Report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society’s final meeting of the 2018-2019 season was held on 11 April. It began with the AGM. The chairman, Ian Wilson, spoke of the society’s very successful season with one meeting attended by 100 members and visitors. He thanked the manager of the North Down Museum for allowing it to be used as the venue for meetings. The election of officers followed. Ian was re-elected as chairman and the existing officers and committee were also re-elected with the exception of Don Patterson who was standing down after several years of service.
The speaker for the main part of the meeting was Leanne Briggs of the North Down Museum who gave a very interesting illustrated talk on the families who lived in Bangor Castle. Sir James Hamilton from Scotland built the first house. He was an agent for the crown in Ireland and took advantage of a plan by Hugh Montgomery and Con O’Neill to divide land in North Down between themselves. He managed to become the third participant in the scheme and received a royal grant of extensive lands in the area at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Leanne showed pictures of the Raven Maps which Sir James commissioned Thomas Raven to make 1624-6. These maps are now on display in the museum. The town map of Bangor showed the original house which stood in Castle Park. Sir James also had a home in Killyleagh.
Bangor grew as Sir James brought settlers to the town. The main Hamilton line had died out by the end of seventeenth century. Their land was inherited by a cousin and then by his two daughters. Anne Hamilton married Judge Michael Ward of Castleward and so her share of the lands passed into the hands of the Ward family and later to her son Bernard who became the first Viscount Bangor. We do not know what happened to Sir James Hamilton’s house, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century a second house in the gothic style had been built. Leanne showed drawings of this castle. The Bangor lands passed to Viscount Bangor’s third son, Robert, while Castleward was inherited by the eldest son Nicholas. It was alleged that Robert took furniture from Castleward as Nicholas was insane.
Robert Ward was briefly succeeded by his son, Michael Edward, the secretary to Lord Londonderry. The latter married Lady Matilda Stewart of Mount Stewart. He died in 1832 soon after his father and the Bangor estate was inherited by his son, Robert Edward Ward, then a minor. It is thought that the second Bangor Castle was rented out and that the family only cared about the gardens.
After Robert Edward attained his majority, he decided to make his home in Bangor. He commissioned William Burn to design a new Bangor Castle – the present building of 1852. It had 35 bedrooms and 25 servants were employed, both for indoors and outdoors. Robert Edward married his cousin Harrriette in 1857 in Killinchy where her father was a minister. On their return to Bangor they were greeted by celebrations including fireworks. He brought a sense of community to the town. His only child was Catherine Matilda Maud who married John George Barry Bingham, Lord Clanmorris, from Galway. They married in the present Bangor Parish church in 1878. The family supported the local hospital and the Endowed School. Robert Edward was a keen musician and concerts were held in the castle. He installed a large organ.
Maud and Robert had a large family. Their son Maurice fought in the Boer War, but was rather reckless with money. He inherited the Clanmorris title when his father died in 1916. His daughter-in-law Madeleine Bingham painted an unflattering portrait of her in-laws in her book on the family. Maud, a typical Victorian lady, continued to live in the castle. Among her children was Barry Bingham who won a VC for his role at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. After spending time as a prisoner of war he returned to Bangor to a hero’s welcome. The gun in Ward Park was presented by the Admiralty in recognition of his achievements. Maud died in 1941 and her son Maurice sold the castle and grounds to the local council for £35,000. Most of the contents of the castle were then auctioned except for items such as the Raven Maps which Maud had said were for the people of Bangor.