History of Seymour Hill
The information below gives a brief history of the CHARLEY family, who once owned much of the land of Seymour Hill, Dunmurry and Finaghy. The facts were taken from accounts of Colonel Robin Charley, a direct descendent of Seymour Hill's former owners.
For over 200 years, members of the Charley family have lived in the Dunmurry area, with branches of the family tree entwining with many of Ulster's old families.
Originally known as Chorley, they are descended from the branch of the family who lived at Chorley Hall in Lancashire. When the head of that family was beheaded for taking part in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, some of the family fled to the North of Ireland, changing the 'o' in their surname to 'a' making it become Charley. The name of the Charley who fled to the North of Ireland has not yet been discovered.
Their first recorded house being Finaghy House when Ballyfinaghy was purchased from a Richard Woods in 1727 by Ralph Charley (1674-1756), a successful merchant of Belfast.
In 1727 it is recorded that Finaghy House was an imposing mansion in a large park with extensive outhouses and stables.
The Charley family armorial bearings were built into the outside gables and on a landing, half way up the wide oak bannistered stairs, the Coat of Arms are still engraved on the landing window. At the time of the house sale in 1885 one of the conditions of sale was that if the house was demolished the Coat of Arms was to be restored to the Charley family.
The Charleys were pioneers in the linen industry and it is said that looms were set up in this house in the 18th century and the new process of bleaching linen cloth with chlorine was perhaps discovered and first used here. Every 12th July for about 150 years until 1972, the Belfast Orangemen used to walk to the field at Finaghy. This field was owned by the Charleys of Finaghy House who granted it in perpetuity for this day to the Orange Order, 'the rent' being that the lesson should always be read from the Charley Bible during the religious part of the ceremony.
Finaghy House is now known as Faith House, a comfortable house for senior citizens in the middle of a large housing estate.
Woodbourne came into the Charley family when it was given to Mrs Mary Anne Charley (1797-1866) on her marriage in 1819 to Matthew Charley (1788-1846) by her father Walter Roberts of Collin House.
When Matthew and Mary moved to Finaghy House in 1844 Woodbourne was taken over by their son John Stouppe Charley (1825-1878). In 1851 he married Mary Stewart Foster (1832-1915) a daughter of Francis Foster JP of Roshin Lodge Co.Donegal. John Stouppe succeeded his uncle John on the committee of the Northern Bank in 1845 and he was also a JP and DL for counties Antrim & Donegal and High Sheriff of Co. Donegal in 1875. John Stouppe Charley took over Finaghy House on his mother's death in 1866.
Woodbourne was a happy home. It was so named because of the wood, or glen, on one side and a burn, the Lady's River on the other. There was also a sunny walled garden, an orchard full of apple trees, large yards, stables, byres for cows, barns for grain, a pigeon loft, a greenhouse, a pheasantry and a carpenter's shop. The house had a large sunlit entrance hall with folding doors across it to screen off the stairs and back passages. On the folding screen was the Charley Coat of Arms with the motto 'Justus Esto et non Metue' above it.
John Stouppe Charley of Woodbourne had four sons and three daughters. Two sons died as infants, his second son Major John Francis William born 1857 was mortally wounded on 15th December 1899 commanding the 1stBattalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers the Battle of Colenso in the Sough African War.
When this William died in 1890 his son Edward (1859-1932) took over the house and the linen business and on his death Edward's brother Captain Arthur Charley (1870-1944) was the next owner.
In 1820 William Charley (1790-1838), the third son of John Charley (1744-1812) of Finaghy House, purchased and remodelled the bleach green at Dunmurry and also the nearby Mossvale works. Two years later he bought Seymour Hill House from Mr Robert Allen Johnstone. William's father John had served his time in the linen trade under Richard Wolfenden (1723-1775) of Harmony Hill, Lambeg, who was head of one of the earliest linen trade families in Ulster.
Seymour Hill stands on a hill with a wide view of the Lagan Valley. The Charley estate on both sides of the River Lagan in counties Antrim and Down amounted to over 400acres. They were tenants of the Marquess of Hertford who owned all the land from Dunmurry to the southern shore of Lough Neagh. Seymour Hill was named after the Marquess of Hertford's surname, which was Seymour. In the 1880s Irish Land Acts, the Charley family gained full possession of the land.
The large square Georgian house had 4 floors.
A large walled garden and grounds were maintained by a head gardener and five or six under gardeners. This walled garden has now been renovate and is managed as the Seymour Hill Garden project by a unit under the Eastern Board (Down and Lisburn Department). Between the house and walled garden were lawns with landscaped trees and shrubs. Near the rock garden was the dogs' cemetery, all with their individual headstones.
Every day the head of the family would walk across the paddock field to the factory of J & W Charley & Co. which was hidden from the house by a line of trees. Here he supervised the finishing and production of the finest Ulster Linen. It was of a particularly high quality and for many years the normal present from Northern Ireland to any member of the Royal Family when they married were linen sheets from J & W Charley, specially embroidered with a the relevant royal cypher.
Within the grounds of Seymour Hill was a lake and a waterfall leading into a fish ponds. The Derriaghy River flowed under the main Belfast-Lisburn road into the lake and then was divided into two mill races to work the factory water wheels. The top stream was known locally as 'Little Harry' because baby Harold Charley's (1875-1956) pram once ran away down the drive and ended up upside down in the river. He was none the worse for the experience.
During World War 2 the laundry premised in the upper yard were occupied by up to 100 women and children evacuated from the centre of Belfast during the air raid blitzes of 1941 and 1942.
Just after World War 2 the Northern Ireland Housing Trust was formed and, by the first vesting order issued in Northern Ireland, the family was compelled to sell Seymour Hill House and all the grounds on the county Antrim side of the river Lagan. This was the first enterprise undertaken by the Trust, now the NI Housing Executive.
In no time the house was surrounded by a well laid out but vast housing estate. The upper and lower yards were made into comfortable well designed mews flats which won a Civic Trust Award in 1960.
In 1986 the house was vandalised and badly damaged by firebombs and it was feared it might have to be pulled down but the Housing Executive transferred the listed building and part of the grounds to Belfast Improved Housing Association Ltd which has now successfully restored it into six one person flats with a warden's flat on the top floor and shared launderette facilities in the old basement.
In 1837 the Ulster Railway Company opened its first line from Belfast to Lisburn. To encourage use of the railway, free passes were offered to people if they built new homes near the stations and halts. It is thought that this may have influenced William Charley (1790-1838) to build Phoenix Lodge for his daughter, Anne Jane, in 1837 shortly before he died.
In 1882 the name of the house was changed to The Lodge after the Phoenix Park murders in Dublin, when Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, Chief Secretary & Under Secretary of Ireland, were assassinated.
In 1947 it was bought by Mrs Harland, the sister of Sir Milne Barbour Conway. In spite of being listed this lovely house was vested in the early 1960s after Mrs Harland died and the grounds taken over for the expansion of a nearby factory. The large weeping ash tree that dominated the front lawn is all that now remains of The Lodge.
In 1852 William Charley, who had succeeded to the Seymour Hill estate, gave some land to his younger brother Edward (1827-1868), to build a house for his first wife Mary (nee Caldecott) (1834-1854) from Essex. Edward named it Conway after the local landowner and Marquess of Hertford, one of whose titles was Lord Conway. The house was sold by the executors of Edward's brother William Charley to John D. Barbour of Hilden, the father of Sir Milne Barbour, later Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Sir Milne lived in Conway for many years until he died in 1951. It is now a four star hotel. At one time there was the Charley crest over the front door but a bomb destroyed it some years ago.
Huntley, originally known as Hunley Lodge, was built about 1830 by William Hunter (1777-1856) of Dunmurry House on land leased by the Stewarts of Ballydrain from the Donegall estates. His son William (1806-1890) lived in Huntley for a time and brought up his family there until, in mid 1850s he moved his family to the Isle of Man because of the increase of Income Tax. The house was then left by his father William (1777-1856) to his widowed sister Mrs Isabella Charley (1800-1882).
Isabella's husband, William Charley of Seymour Hill, had died in 1838 and she had lived in Seymour Hill until her eldest son William was married in 1856. Isabella then moved to Huntley where she was joined by her late husband's sisters Mary (1820-86), Anne Jane Stevenson (1822-1904) (whose husband had died in 1855) and Emily (1837-1917). Every Sunday for many years the Charleys of Seymour Hill would get into the family coach and go to visit their grandmother and great aunts for afternoon tea.
1. They did not approve of cycling on Sundays.
Huntley remained in possession of the Charley family until 1932 when Edward Charley JP, DL (1859-192) of Seymour Hill died and it was sold to Mr George Bryson who had been a tenant there since just after the World War 1. The Bryson family still live there.
Mossvale Houe was a nice old house down by the Lagan Canal which originally belonged to the owners of the local mill. It came into the possession of the Charley family in 1820 when the mill and bleach works were purchased by William Charley (1790-1838) form Robert Johnstone. It was encircled by trees and had stabling for 10 horses and in spring time was surrounded by daffodils. Captain Arthur Charley (1870-1944) lived here with his wife for several years after the Great War before moving into The Lodge in Dunmurry.
In 1936 it was rented to a flamboyant individual. He heavily insured the house and the horses and then, a few days later, bought boxes of matches and a can of paraffin. He soaked piles of rags around the house and stables, set them on fire and succeeded in burning the house to the ground. Luckily some passers-by saw the fire and managed to rescue the frightened horses. The land and ruins remained in the family for another 50 years until it was sold in the 1980s. A new house has been built on the site by the purchaser.
Warren House, originally known as Warren View, was a small house on the Charley estate and, until 1922, was occupied by different members of the Johnston family. In 1923 Edward Charley of Seymour Hill gave it to his brother Colonel Harold Charley CBE, DL (1875-1956) on his marriage to Phyllis Hunter MBE (1893-1988). They added to the house and enlarged it over several years.
Warren House looked across the Derriaghy River to an ancient mound and rabbit warren.
In 1951 the house was sold by the Charleys and bought by the winner of a large football pool prize. It was then sold again and is is understood that one later owner converted the large drawing room into a Plymouth Brethren Chapel. In 1970, when the DeLorean factory was built in the nearby fields, Warren House was fitted out for John DeLorean to live in. A special roadway was made direct from the factory to the house and it was rumoured, untruly, that gold taps were put in the bathrooms. There were several break-ins because of this. It is now occupied by new owners.
Willowdale House lies beyond the hamlet of Ballybog, the main driveway running parallel to the River Lagan, just beyond the Ballybog Road reaches the Lagan Canal Towpath.
The house has been part of the Charley Estate since the early 1820's.
The house was at one time surrounded by lawns and flowerbeds and an orchard with apple, pear and plum trees. The garden and lawns are encircled on three sides by the River Lagan.
The Charley family built churches and schools in Dunmurry and Derriaghy in the past, so it was no surprise to know that Col. Charley is often in demand at prizegivings and commemorative functions today. A few years ago, while attending the unveiling of a mural at our primary school, he was pleased to see the school's badge, combining the Barbour and Charley crests of a bird and a blue cornflower