Lady Frances Anne Vane’s County Antrim Estate: By Jimmy Irvine

(This article first appeared in The Glynns Vol. 3, 1975. It is presented here with additional hyperlinks and photographs)

By the kind permission of Lord Antrim, I had been at work for some time on papers stowed away in the Estate Office at Glenarm. To go there and read, meant a run of only two or three miles, and the ready welcome of Mrs McWhirter at the office seemed to make the visit even easier. Late in 1973 however, Lord Dunluce decided to deposit most of his papers with the Public Record Office in Belfast. By chance I happened to be in Glenarm on that morning of 5th December, the day of their removal. In mild unseasonable sunshine, I stood in Altmore Street to watch their departure. A large furniture van had backed up in front of the Estate Office, with the tailboard down, its gaping interior opened like the mouth of some giant monster, ready to devour whatever came its way. A conveyor system, in the form of a couple of planks, spanned the narrow gap between the office attic window and the rear of the van. Already the process of feeding had begun. With mixed feelings, I saw box after box slither down into the monster’s capacious jaws. It appeared to be insatiable, able to cope with no matter what came. In all, several tons of papers were fed thus into the van for conveyance to Belfast. Though better sense told me it was fortunate all this material would now be available to students of local history, yet I suffered pangs of nostalgia and loss.

As if to compensate for this, it was not long before word came from Mr Brian Hutton, the archivist responsible for calendaring the entire consignment that he had come across some papers which he thought might interest me. These had escaped my earlier searches at Glenarm. They were contained in a small wooden box marked “Rental Letters, etc., relative to the Antrim Estate, received from Lady Londonderry to be deposited at the office in Carnlough, 1852.” They proved to relate, not to the Antrim Estate at all, but to the Marchioness’ estate in County Antrim. At some later date the box had been transferred to the Antrim Estate Office in Glenarm, and so it is we are fortunate inheritors of an unexpected windfall.

The box contains, besides numerous accounts and receipts, a series of some hundred letters from her agent, John Lanktree, together with his annual reports on her estate as a whole. There is a second series of about sixty letters from Charles Campbell of Newtownards who built Garron Tower for her Ladyship between 1848 and 1850. Finally, there is a further smaller collection of letters to the Marchioness from Richard Wilson, who succeeded Lanktree as agent in 1850. (1)


Taken together, these three collections shed new light on the estate during the period immediately preceding the transformation brought by the building of Carnlough Harbour and the Limeworks. To attempt their summary in an article such as this is to risk doing them injustice: to neglect them is to ensure doing so.

Lady Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, was the only child of Sir Henry Vane Tempest and Lady Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim in her own right. She was born in London in 1800 and had rather an unhappy childhood, much of it spent with relations while her parents followed a gay and somewhat dissipated existence.


Engagement Portrait of Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1818

At the age of nineteen she married Sir Charles Stewart, half-brother of Lord Castlereagh, the famous Foreign Secretary. Her husband – she was his second wife, had already had a distinguished military career in the Peninsula, where he served as Adjutant – General of the British forces under Wellington. Now, in 1819, his position as British Ambassador in Vienna took the young bride straight on to the stage of international diplomacy, where she met and consorted with many crowned heads and leading European statesmen. Later, at their London home, Holderness House, they lavishly entertained England’s royalty and nobility, their banquets figuring conspicuously as an integral part of “the season”.


Portrait of Charles William Stewart, Third Marquess of Londonderry, K.G., K.B., M.P. (1778-1854), by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (Bristol 1769-1830 London)

Their country mansion, Wynyard Park, was in County Durham, where both Sir Charles and his wife owned extensive collieries.


Wynyard Park

Frances Anne inherited her share of these on the death of her father in 1813. When her mother died in 1834, the title, together with almost the entire Antrim estate, passed to her aunt, Lady Charlotte Kerr, younger sister of the deceased countess. Frances Anne’s inheritance – her County Antrim Estate – consisted of a mere score of townlands with a total annual rental of some £2,500. (2) During her absence she entrusted this to her land agents, Thomas Davison, 1837 to 1843; John Lanktree, 1843 to 1850; and Richard Wilson, 1850 to 1865.

It would be more exact to call Thomas Davison her receiver, rather than her agent. During his term of office, the Londonderrys were abroad for much of the time, largely in Russia and Eastern Europe; when the Marchioness appears to have done little with her estate other than enjoy the rents which Davison collected for her.

His accounts for the years ending 1839 and 1840 are there in the box, beautifully written up in faultless copperplate. (3)

During Lanktree’s agency two events occurred which in importance outweigh all others. These were the Great Famine and building of Garron Tower.



Garron Tower (postcard image)

Today, there is a tendency to link these two together by assuming that the building of the Tower was a sort of relief scheme undertaken by the Marchioness to provide work for her impoverished tenants. These letters clearly show that this was not so. (4)

However, she did undertake a number of other projects to relieve the suffering of her tenantry during the Famine, including the supply of blankets and clothing, the sale of food and seeds at reduced prices, and schemes aimed at encouraging her tenants to improve their lot by their own efforts. She also built Lime Kilns where they might procure burnt lime for the better dressing of their land. But her bounty was never arbitrary or haphazard: she required her agent exact accounting in its distribution, insisting always that it went to where the need was greatest.

Thus, in the winter of 1843/44 the Marchioness sent money to her agent for the purchase of blankets for her neediest tenants. Presently, Lanktree returned a list naming each of the hundred recipients. (5) In December, ’44 she sent a further £25, part of which Lanktree spent on blankets from Belfast. These went largely to Ballymacaldrick, near Dunloy in the parish of Finvoy, and the following month Lanktree reported:- “Yesterday two women came to me from that place having left their houses at midnight and walked through the storm of wind and rain 23 miles over mountains and left their suckling infants behind them for fear they (the blankets) should all be gone.”

As regards clothing, at her ladyship’s desire, Lanktree had spent £25 on this item in 1844, by which eighty five people had benefitted. In 1845 he established an Estate Clothing Society in which tenants paid half the price for various articles they required. In ’47 he entrusted the distribution of clothing to a Committee of Tenants, “and I believe they made a fair divide among themselves,” he reported. In March ’47, the Marchioness directed him to organise the Glencloy Relief Committee. This he did making the Rev. H Waddle, Glenarm Presbyterian minister who lived at Galdanagh, its treasurer. On its behalf, Mrs Waddle and Lanktree’s daughter, Catherine, visited almost every cabin in the district to ascertain its needs. Lanktree wrote:- “ The ladies endeavoured to set the unemployed females to work at knitting, etc.,…but they have not succeeded very well and I fear will not for the women throughout this district are generally very useless, having being without any advantages from their childhood and sadly neglected. There was only one girl on the Estate here who could do the shawl. The only instance in which the ladies, when they were out, saw anything of the kind in hands was by a man in Ballyvaddy who was making one for his wife, she never having learned even to knit socks.”

Later in March Lanktree was able to write to the Marchioness that: – “About 30 families are now employed by the ladies knitting. One little girl brought in last night a pair of stockings, the first she had ever knit. This child used to come into to Glenarm 3 miles every day for a quart of soup. She desisted from the labour when she got the work and earned herself 6d during the time it used to take her to go for the soup.” (See The Glynns volume 2, page 36).

Realising that the women were incapable because they had been ‘sadly neglected’, Lanktree wrote to the Marchioness in December ‘48

Asking her to plead with the Commissioners for the appointment of a female teacher to her school at Garron Point, for:- “I very much fear that without your Ladyship’s own efforts on their behalf the girls of the rising generation are likely to grow up as idle, ignorant and dirty as their parents”.

These are harsh words. They contrast strongly with those of William Boyle, who, in writing his Ordnance Survey Memoir in 1835 for Ardclinis, said “The people particularly along the coast dress very well and comfortably and are cleanly in their persons.” (The Glynns vol 1, page 38). It may be that, in his anxiety to procure a female teacher, Lanktree painted a blacker picture than was necessary. Or it may be that, as a result of the general malaise and fall in morale due to the famine, there was a neglect of person which provoked him.

In the autumn of ’45 the potato crop failed. In March ’46 Lanktree informed the Marchioness that:-

“The Potato Plague is beginning to be acutely felt here. In the Drumcrow district of this Estate the greater number of the tenants have not had a potato to eat for some weeks. They will have to purchase their seed and this at a most extravagant price. I had your Ladyship’s approbation to purchase a few tons of oatmeal to lend among them, but did not lay out any money yet in the hope that in a few weeks Sir Robert Peel’s measure might enable this to be done on easier terms.”

By May ’46, potatoes in Ballymena were selling at 6/6 per cwt. (normal price 1/6), but oatmeal, thanks to Sir Robert’s repeal of the Corn Laws referred to above, had fallen from 30/- to 18/- per cwt. On March 8th ’47, Lanktree wrote:-

“This day we held our first (Glencloy Relief) Committee meeting and commenced operations by weighing out Indian meal to the poor at reduced prices… according to the number in each family.”

The Marchioness attempted to run soup kitchens for the benefit of such of her tenants as were totally destitute, but these were not very successful. As early as January ’44, three whole years before in neighbouring Glenarm, Lanktree had tried to distribute hot soup in the townland of Stoneyhill, made to a recipe the Marchioness herself had sent him.(6) But pride and self- respect had prevented cottiers from taking advantage of it. A year later he tried again, but “the poor people did not come for it as numerously as could have been supplied.” In March ’46 the Marchioness suggested that they should try yet again. Lanktree aquiesced, adding, “Those who will not avail themselves of it for the sake of their families will deserve to starve.” Thereafter, the Glencloy Committee restricted its food relief to selling at reduced prices. Lanktree was careful to ensure the Committee was not officially recognised as a relief Committee, eligible to benefit from government funds, thereby saving a heavy rate being struck upon the district, very much at the Marchioness’ expense.

It was her Ladyship’s intention that her tenantry should improve their holdings in both productivity and appearance, so that her whole estate might be enhanced. To this end she introduced, through her agent, a number of schemes. Though not direct famine relief, these served as such. By supplying seed free of charge, the Marchioness encouraged the growing of turnips, though her tenants were slow to accept the idea. By offering cash prizes for the best built pigsties, she hoped to banish these domestic creatures from the dwelling houses. To those tenants who replaced their dirt harbouring thatched roofs with slates she made cash payments of about £4. She sent over brushes which Lanktree issued on loan to tenants that the might whitewash the interiors of their cottages. In March ’46 the Marchioness was thinking of building new cottages at about £20 each, but some months later Lanktree wrote:-

“The building of cottages would afford a very partial relief and had better be deferred for the present. I would rather see £500 or £600 laid out in building a good hotel in Carnlough at which your Ladyship could stop when you come to visit your Estates and which would still be paying a good return for the outlay besides inducing the further improvement of the village.”

Thus the seed of thought for the Londonderry Arms was sown.

Finally, it should be remembered that the Marchioness not only reduced the rents of her tenants during these fearful famine years, but in respect of land under the blighted potato, she waived them altogether.

During the whole period Lanktree reported three deaths on the estate due to starvation. In March ’47 he wrote that Hu Gullian of Ballymacaldrick “is reported to have died of starvation” In April he wrote:-

“Another victim has fallen in Ballymacaldrick and I attended yesterday an enquiry into the circumstances of the sudden death of a poor woman in this neighbourhood of whose body I ordered a post mortem examination. Her stomach must have been literally preying on itself for there was not one atom of food in it.”

And later in the same months he wrote:-

“One singular death from starvation occurred on your Ladyship’s Estate in this neighbourhood within these few days. Charles Kelly of Ballyvaddy, the father of a large family, possessed of 4 cows, 2 horses and a flock of sheep, rather than part with any absolutely, went through the country to beg for himself, leaving his family to shift for themselves; and being known to have some little substance he met with no sympathy and miserably perished.”

Nor was much sympathy shown to the tenant who was suspected of sheep stealing. “A search warrant having been issued, mutton was found buried in a hole underneath a bed. I paid him for some substantial improvements and got rid of him altogether.”

garron tower b&w

Garron Tower (note cannon in the foreground)

The other important event which occurred during Lanktree’s term of office was the building of Garron Tower. The Marchioness had it in mind for some time to establish on her Antrim Estate some sort of summer residence. She had thought of restoring Dunluce Castle, but there were difficulties as it was in the keeping of her step-father, Mr Edmund McDonnell, with whom she did not enjoy friendly relations. On his way to Donegal in September ’46 (7) Lanktree visited Dunluce, where at the direction of Mr McDonnell, “masons were underpinning the walls to prevent further decay. It could be made an interesting seat.” He wrote, but he considered it to be too restricted. In the end her Ladyship accepted Lanktree’s advice, and decided upon a location in the Carnlough area, where there was “infinitely better sporting ground.” She requested a builder, Charles Campbell of Newtownards, who had worked for her husband at Mount Stewart, to select a possible site or sites that she might come over to make the final choice. In November ’47 Lanktree wrote:-

“The site selected by Campbell for the Tower is on the farm of Alexander McAllister… and part of his uncle’s. Of both farms your Ladyship granted leases for one life or 21 years. Neither party would make any obstacle to the work on receiving a valuation on the land taken. It is, however, in its quality the very Kernel of the Estate and in no part of the County would land sell at a dearer rate than at Garron Point.”

Two months later, on 24th February, 1848, the foundation stone of the Tower was laid by the Marchioness herself. The building was to be L shaped, the base of the L running north-south and facing the sea, the stem of the L running east-west and facing the south. At the angle there was to be an octagonal tower, beside which would rise a taller square tower surmounting the entrance from the south. Immediately opposite, on the north side of the entrance hall, would rise the ‘grand stairs’ leading to upper compartments. The Marchioness laid down a figure of £2,000 (8) and Campbell undertook to complete by July ’49, i.e. eighteen months later. He placed his son, William in charge of construction on the site, and he himself travelled down from Newtownards once a fortnight to inspect, give orders and lay on supplies.

Early in April he wrote to the Marchioness of his:-

“Having commenced building on the 4th inst. The men prior to that time being employed in excavating all foundations and cellar storey, in quarrying stones, obtaining sand and mixing mortar. We have also built a lime kiln and commenced burning lime. I have sent to Glasgow for a small cargo of coals for that purpose so that I will have a constant supply of that material. The sand we got from Mr Turnly’s beach with his permission which was obtained through the medium of Mr Lanktree, and now there is no reason why we should not go on rapidly.”

His establishment consisted of 10 masons, 8 labourers, 3 blackstone quarrymen, 3 limestone quarrymen, 5 Craig-Cloughan (freestone) quarrymen, 4 stone hewers, 2 wood sawyers, 4 joiners, 1 lime burner, and 8-10 horse and carts, making 50 in all at a total weekly wage of £30 to £35, varying as their numbers did from time to time.

In May, Campbell reported:-

We have now all the walls of the building so high as the principal storey floor, that is all the basement or cellar storey, also the walls of the principal apartments are above the surface. Of the ground 3 feet where your Ladyship will perceive the first molding on the model.”

In June the walls of the entire building were five feet above the principal floor, i.e. eight feet above the ground, and by July they were fifteen feet above the ground. By the end of August Campbell had begun to roof the lower part of the building.

At this point things began to go wrong. In pressing forward the work during the summer months, Campbell had been spending more than the £100 a month that the Marchioness allowed him. In September, after reporting that he had completed the roofing of the low part of the Tower, he went on, “I am now arrived at the more painful part of this letter,” and he proceeded to explain “the low state of the funds.” Thereupon the Marchioness instructed Lanktree to contact Mr. Miller, a Belfast architect who had previously prepared plans for her of a projected bathing lodge (which never came to anything), with a view to his inspecting the Tower and reporting upon the accuracy of Campbell’s accounting.

This was a body blow for the old man: he felt he had lost his employer’s confidence. Apparently on the occasion of his visit to the Tower in January ’49, Mr. Miller had been unable to get a sight of the specifications, and he mentioned this in his report to the Marchioness. She then upbraided Campbell for not allowing him to see them. To this Campbell replied:—

“My Lady, I received your letter relative to your receipt of Mr. Miller’s report and I am sorry that your Ladyship should feel displeased wherein I have no blame. Mr. Miller My Lady, nor any one else, ever asked me for the specification on that occasion, nor did I at all know when he was there; and indeed My Lady I retain no Copy of the specifications given to your Ladyship, except a few notes in my memorandum book, of use to no one but myself. Your Ladyship has the specifications yourself for I require none, being the Architect and director of the works myself.”

Early in February the Marchioness sent Mr. Miller’s report to Lanktree, that he might show it to Campbell, whereupon the latter wrote:-

“….his concluding remarks and advice on procedure I must submit to your Ladyships (reason?) to see through. A large Fee every fortnight for the inspection of my Returns made out on his Tables might be very convenient for Mr. Miller. I can have no objections to his inspections of the Works as often as your Ladyship pleases, but as I commenced the building with your Ladyships self I depend upon your Ladyship to let no person share with me in its merits.”

Thereafter little more is heard of Mr. Miller. But the affair served to throw light upon a problem which has long been shrouded in mystery. It has never been clear as to who exactly was the architect of the Tower, Campbell’s letters leave us in little doubt.

Though Campbell continued to be in financial trouble, the Marchioness cannot have been too dissatisfied with his work. On the 22nd October ’49, just three months after he had completed the first stage of the Tower, she engaged the old man to build various additions at a further to make room for enlarged kitchen and sleeping quarters, the construction of a covered gateway with porter’s room over and tower beside, and the building of four cottages at the Point. The gateway was to extend southwards from the head of the lengthened stem of the original L shaped building, to balance the northward running base.

Garron tower colour 

Garron Tower (now St. Killian’s College)

By January ’50, Campbell had the cottages- ready to roof and the alterations to the main building up to casement level, including the oriel window to Lord Londonderry’s room which looked out over the rampart to the sea. But in the January storms the rampart at the head of the cliff had been partially washed away, causing the Campbells a great deal of trouble. Local gossip that the Tower was about to fall had reached the Marchioness, and in a fury she wrote accusing William of idleness. To this William replied directly to the Marchioness :—

“I hope to show your Ladyship I have been far from idle since November when coupled with these works (on the ramparts) I have also had great and dangerous difficulties to surmount in joining the new to the old at the Stillroom apartments.  I am 3 feet above the level of the floors with my Lord’s morning room window, but my Lady M. the joining of the new and the old settled work together I must give the new some time to consolidate, for if I run it up too quick we are sure to have rents in the internal angles.”

Meanwhile the old man bent his mind to the all important matter of the fallen rampart. Frances Anne’s stepfather, who had heard the local gossip, predicted disaster. On hearing this Campbell wrote:—

“and so to Mr. McDonnell’s prognostics my Lady, in my opinion they are more to be pitied than otherwise — and I have one consolation, he will never live to see his predictions fulfilled.”

In writing thus Campbell was not to know what lay ahead. His last letter is dated 27th June 1850; during the second week of December he died. Though Mr. McDonnell outlived him by a couple of years, the Tower showed no sign of falling.

The little we know of what happened after Charles Campbell’s death is derived from the early letters of Lanktree’s successor, Richard Wilson, who was appointed agent on 24th October 1850. In January ’51 Campbell’s creditors took possession of MS affairs and detained William from his work in order that he might attend their meetings. On 25th January Richard Wilson rode down to Newtownards to interview William concerning his father’s contract to complete the Tower, only to find that William had already left on his return.

“What he will do on his arrival there,” wrote Wilson, “I am at a loss to say as all the people had struck work and I am certain from what they say they will not commence again until they receive some pay. The principal mason tells me he is indebted to hint: alone in the sum of £47 and the other tradesmen generally speaking in the sum of £20 to £25.”

A fortnight later it transpired that William had executed a deed of trust conveying all his father’s property to his creditors, “but although he has done this he has not given up the plans of the Tower and is placing every obstacle in the way.” Finally, on the last day of the month. Wilson reported that “the creditors have now got possession of the plans, etc.,

cost of £2,500. These were to include the extension of the main building from Campbell so as to enable them to go on with the work.” In June Wilson reported the Coast Guard cottages were at last occupied. Thus, only six months after old Charles Campbell’s death his contract was completed.

It remains to relate what happened to Lanktree. It appears that during 1850 he also ran into financial difficulty. On 8th November Wilson wrote to the Marchioness that he would “summon Mr. Lanktree to prove the debt as entered in his books,” and in January ’51 that “I must go to Dublin next week for the purpose of attending trial, my evidence being considered necessary.” Whatever the verdict, it does not seem to have satisfied Wilson, for on 1st February he wrote, “Mr. Cassidy (Lady Londonderry’s attorney) has informed your Ladyship as to the result of the business. It is really very annoying that such trouble and expense should have been incurred.” But Lanktree was now in a state of insolvency, and on 26th June ’51 Wilson wrote:-

“Lanktree has not been down here (Carnlough) since 7th inst. I understand he is in Dublin having been obliged to go there to enter into security. An assignee is to be appointed to take charge of the insolvent’s property. Mrs. Lanktree still remains in the house (9)  but she is never seen out. All the furniture with the exception of two beds is taken away. I hear the son who is at college is dying of consumption and all the family are gone from this with the exception of one girl and the three younger children.” (10)

This is a very sad picture of the distressing condition into which Lanktree’s affairs and family had fallen, and it is an unhappy fact that four of Mr. and Mrs. Lanktree’s eight children died during the term of their father’s agency.

Here then were two men, both of them able and talented, who had served the Marchioness of Londonderry to the best of their ability. Seemingly both of them failed — Campbell died a bankrupt, Lanktree emigrated to Australia(11) — but each left his mark on the countryside in which we live today.

(1) These are not to be confused with the much larger collection of Wilson letters deposited with the County Durham Public Record Office, copies of which are now held in P.R.O.N.I.

(2) Nor were these all adjacent to one another. Her agent John Lanktree divided her estate into districts thus: 1, Drumcrow, Cappanagh, Mullaghconnelly; about 2,000 acres. 2, Glencloy: Ballyvaddy, Bellair, Doonan, Drumagh, Garfore, Gortcarney Stoneyhill, Unshinagh: about 3,000 acres. 3, Ardclinis: Aghalum, Gortin, Carnlough, Galbolly: about 2,000 acres. 4, Glenravel: Carricorvan, Legnamanog, about 1,000 acres. 5, Clogh Mills: Drumallea Torcrum, drumavaddy: about 500 acres. 6, Ballymacaldrick, about 1,300 acres.

(3) Thomas (1785-1858) was grandson of Thomas Davison of Knockboy, Broughshane, whose brother John Davison of Drumnasole married in 1755 a Miss Stewart. Their daughter Grace, married in 1783, Alexander Brown of Ballymena, founder of the merchant banking firm of Brown, Shipley and Company. Thomas’s half-sister Lily married in 1834 the rev. John Wilson, Rector of Ardclinis, 1836 – 1865, who, on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone at Garron Tower by the Marchioness, prayed for the Divine blessing on the undertaking. (Frances Anne by Lady Londonderry, page 247).

(4) There is a similar assumption that the building of the Coast Road was also a famine relief scheme; the road was completed before the Great Famine had struck.

(5) These included No. 58 Hugh McVea of Aghalum, 76 Patrick Murphy of Galbolly, 78 and 79 Alex and Ellen McGavock of Stoneyhill and 94 John Hamilton of Galbolly.

(6) Lanktree considered Stoney Hill, Ballyvaddy and Ballymacaldrick to be the three poorest townlands on the Estate, with a total of 170 “proper objects for the charity.”

(7) For the purpose of making an on the spot assessment for the Marchioness of Lord George Hill’s experiment at Gweedore.

(8) Shortly after her marriage the Marchioness had spent £102,000 on rebuilding her country mansion at Wynyard Park.

(9) The house her husband had built in 1848 at the foot of Whitehill Road, Camlough which in 1854 was first occupied by Thomas Nichol and now contains the Billabong Cafe.

(10) P.R.O.N.I. D 2977/90, the reference for all the above extracts.

(11) Where happily his descendants multiply and flourish.

3 thoughts on “Lady Frances Anne Vane’s County Antrim Estate: By Jimmy Irvine”

  1. My late father Victor Ledlie who served the late great great and maybe great again Lord and Lady Antrim as a shifour here and in England would have loved to read this.He used to tell me some of his experiences of those days. I also wonder if STONEYHILL (recently demolished) was the later home of my music teacher the late Miss Hamill who was a wonderfull tutor and person.

    • Thanks for this Alfred, if you post your query on our forum there would be a good chance someone could bring the information up to date for you.

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