Beautiful rooms and treasures
Mount Stewart has been the home of the Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry for over 250 years. After a major restoration project, it now reflects the era when Charles, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, and his wife Edith, made it their much-loved Irish home from the 1920s to the 1950s.
One of several family houses, Mount Stewart remained Edith’s favourite. In meticulously redesigning the house and boldly planting the now famous gardens, she breathed new life into Mount Stewart and transformed it into a colourful and scent-filled sanctuary for her family and a retreat where many illustrious friends came to relax and escape public life.
Although the house is currently closed due to Covid-19, here is a brief tour of the highlights.
Circe and the Sirens
Close to the entrance is a remarkable large portrait of Edith with three of her daughters, painted in 1925. In its colour, symbolism, sensuality and fun it brilliantly captures the essence of Mount Stewart, Edith and Charles’ favourite home.
The Central Hall and east end of the house were built in the 1840s. This space is, architecturally and symbolically, is the most impressive space in the house and forms the main public and family circulation space within the building. It is a cool, airy space but when originally built, it was topped by a dome filled with stained glass which cast coloured pools of light across the floor. Edith Londonderry disliked the Victorian gloom and removed the stained glass dome in the 1950s.
The floor has recently undergone a major restoration, revealing the original pale Scrabo stone, which had been covered with linoleum in the 1960s. The columns are painted to imitate marble. Two life size sculptures by Lawrence MacDonald stand at either end. The four sculptures in niches in the centre include one by L. Bartolini of Frances Anne Vane Tempest and her son George.
To the east end of the hall is Mount Stewart’s new silver display. It holds the Londonderry family silver dating from 1694 to the mid-20th century.
The couple frequently hosted dinner parties and entertained leading politicians including Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. The place cards on dining room table reveal some of the many guests that stayed at Mount Stewart.
Around the walls stand the chairs used during the Congress of Vienna (1814-15). The needlework covers were commissioned by Edith in the 1930s, to display the coats of arms of those present at the Congress and of the countries they represented, including Viscount Castlereagh and his brother Charles Stewart, the Duke of Wellington, Prince von Metternich and Talleyrand. Portraits of Castlereagh, by Hugh Douglas Hamilton and Charles Stewart hang in this room, along with portraits of Stewart’s first and second wives and his eldest son, by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Black and White Stone Hall
In the Black and White Hall are pieces of armour captured from the French Imperial Guard by General Charles Stewart, who fought under Wellington during the Peninsula War.
The marble ideal head of Helen of Troy is by Antonio Canova, the leading sculptor of the day, who presented this bust to Castlereagh after the Napoleonic wars in gratitude for his help in returning looted works of art to the Vatican.
A little cupboard under the stairs is where Edith dried flowers from the garden for her own recipe of pot pourri which she gave away as gifts and sold for charity in aid of the Women’s Legion.
Lord Londonderry’s Sitting Room
This was the 7th Marquess’ private sitting room and office. Charles, known as Charley, worked here on official papers during his time as Education Minister in the newly formed Government of Northern Ireland from 1922 and as secretary for air in the early 1930s. Here he was surrounded by mementoes of his political and family life, with a portrait of Mairi, his youngest daughter, taking centre stage over the fireplace while Castlereagh, his greatest political inspiration, is also well represented.
The Breakfast Room
Charles and Edith enjoyed relaxed family breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas here with the vista out over the Sunk Garden that Edith created in 1920-21. She introduced the big sliding sash window so that they could have direct access to the garden.
In the centre is a traditional Irish “wake” or hunting table. A collection of Berlin cabinet plates from 1810-20, a diplomatic gift acquired by Charles Stewart when he was British Ambassador in Berlin is displayed in the cabinets.
Lady Londonderry’s Sitting Room
Edith’s private sitting room gives a glimpse into the real passions of this clever, warm-hearted and captivating innovator, designer, mother, author and legendary society hostess. It is brimming with her most cherished possessions and was the haven where she set about researching, planning and designing the gardens for which Mount Stewart is now so famous.
The bookcase-lined walls are full of books on a wide variety of subjects, many from friends and guests to Mount Stewart. Among them are first editions sent to Edith by their authors including the poet WB Yeats, novelist John Buchan and playwright George Bernard Shaw.
The west stairs are dominated by George Stubbs’ masterpiece of Hambletonian, Rubbing Down, painted in 1800. Hambletonian was owned by Sir Harry Vane Tempest, whose daughter married Charles Stewart, later 3rd marquess of Londonderry.
Either side of the stairs are displays of ceramics including a fine Compagnie des Indes part dinner and dessert service, decorated with the Cowan coat of arms. These date back to the beginning of the family’s fortunes when Alexander Stewart married wealthy heiress Mary Cowan in 1737.
The drawing room was the social hub of the house, and remains a warm, welcoming room today. Four tall windows open onto the south terrace while comfortable armchairs and sofas gather around the fireplace. The piano provided a source of musical entertainment, sometimes provided by Duncan Morrison, who collected and transcribed Scottish songs and music. Edith’s grandfather was the Duke of Sutherland and she grew up at Dunrobin Castle- she was at heart a Scot. A Scottish piper woke guests in the morning by playing his bagpipes on the terrace, and led them in to dinner in the evening.
At one end of the room stands the Congress of Vienna Desk, brought back by Castlereagh after the Congress and the Peace of Paris in 1815, for which he was made a Knight of the Garter. Above it hangs his portrait, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, wearing his Garter robes for the coronation of George IV in 1821. Indeed this room is dominated by portraits, mainly by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Beside Castlereagh is a portrait, after Lawrence, of his brother Charles Stewart and at the far end of the room are portraits of Charles’s second wife, Frances Anne Vane Tempest, and son George, and of Alexandrina and George as children. Either side of the fireplace are works from the 1790s of Castlereagh and his wife Emily Hobart. Across from them hangs a lyrical work by John Hoppner of Frances Vane, as Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
In the 1850s, Frederick, 4th Marquess of Londonderry created the double height Chapel in memory of his father, the 3rd Marquess, from rooms that had been his father’s bedroom and sitting room.
The Chapel is consecrated and is used every month for a communion service. A place of celebration and mourning, the Chapel has hosted the family’s marriages, christenings and funerals and has been an integral part of life at Mount Stewart.
Edith’s youngest daughter, Lady Mairi, was married here in 1940. After her death in 2009 her funeral was held here before she was buried at Tir N’an Og, meaning Land of the Ever Young, which is the family burial ground situated north of the lake. Both Charles, in 1949, and Edith in 1959, passed away at Mount Stewart and their funerals were held in the Chapel.