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The present Clandeboye house, then still known as Ballyleidy, was built to designs of Robert Woodgate in about 1801-4. R. A. Woodgate, who had joined Soane in 1788 as an apprentice, was in 1791, after completing his apprenticeship, sent to Ireland by Soane to superintend the rebuilding work at Barons Court – in the words of the Barons Court Agent, James Hamilton: ‘a lad of much address, seldom embarrassed, and full of resources’: it was because of his quick thinking that the wings at Barons Court were saved from the fire in 1796. From Dublin in November 1799 he sent Soane a plan of his first house. While the plan is lost, and the house unidentified, it could conceivably have been Clandeboye. His independent practice met with little success, however, and he died, relatively young, in 1805.

Woodgate’s house for the second Baron Dufferin was two-storeyed, of a plan somewhat unusual in Ulster – not a rectangle, not a rectangle with a wing or pavilion on either side, but a less formal one of two wings or facades at right angles to each other. The east front was of nine bays, the centre three in a shallow bow: the south front of seven, the five inner bays breaking forward with the three in the centre grouped under a slightly projecting pediment. The entrance was under a single-storey four-columned Doric portico below the pediment. The centre five ground floor windows on the south side were round-headed, in each end bay of the facade a tripartite window recessed in a blind arch. Woodgate is at his most Soanic at Clandeboye. The east front, with its shallow bowed saloon in the centre, corresponds closely to the east front of Soane’s Barons Court, 1794, which had a centre bowed drawing-room in a similar range of three reception rooms en suite. To judge by Clandeboye, Woodgate’s work was competent if not particularly inspired: his architecture seldom provides more than a reticently sketched-in background to living.

The house remained as built by Woodgate until some years after the first Marquess, then fifth Baron, inherited, at the age of 15, in 1841. Interested and informed, he yearned for a nobleman’s seat more in accord with his romantic Sir Walter Scott ideal. Plans were obtained from William Burn for an Elizabethan house, to be achieved by embellishing and adding to the existing one, in 1848 and 1849; from Benjamin Ferrey for a French chateau re-modelling, probably in the mid 1850s; and from William Henry Lynn, for a truly baronial re-modelling, in about 1865. As Jan Morris wrote in Stones of Empire, Lord Dufferin ‘long cherished the dream of building a romantic country house somewhere’. Thank goodness finances dictated that, if he needs must build a new house, then at least the somewhere was Simla or in Canada, and not at Clandeboye. Lord Dufferin had to content himself at Clandeboye with adapting and altering what he had inherited.

Although he corresponded with Lynn off and on for some 30 years – mainly about the intended almost total, but in the event to remain unrealised, transformation of the house into Harold Nicolson’s fusion of ‘Francois Premier and the Prince Consort’, but also about a projected new house at Grey Point; an entire seaside resort at Helen’s Bay; a water tank to be sited below Helen’s Tower; and various buildings, projected and realised, in Canada – still, not much correspondence seems to survive relating directly to the alterations to the existing Clandeboye house which were in fact carried out. But there is a letter from Lynn to Lord Dufferin in March 1869 referring to alterations then being made, and a difficulty encountered by the factotum Mr Henry concerning pilasters and columns. It seems reasonable to assume that, in addition to enlargements ‘in terms of his own imagination and bit by bit’, the hand of Lynn assisting Lord Dufferin can be seen in at least some of the work carried out in the 1860s – in the dining-room, drawing-room, library and gallery…

The outer and inner halls were originally scullery and kitchen. After their conversion by Lord Dufferin, they were, possibly in the late 1800s, further enriched with fretted plaster ceilings, and an Elizabethan doorway of pitch pine under a window bearing the arms and quarterings of the Blackwoods and Hamiltons: there is a similar window in the canted bay of the principal staircase in the house itself. The furnishing of the inner hall, commodious low-slung maroon leather club sofas and arm chairs grouped round a hearth of baronial proportions, polar bear skins and weaponry and mackintoshes and Irish Republic small change, has been little altered over the years. The first Marquess’s intriguing if somewhat tortuous way into the house is quite unlike that into any other Irish house – the result of what Harold Nicolson neatly labels ‘Lord Dufferin’s optimism regarding his own capacity as an architect’. Are there references, possibly in advance of actually seeing them, to the Scala Reggia with its dog-leg staircase, or to the arms and armour at Dover Castle, here become rather general travel trophies? Lord Dufferin was British Ambassador in Rome in the late 1880s, and was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1891.

Late in the century, presumably at the end of the 1880s and in the 1890s, Lord Dufferin transformed further back quarters on either side of his inner and outer halls into a large billiards room lined with book shelves, a table tennis room, a strong room, a museum room, a commodious gentlemen’s cloakroom – plus a series of domestic offices. All were top-lit. Harold Nicolson again: Lord Dufferin’s ‘passion for glass roofing was… uncontrolled’ – and this in spite of a polite warning from John Lanyon in 1896 about leaks…