Milford House Museum

 

Architectural History

"Inside the House was sumptuous and fitted out in a modern style. Each bedroom had its own bathroom unusual then, and the baths all had horizontal waterspouts, like a modern Jacuzzi"
Tony Mc Crum describing his visit to Milford House in 1923

When William Mc Crum senior (1785-1879) arrived in 1808 he built a cottage on lands here. Later as he prospered he built the corner house in Milford village and moved there. It was beside this cottage that R.G Mc Crum began building Milford House. The cottage became The Pavilion- a summer house. It is for this reason many in the village referred to Milford House as ‘The Cottage’. Erected between 1865 and 1915, Milford House was designed by Robert Garmany Mc Crum himself. The original house was quite small. He later extended the house in 1880 and again made improvements in 1898 (the house was noted as closed up and being renovated when his daughter Harriette was married in September of that year). The Ballroom and Dining room were probably added in 1880.

Mark Bence Jones described Milford as being built in the Italianate classical style. The house is constructed of ninety percent mass concrete making it architecturally unique as it is the earliest known building in Ireland be constructed on concrete on that scale. It is said that R.G Mc Crum was influenced by Prince Albert’s experiments with concrete at Osborne House on the Isle of White. The canopy is the only one of its kind in Ireland.

The interior is a mixture of styles and all the reception rooms have spectacular plasterwork designed by the philosopher Rudolph Steiner! This makes Milford only of the only houses in Ireland to have plasterwork by Steiner. The woodwork in the house was all executed by Italian craftsmen who boarded in houses in Armagh and who were much admired by the ladies in Milford village.

Milford House was the wonder of its age and without doubt there was no other house like it in Ireland. Packed with R.G Mc Crum’s gadgets and inventions. Not surprising as it was the first private residence in Ireland to have hydroelectricity with its own power station at Lisbanoe Mill. They had the first telephone in the County- as they had no one to call they connected a line between the factory and the study to keep an eye on his business. He invented the electric kettle and dishwasher. There was even a proper waterfall in the dining room. Each bedroom had a plumbed in washstand and the bathrooms were fitted with marvelous fittings supplied by Patterson’s of The Mall Armagh. The house was a monument to R.G Mc Crum’s ingenuity with hydraulics.

His son William (1865-1932) who took no interest in the family business seemed to make no structural alterations to the house.

Milford House underwent some transformations with the arrival of the Manor House School. The chandelier in the dining room seems to have been removed prior to their arrival. In 1938 Mrs. Wilson requested permission from Mrs. Miller to remove the four electric ceiling fans in the dining room and sell them as scrap. The stables were converted into dormitories for staff and senior pupils and was renamed ‘The Sans’. The Coach House/ garages were converted into a gymnasium.

The peach house (conservatory) had been removed shortly after the arrival of the Manor House School. The foundations remained until 1940 and were used as flowerbeds. A new wing was built by the school in three stages. First in 1940 the dining room and dormitory above were extended. Then a further extension with separate entrance porch was unveiled by Her Excellency Lady Wakehurst, wife of the Governor of Northern Ireland along with a new domestic science and form room building in the grounds. A further extension to the wing to in 1964 provided an extra classroom and sickbay on the first floor.

In 1964 the school planned to raise £15,000 for improvements. A fund raising appeal to governors, parents and past pupils showed plans by Shanks & Leighton Chartered Architects Belfast to extend the new wing to provide new form rooms and sick bay on first floor, new shower changing rooms in the gymnasium which would have an new extension for practice rooms, a large heated swimming pool, and to convert the second walled garden into tennis courts and change the existing tennis courts into a netball court. Of these grand plans only the extension to the new wing and a small ‘trainer’ swimming pool to teach juniors beside the Pavilion were realized. They were unveiled by the Countess of Roden of Bryansford at Parents Day June 1964.

In all other respects the School must be commended in how it maintained Milford House and its gardens. Every summer workmen were brought in to repair the house and the girls were welcomed by the smell of French polish at the start of term. Nothing structurally in the original house was changed. All the girls remember the marvelous baths with canopies and swinging round in them. Tommy Mc Anulty who lived in Hill Street in Milford village did all the decorating work for the school and he had done the decorating work for Mc Crum family as well. So Mrs. Wilson often consulted him in committee meetings as to what the original colours scheme of things were.

Following the Northern Ireland Hospital Authorities acquiring the house in 1966 the house underwent radical transformation. Initially when there were twelve patients and ten members of staff. One of the nurses Mrs. Anna Scott said it was like working in a palace. Then came the major structural changes. The original baths were sold off, the book cases removed from the library and used for firewood and the built in mahogany wardrobes in the bedrooms were sawed in half when they couldn’t get them down the from staircase. The original light fittings on the front staircase balustrades were removed and a grill installed. Two fireplaces were removed from bedrooms and given as retirement presents to hospital administrators.

In the period between following the closure of the hospital, the fireplaces from several bedrooms and the Drawing room were stolen but thankfully all other fireplaces were intact. When Armagh City and District Council acquired the property in 1996 they removed the fireplaces without listed building consent and put them in Armagh Goal for safekeeping. When the property was sold to the current owners in 2002 the Goal was opened and it was discovered the fireplaces had been stolen. The lead was stolen from the roof during the Councils ownership and the house suffered water damage.

The house has always suffered from vandalism and theft but since 2005 it has got rapidly worse. Morse recently the copper was stolen from the dome and has not been replaced. There is no maintenance of the house which is deteriorating rapidly