Sunday, 8 October 2017

Garron Tower

LORD HERBERT LIONEL HENRY VANE-TEMPEST WAS A MAJOR LANDOWNER IN COUNTY ANTRIM, WITH 13,781 ACRES

Garron Tower is a romantic, austere, cliff-top Victorian castle of black basalt, built as a summer retreat by Frances, 3rd Marchioness of Londonderry, daughter and heiress of Sir Henry Vane-Tempest, 2nd Baronet.

Lady Londonderry's mother was the 2nd Countess of Antrim in her own right.

Her daughter, the Lady Frances Anne Emily (Fanny) Vane, married the 7th Duke of Marlborough and their son, Lord Randolph, was later to become the father of Winston Churchill.

The estate lies midway between Cushendall and Carnlough on the County Antrim coast.

The problems of the Antrim estates were compounded by the failure of the 6th Earl of Antrim to produce a male heir.

Although he was granted a new patent for the earldom, which allowed his daughters to inherit and transmit the title to their children, the inheritance of the estate itself proved much more problematical.

The 6th Earl bequeathed his estates in his will to his three daughters and the resulting litigation lasted more than twenty years.

The Antrim estate itself was eventually divided: Lady Antrim's daughter, Lady Frances, who married the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, received one sixth; and the remainder passed to Lady Charlotte, afterwards 3rd Countess of Antrim in her own right (Lady Mark Kerr) and her descendants.

Frances, Lady Londonderry, eventually bequeathed her portion of the estate to her younger son, who had no love for Garron Tower and neglected it.

After his death in 1884, the estate passed to her grandson, Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest KCVO VD JP (1862-1921), who was tragically killed in a train accident in Wales.

After his death the estate, including the property which is now the Londonderry Arms Hotel, passed to his second cousin, Sir Winston Churchill, who owned it until after the 2nd World War.

Being the Prime Minister, Sir Winston had no time for Garron Tower so it was donated to the British Tourist Industry which transformed it into a hotel.

Garron Tower was subsequently devastated by fire and was later turned into a school which it remains today.

The main portion of the estate remained in the hands of the Earls of Antrim.

Following the death of her mother in 1834, Frances Lady Londonderry inherited a portion of the Antrim Estate, almost 10,000 acres lying mostly between Glenarm and Glenariff.

Following much debate she decided to build a summer residence and in 1848 the foundation stone was laid for Garron Tower.

The principal guest at the opening of the Tower was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Clarendon.

Coinciding with the end of the Famine in 1849, the four Coastguard cottages at 91 Garron Road were built as part of that estate.

Lady Londonderry showed a considerable interest in the day to day administration of her estate, demanding detailed reports from her agents.

She was a relentlessly improving landowner, encouraging agricultural improvement and endowing schools, clothing societies, etc.

The link with Lady Antrim's ancestral seat, Glenarm Castle, a few miles to the south is such that it was suspected Lady Londonderry's intention had been to upstage Glenarm Castle with the erection of Garron Tower.

GARRON TOWER, near Carnlough, County Antrim, was built in stages from 1848-56, initially to the designs of Charles Campbell, architect, of Newtownards, who had selected the site in 1847.

The house was ready for occupation by 1850.

A new hall, with a projecting rectangular bay facing eastwards, was added to the north of the polygonal tower in 1852, attributed to Lewis Valliamy of London.

A front porch was added in 1854.

The oak doors, which still survive inside, were carved by Austrian craftsmen.


After Lady Londonderry's death in 1865, it remained in the private hands of the family until rented by Henry McNeill of Larne in 1889 and opened as a hotel.

Garron Tower was leased from 1898.

Many of the original contents were sold by public auction in 1911.

The house was badly damaged by accidental fire in 1914; then it was bought by McNeill's firm in 1915.

It was burnt maliciously in 1922; and closed as a hotel in 1939.

From 1941-46, it was occupied by evacuated residents from the Belfast Charitable Society home at Clifton House, Belfast.

The Tower was converted for use as a school for the Catholic diocese of Down and Connor in 1951 to the design of Padraic Gregory, a Belfast architect, whose firm also designed various school buildings, added to the rear from time to time.

The battlemented retaining wall to the terrace walk in the garden, terminating in a circular magazine, was built in 1848 to the design of Campbell.

The cannon on the terrace were reputedly used at the Battle of Waterloo, and originally stood here on their original wheeled carriers.

The gate lodge was built in 1854; the stable block added in 1860 to the design of Lanyon and Lynn; and the new chapel built in 1956 to the design of Mr Gregory.

The main gateway originally comprised two openwork iron piers with a pair of gates, all cast at the Londonderry foundry in Seaham, County Durham.

Garron has a dominant tower at one end of a lengthy building, polygonal with a square turret.

At the opposite end of the front a short wing projects forwards, ending in a rectangular tower and turret.

With the exception of somewhat prosaic machicolations and crenellations, the walls are quite featureless.

The mansion was enlarged in 1852 with the addition of a hall.

The main front used to be flanked by a terrace with a battery of cannon. Is this still the case today?


The position of Garron Tower is spectacular, on a plateau above the County Antrim coast.

There is some natural shelter on the west side from steeply rising ground and this has been clothed with trees.

Formerly the ornamental and productive gardens were to the west, somewhat protected from sea breezes by the castle, which stood facing south amid severe lawns decorated with urns.

Trees cover the area below the plateau, which drops sharply to the sea.

The grounds are adapted for school use and cultivated areas have disappeared.

There are notable specimens of Eucalyptus Globulus, planted in 1857.

Garron Tower is now a school,  St Killian's College.

First published in April, 2010.   Londonderry arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

7 comments :

Sandy said...

A fascinating account, as always, Tim. I find it extraordinary that there is no mention of the school's history on their website. Or perhaps not, having lived in Norn Iron all my life!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Churchill inherited & donated the lot. One wonders if he ever stayed there - perhaps that night the Unionists in Belfast tried to lynch him!

W.

Anonymous said...

The respected Journalist Alf Mc Creary has written that Winston Churchill visited The Londonderry Arms Hotel, Carnlough, in 1926.

Raymond Hunt said...

Lord Belmont. You report that Sir Winston Churchill owned the Londonderry Arms Hotel , Carnlough, until after the second world war.I have a copy of the sale conveyancing document which shows that Sir Winston sold the hotel to a Mary Anne Rafferty in 1923. I have been unable to find any details of this lady. Would you by any chance have any information about her?
Apart from Alf Mc Creery's report, have you any information that might confirm that Sir Winston visited the hotel? I understand Sir Winston made a speech to the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in 1926 so he might have taken a trip up the coast to have a look on that occasion! Kind Regards. Raymond Hunt.

Joe Simpson said...

Peter Clarke's 2012 book "Mr. Churchill's Profession" mentions Garron Tower (he adds an 's' to make it plural) several times in connection with WSC inheriting it in 1921, using the rental income to help him to purchase Chartwell, and selling the ground rents for a lumpsum equivalent to over half a million in sterling a few years before WW2 when cashflow demands were pressing due to back taxes etc. His archives at Churchill College, Cambridge catalogued online contain a number of documents relating to Garron Tower and the silverware etc. he inherited there as well.

Mial Pagan said...

I was a boarder at Garron Tower (or St. Mac Nissi's College as it was then) and had several happy years there in the 1970s. I'm not sure we schoolboys fully appreciated the architecture or the beauty of the setting.
Garron Tower is mentioned in Roy Jenkins's biography of Winston Churchill (as another poster mentioned it was known as 'Garron Towers').
There is also a story that the Marchioness of Londonderry fired the cannons in salute to Queen Victoria and broke a large number of windows in GT. This may be an apocryphal schoolboy fantasy as I can find no corroboration of it!

Liam G Kelly. said...

As a past pupil at Garron Tower, (1957- 1963),I am happy to confirm that the cannons are still in place, as is the Dog's Grave, containing a dog which was owned by Lady Londonderry and which has a fully inscribed memorial stone in place.