Parkmount, Belfast – Lost Mansions

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Parkmount House 1796, Archiseek.com
Parkmount House 1796, Source: Archiseek.com

Introduction

The grand house called Parkmount and its extensive demesne has long gone, its existence only noted in the name of some residential streets now in its place. However, its story is an interesting one, dating back to the 17th century, and featuring some of Belfast’s most influential families.

Parkmount Road Sign
Parkmount Road Sign

Location

The Parkmount estate was situated to the north of Belfast on the lower slopes of the Cave Hill as it swept down to Carrickfergus Lough (now Belfast Lough). The area was known as Greencastle, as the remains of the ancient Green Castle lay nearby. The demesne was comprised of 108 Irish acres and stretched from the shores of the lough to the present-day Antrim Road.

Ownership

The Donegalls

The original house on the site was described as a long, low building. It was the hunting lodge of the ruling Donegall family.

In 1666, the first Earl enclosed a section of the Cave Hill as a Deerpark, surrounded with a stone wall. This allowed the Donegall family and friends to enjoy hunting and pleasurable pursuits on the land.

“Parkmount was at first a Lodge or occasional residence of the Donegall family, probably of the first Earl, who is said to have enclosed the Park on the Cave Hill with a wall. This was about 1666. No documentary evidence has been found to prove this. It is preserved only by tradition”

George Benn A History of the Town of Belfast Vol 2 1880
Parkmount on Belfast Map, George Benn, History of the Town of Belfast, 1823
Parkmount on Belfast Map, George Benn, History of the Town of Belfast, 1823

Subsequent owners

Subsequently, it is thought Parkmount was leased to the Gregg family. The Greggs were of Scottish origin and had settled in Ireland in the 17th century.

Later, in 1769, the estate was in the hands of Thomas Ludford, one time burgess of Belfast.

“And also all those several lands, closes or parks called the Lower Wood, otherwise Parkmount, lying and being in Cinnamon Cave and Carmony, and containing by admeasurement 144 acres and 32 perches, Plantation measure”

from the conveyance recorded in Eddies Book Extracts.

In Ludford’s will, written in 1776, he left the remainder of the 61-year lease to a Mrs Bellamy. Then it was acquired by Mr R Thompson of Jennymount.

The Cairns Family

On 25th February 1796, the Donegall’s rented Parkmount to the Cairn’s family. The property was leased to brothers Hugh and Nathan Cairns for £11 18 shillings. Initially the lease was for 61 years but this was later amended to be renewable forever. The Cairns also had a townhouse on Donegall Place.

Hugh Cairns resided at Parkmount from 1796 till his death in 1806. During this time, he had the old house pulled down and a newer grander mansion built. This was a Georgian 2-storey stuccoed building with a central porch flanked by Ionic columns.

Parkmount as it was, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932
Parkmount as it was, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932

“The finest house on this road, or perhaps in the parish, is Parkmount, built by the late Mr Cairns, on or near the site of a residence, or hunting lodge, formerly belonging to the Donegall family”

George Benn History of the Town of Belfast 1823

The extensive land around Parkmount was notable for its mature trees.

“The demesne contains over one hundred acres, extending from the shore of the lough to the Antrim Road, with fine timber of old growth”

Thomas McTear Personal Recollections of the Beginning of the Century 1882

Hugh never married. According to the historian George Benn he left in his will a “handsome bequest to the Poor House”.

Parkmount now belonged to Nathan Cairns, who lived mainly in Dublin, and subsequently to his son William. Captain William Cairns was the father of Hugh McCalmont Cairns, a successful lawyer and Conservative politician who rose to the position of Lord High Chancellor of Britain during the premiership of Benjamin Disraeli. In 1858 he was knighted, subsequently becoming the 1st, Earl Cairns.

Earl Cairns, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932
Earl Cairns, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932

McNeile Family

In 1829, Parkmount was sold to John McNeile Esq. This family were descended from the McNeiles of Machrihanish on the west coast of Scotland, who had arrived in Ireland in 1625. John McNeile was the son of Alexander McNeile of Ballycastle.

Born in 1785, as a young man he travelled to South America. Here, due to astute business acumen, he amassed a large fortune. Returning to his homeland, as well as Parkmount, he was able to purchase land and property in Cushendall and Cullybackey.

The McNeille’s actually owned 7,011 acres of land in County Antrim.

In the 1820’s McNeile became a partner in the private bank of Orr, McCance, Montgomery & McNeile. In 1824 this was renamed The Northern Banking Company, the first joint stock bank in Ireland. McNeile continued to play an influential role in the county. He became a Justice of the Peace and later Deputy Lieutenant of Antrim. John McNeile died at the age of 70 in London, on 18th May 1855.

Parkmount was inherited by John’s son Henry Hugh McNeile. This McNeile continued in his father’s footsteps in the banking world and as a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant.

He also invested a large amount of the family fortune in the development of railways in the north of Ireland. He was a director of the Northern Counties Railway from 1862 till its amalgamation with the Midland Railway in 1903.

1901 Census

In 1901 there were 18 people living in Parkmount – Henry Hugh and his wife Sophia Adelaide (nee McNabb), daughters Charlotte and Norah and grandchildren Aileen and John.

In addition, there was Christina Douglas, the governess from England, two lady’s maids Elizabeth Carlton and Sybil Leslie and the cook, Ellen Deegan. There were also 2 house maids, 2 kitchen maids, 2 footmen, 1 dairy maid and the children’s maid Ida Brunner, who was French.

In the census records Parkmount is recorded as having 31 rooms (14 of which were bedrooms) and 29 front windows. Outbuildings for the property included 4 stables, a coach house, a harness room, 2 cow houses, a calf house, a dairy, a fowl house, a boiling house, a barn, a shed, a store and a laundry.

Henry Hugh McNeile passed away on 6th July 1904 at 79 Mount Street in London. He was able to leave the huge amount of £140,582 16s 8d in his will. His benefactors were his son Major John McNeile of the Coldstream Guards and his unmarried sister Charlotte.

Parkmount, Funeral of the late Mr h H McNeille 11 July 1904
Parkmount, Funeral of the late Mr h H McNeille 11 July 1904

Robert Anderson

In 1905, Parkmount was sold to Robert Anderson, who was born in County Monaghan. The Andersons were in the linen business and in 1861 Robert had joined in partnership with John McAuley in what was to become one of Belfast’s most successful department stores (see post below on Anderson & McAuley Ltd, Belfast).

Parkmount Lease Notice, Newsletter 28 September 1904
Parkmount Lease Notice, Newsletter 28 September 1904

“A large staff of clerks and assistants is engaged to attend to the numerous patrons of the establishment, which is under the entire personal control of the energetic and experienced proprietor, whose long and honourable connection with the commercial life of the city has been marked with conspicuous and deserved success”

Industries of the North 1888-91

As well as Anderson & McAuley’s, Robert was also involved with Arnott’s on Bridge Street, Millfort Weaving Company on the Falls Road, Vulcanite Ltd., William Ross & Co, City Estates Ltd., Baltic Firewood Co and Laganvale Brick Works. He owned property in County Monaghan, Mullaghmore House and Meadowlands at Balmoral in south Belfast.

In addition, Anderson had a political career. He was Conservative M P for St Anne’s Ward from 1897-1903.

While High Sheriff of Belfast in 1903 he was awarded a knighthood. In 1908 he was elected Lord Mayor, presiding over the City Council in the recently constructed City Hall. In 1911 Anderson was created a baronet.

On 9th April 1890, Robert Anderson wed Wilhelmina Long. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Rev Andrew Long. The ceremony took place in Gordonville Presbyterian Church in Coleraine. At the time Robert is listed as a merchant residing at 4 University Square, Belfast. The couple had no children.

Sir Robert Anderson died in Parkmount on 16th July 1921, aged 84. He left £122,426 14s 1d in his will. His funeral took place in Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church on the Antrim Road and he was buried in Belfast City Cemetery.

Parkmount - Anderson obituary, Newsletter 18 July 1921
Parkmount – Anderson obituary, Newsletter 18 July 1921

Lady Wilhelmina stayed another couple of years in the mansion before retiring to ‘Redlands’ at 22 Deramore Park in the city. She passed away on 8th May 1949.

Parkmount House Final Years

Times and attitudes were changing and Parkmount was no longer regarded as an ideal family home.

“With the departure of Lady Anderson in 1923, the days of Parkmount being in use as a family residence came to an end, the house being too large to maintain, and former staff reluctant to re-enter service after the end of the Great War, it was impossible for many families to retain such large properties”

Richard Graham North Irish Roots Vol 6 no 2 1995
Parkmount For Sale, Newsletter 20 March 1922
Parkmount For Sale, Newsletter 20 March 1922

Parkmount School

In 1925, the grand old house opened briefly as a school under the principalship of a Miss Wasson.

Parkmount School, Newsletter 10 June 1925
Parkmount School, Newsletter 10 June 1925
Parkmount Show - Charming Display, Northern Whig 22 June 1925
Parkmount Show – Charming Display, Northern Whig 22 June 1925
Parkmount Show Photos (1) Northern Whig 22 June 1925
Parkmount Show Photos (1) Northern Whig 22 June 1925
Parkmount Show Photos (2) Northern Whig 22 June 1925
Parkmount Show Photos (2) Northern Whig 22 June 1925

Parkmount Doomed

However, in the summer of 1932, the building was demolished and the parkland cleared for housing.

Parkmount Doomed, Belfast Telegraph, 24 June 1932
Parkmount Doomed, Belfast Telegraph, 24 June 1932
Parkmount Ruins, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932
Parkmount Ruins, Belfast Telegraph 24 June 1932

“A historic mansion, to wit, Parkmount, in the Shore Road district of Belfast, is now in the process of demolition. Its site and spacious grounds will in course of time be occupied by dwellings

Belfast Telegraph 24th June 1932
Parkmount Tender for New Houses, Belfast Telegraph 24 February 1947
Parkmount Tender for New Houses, Belfast Telegraph 24 February 1947
Parkmount Road with Cave Hill in the distance
Parkmount Road today with Cave Hill in the background
Parkmount Road Today
Parkmount Road Today
Parkmount View Towards Cave Hill
Parkmount View Towards Cave Hill

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