History and tour
Stormont Castle is home to the Northern Ireland Executive and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. While it is notable as the building where the Executive meets to agree government policy, it is also a striking piece of architecture with an interesting history.
The Cleland Family
The present Stormont estate was established by the Rev. John Cleland in the early nineteenth century – as the result of an advantageous marriage and reputedly ill-gotten gains.
Just after it was built, the 1830s house (‘Storm Mount’) was described as a 'large plain house with very little planting about it'. In 1858 it assumed the grand name of ‘Stormont Castle’ when the exterior was redesigned to the fashionable Scottish Baronial style by the local architect Thomas Turner.
To what extent the original house survives is not clear, but some evidence suggests that the symmetrical five-bay block facing south contains the shell of the Georgian dwelling. However, the new structure was given a baronial character with the following additions:
- bartizans with conical caps
- iron cresting
- weather vanes
The house was also extended to include an entrance tower and waiting room. New apartments were also added which included:
- a ballroom (64 feet by 24 feet)
- a drawing room (36 feet by 18 feet)
- reception rooms - with 14 family bedrooms
- dressing rooms and bathrooms
- servants' quarters and offices
These were complemented by a terraced garden, including a complex lay-out of flower beds. A fine (and surviving) lean-to glasshouse was backed by bothies, offices and a stove house. The walled kitchen garden has now gone, but the stables remain.
The Cleland family left in 1893, preferring to live abroad. The demesne was let out but the tenant left and initial efforts to sell failed. However, the newly-formed Northern Ireland Parliament was seeking a site for Parliament Buildings and it purchased the estate for £21,000 in 1921. This included 235 acres, 100 of which were woodland.
The initial intention was to demolish the house, but it was saved by pressure of local opinion. It was used from 1922 until 1940 as the official residence of the first Prime Minister, Sir James Craig, and subsequently as offices for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. During the period of direct rule from Westminster it accommodated the office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
By the late 1990s the castle had suffered the ravages of time and was in a poor state of repair. Some of its features, such as the panelling in the dining and billiard rooms, had been lost but the majority of state rooms still retained their original classical grandeur, with high decorative ceilings, timber panelling and marble fireplaces.
It was agreed to refurbish the castle so as to restore it in line with its original character, while recognising the need to provide a modern office environment.
As a B2 listed building, all proposals were subject to the approval of both Planning Service and the Historic Building Branch to ensure that all work was in keeping with the style of the building.
The exterior has now been returned to its former glory and the principal state rooms restored. Some contemporary fixtures have been introduced, which have been further enhanced by the careful selection and commissioning of furniture, artefacts and works representing the best of local skills and artistry.
The Cleland monogram is on the shields held by the stone gryphons which guard the main entrance to the Castle.
The restoration of Stormont Castle and the removal of a number of temporary structures from the West gardens brought renewed interest in the surrounding buildings. Among these buildings is the Grade B1 listed glasshouse.
A survey of the glasshouse found parts of it were in danger of collapse. The subsequent renovations maintained its Victorian origins, while adding state-of-the-art facilities for the propogation of plants, modern office accommodation and a well-equipped meeting venue.
You can view images of Stormont Castle on the Executive’s Flickr site at the following link: