Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The House of Downshire, 1600 to 1868. (part 6)



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A Sketch of its History from 
1600 to 1868,


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EXTRACTS (Continued).

Arthur Blundell Sandys Trumbull, Third Marquis.

Years rolled on, and the dawn of the 8th of October, 1809, ushered in the day on  which the heir of the Downshire estates attained his twenty-first year. Very early that auspicious morning the good people, of the town of Hillsborough were astir; it seemed as if to them the sun appeared brighter than usual as gala-day set in, and the preparations for a baronial feast which had been going on for several days were fast coming to a close. It was pretty well known that the new lord of the soil had inherited an aggregate property which was fully double that which his ancestor, Sir Moyses Hill, originally derived from the Crown, and that in addition to lands and castles he had succeeded to quite a host of titles, which came down to him as the eventual heir of many landowners in England and Ireland. These titles were -- Earl Hillsborough, Lord Kilwarlin, and Baron Hill, in the peerage of Ireland; Marquis of Downshire, Viscount Fairford, and Baron Harwick, in the English peerage. The hereditary Constableship of Hillsborough Fort was also among local honours. In all times the coming of age of an eldest son was a marked day in the calendar of Downshire estate owners, but the one I allude to was made something extraordinary. By ten o'clock that morning crowds of strangers thronged the streets of Hillsborough, farmers, who had trudged it on foot for some miles from distant parts of the estate, and were awaiting the opening scene, found friends just arrived, and the joyousness of the occasion, together with the abundance of that peculiar wine of malt which makes glad the hearts of Irishmen, and the determination of all present to make the most of themselves for that day, gave every face more than, usual brightness. Care for the time being forget current plagues, and good-will triumphed. Very extensive arrangements had been made for that noble feast. Opposite the fire, composed of a small mountain of blazing turf, an immense bullock was being roasted; some sheep were also cooked whole, and as the dinner hour approached, endless joints of beef and roasts of mutton were placed on the long array of tables that stretched over the picturesque grounds. Interspersed with those good things whole hecatombs of turkeys, geese, and fowl were laid out by an army of waiters. The assemblage of tenants, sturdy, well-to-do men, neatly-dressed women, and pretty-looking girls that sat dawn to that rural celebration was in itself a sight well calculated to delight the most enthusiastic philanthropist. As the dusk of an October twilight fell around, a stout farmer, certainly not the worse but very much the better of his libations of the national beverage, jumped up on one of the tables, and with the voice of a stentor called out: "Silence! let every man fill his glass." That order was quickly obeyed, and the speaker continued: "Now, my good friends, we have heard much to-day of the noble family under which our fathers and ourselves have lived and prospered, and I now give a concluding toast, and that is 'The health, happiness, and length of days of the noble woman who led us to victory at the election for this county in August, 1805.'" Loud, long, and lusty was the cheer that followed those stirring words, and, in one burst of exultation roused by the remembrance of that great event, the welkin rang with the honoured name, "The Marchioness of Downshire!"

When the third Marquis came into possession of the family property the

Science of Agriculture

had still continued to be in a very backward state throughout many parts of Ulster. Land drainage was little thought of; swampy meadows threw tip "sprit" and rushes in much greater quantities than natural herbage; pasture lands suffered sadly by the overgrowth of thistles and dockweeds, and the culture of artificial grasses was of rare occurrence. A few of the forward farmers of Down grew clover and vetches for house-feeding of their cattle, but these were mere isolated cases. Agricultural implements, too, were very rude in construction. The plough was most unhandy; except the sock and coulter, it consisted solely of wood, and the men who turned over the soil were generally unskilled in that art. Primitive, however, as was the construction of the plough, the wheel car seemed to be still more of an antique. That vehicle was quite a model of the barbarous in carriage-building. The shafts were about nine feet in length, with the usual space for yoking the horse, and behind the animal was a semi-concave platform, on which was placed the agricultural produce or merchandise to be conveyed. Underneath that platform was placed a pair of iron-shod wheels, the solid portions were beech or ash; these were fastened to a wooden axle, and into each end of that axle an iron gudgeon was driven, the whole apparatus revolving on those gudgeons, which turned near the end of the shafts, on the principle now seen in the railway carriage. Ten to twelve hundred weight formed the heaviest load that any ordinary horse could draw on those vehicles, and this could only be done when the roads were moderately level. Indeed, a clumsier machine than the same wheel car could hardly have been constructed, and yet it was a great improvement on the slide cars, which had not any wheels. Half a century age the slide care was almost the only vehicle to be met with in the farmyards of Donegal. The Scotch cart, as the locomotive now in general use for the carriage of heavy goods was named at the commencement of this century, was then an object of as much curiosity in the North of Ireland as a steam engine would be at this day in the interior of South Africa, and it appeared wonderful to farmers and others that the same horse could draw a ton or a ton and a quarter on the cart with greater ease than one-half that load could be drawn on the common car.

Eight-day clocks were very rare, the people in rural districts depending for their knowledge of the time on the sundials; and in a district containing 4,000 inhabitants there were only ninety watches. In one parish which contained 6,000 acres there were 300 farmers, 1,300 labourers, 350 weavers, and 1,500 women and girls, whose chief employment was that of spinning flax. The farming implements included 220 ploughs, 1,600 spades, and as many shovels, graips, and pitchforks. A farmer of Carnban was at least twenty years ahead of his neighbours. He had an iron plough, manufactured by Ned Gribben, a Lisburn machinist; also a cart that cost ten guineas from the same maker; his spades were produced by George Pentland, one of the most ingenious of workmen, and his iron harrows were quite modern in construction.

Lady Downshire paid marked attention to the progress of scientific, agriculture, and during the minority of her eldest son she looked after the affairs of the estate with something of the financial accuracy of one who had studied commercial ethics in a merchant's counting-house.

The Dowager Marchioness died in May, 1836.

The next great event in the history of the house of Downshire was the marriage in October, 1811, of the young Marquis, to Maria, second daughter of the Earl of Plymouth. Very soon afterwards the noble pair returned from their wedding tour, and settled down at the family seat in Hillsborough, where, far away from the excitement and temptations of high life in London or Paris, they set themselves to work for the advancement, as far as the proprietor's, influence could do, of the social and material interests of the tenantry.

James the Second granted a patent for establishing a Corporation of Horsebreeders for Down, and to carry out that project a racecourse, in which the sport of brought into play, had been formed in the neighbourhood of Downpatrick. But, beyond mere preliminaries nothing effectual was accomplished. It is a matter of history that, on the occasion of his visit to Hillsborough Castle, William the Third issued an autograph letter directed to Christopher Carleton, Collector of Customs at Belfast, empowering that officer to pay out of the Crown funds £1,200 a year towards the support of the Presbyterian ministers of Ulster. His Majesty was very fond of high-bred horses, and having understood from his hospitable entertainer that the projected Corporation for the Improvement of the Breed of Horses had not been subsidised by any Royal grant, he issued a second letter to Mr. Carleton, granting £100, to be called the King's Plate, and to be competed for at a new running ground near Hillsborough.


From his boyhood the third Marquis of Downshire entertained very peculiar ideas relating to the importance of instructing the rising generation of people in rural districts, and soon after coming into possession of his property he commenced the election of a number of schoolhouses in different parts of the estate, which to this day stand as monuments of his practical philanthropy, and that great work was being carried on long before the late Lord Derby had been inspired with the idea of forming in Ireland, his noble system called National Education. The Marquis of Downshire had taken great interest in reading about the home missionary labours which were being accomplished by Joseph Lancaster, the famous Quaker, to whom the world was indebted for the discovery of the new principle of educating the children of the poorer classes. While in Belfast on one occasion he called at the bookselling establishment of Mr. John Hodgson. Standing beside the counter there were two gentlemen, one of these Mr. F. D. Finlay, the other a remarkable-looking person attired in the broadest habiliments of Quakerism. Mr. Finlay, who was well acquainted with Lord Downshire, after a few words of recognition from the peer, said: "My lord, allow me to introduce to you Joseph Lancaster, of whom I have heard your lordship speak in terms of high eulogy." The Marquis was highly pleased to meet the educational reformer, and after a friendly chat with Lancaster invited him to visit Hillsborough Castle, but the worthy Quaker was then on his way to America and could only express his thanks for the kindly attention.

One of the first of the numerous school-houses which the third Marquis of Downshire erected in different parts of his estate was that of Hill-Hall. He took particular interest in its operations, and visited there very regularly. About sixty years ago a new teacher was to be appointed for that school, and Mr. Charles Shields, a very respectable member of the profession, and who was master of the English and Mercantile School in Castle Street, Lisburn, having been requested to act as examiner of the candidates, gave his pupils a holiday on the occasion. As any of his scholars who wished to be present had been granted permission for that purpose, myself and several other boy's walked out to the schoolhouse. It was really a gala day; the sun shone out in his summer brightness, all nature seemed joyous, for lads released from school, even for a few hours, look upon a run in the country as something paradisiacal in its way. But the great attraction of the scene lay in the announcement that the Marquis of Downshire was to take the chair, and few members of the Lisburn juveniles having ever looked upon a live lord, the occasion was one of great interest. On arriving at the schoolhouse we found nearly every seat occupied; a few of the local gentry, with several farmers, and a number of the friends of the competitors, were present. As patron of the institution the Marquis presided, the seat of honour being an antique chair which had been borrowed for the occasion. His lordship did not take any active part in the examination of the candidates, leaving that matter altogether in the hands of Mr. Shields. The boys from town felt much astonished at that part of the day's performance, their ideas having been that a real Marquis should have had complete control of the affair; but instead of assuming any such power, he seemed to look on as a mere ordinary spectator. Two hours were occupied in the proceedings, and when Mr. Shields had made his selection Lord Downshire addressed the successful competitor, and, after congratulating him on the appointment, stated that "he himself and his family had many old and cherished associations with Hill-Hall, and he trusted that, as the new master of the school of that respectable district, he would effectively discharge those high and important duties which every instructor of youth was called upon to perform."

A short time before Lord Downshire's death, Archdeacon Mant, rector of Hillsborough, had been indulging in Puseyite practices. The Marquis called a meeting of the principal members of the church, and the resolutions passed by those gentlemen strongly condemned the action of the very reverend dignitary. On the 11th of April, 1845, his lordship, as president of the Royal Society of Dublin, set off to that city for the purpose of attending the cattle show to be held there in the following week, and next day drove out to Blessington, the capital of his Wicklow estate. He was received, on arrival by his agent, who had a saddle-horse ready for him to ride round part of his property, but in a few minutes after mounting he fell off the animal in a fit of apoplexy, and when the agent rushed to his assistance the respected peer had already breathed his last.

(House of Downshire to be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 28 September 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917 and into 1918. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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