Architecture Art Country Houses Design Fashion People

The Lenox-Conynghams + Springhill Moneymore Londonderry

Living Life on the Hyphen

Last of the line to live at Springhill was Mina Lenox-Conyngham. She was known as a great storyteller, even if occasionally recollections would vary, and recorded her memories for prosperity in her 1946 pot boiler An Old Ulster House and the People Who Lived In It. The delightful Springhill, now owned by The National Trust, never looked better than at dawn two springs ago. It is pure three dimensional reticent charm, falling somewhere between a grand farmhouse and a modest country house; like its last owner, living between two worlds and two words.

Stephen Gwynn provided the foreword: “Here is a book to rejoice anyone who desires to see light thrown on Irish history nonetheless revealing because it traces through nine generations the fortunes of a leading Ulster family and of a great Ulster house. The Conynghams, who became later Lenox-Conyngham, acquired land in County Derry and managed to hold it. As the years went on they were linked up with almost every prominent family in the Province and had their part in all the outstanding events.” The Lenox-Conyngham family came to Ulster from Ayrshire so really they were Scots-Irish rather than Anglo-Irish.

“Or again we have a full inventory of the plenishing – indoor and out – which furnished out Springhill in George III’s day,” ends Stephen. “In short here is a whole mine of information which tells us above all what sort of lives a representative Ulster family lived once Ulster became what we mean by Ulster – and lets us know also what kind of men and women it bred.”

Lyn Gallagher has written about the house a couple of times. In A Tour of the Properties of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 1979, she notes, “‘To build a convenient house of lime and stone two storeys high’ was one of the obligations put upon ‘Good Will’ Conyngham when he married Miss Anne Upton in 1680, and it would seem that the charming house of Springhill dates from this period. To the rear of the house is the Bower Barn, one of the earliest buildings to be erected at Springhill, and the long narrow windows in the walls show it to have a purpose for which easy defence was not an insignificant factor. It is a house of enormous simple charm, and the warm atmosphere of old wood in the interiors is not dissipated by the fact that Springhill boasts one of the best authenticated ghosts in an Ulster home – seemingly a mother who lost seven children through smallpox still moves around here.” Dorinda, The Honourable Lady Dunleath, who spent many a childhood summer here, rolling her eyes, was more sceptical: “Aunt Mina had a good imagination!” Dorinda was not impressed when the bedroom she always stayed in at Springhill was designated “the haunted room” by The National Trust.

In Castle Coast and Cottage: The National Trust in Northern Ireland, published 13 years later, Lyn along with Dick Rogers writes, “It may be fanciful to say that a house is friendly and welcoming, but if any house fits that description, it’s Springhill, just outside Moneymore in County Londonderry. A straight avenue leads to the simple, open façade, flanked by two long, broad pavilions, with curved gables which look as if they are holding out arms of welcome. The house has an immediate charm on the affections of the visitor; it is something to do with its age – 300 years of one family’s occupation – and something to do with the scale and the charm of small details, like the arched gateway, with a curly iron gate, at the top of a flight of worn steps leading from the carpark into the wide enclosed forecourt, with immaculately raked gravel.”

They’ve more to offer: “Springhill is essentially an Ulster house. Architectural historians have commented on the slightly hesitant way in which the basically classical front is treated – with narrower, two paned windows in the centre, a typical 17th century Ulster feature – and have noted how the 18th century bow extensions give it more assurance. One commentator, Alistair Rowan, describes it as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster, not grand or elaborate in its design, but with very the air of a French provincial manor house.’ Its lack of pretension is its hallmark, and the rear of the house is described as ‘a comfortable jumble of roofs, slate hung walls and chimneys … with a big round headed window on the staircase the most prominent feature.’” A vintage photograph shows the window frames painted fully black rather than just the outer frames black which created an even more distinctive appearance and greater contrast with the white walls. The photograph also shows the pavilion wings were left unpainted which emphasised their subsidiary role to the house.

“Fabulous finials!” exclaims Nick, a character in Alan Hollinghurst’s 1998 novel The Spell. He could have been talking about the roof decorations of the pavilion wings of Springhill. The finials encapsulate the dichotomous essence of the house: they are grand but are embellishing functional farm outbuildings. Author and former Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine, Jeremy Musson, told us when researching Springhill he learned that Mina Lenox-Conyngham had reversed her mother-in-law’s arrangement and swapped the more recent furniture on the main two floors with all the “old fashioned 17th century furniture” stored in the attic. “The family never threw anything out!” Jeremy records. The library collection of over 5,000 books (some with calfskin covers) on everything from theology to ornithology is one of the best of its kind in Ulster. On the raised ground floor, the contrast between the 17th century entrance hall, staircase hall, study and library with the 18th century drawing room and dining room is one of scale, grandeur and decoration. Dark panelling and lowish ceilings in the former; chunky cornicing and high ceilings in the latter. Jeremy’s piece on Springhill was published in “the recording angel of country houses” (his words) of Country Life in 1996.

We first visited Springhill 30 odd years ago, armed with a polaroid camera. That photographic record, which shall remain unpublished, was of mixed result. Our second visit, in 2010, this time armed with a Canon camera, was on a particularly unphotogenic day of pale grey skies. Thank goodness for the sun blessed spring of 2022. You can never have too much of a good thing, so our latest visit is on another sun struck day, this time in the autumn of 2023. A walk round the gardens; a browse in the second hand bookshop; a look at the costume museum; a tour of the house; coffee and cake in the converted stables. Life at Springhill is immeasurably good.

Architecture Country Houses

Isaac Corry + Derrymore House Bessbrook Armagh

Luggala of the North

Driving uphill out of Newry through Bessbrook suddenly on the righthand side behind a stone wall is a brilliant flash of mustard between the thinning greenery and vibrant orange of late autumn. Aha! It’s Derrymore House, a cottage orné on a grand scale. And a very charming one at that. John Richardson, its last private owner, donated the unfurnished house and its demesne to The National Trust in 1952. In that era of architectural freezing in aspic, a sympathetic three bay extension containing an entrance hall with a central fanlighted doorcase was demolished. The early 19th century extension filled the gap on the north elevation to complete a courtyard. Derrymore was returned to its original late 18th century magnet or long C shape. A purist approach indeed.

The name Derrymore originates from ‘doire’, the Irish for an oak grove, and ‘mór’ which means large. It formed part of the lands owned by the O’Hanlons before being taken over by the Earls of Kilmorey who were based at Mourne Park in Kilkeel. It came into the ownership of Isaac Corry who built the current house in 1776 as his residence, not just a hunting lodge or summer retreat. Architect unknown: possibly John Sutherland who designed the landscaping. Isaac Corry was an MP for Newry for three decades and the last Chancellor of the Irish Parliament before the Act of Union in 1800. Politically, he swung both ways.

There are two canted bay windows: one with 82 small panes; the other, 90. At first glance, this would seem extravagant for Isaac Corry was responsible for introducing the Window Tax in Ireland. But he would have benefitted from a loophole that any window could be considered as one for taxation purposes if it was divided into portions less than a foot (30.5 centimetres) wide. Commercial pressure and building regulations dictating design are not a new phenonomen.

Derrymore is the forerunner to a spate of single storey (or at least just one level over basement) modest country houses erected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in mid to south Ulster, especially around Rostrevor. A thatched roof draws Derrymore closer to cottage than country house in appearance although not in scale. Hugh Dixon explains in An Introduction to Ulster Architecture, 1973, “Occasionally the two traditions merge into a picturesque, Georgian vernacular style which is Ulster’s alone… undoubtedly the most ambitiously developed example of the type is the house built by Isaac Corry at Derrymore near Newry in County Armagh. Adopting both traditional materials and ‘architectural’ features like quatrefoil windows topped with label mouldings, the building is arranged as a series of small units round an open court.” There is a formality to the elevations, especially the symmetrical southwest facing garden front, at odds with the provincial roof material. A classic cottage orné combo.

Ever since, there’s been an unstoppable love of the lateral when it comes to self building in Ireland much to local planning authorities’ ire.

Before he died in 2005, Sir Charles Brett, architectural commentator and contributor to Ulster Architect magazine did a U turn on his view of bungalows in Ireland. As Chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, he was a strong advocate of terraced houses. But in his later years, Charlie declared bungalows in many ways to be the rightful Irish vernacular, or at least an inheritor of the traditional cottage form. That is, single storey, rectilinear, narrow, practical.

Architecture Art Country Houses Hotels Luxury People

Chilston Park Hotel + Lenham Kent

Palace in Wonderland

Lenham Village Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The black and white half timbering of the medieval house jettying over the graveyard is matched by the monochromatic wooden porch gable attached to the Early and Very Early English St Mary’s Church. Coordinating domestic and ecclesiastical architecture separated by the dead. Lenham Village betwixt Ashford and Maidstone in a stretch of Kent that never feels entirely rural lives up to its Medieval Village brown sign. A discreet distance away on the far side of the M20 lies Chilston Park Hotel, full of the living and the alive.

St Mary's Church Lenham © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Alice in Wonderland scale chess board and pieces on the lawn are enough to make Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson burst into song. And the weather would force Belinda Carlisle to belt out her hit Summer Rain. Safely and elegantly ensconced in the great indoors, what’s not to love though? Lunch in The Marble Lounge is a sheer delight. Presumably named after its gargantuan pedimented fire surround, a piece of architecture in its own right, the entrance hall as it really is could also be called The Flagstone Hall or The Hall of Mirrors.

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Topiary © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Chessboard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Seats © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Mews © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Marble Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Oriential Case © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Portrait © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Staircase Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s like lunching in a National Trust property. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Chilston Park was converted into a hotel by Martin and Judith Miller, authors of Miller’s Antiques. Judith is also a presenter on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. “I just feel a connection with historical buildings,” she shares. “My interest in antiques comes from discovering them through the pursuit of history.” Almost four decades later, and despite changing hands several times, a current inventory of the furnishings and art in the rooms would read like a supplement to Miller’s Antiques. The last private owner was the extravagantly monikered Aretas Akers-Douglas, 1st Baron Douglas of Baads and Viscount Chilston of Boughton Malherbe. The peer was a Conservative Home Secretary. It is currently owned by Hand Picked Hotels whose portfolio includes historic properties across Great Britain and the Channel Islands.

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The architectural history of the house is almost as complicated as the Really Early English St Mary’s Church Lenham. The first building was a turn of the 16th century courtyard house. In the opening decades of the 18th century, an earlier central tower was replaced with a three bay pedimented projection and the house was generally revamped. The resultant balanced elevations – two storey red brick sash windowed hipped roof – present a convincingly coherent Georgian pile. Subtle asymmetries and eccentric quirks of the floor plan reveal otherwise. A neo Jacobean staircase hall, ancillary stairs and corridors all lit by roof lanterns gobble up the courtyard. There are 53 bedrooms in total spaced across the main house, mews houses and converted stables. On the first floor of the main house, the northeast facing Queen Anne Room, Hogarth Room, Guilt Room and Oriental Room overlook the lake. The east and southwest facing Regency, Victoria, Byron and Evelyn Rooms have views of nine hectares of parkland. Tulip and Rowlandson Rooms overlook the mews houses to the west. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “There were doors all round the hall.”

Chilston Park Hotel Kent Corridor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Country Houses Luxury

Sprivers House Kent + The Irish Georgian Society London

Rhymes with Rivers | Colon Irrigation

Sprivers House Kent Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

At the Irish Georgian Society London: we do like our very private houses: the longer the laneway the better. Sprivers House in the Weald of Kent ticked both boxes and then some. We were the second visitors ever as guests of the owners who run a wedding business from the house. First box well ticked then. Ancient trees reach over the laneway so lavishly that our coach couldn’t fit down the drive. The Society discovered on foot how long the laneway is: very. Second box very well ticked then.

Sprivers House Kent Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Local historian Andrew Wells has studied Sprivers House and its past owners: “Alexander Courthope encased the two storey hall house in pink Flemish bonded brick, adding hung tiles to the first floor of the gabled west front. He built the new east extension as the principle five bay elevation, one bay deep, with a pedimented doorcase with Doric pilasters, the three central bays more closely spaced with pedimented dormers in the hipped roof above, the middle one segmental.” This work is recorded by “AC 1756” on the keystone and imposts of the round headed stair window to the north. “AC 1746” on bricks above the stable house door prove it to be a decade earlier.

Sprivers House Kent Side View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sprivers House Kent Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Andrew is on a roll: “Internally the impact of the outer hall is the heraldry of the Courthope and related families contained in excellent rococo plaster cartouches, beneath an enriched modillion cornice continued throughout the Georgian house. The panelled inner hall contains a restored Chinese Chippendale staircase with a ramped handrail, beneath a gadrooned cornice and deeply coved guilloche bordered ceiling. The panelled drawing room and dining room have wooden chimneypieces with scrolled friezes.”

Sprivers House Kent Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Robert Courthope flogged the house at Christies in 1946. It is now owned by the National Trust who rent it to the current occupiers. Sprivers House has barely changed in a couple of hundred years, passing unscathed through Victorian times. A 15th century moat reveals it to be a truly historic site. The 21st century luxury of our coach: after a very long walk down the laneway: transported us back to London and back to life.

Sprivers House Kent Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Country Houses

Mount Stewart Greyabbey Down + Lady Rose Lauritzen

Long Shadows Cross the Lawn


Not many country houses are closely associated with their female lineage. Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, County Down, is an exception. The last two centuries have been dominated by the ladies of the manor. First there was the triple barrelled Lady Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart; then her high flying daughter Lady Mairi Bury; and now her glamorous granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen. National Trust owned for the last two generations, the house and garden have been relaunched with an all guns blazing £8.5 million restoration under the watchful eye of Lady Rose. Now spending six months a year at Mount Stewart, her ladyship reveals,


“I came here when I was a week old ‘cause I was born in London in the middle of The Blitz and then came over with a nanny on the boat a week later ‘cause everyone was then working in London. My mother had been driving ambulances and then I came back here – this is where I lived. I went to a lovely day school in Holywood called The Warren which I absolutely loved. That was really nice and then I was sent off to boarding school which I hated every second of. I wanted to be here!”


“My grandmother really brought us up. My mother was very young and my father was in the army so they were always travelling round and I saw an enormous amount of my grandmother who read to us, told us stories, kept us at work. I mean, one of our main jobs was watering the terrace. You know, we were tiny with heavy watering cans – such hard work! She kept everyone working in the gardens: housemaids, guests, everyone, even if they didn’t want to!”


“It really has needed a huge restoration for 30 years. Now it’s been done we’re all delighted. It’s very exciting! It was last redecorated in the Fifties by my grandmother and then my mother used to keep up the structure of the house. She mended the roof – she mended everything because in those days we had our own carpenter, our own electrician, plumber, wrought iron man, our own blacksmith. It was totally utterly self sufficient. She kept it up till she gave the house to the National Trust in the late Seventies, whenever it was, and then obviously you don’t have a team of maintenance people and there’s no money.”

“So it really needed a huge restoration. Now it’s been done. We’re all delighted about this – very exciting. Teams of experts had been coming over and looking at the paint and looking at the fabrics and textiles and they mended and restored it. I’d redone some of my rooms, and bedroom, and I’d redone the sitting room with this lovely material Venetian silk and things like that. But they’ve restored it beautifully, and we’re all very excited about it.”

“The central hall now is exactly the way it was till I was in my twenties. I suppose it was my mother who repainted this hall the wonderful Chinese pink but this is how I remember it and it looks I think absolutely sensational. The gallery above which we always called ‘the dome’: no guest, no one ever went into the dome itself. Only the housemaids and the children used to take shortcuts through there and then peer through the balustrades to look at what was going on. And now that’s all beautifully done I think oh yes I remember all of us up there looking down and spying.”

“The drawing room is my favourite room in the house. It might be large but it’s the cosiest. You know, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s full of sunlight and in the past it used to be full of flowers and then obviously all the dogs were running round, jumping on the sofas too. So it was like the family room. It was where everyone, all the guests, everyone congregated here.”


Tír na nÓg is the family burial ground made by my grandmother for the family and it means Land of the Ever Young and it’s got a wonderful view over the garden and she had all these statues made. It was all her sort of idea. The first to be buried here was my grandfather and then my grandmother. They have very ornate carved stones with all their favourite things on them like my grandfather, everything to do with flying, playing cards, all sorts of things, and my grandmother with her parrots and her dogs and her garden.”


“When my grandmother died, the little cockatoo was distraught so it plucked all its feathers out so we had this oven ready bird with a crest and when I first brought my husband to Mount Stewart we were all so used to it we’d forgotten what it looked like and he practically fainted! You know, you suddenly walk into the house for the first time and it was in the central hall and it was in its aviary. There was this blue skin with a beak and this huge crest!”


“My mother is the most recent to be buried at Tír na nÓg and we designed the stone so that it’s got the Stewart dragon looking duly fierce because he has to protect the family and then it says beloved daughter of Charles and Edith Londonderry because she was the favourite daughter. And then the other side says devoted to Mount Stewart which she was. I wanted her to be bigger than her sisters but smaller than her grandparents and a different coloured stone so it’s a pinkish stone. I think it’s actually very pretty. You know often we come up here and just sit and you know you relax your mind and it’s so soothing to the soul up here and I know that those who’ve gone before us are resting in peace and they’re in a happy place.”