The lady with the frying pan!


This was the quip attributed to the badge of the Women’s Legion. One hundred years ago today, Edith, Lady Londonderry addressed a meeting in Londonderry House to announce the formation of this organization. As Lady Castlereagh, she had been Commander in Chief of the Women’s Volunteer Reserve (WVR), and for sometime she had been discontented with what she regarded as an excess of militarism which was being displayed by some of the women’s organizations in WW1.

Her vision was that the Women’s Legion was to be an umbrella organization, with a number of sections, of which the Women’s Volunteer Reserve would be one. Plus canteen, ambulance and military cookery. However, after a few months, the Women’s Legion and Women’s Volunteer Reserve parted company. Other sections were formed as the need became apparent. These included Agriculture, Motor Transport, and Gas.


The Motor Transport Section set up shop on 3 August 1915 in Upper Berkeley Street, London, providing squads of 22 women led by a Head Driver, with 10 drivers, and probationers and garage washers. The pay was 35 shillings per week, and 5d per hour overtime! They worked directly to the Army Service Corps (ASC), and wore a khaki coat and skirt with a flat cap bearing the Women’s Legion badge. The Head Driver wore a black and white armband with a gold laurel wreath. Officers wore the same uniform with Tudor rose collar badges.



In 1916, this section and Military Cookery came under direct command of the Army. Lady Londonderry used all her connections in the War Office to achieve this ground-breaking move. She observed that wearing her Women’s Legion uniform smoothed most opposition.

In January 1917, the Army Council appealed for 1,000 women to join the Women’s Legion. Some 26,000 enlisted! This meant that Edith, Lady Londonderry, as President, was now at the head of nearly 40,000 women!

Her leadership was recognized on 4 June 1917, when she was honoured with Dame Commander DBE in the newly constituted Order of the British Empire. Two years later, she was one of five women transferred to the Military Division of the Order, which she felt more appreciative of her work.

In September 1917, The War Office decided to take complete control of the workforce, and some sections ceased to exist as 8,000 personnel were absorbed into the new Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), but kept the Women’s Legion badge.

Lady Londonderry’s aim was for women ‘to do their duties as women, and not as makeshift men.’ Women in today’s armed forces are fulfilling this vision.

At Mount Stewart there are images of this period. The uniform worn by Lady Londonderry and her DBE and Star are on display in the house, and on the South Terrace the badges of the Women’s Legion are carved on the large flower pots.


pot collage

Win Linton

The Big House Reborn lands on TV this Monday!


The Big House Reborn follows the story of our £7.5 million restoration of Mount Stewart House and Gardens and starts this Monday 22 June at 8pm on UTV and UTV Ireland.

Produced by Evergreen Media and supported by the BAI Sound and Vision Fund, the series will run for six weeks and will consist of six half hour programmes.

We can’t wait to see the documentary and we’re looking forward to you all seeing the highs, lows and huge challenges that we faced during the project!

Take a look at the trailer below:

Mount Stewart and the road to Waterloo

Scotland Forever! by Lady  Butler, circa 1818.

Scotland Forever! by Lady Butler, circa 1818.

200 years ago today a battle was fought in an area no bigger than three square miles, with an outcome that was in the balance till the last minute. It resulted in nearly 100 years of peace in Europe, and has become the stuff of legend.

But the road to Waterloo begins in 1769.

On 13 April 1769, Thomas Lawrence was born in London. By 1815, he was the painter who would immortalize these two men, both born in Dublin: On 1 May, Hon Arthur Wellesley, and 48 days later, on 18 June, Robert Stewart, styled Lord Castlereagh. To complete the set, their arch enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte, was born on 15 August in Ajaccio, Corsica. 40 years on, these three would dominate the European stage

We are used to instant news, which tends to accelerate events, but in 1814, things were moving at a frightening rate. In the spring of that year, the Allies captured Paris, Napoleon abdicated and went into exile on the island of Elba, the Bourbons were restored, and the long series of wars that had convulsed Europe for over 20 years seemed to be over at last. Wellington’s reputation stood higher than any British soldier since Marlborough.

Now, with the coming of peace, he was given the last and highest promotion in the peerage and made Duke of Wellington. Almost as soon as the guns had stopped firing Lord Castlereagh offered Wellington the position of British Ambassador in Paris. Wellington accepted the offer without hesitation. However, it was August when he set out for Paris. On the way he carefully inspected the border of what is now Belgium but was then part of the Netherlands, and prepared a memo on its defence against a possible French attack. Where was this? Waterloo!

From Paris he went to Vienna to replace Castlereagh who had to hurry home to defend the Government in the House of Commons. Castlereagh younger half-brother, Baron Stewart was also there, serving as the British Ambassador to Austria. He had been Wellington’s Adjutant-General during the Peninsular War. When he left to take up work as a diplomat, he sold one of his horses to his Commander-in-chief. The stallion’s name was Copenhagen.

The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen (1818) by Thomas Lawrence.

The Duke of Wellington on Copenhagen by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1818.

Although the social whirl of the Congress of Vienna continued the main work had already been done. Wellington was not quite the diplomat that Castlereagh was, but he acquitted himself well. His tenure might have remained a footnote in his long life if it had not been for the return of Napoleon from Elba. News of the Emperor’s escape electrified the atmosphere. At first no one knew where he was heading. Word came that he had landed in southern France, but Wellington did not give him much chance of success. However, within two weeks, Napoleon entered Paris without a single shot being fired .

It was five more days before Count Metternich of Austria received the devastating news. However, the heads of the European powers were all in Vienna and by 13 March, Napoleon had been declared an outlaw, and it was war again, declared on ONE MAN! Tzar Alexander was heard to say to Wellington, ‘Its up to you to save the world again!’ Castlereagh reported to the House of Commons and arrangements were put in place to bring back British troops from America, following the end of the War of 1814. These battalions would go straight to Europe to join the army amassing in Belgium.

The scene was set. Napoleon headed north from Paris at the head of 250,000 troops. By 16 June he was headquartered in Charleroi, and skirmishing was taking place north of the town on the Brussels’ road. Wellington, in Brussels, used the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball on 16 June as an O-Group, since most of his senior officers were there. Many of them left for battle wearing clothes more suited for dancing than war.

On 17 June, the forward lines of the two armies met at Quatre Bras, a crossroads on the main road from Charleroi, and at the village of Ligny. In each case, there was no decisive victory.

This was the first time that Napoleon had faced Wellington, and the British general had chosen his ground carefully. He placed nearly all his units behind the north facing ridge, and waited.

Sunday morning, 18 June, dawned warm and sunny. Few men on either side had escaped the ravages of the night’s downpour. By 11am, the ground was dry enough for the French guns to move into place, Wellington was heartened by the news from Blucher promising to put up 50,000 Prussian troops on the road to Waterloo by dawn.

Wellington spent much of the day anxiously training his telescope hoping to see the Prussians emerge from the woods into the open. By 4.30pm, his wish was granted. By 6.30pm, the steadily growing strength of the Prussians began to turn the tide. By 8pm, it was clear that the Allies had won. An exhausted Napoleon rode back over the French border. As darkness fell, the battlefield was a ghastly sight. Men and horses lay everywhere. There were up to 45,000 dead and wounded. As Napoleon rode towards Paris, Wellington returned to his HQ, gave Copenhagen a kindly pat, and narrowly missed being kicked! He slept briefly, and early on the 19 June, he wrote his account of the battle, which was to reach the British government two days later. The only bit of conceit that he allowed himself was to remark, ‘It was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. By God! I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.’ He was almost certainly right.

On 21 June, Lord Castlereagh announced to the House of Commons the news of the victory.

The collection at Mount Stewart contains many objects relating to these events.

The Congress of Vienna chairs, purchased for the British Embassy in Vienna, and bookcases owned by Lord Stewart.


The desk on which the Final Act of the Congress on 9 June 1815, and the Treaty of Paris on 20 November 1815, were signed. The desk came into the possession of Lord Castlereagh.


There are portraits of the Stewart brothers by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Oil painting on canvas, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, KG, GCH, MP (1769-1822), studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (Bristol 1769 ¿ London 1830), circa 1814. A three-quarter-length portrait of Viscount Castlereagh, standing, facing the viewer, wearing a dark green coat with the ribbon and jewel of the Garter, a white waistcoat and stock, and fawn-coloured breeches. In his left hand he holds a bundle of papers, resting on a table. Behind him hangs a red drape, pulled to the right. (see also bust-length 1221350)

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, Thomas Lawrence, circa 1814.

Oil painting on canvas, Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) (after Sir Thomas Lawrence), attributed to Edmond Brock (1880¿1952), circa 1924/25. A half-length portrait, turned to the right, of Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, wearing the military uniform of a General Officer of the Hussars. A saber in its scabbard is held over his right shoulder, and his left hand rests on the sash around his waist. He wears the Talavera ribbon and medal that he was awarded for his military activity as Adjutant-General under Wellesley at the Battle of Talavera in 1809.

Charles William Vane, Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (after Sir Thomas Lawrence), attributed to Edmond Brock, circa 1924/25.











Finally, 18 June was Lord Castlereagh’s 46th birthday.

Win Linton

We’re nearly there now!

It is full steam ahead towards the re-opening of the house on 20 April.

We on the house team are currently spending much of our days cleaning silver, loads of it!

We will have a new and amazing silver display for our visitors to see from next season onwards. Most of it has never been on public display before so it has been kept in a safe for many years and is in need of cleaning.

There are some lovely items amongst it and I’m sure many of our visitors will enjoy looking at it.

We have also been spending time on our knees – scrubbing stone floors.

The Black and White Stone Hall floor was in bad need of some TLC. Tracey, a stone conservator spent a total of four weeks here. Tracey and one of her colleagues spent the first week cleaning the floor, then in the second week she worked with the house team and volunteers showing us how to deep clean the stone. This is a time consuming job with lots of careful scrubbing, then it needs to be well rinsed off and left to dry.

This took us up to Christmas and then Tracey returned in the New Year. Now the floor was finished and she was working on other things, the Chapel ceiling and the alabaster lamps from the Central Hall.

The Chapel ceiling had a few holes that needed filling; this had been done before Christmas by another of Tracey’s colleagues. He worked some of the time from above in the roof space, which meant that he could do a much better and easier job in securing the gaps. He then resurfaced underneath and Tracey finished off by painting, carefully colour matching with the existing ceiling.

The four Central Hall alabaster lamps needed cleaning – a delicate job. I was interested to learn that you do not wash alabaster with water, as this will damage it.

Our friends from Linney Cooper are back again laying carpets and other flooring. There is a new carpet for both the East and West stairs and landings, as well as the first floor corridors connecting them.

We are also getting together the ceramics display ready for the new season. Again there are hundreds of ceramic objects in the house, dinner services, tea services, ornaments, many of which are really lovely and some of which again will be new to public view, so it will take some planning to get it right!

Winter has always been a busy time for National Trust house staff, but not usually quite as frenetic as the current one is at Mount Stewart!


Volunteer Open Day – Saturday 24 January 2015

Hello, and welcome to 2015!

An important date to tell you about is next Saturday 24 January 2015, 11am – 3pm, our Volunteer Open Day.

A2795870_00001 POSTER jpg

This is for both current and potential new volunteers to visit the property to see all that is happening and what they might like to start (or continue!) working at.

Jenny, our Volunteer Co-ordinator, has an interesting schedule planned from house tours to garden talks.

You can also meet with…

Christina, Project Conservation Assistant, who is demonstrating textile and book cleaning.

Tomasz, Strangford Lough Ranger, who will show you how to make habitat boxes and help you spot wildlife.

Calum, Project Joiner, who will demonstrate his marvellous wood turning.

The education ladies will be in attendance too, the younger folk will enjoy finding out about the interesting activities they can take part in at Mount Stewart.

I hope to see many of you there!


2014 and all that…

Well, here we are almost at Christmas yet again…….

Stopping to think about it makes me realise how much has happened in the past year. This time last year we were labelling, packing and moving hundreds of items belonging to the west end of the house. Many of them are in our normal show house rooms but as many again, if not more, are from the up until now private bedrooms situated in that part of the mansion.

Last January the contractors moved into this part of the building and started their work. Upstairs floors have been strengthened and re-wiring and re-plumbing have taken place. Then floor boards were replaced, the walls and ceilings were repainted as well as the doors and skirtings.

Then the rooms were returned to us and we started our re-instatement.

Paintings are hung on the newly painted walls, our regular visitors will see a big difference next year as we have many beautiful new paintings (on loan from the 10th Marquess) as well as several of our established ones now hung in a different place. Lady Londonderry’s Sitting Room, for example, is now furnished as Edith, Lady Londonderry had it years ago. The fireplace wall is covered with paintings – one of her son Robin, the 8th Marquess, the rest of Lady Mairi, her youngest daughter – a bit like a large family photo album!

Re-hanging Hambletonian in its new frame

Re-hanging Hambletonian in its new frame

Much of the furniture has been moved back into its room, maybe not into the exact place it will live in but close by. Hundreds of books are back on their shelves in Lady Londonderry’s sitting room and Lord Londonderry’s study, boxes of ornaments and smaller items have also returned to the rooms ready for being put out on display again. Carpets and flooring are also laid.

The contractors have been hugely busy this year and have made great progress; by Christmas they will have handed back all but two of the bedrooms (Archangel and Sebastopol) upstairs and their corridor, while downstairs they are only left in the kitchen plus entrance and central halls. They will also be moving into the chapel in the New Year – their last area to start work on!

That means, of course, that we have to clear the chapel and find new storage for the items there – space in the house is getting tight again!

In the middle of all the above we have also welcomed over twenty seven and a half thousand visitors into our house this (shortened) season. A massive well done to our guides for such a fine job in very unusual circumstances.

2014 has certainly been a year to remember in Mount Stewart house!


Our volunteers come from far and wide!

We benefit from the work of many volunteers at Mount Stewart. Some have been volunteering here for a long time; others have arrived more recently – especially in relation to the project.

Most of our volunteers are local people who give their time regularly to us (whatever they want and can spare), others are people who come and stay in our volunteer accommodation and work for a specified number of weeks or months.

Many of these live in volunteers come to work in the gardens, others in the house and/or on the project.

One of the most recent was Laura Tohila, a Finnish girl who worked here for some fifteen weeks over two different spells, summer and then autumn – she was determined to come back!

Elaine Hill FR80 Hague Before Conservation 01

Laura comes from the town of Oulu, which is situated on the Western coast of Finland, slightly over half way up the country. Founded in 1605, it is the fifth most populous city in Finland with over 190,000 inhabitants. Her parents run a chemistry company where her elder brother and sister both work.

She attends Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences in Kouvola, which is on the East coast of Finland, facing Russia. She is taking a course in general conservation, having already studied painting.

Laura has an interest in history and likes working with her hands so conservation is an ideal career choice. In her free time she likes to draw, read (especially myths and legends), play the piano and do handcrafts.

While she was here at Mount Stewart she worked mostly with Fergus Purdy, our Furniture Conservator. Fergus told me how quickly she picked up things and how he valued her assistance, in fact it seemed strange to see Fergus working on his own again after she left!

After all her on the job training with Fergus, Laura would like to specialize in furniture conservation and has been doing some more in this after her return to Kouvola. She is currently working on a small table and a long case clock from her school’s storage collection.

Conservation in Finland is a small, individual type business with people running their own firms, probably similar to the UK and Ireland where conservators operate independently and are employed by those who need their skills and services.

Laura’s work was much appreciated and all of her friends at Mount Stewart were sorry to see her leave. We hope she enjoyed her time with us and benefited from the experience.


If you would like to find out more about volunteering at Mount Stewart, please visit our website and click ‘Join In’.