North Street, Newry, County Down

North Street, Newry, County Down
North Street, Newry, County Down

Monday, 13 February 2017

Middleton Westenra Biddulph [1849-1926] of Rathrobin, King's County

 Middleton Westenra Biddulph, born in 1849, was the eldest surviving son of Francis Biddulph and Lucy Bickerstaffe. Their first son, Francis, born in 1848, only lived for two weeks.
He lived in Rathrobin,King's County, which he inherited from his father. He was D.L., JP, High Sheriff in 1901, and a Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers.
On the 21st Oct 1891 he married Vera Josephine Flower in the Church of Saint Luke, Chelsea. Vera was the daughter of Sir William Henry Flower, an eminent zoologist, and Georgina Rosetta Smyth. She was fourteen years younger than Middleton, and the transition from an intellectual milieu in London, to the life of a landed family in King's County, must at times have been difficult.  The marriage was childless.
An article in the Irish Farmers Journal, Feb 19, 1994 describes Vera as  “‘aesthetically beautiful’  with a marvellous figure, who wore lovely clothes and never smiled in all her years in Ireland.”  Clearly this last comment was not true, as can be seen in a family photograph of Vera, taken at Rathrobin. Vera is holding the dog. With her are Bodie Anderson and Marion Biddulph [nee Warburton].
The writer continued “During her days at Rathrobin she endeavoured to create in the house and the garden, and by her social conventions a bit of ‘old England.’”
Middleton loved the place, and rebuilt Rathrobin, employing Sir Thomas Drew as architect.

[Middleton Westenra Biddulph] '...demolished the old Rathrobin mansion house and built the house which today crumbles into ruin. The Lieutenant Colonel employed the architect Sir Thomas Drew to design the new Rathrobin House. Drew was the consulting architect on both St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and designed St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.  He was later President of the Royal Instiute of the Architects of Ireland, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Royal Hibernian Academy, and also held the chair in architecture at the National University of Ireland. The new house was experimentally constructed by Drew in massed concrete, making it of both architectural and technical interest. Rathrobin was designed in a Tudor Revival style, three storeys high, with numerous gables and ball finials. Windows featured cut limestone surrounds and limestone mullions and transforms. The entrance to the house was by a pedimented single-storey porch. An outbuilding incorporated a rectangular hood moulding dating from the original Molloy castle.' [1]
The 1901 Census reveals details of the house and its occupants. Along with Middleton and his wife Vera, there was a large staff employed to maintain the house, including a butler, a coachman, a cook, two house maids, a laundry maid and a kitchen maid. The house had 21 rooms.
By 1923 Middleton had left Rathrobin due to ill health and was living in London. Rathrobin was burned on the 25th April 1923.
This architecturally innovative house is now in ruins. The following inscription was still visible  in the 1970s.
Rathrobin House built by Nicholas son of John 3rd son of Francis Biddulph of Biddulph Staff in the year 1694 restored by his direct descendant Midleton W. Biddulph son of Francis Y(?) Biddulph in the year 1898.

Middleton died in London on the 19th May 1926. He was 77 years old.
BIDDULPH - May 19, 1926, at 7 Carlyle (Mansions?) Cheyne Walk, London, Lieutenant-Colonel Midleton Westenra Biddulph,D.L. (Late Northumberland Fusiliers), of Rathrobin, Tullamore, King's County. (The Irish Times, Thursday, May 13, 1926).
Middleton's grave can be found  in the cemetery at Black Lion church, Killoughey. He is not buried there. 
 'After Rathrobin was burned he refused to allow his ashes to be interred in the grave, and they were scattered in the Cotswolds.' [Rathrobin House: a portrait of Killoughey's past [a collection of Middleton's photographs] available from the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society - the Magan Collection].
Vera died in London, in 1938.
Biddulph - January 28,  1938 (her birthday), at her residence, 61 Hillway, Highgate, Vera Josephine, second daughter of the late Sir William (...) K.C. B., and widow of Colonel Middleton Westenra Biddulph, D. L., of Rathrobin, King's County, Ireland, after many years of suffering, bravely borne. (Irish Times Monday February 7th, 1938).

[1] Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II: More Portraits of Forgotten Stately Homes, [by] Tarquin Blake, Collins Press, 2012., p.223.

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