Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Springhill

My trip to Springhill came very close to total (and I mean TOTAL) disaster. I was planning my Grand Extravaganza Tour of Northern Ireland 2019 (t-shirts available) and typed 'Springhill' into Google Maps. It was right up in the north west corner of Northern Ireland, which was, frankly, very inconvenient. But I wasn't fazed - I thought hey-ho, I love the TV show Derry Girls and this detour means I can go and visit the city as well and maybe bump into Sister Michael, as long as it's not a Friday when she goes to judo.

It was only a few days before my trip that I happened to see a map of National Trust properties in Northern Ireland, noting with some concern that there was nothing in that area of the country. A quick check showed that I had indeed mistaken Springhill Road in Derry for the Springhill Estate near Moneymore. I'm sure Springhill Road is very nice but it probably doesn't have a 17th century house on it. (I was going to say that it wouldn't have any scones but knowing Ireland I'm sure someone would have rustled some up for me if they found me sitting on the kerb crying when I'd worked out that I was 50 miles from where I needed to be.)

Springhill

Anyway. Disaster was averted; I hastily reworked my itinerary and I'm very glad I did because the Springhill owned by the National Trust is lovely and well worth a visit.

You have to join a guided tour of the house but it was excellent. I've been the queen of the NT guided tour this week, having done them at Castle Coole, Florence Court, and The Argory as well. The amusement factor on this one was provided by a woman whose Fitbit decided to give us a running commentary on her movements every time we transferred into another room.

But here are some highlights of what we learned:

Springhill was built for a marriage contract
William Conyngham (pronounced Cunningham), whose ancestors had come to Ulster from Scotland during the Plantations, wanted to marry a teenager called Ann Upton in 1680. Her father wasn't easy to please and drew up a long marriage contract that demanded "a convenient dwelling house of lime and stone, two stories high, with necessary office houses, gardens and orchards." And so William built Springhill.

Colonel William Conyngham - not much of a stepdad
The guide told us how William Conyngham, the great nephew of the original builder William, inherited Springhill and got married ten years later. He apparently didn't know that his new wife had teenaged daughters and when they turned up expecting to move in, he promptly packed them all off to live with his sister nearer the city. One of them (Jane) married the sister's son George Lenox, so she did return to the house eventually when George inherited his uncle's estate. The Springhillers then became Lenox-Conynghams.  

George - suicide in the Blue Bedroom
George and Jane were very happy but she died young. He married again, to a woman called Olivia, but the marriage wasn't happy at all. He never got over Jane's death and eventually shot himself in the house. But it's Olivia's ghost that is said to haunt the place.

Charles I's death warrant was found in the attic
To be fair, the Parliamentarians made a lot of copies of Charles I's death warrant - a copy was given to every nobleman to prove that the execution was legally approved. There were 59 signatories and when Charles II was reinstated all 59 'regicides' were hunted down and tried for treason. Even the dead ones were dug up and hung. Imagine. Anyway - just having a copy of the warrant in your possession could get you into trouble in those Restoration days and most owners burnt theirs. The Conynghams did not and theirs was found in the attic.



It's a solid house with lovely rooms
I feel a bit bad because I moaned about not being allowed to take photos at Castle Coole and then failed to take any at Springhill where it was permitted. Here's a very bad one of the staircase to give you at least a little bit of an idea of what it's like inside:



There's a tower
The estate has gardens and other attractions, one of those being a lovely little tower. It was actually once a corn mill rather than a defensive building:


Springhill Tower

There's a costume museum
Springhill has an impressive costume collection containing over 3,000 items. A tiny amount of that inventory is on display at any one time and not all of the clothes come from Springhill directly - a lot were donated by other families in the area. 

However, the curators have done a brilliant job linking the outfits to the residents that might have worn them and telling their stories:


Springhill costume museum

Did the Conynghams eat scones back in the 1700s? Who knows. What I do know is that scones are very much available in the tea room. There was a choice of plain or fruit scone and the man running the place was very friendly. 

I chose the fruit scone and very nice it was too - a little bit dry but full of fruit. 


Springhill scone

If it's learning you're after, then Northern Ireland has some great NT properties that I didn't manage to fit in to my tour - none of them had scones but Patterson's Spade Mill sounds fascinating, as does Wellbrook Beetling Mill which is nothing to do with beetles and everything to do with the production of linen. I saw a poster for it at Springhill and spent the rest of the day singing "the Beetling Mill, the Beetling Mill" to the tune of "Me Ol' Bamboo" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was quite irritating but I was very tired.

Springhill: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
My song-writing talents: 0 out of 5

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