I was very pleased to be among those invited to the launch of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s new book Buildings of South County Down at Ballydugan Mill on 1st May 2019. It is a splendid book written by Philip Smith and beautifully illustrated throughout in colour by Alan Turkington. It describes itself as not claiming ‘to be an exhaustive record of its particular area, but rather a selection giving a broad overview of the built heritage of the southern half of Down’ and it is a very comprehensive collection of significant buildings both large and small, public and private.
The churches section numbers 25 buildings and contains no less than three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which is a very significant representation and indicates the historical importance of what is, nevertheless, quite a small denomination. Both Downpatrick and Clough feature in the book, the Clough meeting house being photographed just before its recent repainting which means it doesn’t look its best but that can’t be helped. Leafing through the book it is interesting to see the number of other buildings that have a link with Downpatrick and Clough churches – the Murland Mausoleum has a photograph and a number of houses appear which were once the homes of prominent members including the homes of the Murlands themselves and the nearby houses of Nutgrove and Mount Panther, once the dwelling places of leading members of the church. Both Nutgrove and Mount Panther are painted on the First World War memorial in Clough.
The book contains much information that is new to me. I didn’t know that the now ruined but still impressive edifice of Mount Panther was named after the ‘local legend of the “Great Cat of Clough” a monstrous feline said to have once terrorized the area’. I also did not know anything about Marlborough House which seems to have originally been built by Rev Thomas Nevin sometime before 1728. The entry on the Downpatrick Church states that ‘the church is said to have been built in 1711 at the beginning of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin’ but it seems clear from the presbytery minutes that the new building and the new ministry did coincide quite closely. However, one interesting thing about Marlborough House is that it was built quite near to the site of the original seventeenth-century meeting house, although Buildings of South County Down says that Nevin acquired the land from Brice Magee, a local apothecary, so it can’t have been the site of the original manse.
The other Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the book is Rademon which has a number of very attractive photographs included with its account. The photograph of the interior of Downpatrick taken by Alan Turkington did not make the final cut but it is interesting to look at the interiors of Downpatrick and Rademon. Although the buildings are separated by over 75 years and it is not at all difficult to differentiate one from the other it is instructive to compare the two interiors which are very similar in layout and design and probably also dimensions:
But the book contains much more than churches. As well as houses (grand, middling-sized and small) there are antiquities and fortification, public buildings, commercial buildings, follies, monuments and memorials. Anyone who enjoys looking at the built environment around them will enjoy this book and find plenty to enlighten them about buildings in the locality of south Down.