A phalanx of genteel residences, sphinx-like architectural sentinels, guards the east coast of Belfast Lough. Monuments to elaborately espaliered family trees, long forgotten aristocrats and plutocrats, sepia tinted sequins and foxtrots, Elysia lost to rampant suburbia. Sequestered by sequoias is Abbeydene House. The building was shorn of accretions when it was restored as part of a late 20th century redevelopment of the estate. Thus Abbeydene stands in mid Victorian sandstone glory amidst mildly colonial neighbours. The American style has some historic bearing: General Eisenhower lunched at the house in 1945 when it was owned by Mayor McCullough. Sir Crawford McCullough was the instigator of the five minute (since shortened to two minute) silence for fallen soldiers.
The current owners accept paying guests. The original nine principal bedrooms have been reduced to eight all with en suite bathrooms. Rooms are named after American Presidents so naturally there’s the Eisenhower and also the Lincoln and Roosevelt. Only one Clinton. What about a Trump Suite? “No chance,” says host Tim Clifford. Abbeydene, or Lismara as it was originally called, was designed by architect-engineer engineer-architect Sir Charles Lanyon. “His son lived here,” notes Tim. “Sir Charles Lanyon didn’t build many private homes. He was better known for his public commissions such as Queen’s University and Ormeau Bridge.”
In 1890 Sir Herbert Lanyon died and the house was sold to Edward Robinson, one half of Robinson + Cleaver, a once celebrated Belfast department store. Up until the late 20th century, the city had several iconic Edwardian department stores, now all sadly gone. A competitor was Brand’s + Norman’s with its famous tearoom, The Tuesday Room. Black and white clad uniformed maids would serve coffee in individual filters along with bowls of sugared crystals, while middle aged models would sashay between the tables, parading the latest Louis Féraud rigouts from the ladies’ section. Lavender’s Blue insider Anne Davey Orr recalls Peter Brand telling her he got his ideas from visiting stores in London. Robinson + Cleaver’s famous marble staircase ended up in Ballyedmond Castle in County Down, which was rebuilt by Eddie Haughey later Baron Ballyedmond.
Lots of original features are retained at Abbeydene, restored and reinstated following its stint as a nursing home. The pair of enormous bow windows to the rear, perfect for watching ships cruise along Belfast Lough while breakfasting, have curved glass and elaborate pelmets. Egg and dart architraves, niches, arches, fireplaces and a carved staircase all add character. Five of the bedrooms are accessed off a spacious first floor sitting room lit by a tripartite window over the entrance portico. A further three are hidden under the eaves. Abbeydene is Merrythought Café meets country house.
Time for some channel hopping (sea not TV). The Westminster Property Association Annual Lunch took place, as usual, in The Great Room of Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair. Under the bulbous onion shaped chandeliers and billowing waves of acanthus leafed cornices, the hum of 1,500 people chatting rose to a roar by mid afternoon. This crescendo slid to diminuendo as the guest speaker got to her feet. The BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg led the audience on an odyssey from Cameron to May. “’The grownups are back in the Cabinet,’ one senior diplomat told me.” Inevitably Trump came up but was trumped (sorry) by the arrival of the food:
- Brown + Forrest warm smoked mackerel fillet, pickled kohlrabi infused with beetroot, celeriac and horseradish crème fraiche, beetroot gel, pea shoots
- Yorkshire fettle and vegetable wellington, vine plum tomato butter, wilted spinach and heritage carrots
- Chocolate sphere with marmalade and orange caramel centre