The Maxwells of Finnebrogue and the gentry of Co. Down, c. 1600–c. 1960:
A resident and responsible élite
This is a study of the gentry of Co. Down, defined in the old-fashioned way of ‘titled and untitled aristocracy’, viewed through the prism of the Maxwell, later Waring Maxwell, later still Perceval-Maxwell, family of Finnebrogue, Downpatrick. The Maxwells have been chosen for this purpose because they were on the whole resident and responsible, because they never did anything outstanding or outlandish and therefore are fairly typical of their class, and because they are represented by a huge and largely untapped archive in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Probably their major achievement was the building of Finnebrogue between the mid-1660s and the mid-1670s. Finnebrogue is an H-plan, ‘Protectorate’ style house, which must always have been a great rarity in Ireland and not very common in England either. In 1796–1800, it was ruthlessly Georgianised, thus erasing many of its original features, mucking up how it originally worked internally, and reincarnating it as a somewhat ungainly and not altogether successful late 18th century mansion. There is no proof positive of this, but the architect who designed the re-modelling, under orders from Mr and Mrs John Waring Maxwell, seems to have been Charles Lilly of Dublin (1755–1814?). Lilly, as is well known, did lots of other things in Co. Down, mainly in the Downpatrick area, where Finnebrogue is located. His most famous achievement, still there today, is the Georgian-Gothicising of the ruinous Down Cathedral. This he did under the patronage of the 1st Marquess of Downshire, mainly thanks to whom he received commissions for various country houses and churches in the county, for the gaol in Downpatrick (now the Down Museum) and (though this has not been recognised until now) the Down Hunt Rooms at 19 English Street, Downpatrick. In the hectic building period 1788–1800 he was in effect the architect by appointment to the gentry of Co. Down.
Apart from two dedicated chapters and other more fleeting discussions of matters architectural relating to Finnebrogue, the content of the book is: one chapter on the landed structure of the barony of Lecale, where Finnebrogue and the county town of Downpatrick are situated, c. 1550–1710; three chapters on Maxwell family history in the 18th century (always in the context of gentry mores and activities in Co. Down); one chapter on John Waring Maxwell senior and the work-up to the 1798 rebellion in Co. Down; three chapters on the two sporting organisations unique to Co. Down, the Down Hunt Club and Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders (which were founded in 1757 and 1686 respectively, and in the second of which, Down Royal, John Waring Maxwell junior was the leading light in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s)); three chapters on 19th century Maxwell and Perceval-Maxwell family history, again focussing on general themes like inheritance strategies and ’improvement’; one chapter on ‘Landlord and tenant: John Waring Maxwell junior and his tenants and tormentors’; two chapters on the politics of Downpatrick borough (for which he sat within the period 1820–34), c. 1700–c. 1840; and a chapter on the family’s 20th century decline, culminating in the sale of the Finnebrogue estate in 1963 and of the house and demesne in 1996.
The theme which runs through the book is the Down gentry’s sense of pride in their county’s superiority over all other counties in Ireland, be it in its buildings (e.g. the Southwell Charity of the 1730s), its institutions (the Down Hunt and Down Royal), and in the residence-record, public spirit, harmonious relations and general ’specialness’ of their own gentry class.
The book will be published by Ulster Historical Foundation and will be beautifully produced in hardback with dust jacket. Lavishly illustrated and printed in full colour production throughout, the book will be finished with head and tail bands, and printed endpapers. The designer will be Wendy Dunbar of Dunbar Design.
Due: Spring 2022
Page Size: 265mm x 200mm
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The book is due to be published in Spring 2022.