke and His lady wife were on a week-long official visit to Belfast. The Newsletter reported on August 31 1804: 'On Thursday morning Their Excellencies left town on their way to Tullamore Park, the seat of the Earl of Roden, accompanied by the Marquis and Marchioness of Donegall, and, attended by the Belfast Troop, stopped at Annadale and breakfasted with the Hon Mr and Lady Harriot Skeffington'.
In 1810 there was another grand occasion at Annadale when the wedding of the daughter, and only child of the house, also called Harriet, took place by special license in the Hall. She married the Right Hon. Thomas Henry Foster, only son of the Right Hon. John Foster, Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland. The notice in the Newsletter added the information that Miss Skeffington was 'niece to the Earl of Massereene and the Earl of Roden and also to the clergyman who performed the ceremony, the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Leighlin and Ferns. This was Percy Jocelyn, who went on to be Bishop of Clogher, only to be deprived of his See in 1822 by an ecclesiastical court for conduct then unbecoming, to say no more.
Skeffington moved to Antrrim Castle about 1815, and died the following year. His stay in Annadale Hall may have been as tenant rather than proprietor, and if so the owner could have been James Trail Kennedy, a prosperous wine merchant and prominent figure in Belfast society for several decades, who, we know, owned Annadale Hall from at least 1815 until 1832-33.
Advertisements listing his latest shipments of wines appear regularly in the newspapers, and his name is often included among prominent citizens, as in, for instance, the Conciliation Dinner held in the Great Room of the Commercial Buildings in May 1829. James Traill Kennedy, of Annadale, is listed among the 125 gentlemen of different religious persuasions who sat down to a sumptuous dinner to manifest their satisfaction at the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill.
He and his wife were living in Annadale Hall in February 1816 when the Newsletter reported 'a melancholy accident'. A Master Reynett, son of Capt. Reynett of Dublin, visiting relatives at Ballymacash had been invited to dine at Annadale Hall on Sunday February 11th. 'Tempted by the ice, he imprudently ventured on the canal and was drowned. Everything that humanity and friendship could dictate was done by Mr and Mrs Kennedy...but all their efforts were useless.
In February 1819 Mr Kennedy put Annadale up for sale 'with immediate possession'. The advertisement said he intended to reside abroad for some years, and was disposing of his entire interest. But it seems the house was not sold, and the Kennedys were still in residence as we have seen in 1829 and in 1832 when James died aged 84. Annadale Hall stayed in the family, as the next resident was the Kennedy's son-in-law Robert George Bomford, who had married the Kennedy's daughter Elizabeth in 1826. He was much involved in the Belfast Museum, and was a member of the Belfast Society, as it was then called, (was that the forerunner of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society?) We shall return to the Kennedy family later.
For two decades from the mid-1830s the Hall was occupied by an Alexander McDonnell, a solicitor. After his death it was advertised for sale in April 1856, described as a large and commodious mansion house commanding a splendid view, along with more than 100 acres of prime quality land.
Robert Caldwell, a hardware merchant with a business in Waring Street and briefly a Belfast City Councillor was in Annadale Hall until his death in 1862, and his widow remained there until her death in the later 1860s. The house was then bought by a Mr William Hartley, who lived in it for a time and is said to have renovated and extended it.
The next two occupants I can identify, both of whom may have been renting the Hall from Wm Hartley were Colonel Forbes and James McConnell. In 1883 the Rt Hon.Colonel Forbes was transferred from his post as magistrate for Sligo, Mayo and Leitrim to Belfast. He and his wife and daughter took up residence in Annadale Hall in 1885, though their stay was cut short by Colonel Forbes rapid transfer out of Belfast in 1889 in the wake of controversy over his role in the handling of the 1886 riots in the city.
But it is his wife, the Honourable Mrs Forbes, who concerns us here. This paper is entitled A Fine Gentleman's Residence and some Ladies, and she is one of them. This is a literary society, so Mrs Forbes should be of some interest, for she was a poet, albeit among the worst poets ever published, and one of her truly awful efforts is entitled "The Christmas Tree at Annadale Hall".
In December 1888 the Newsletter tells us that this poem is the latest with which she has been enriching English literature during the past few years. The events portrayed in the poem take place on Christmas Eve 1887 during a children's party in Annadale Hall which ends in tragedy when fire breaks out with the children still thinking it is part of the fun.
One little boy is engulfed, and as Mrs F puts it -
His face is burnt, his eyes are gone, He cannot now on earth last long.
The article notes that the poem is beautifully printed and bound and adds 'we think it only just to the authoress to state that it occasionally lapses into rhyme, but never deviates into coherency'. It claims that the poem is based on an actual tragic accident in Annadale Hall a year earlier, but I have found no confirmation of that.
Mrs Forbes and the Forbes family were multi-talented. In December 1887 at a meeting of the Knockbreda Temperance Movement, the first item on the programme was a pianoforte solo by Miss Forbes (daughter) while The Hon Mrs Forbes was most happy in her singing, and in response to a warm recall gave "Home Sweet Home" considerable taste and expression'.
After the Forbes departure the Hall was the residence for two decades of James McConnell J.P. and his numerous family. A businessman, described as a merchant in tiles and cement, he served for 36 years as a Harbour Commissioner and was much involved in major harbour developments. Annadale Hall was not just a family home; in 1895 a deputation from Aberdeen City Council came to Belfast. The visitors were shown around the harbour by boat, accompanied by James McConnell, and afterwards entertained by him to dinner at Annadale Hall, followed by 'a pleasant little boating expedition on the Lagan'.
James McConnell was a solid Presbyterian, but with some taste for adventure; a notice in the Belfast Telegraph of 5 May 1898, announces the creation of the Bear Mountain Gold Mining Company to acquire gold mines in California and elsewhere in America. Capital £175,000 in £1 shares. Among the directors listed are James McConnell and Thomas McConnell of Annadale Hall. The Bear Mountain must have delivered, for three years later the McConnell family moved into Stranmillis House.
In July 1901 the Hall was advertised for sale as 'certainly one of the most desirable residences in Belfast's suburbs'... Unfortunately the hyperbole of the estate agent failed to impress, and the For Sale was changed to To Be Let and repeatedly so throughout the next decade.
For a few years it was a base for the Ulster Agricultural Society, and then either let short-term or left vacant with a resident caretaker. It was in this latter state in 1914 when on the morning of Wednesday April 22nd it was set on fire by suffragettes. (5)
(5): Newspaper photo of Annadale Hall in May 1914 after the Suffragettes' attempt to burn it down.
The women's suffrage movement in Belfast in 1914 had a substantial middle class, and mainly Unionist body of support. At first it was suffragist, that is non-violent, but its mood changed, first with smashing the windows of the GPO in Donegall Square in 1912, and the setting fire to pillar boxes. In March 1914 a group of suffragettes from Ulster picketed Sir Edward Carson's home in London demanding he fulfil an earlier pledge to support the franchise for women. Pleading illness, he sent a letter out to them saying that as there was a division in the ranks of Irish Unionism on the matter, he could not promise support.
The women's response was to declare war on Carson and on the Unionist elite of Ulster. There was an immediate blitz on pillar boxes. Big houses including Abbeylands at Whiteabbey and Orlands near Kilroot were burned, a bomb was placed in Lisburn Cathedral blowing out a stained-glass window, there was an attempt to burn the church at Drumbo, the Hippodrome theatre in Belfast caught fire, though that may have been accidental, the Tea House at Bellevue was burned, as was the pavilion at the Cavehill Bowling and Tennis Club, and also Annadale Hall. Some golf courses had acid poured on their greens.
Four genteel ladies from Lisburn were charged with bombing the town's Cathedral and spent time in Crumlin Road jail, but were released with the outbreak of war. No one was charged over Annadale Hall. In most cases the arsonists left pieces of suffragette literature at the scene to make the message plain. The targets were chosen not always because of any Unionist or masculine connections, but probably because compensation for such malicious damage would fall on the Unionist controlled local authority.
Though damaged in 1914, Annadale Hall was still usable and it limped on after the outbreak of the Great War as a training base for the 36th Ulster Division. Later it sunk to being used as a furniture store. It was finished off in January 1921 when it was again set on fire, presumably by the IRA though that was never proved. The burned house was bought by a builder in 1921, but was left an unoccupied ruin until the 1950s..
This account of the residents of Galwally/Annadale Hall over more than a century makes no mention whatsoever of Anne Countess of Mornington having lived there or being associated with it. But when it was set alight by the suffragettes in 1914 the newspapers were full of references to the Countess and to her son the Duke of Wellington. It was repeatedly asserted that the Hall had been her home, even that the Duke had been born there.
An article in the Belfast Telegraph alongside the report of the arson attack and headed History of Annadale Hall, asserted that -
'soon after it was built Annadale Hall was tenanted by Lady Mornington - one of the leading stars of the social world - and one of her coats of arms can still be observed on the bedroom grates. The Duke of Wellington was at this time one of the many distinquished visitors who spent time in the spring of each year as guests at the manor.''
When the claim for compensation for the damage to the Hall was heard at the end of June 1914 before His Hon Judge J Walter Craig, Mr Wilson, the lawyer for the claimants, told the judge that it was said the Duke of Wellington was born there, to which the Judge replied that the Duke of Wellington was born in a great many places. Wilson: 'I believe we could prove the duke stayed there.', To which the Judge replied that in an apothecary's shop in Dublin there was preserved a prescription said to have been ordered by the mother of the Duke at the time he was born in Merrion Street.
Mr Wilson tried another tack; 'I understand the crest and Mornington arms were on some of the chimney pieces.' Mr McKee the agent handling the property added that Lady Mornington's coat of arms appeared on the mantelpiece of one of the rooms. (Despite the frequent references to the Mornington coat of arms on mantelpieces or grates in Annadale Hall, no one seems to have rescued one when the house was demolished.)
For the Corporation Mr D F Spiller said that the state of the premises was such that he would not stable a dog in them. He described the claim as grossly exaggerated. The house was in such a dilapidated state it would be safer and better to have it removed altogether.
The judge made an award of £170, just over half the amount claimed.
Despite this legal scepticism the links between the Countess, the Duke and Annadale Hall were part of Belfast folklore, and were frequently affirmed in print by men with letters behind their names.
Francis Joseph Biggar MA MRIA in 1926, writing in the Newsletter (Oct 1st) on Belvoir House and its estate noted that the Duke of Wellington as a boy was familiar with the woods of Belvoir Park and the banks of the Lagan, adding: - 'His mother, Lady Mornington, had built the new church (at Knockbreda) about 1747 though she was a hard, heartless mother to the young Duke.'
This statement about Knockbreda church is obviously a mistake; the Duke's mother was born in 1742 and could not have built that church which dated from between 1737 and 47. The Anne who had the church built at her own expense was not Anne Countess of Mornington, but her grandmother, Ann Countess of Middleton.
In 1949 (Jan 6) the Telegraph carried a story by Peter Cansdale headed 'The Victor of Waterloo spent happy days at Belvoir Park House' stating that as a child Wellington had loved to wander through the woods of Belvoir and by the lake and river.
Douglas Deane, of the Ulster Museum, in a 1977 article admits that Lady Mornington's stay in Annadale Hall 'is something of a closed book' and that there is little to show that the Duke-to-be ever stayed in it. Nevertheless the article affirms that Lady Mornington resided at Annadale Hall 'in her widow's weeds' from about 1785 to the end of the century.
As we shall see, the records show that, apart from a year in Brussels, she was living in London for that entire period.
In 1952 (the centenary of Wellington's death), the Telegraph carried an article which stated that the Countess had moved into Galwally (Annadale Hall) when the future Duke was 16 years old - that is in 1784 or 85, and that in the same year young Arthur had visited Belfast..
In his book Belfast Street Names, published in 1999, George Carson says that the name Annadale derives from Anne, daughter of the first Viscount Dungannon, who married the Earl of Mornington in 1759, and that Annadale Hall, where she resided for a time was named after her. The book adds the Duke of Wellington 'lived here for some time as a boy.'
A seemingly authoritative account of these connections appeared in the Belfast Newslettter in January 1920 under the heading Iron Duke and Belfast, written by J.W.Kernohan M.A, the Hon Sec of the Presbyterian Historical Society. It also appeared a few days later in the Belfast Telegraph, and almost a decade later acquired more permanent standing when it was incorporated in Rev W.P.Carmody's History of the Parish of Knockbreda. Published in 1829.
Kernohan states that the Countess of Mornington spent part of her widowhood living at Annadale, while admitting that 'little of a documentary nature' exists about this. He later says that her stay at Annadale is 'a closed book', adding that 'it must have been between 1785 and the opening years of the new century'.
He records as fact that 'The Mornington crest is still to be seen on the mantelpiece of Annadale Hall, and gives a vivid reminder of a family of much interest in the time of the third George', concluding with the assertion that 'Mr Samuel McKee, agent of the Annadale Estate, highly values the Mornington association with Annadale, and with the Countess's room in particular.
Searching around for more references to connections between the Countess and her son with Annadale, I came across a website devoted to Annadale Grammar School., which made this confident and somewhat startling assertion:
'The site on which the school was built was originally known as Anna's Dale, a name referred to in letters from the Duke to his mother which are now held by the school.'
I wrote to the Headmaster of Wellington College, which has replaced Annadale, asking if he knew of the letters from the Duke, and had they been passed on to the College. As yet the college has been unable to confirm the existence of any such letters..
A friend who had delved into the history of Annadale Grammar School sent me some documents including a photocopy of one letter signed 'Wellington' apparently from the Duke. It is a short note and contains no reference to Belvoir, Annadale, or to his mother. The date, examined closely, seems to be 1880, nearly 30 years after the Duke's death. Could this be a letter from the second Duke, who would have been 73 in 1880?
The first headmaster of Annadale, T.H.Martin, has recorded how one letter came into the school's possession. On a crossing to England he met a Mrs Helen Stewart who, on hearing about the new school and the reputed Wellington connection, told him she had in her possession several letters from the Duke, written to one of her ancestors, and that she had subsequently given one to him for the school..
It is clear that many of these 20th writings century about the Countess and Annadale Hall fed on each other, rather than on original research. Significantly perhaps, the earliest published reference I have found linking Annadale Hall to the Countess is a short note in the Belfast Newsletter in September 1852, on the occasion of the funeral of the Duke of Wellington. Headed Birthplace and Infancy of the Duke of Wellington it reproduces a letter from a reader as follows:-
'There appears to be some difficulty in ascertaining where our great general, Wellington, was born. If you would inquire at the old people about Belvoir, in County Down, and at the old people about Newtownbreda, some information might be obtained about this interesting and engrossing point. I have heard his mother brought him to Belvoir, where she resided during his infancy, and nursed him herself.
Even more oddly, as Sir Arthur Wellesley's fame began to grow during the Peninsular War and soared after Waterloo, Irish papers, both in Belfast and Dublin, proudly claimed him as an Irishman, but seem not to have mentioned any connection with Belfast. As we noted Annadale Hall was advertised for sale in February 1819. The bill advertising the sale described it as 'formerly the residence of the late Earl of Massereene'. Given that the Duke of Wellington was still in his post-Waterloo glory, it must be remarkable that any estate agent aware of a connection between the Duke and the property for sale would fail to exploit the link.
Post-1852, numerous published articles made a range of assertions about the Countess and the Duke, some dubious, some demonstrably erroneous. In 1870 William Gray, the Hon. Sec of the Belfast Naturalist Field Club, writing in the Northern Whig said that when Lord Mornington died in 1781 leaving the Countess in straitened circumstances, "his father, Viscount Dungannon....brought her to Annadale and partitioned off that portion of his Belvoir estate for her use during her lifetime," adding that it is more than probable that her young family, including Arthur, the future Duke of Wellington resided at Annadale prior to his departure for Eton. (That is in the summer of 1781.)
That is a positive statement coming from a reputable named source, but there are several problems with it. Viscount Dungannon was not Lord Mornington's father; he was, if I have worked it out correctly, Anne's nephew. Her father had been Viscount Dungannon when he died in 1771, and the title had passed to his grandson. Furthermore the records seem to show that in 1781 George Portis, or his son, was still living in the house that was to be named Annadale Hall. he statement is also at odds with what is known of the Countess's life after the death of her husband in 1781?
Who was the Countess of Mornington? Anne was born in 1742, not in Belvoir according to some sources, but in Dublin, the daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor of the Hills of Hilllsborough family who had been settled in Belvoir since the 1730s. (7) She spent her girlhood there. It was a rather short girlhood as she was married at the age of 16 in 1759 to Garret Wesley, just recently become Baron Mornington of Meath and shortly to become Earl of Mornington. Son of an English family long established in Ireland, Garret was a talented player of the violin and a composer. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin, becoming a Doctor of Music in 1764 to add to his BA and MA. In the same year he was appointed TCD's first Professor of Music. (8)
(7): Garret Wesley, First Earl of Mornington.
(8): The Countess in mourning. 1781. (Attrib. to Benjamin Burnell)
The newly-weds set up home in 1759 in Dangan Castle in County Meath, with a town house in Dublin's Grafton Street. Their first child, Richard, was born in 1760 in Dublin, as was, in 1769, Arthur, the fourth child and future Duke of Wellington. In 1770 Richard was enrolled at Harrow, partly because of Anne's determination that her sons should have an English education and English accents. He was later expelled from Harrow and moved to Eton, and from there to Oxford University in 1778.
Early in the 1770s the Earl moved to London, which he found more congenial for reasons both social and musical, though at least one historian of the Wellesleys says it was Anne's ambitions for her sons that drove the family to London, and that this happened as early as 1770, when Richard started at Harrow, and when Arthur would have been little more than a one-year old infant. The whole family was certainly living in London by 1775.
In 1781 the Earl died suddenly, in London, at the age of 46, leaving Anne a poorly-off widow of 39 with six surviving children ranging in age from 21 to 8 years of age. (9) Four of these were under the age of 13, including the 12-year-old Arthur. Lord Mornington died on May 22nd, 1781, and was buried in London. If the Countess and her children returned to Dublin or to her family seat at Belvoir, it can have been only for a few weeks.
(9): Sir Arthur Wellesley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1808. (Portrait, Richard Cosway.)
We know she was back and living in London by July, for on the 13th of that month she was writing from a London address to her eldest son Richard, the new owner of the family estate. The letter was mostly about the dire financial position in which she found herself, but she was lavish in her thanks to Richard for his handling of the family finances.
She writes that she fears 'the boys' - presumably Arthur and his younger brother Gerald - would have to be withdrawn from Eton. This can only mean the two brothers had already been accepted for Eton early in 1781, though they had not yet entered the school. In the event, presumably with Richard's help, they were both enrolled at Eton in the autumn of the same year. The Countess' letter makes no mention of Belvoir or of her own family, no mention of any special provision coming from her own father, no mention of any intention to return to settle in Ireland.
The young Arthur was certainly with her in London that summer, for we know that he attended Brown's academy in Chelsea for a time in early or mid-1781 before going to Eton. Three years later, in 1784, he was withdrawn from Eton so that the family could afford to enrol his younger brother Henry there.
We know that after Eton, in the summer of 1784, Arthur travelled back to Ireland via Llangollen where his grandmother Lady Dungannon had been living. It seems likely that he spent part of his summer holidays while at Eton with his grandmother, possibly travelling on to Ireland, though we know no more than that.
Both mother and son were in London later that summer, when she despatched Arthur as a residential student to a tutor in Brighton. Then, as an economy measure, the Countess moved from London to Brussels, where Arthur joined her at the beginning of 1785, again enrolling as a residential pupil with a private tutor. A year later Lady Mornington returned to London while Arthur moved to the Ecole Royale d'Equitation at Angers in France. He was registered there in January 1786 as Mr Wesley, gentilhomme Irandais, fils de Mylaidi Mornington.
After a year in Angers, Arthur was back in London at the end of 1786. He embarked on a career in the army, mainly because his mother deemed him fit for little else. A year later he was in Ireland, combining his regimental commitments with serving as aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Buckingham.
He spent the next six years in Ireland, gambling and sowing wild oats, but also becoming MP for Trim in the Dublin Parliament, helping with the management of the Dangan estate, meeting Kitty Pakenham whom he was to marry more than a decade later, and also, we are told, burning his violin as an indication of his determination to succeed in his military career. (He had inherited his father's musical talents and was an enthusiastic and accomplished violinist.) He also managed to reach the rank of Lt Colonel.
He left Ireland in the summer of 1794, when the United Irishmen were organising, and the French Revolution was spilling over into a European war. He sailed from Cork for Ostend, as part of an expedition to reinforce the Duke of York's army fighting in Flanders. This was his first active service. The expedition was a bit of a disaster and Lt Col Wesley found himself back in Dublin Castle as aide-de-camp and back in the Parliament as Member for Trim. Then in 1796 he was off to India with his regiment and promotion to the rank of Colonel.
He was to spend eight years there, both as a soldier and as an administrator, alongside his much more illustrious elder brother Richard who served as Governor General from 1797 before both returned (via St Helena) to England in 1805, Richard as the Marquess Wellesley and Arthur as Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley. (Richard having changed the family name from Wesley in 1798 to avoid confusion with the itinerant preachers of the same name.)
Thereafter, not without hitch, Arthur's career both as soldier and politician was onward and upward - elected to the House of Commons in 1806, Chief Secretary for Ireland (1807-09), then the Peninsular War, raised to Viscount Wellington in 1809, to Earl in 1812 (February), to Marquess in 1812 (August), to Duke (1815), triumph at Waterloo in 1815, and Prime Minister 1828. (10)
(10): The Countess in old age.
That summary of the life and times of Arthur from the death of his father in 1781 indicates just how little opportunity young Arthur might have had to enjoy the woods of Belvoir or the grassy banks of the Lagan at Annadale.
As for Lady Mornington the probability is that she was settled in London from 1781, and we know that by 1794 at the latest she was living permanently at a house in Henrietta Street, Cavendish Square, which was her address when she died 37 years later in 1831. By 1796 the Hill-Trevor family had vacated Belvoir and moved to Wales, leaving house and estate in the care of an agent, and thereby severing any family connection between the Countess and Belvoir.
If we combine what we know of the occupancy of Annadale Hall from 1781 - the date of Anne's husband's death - with what we know of her own whereabouts from then on, it seems almost impossible that she ever lived in Annadale Hall, or had any association with it.
Why then, was the house's name changed from Galwally to Annadale Hall in or about 1800, and how do we explain the repeated claims that the Mornington crest decorated at least one mantelpiece in the Hall, and was still there in 1921 when the house was burned?
Taken along with Douglas Deane's account of having seen the crest himself in 1921, this seems strong evidence that the Mornington crest was indeed on at least one mantelpiece in Annadale Hall. But if so why was it there and when was it put there? Deane when he saw it in 1921 would have been at most a schoolboy, and may been shown a crest and told it was that of the Countess. J.W.Kernohnan may have been recounting what was generally believed about the Countess and the Hall. .
Despite these frequent references to the Mornington coat of arms on mantelpieces in Annadale Hall, no one seems to have rescued one when the house was abandoned and eventually demolished. Even so, the probability must be that there was a coat of arms on one mantelpiece. Could it have been the Massereene crest? Possibly, if indeed Chichester Skeffington had rebuilt the house, and renamed it, about the year 1800. But then the two coats of arms are not at all similar.
Or could the builder and property developer, William Hartley or his successor in the family business which owned the house until 1921, have included a grand new fireplace with an impressive crest on it, when he renovated the Hall in the 1860s? By that time the belief that the Hall had been named after the Countess of Mornington was up and running.
I had the opportunity last week to check on the mysterious crest with one of few people alive today who has been in the ruins of Annadale Hall. Stanley Cairns, a very lively 97 year old, is the son of the builder who bought the burnt-out shell of the Hall in 1921, and who owned it and its grounds until the 1950s. Stanley has no recollection of any crest in the remains of the Hall, or any mention of it.
What about the change of name? The story is that the name derived from a local spot known as Anne's Dale, much loved by the young Anne, Countess of Mornington. The abrupt change from Galwally to Annadale Hall in about 1800 coincides with the arrival of the Skeffington connection, and after the Hill-Trevor family had left Belvoir, and was almost certainly the work of Chichester Skeffington.
But why would he have named it after the Countess of Mornington, even if she had lived in it briefly at some point? She became noteworthy mainly through her sons, particularly Arthur, but he was then still a little-known soldier in far away India, yet to win fame in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.
It seems likely enough that there was some local spot named Anne's Dale, but the Anne of the dale may not have been the Anne who became Countess Mornington - both her mother and her grandmother were also called Anne, and the grandmother was the Anne who had had built the new Knockbreda Parish Church, and who worked closely with her son Arthur Hill-Trevor on the creation and development of the Belvoir demesne.
Skeffington, on the other hand, may have picked the name partly because he had an Anne of his own - his mother, Anne wife of Clotworthy Skeffington, the first Earl of Massereene. (The family may have moved into Annadale Hall (Galwally) as early as 1795 for Chichester Skeffington is listed as a church warden in Knockbreda Church that year and may have been living in the district.)
Was there a practical reason for Skeffington to give the house a new name? The Royal Mail had created a public postal service in Ireland during the 18th century, and the Drennan letters provide evidence of just how much used by certain classes it had become. Galwally as well as being the name of the house was also the name of the townland which had other farms and houses across it. Travelling through this area in 1806 Sir Richard Colt Hoare described it as 'richly studded with gentlemen's seats and whitened houses'.
Private users of the Royal Mail had to have their letters officially 'franked' and pay a one penny charge, postage stamps having not yet been invented. Skeffington, as Collector of Revenues, presumably had a role in the service; certainly many of Mrs McTier's letters are marked 'Franked by Chichester Skeffington'. The flow of letters in and out of Annadale Hall during the Skeffington's tenure was considerable. Could this, and his role in the franking of letters, have prompted him to give a more precise address than Galwally to his own residence? Why not Anne's Dale, if the name was already in popular use in the area?
(If Skeffington did indeed 'erect' Annadale Hall when he moved in in 1800 or so, as the 1852 advert claimed, then giving it a new name would make sense. He was a builder, being credited with later remodelling Antrim Castle, and he was rich enough)
Late in my pursuit of Annadale Hall I found new material on the internet related to the family of James Trail Kennedy, the man who had advertised the Hall for sale in.1819 and who owned and lived in it from 1815 until his death in 1832. His parents, the Rev Gilbert Kennedy and Elizabeth Trail had lived at Knockbreda, and James had been born there in 1751. He later owned a large amount of land not far away. Could it be that James Kennedy bought Galwally from the Portis family in the 1790s, and rented it to the Skeffingtons from 1800 to about 1815, before taking up residence in it himself? His wife's name was Ann- could she be the Ann of Annadale?
It is almost impossible to prove a negative in historical research. Without spending years scrutinising thousands of papers of various families I cannot say for certain that the Countess never lived in Annadale Hall, or that the Duke of Wellington never visited it, but I am very confident that that is the case.
Even if she never lived in Annadale Hall, and is not the Anne or Anna after which it was named, Anne Countess of Mornington left her mark. After leaving Belvoir as a 16-year-old bride, and before being widowed at age 39, she was mother to nine children and played a key role in the rearing and educating of them. Two of her sons were remarkably successful in public life. One rose to be an Earl, Governor General of India, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Foreign Secretary; the other became a Duke, Commander in Chief of the Army (and conqueror of Napoleon) Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister (twice.). In total, four sons became peers of the realm.
She died in 1831 in her 90th year, and the occasional references to her range from bad to defamatory. Benjamin Disraeli in his Reminiscences described her as one of the wickedest women that ever lived, a female tyrant of the Middle Ages, with the temper of a demon. Even the diarist Mrs Calvert who noted her 'soft, gentlewoman-like manners' when they met in London in 1804, was not too impressed by her intellect. Mrs Delaney, meeting her as a young bride in 1759, found her 'a good humoured young thing' but lacking in education and judgement.
She was undoubtedly strong willed, and hot-tempered. Her relations with her sons were distant if not bad. Those with her daughter-in-law, Hyacinth, first the mistress of Richard and then, after they had five children, his wife, were worse. Hyacinth was French, the daughter of a French actress and an Irishman called the Chevalier Fagan. To the Countess she was probably the daughter-in-law from hell. Hyacinth soon coined a nickname for her 'La Vieille Croute' - the old crust, or 'the old bag'. It appears regularly in correspondence between Hyacinth and Richard and seems to have been adopted by other members of the family. In one letter to Richard, Hyacinth calls her 'Your diablesse de mere'. (11)
(11): The Countess of Mornington (with the busts of Richard, Arthur and William.)
Relations with Arthur were not much better. The Duke was upbraided by others in the family for abandoning his mother in her old age, 'not calling on her even once a year'. She was partly dependant on a pension paid from the Civil List granted at the discretion of the monarch, and is generally referred to as being in 'straitened circumstances'. In the year of her death The Times carried a comment headed The Pension List suggesting that the 'alms catching nobles' in receipt of support from the List should follow the example of the King and forego this charity from the public purse.
The writer agreed that some of the noble recipients might not be too well off, and could not afford to give up what they never ought to have received, then adding - 'But such would not be the case with Lady Westmeath, the sister of Lord Salisbury, or Lady Mornington, the mother of the Duke of Wellington. Can it be believed then that the Marquis of Salisbury will any longer suffer his sister, or the Duke of Wellington his mother, to be maintained wholly or in part as objects of charity by a distressed nation?'
If the Duke was distressed by this public humbling, he did not have to endure it too long - his mother died in September of the same year. (12)
A paragraph in The Times on September 17, 1831 stated that 'the obsequies of the late venerable Countess of Mornington will, in deference to the earnest wishes of her ladyship, be performed with the utmost privacy in South Audley Street Chapel, where the remains of her noble husband, the Earl of Mornington, were interred 47 years ago.
The Countess's funeral took place in the early morning, with her sons the Marquess Wellesley and the Duke of Wellington, and her son in law Charles Culling Smith the only family members attending.
Even though she may have been short of money, it seems she was far from destitute. A month after her death an auction of the contents of her house at number 3 Henrietta Street, Cavendish Square, just north of Oxford Street was advertised in The Times. The items offered included 'fine specimens of Sevres, MInton, Dresden, French and Chelsea ornamental porcelain, japanned and marquetry console and dejeune tables richly mounted, a few dozens of choice wines, library of books, capital four-post, tent and other beds and 'a valuable collection of shells.
A remarkable woman , for whom the suffragettes might have felt a sneaking regard as they set fire to what they probably, and wrongly, thought was her house.(13)