(CNN) — As starter houses go, a three-story Georgian mansion on an 820-acre property’s not dangerous.
When Neil Watt and his accomplice Kris Reid moved into the highest ground of Northern Eire’s Citadel Ward stately residence in March 2020, it was their first residence collectively as a pair.
Watt had landed a brand new live-in job as collections and home supervisor on the property owned by UK heritage physique The Nationwide Belief, and so they had been making ready, alongside an enormous crew of colleagues and volunteers, to welcome each day crowds of tourists.
In addition to the 18th-century home and landscaped gardens, folks come to see the Victorian noticed mill and corn mill, the shoreline the place seals typically bask, and the 16th-century tower home higher often called Winterfell in HBO’s “Sport of Thrones.”
Then, in fact, the pandemic occurred. The mansion’s mighty doorways needed to be shuttered, the general public turned away.
This nook of County Down, which the Ward household made their residence from the 1570s to the 1950s, grew to become — de facto — a non-public residence as soon as once more.
And as new lords of the manor, Watt and Reid determined to provide it a makeover.
Lords of the manor
Citadel Ward is the two-faced Janus of nation homes.
Strategy from the landscaped gardens and it is an 18th-century mansion within the Classical Palladian fashion. However stroll not far away to the place its pointed home windows and battlements look onto Strangford Lough, and it is Georgian Gothic.
This daring fusion of types splits this constructing of greater than 40 rooms down the center, in and out.
“Each time this home was constructed, it could have been one of many grandest in Eire,” says Neil Watt, Citadel Ward’s collections and home supervisor. “And positively in instances of favor and structure it was probably the most avant garde.”
Like many people once we discovered ourselves locked down in our houses final spring, the couple turned themselves first to odd jobs round the home.
Of their case, this meant duties like scrubbing lots of of pots and pans, dismantling Victorian chandeliers and cleansing them piece by piece, and cleansing and cataloging round 2,000 vintage books.
With a contact of CGI, Citadel Ward was used as the placement for Winterfell in “Sport of Thrones.”
‘We would like this home to shine’
“We saved saying to ourselves, at any time when we’re allowed to open once more, at any time when that is likely to be, we wish this home to shine,” says Watt.
Each males are skilled conservationists — Reid is presently learning for a PhD in heritage — so restoration work is not new to them.
What was uncommon, nevertheless, was how a lot time they had been in a position to dedicate to refurbishment, when ordinarily they’d have been busy with guests.
A brand new dehumidifying system was put in, carpets and rugs had been crushed down, flooring had been waxed, and silver and brass had been polished, from fireplaces to door tits.
And when colleagues and volunteers had been allowed again in over the summer time, they rolled up their sleeves and bought caught in too. “As a charity, we’re nothing with out folks,” says Watt.
“We did numerous duties that are actually labor-intensive, but it surely was very conscious to do and and gave us one thing to work in the direction of,” says Watt.
Alongside the conservation work, Watt used the lockdown interval to additional analysis the historical past of the property and rethink the way it’s introduced to the general public.
“Contemporary blood is so essential,” says Watt, “as a result of typically we inform tales as a result of that is what’s been informed earlier than.”
Citadel Ward was constructed within the early 1760s by Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, and his spouse Girl Ann, a well-connected descendant of the Stuart royal household.
The pair had traveled the world extensively and so they co-architected their formidable, trendy residence collectively.
Watt’s PhD is in ladies of the Irish nation home and Girl Ann’s story is one he significantly loved revisiting.
“She confirmed an independence of spirit that perhaps wasn’t seemly on the time,” he says. She was wealthy, aristocratic and “she actually did as she happy.”
She was very sexually liberated,” he provides. “Earlier than she married Bernard she had a (years-long) love affair with a girl, Letitia Bushe.”
The Boudoir is on the Gothic aspect of the home.
Courtesy Neil Watt
Girl Ann, her brother Lord Darnley and her son Nicholas all confronted accusations from their friends that they had been topic to a “household insanity.” It isn’t clear whether or not any of this was on account of what we would acknowledge as we speak as psychological well being situations, or merely that their habits contravened the social norms of the time.
One of many extra lurid claims about Darnley, whose residence in London’s Berkeley Sq. was till 2018 the legendary Annabel’s nightclub, was that he believed himself to be a teapot, and was afraid of sexual congress lest his spout ought to fall off within the night time.
Bernard and Anne’s eldest son, Nicholas, was a British MP however was finally declared insane. The property would later move to his nephew, after the intervention, says Watt, of the 2nd Viscount Bangor’s’ “very enterprising brothers who thought the viscountcy could be higher of their fingers.”
It was rumored additionally that his brothers had loosened the bannisters at Citadel Ward to hasten their brother’s finish, however Nicholas lived to a ripe previous age and this idle gossip is unfounded.
‘Open and trustworthy’
“Historical past is revisionism; historical past is a discourse,” says Watt, who used the time in lockdown to create a brand new home narrative to accompany excursions.
This revisionism is a part of a wider development within the Nationwide Belief, which final autumn provoked controversy by releasing a report into its properties’ hyperlinks with colonialism and historic slavery.
John Orna-Ornstein, the belief’s director of tradition and engagement, informed CNN in September: “Our function is to be as open and trustworthy as we are able to, to inform the complete historical past of the locations and collections that we look after.”
Right now, the island of Eire is split into the Republic of Eire, an impartial nation, and Northern Eire, which is a part of the UK. Nonetheless, earlier than the Irish Warfare of Independence (1919-21) the island was underneath British rule.
The ‘huge home’
This chandelier greets guests in Citadel Ward’s reception corridor.
Courtesy Neil Watt
The “huge home” was a potent image of the British institution in Eire and these grand houses of elite households had been typically focused in the course of the 20th-century intervals of civil unrest often called “the troubles.”
Whereas comparatively few “huge homes” stay, significantly within the Republic, “not as many homes had been burned in the course of the troubles within the ’20s as folks suppose,” says Watt.
The price of maintenance within the 20th century, when the times of big households with many servants had been gone, meant that “many extra had been merely demolished.”
Whereas these saved inside personal households typically fell into disrepair, “Citadel Ward was actually fortunate as a result of it was gifted to the nation,” says Watt.
‘We have actually turned the nook’
“The massive home was just one half of a bigger construction,” he explains. “All of those huge homes had been hooked up to an property, like their sister homes in England, Wales and Scotland. In these locations, there was a society, and there have been loads of interconnections.”
Watt usually receives letters from folks whose ancestors labored on the property at Citadel Ward.
And whereas the legacy of the “huge home” has typically been a politically delicate topic in Northern Eire, Watt says, “I believe we have actually turned the nook. I believe persons are beginning to respect these locations because the shared areas that they was.”
Whereas Citadel Ward was in a position to open for a part of 2020, it’s now as soon as once more closed indefinitely as a part of the newest lockdowns throughout the UK and Eire.
Watt says that whereas it was a novelty at first, strolling across the grand empty rooms, “by the second weekend you actually need to open up the doorways and let folks in. I believe it is actually proven how essential persons are to historic locations.”
Each males are native to Northern Eire — Watt is from County Tyrone whereas Reid is from the close by city of Ballynahinch — however they’ve barely seen their households this 12 months because of the restrictions.
However says Watt, they take consolation looking from the highest ground of the home’s Gothic facade, over the lough’s waters the place boats sail and other people stroll and journey horses alongside its shores.
Gazing out at night time in the direction of Portaferry, the city throughout the lough, “you by no means really feel alone,” says Watt. “Each night time the lights twinkle.”