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History of Castle Ward

View of the Palladian-style side of Castle Ward house, with Strangford Lough and rolling hills beyond.
The Palladian-style side of Castle Ward with Strangford Lough beyond | © National Trust / Elaine Hill

Castle Ward is a unique 18th-century mansion famed for its mixture of architectural styles and interiors. One half is built in the classical Palladian style, while the other half – which faces out across Strangford Lough – is built in the more elaborate Gothic style.

Castle Ward's two different styles

The story told for the reason behind this unusual decorative scheme is that the builder of the house, Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, did not agree with his wife Lady Anne on the décor. Bernard had a classical taste but Lady Anne preferred the fashionable Gothic style, leading them to split the house down the middle.

Despite the decision to accommodate both tastes, the couple separated not long after the house was finished, with Anne leaving Castle Ward for good.

Exterior view of the Gothic-revival-style north-east front of Castle Ward, County Down, against a deep blue sky.
Castle Ward's Gothic-revival-style north-east facade | © National Trust Images / Matthew Antrobus

Building and designing Castle Ward

When Bernard and Lady Anne inherited the estate in 1759 they set about building themselves a fine new house. It would be symbolic of their union and exist as a statement of the Ward family's bold and forward-thinking place in the world. Castle Ward was completed in 1766 and by 1781 they had been created Viscount and Viscountess Bangor in the Peerage of Ireland.

A royal ancestry

Lady Anne's grandfather was the nephew of the Duchess of York – wife of King James II and a first cousin of Queen Anne. This royal ancestry shows itself in the choice of the Gothic style. The ceiling in the Morning Room is copied from the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey, where Anne's maternal family were permitted to be buried due to their royal blood.

Creating a masterpiece

Rather than the house becoming known as an architectural monstrosity, the couple aimed for it to be a masterpiece, striving against convention and rooting the Ward family as bold, modern thinkers with an impressive past.

Temple Water

Temple Water, too, is an important piece of Castle Ward's history. Canals like this became fashionable among landowners in Ireland at this time, however today it is one of the very few to survive. The man-made landscape of the Temple Water area, designed by the Ward family, is one of the most important late 17th- and early 18th-century gardens remaining in Ireland.

Designed to reflect the ruins

The canal was built in 1728 by Judge Michael Ward. It created a formal landscape and was designed to reflect the picturesque ruins of Audley Castle at one end and Lady Anne's Temple along one side. The canal is 530 metres long and is the largest ornamental garden feature to survive in Ireland from the early 18th century.

The public's reaction

The unusual combination of styles has long been a point of joy or novelty for visitors, having a 'Marmite' effect. On a visit to Castle Ward, writer and poet John Betjeman referred to the ceiling in the Boudoir as 'like sitting under a cow's udder', and the comment has stuck. Others comment on the otherworldly feeling created by the exotic grandeur of the Gothic side.

The staircase leading to the hall at Castle Ward
The staircase leading to the hall at Castle Ward | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Making a home

The idea of having a 'home of one's own' as we understand it today is an inherently Georgian ideal, as illustrated through this extraordinary and unusual house of two sides.

While Bernard and Lady Anne had differing tastes in architecture, the idea of creating a home which was expressive of their tastes and passions was paramount.

Personal touches

If we look at Castle Ward's Collection we can see how the couple used family crests, armorials, coronets and monogramming on all manner of objects to reinforce the idea that this place was special to them.

The Collection has been altered in some ways and enhanced and added to by successive generations of the Ward family. But each family member has continued to reinforce the fact that this was very much their home and a place where they could find self-expression.

Dinner with the Ward family

One such expression of Bernard and Lady Anne's passions is a carved panel in the dining room depicting Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and harvests. The panel’s alter-like position adds to the symbolic nature of the piece and reflects the importance of a successful harvest to the family.

The panel apparently had the desired effect – following a visit to Castle Ward in the autumn of 1772, Sir James Caldwell described a table overflowing with cooked meats, fish and exotic fruits:

'There was an excellent dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie at each side and four trifling things at the corners... The second course of nine dishes [was] made out much in the same way. The cloth was taken away, and then the fruit – a pineapple, not good; a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs…and the rest pears and apples.'

– Sir James Caldwell

Two members of National Trust staff looking up and discussing the ornate plaster ceiling in the Gothic Boudoir at Castle Ward, County Down

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