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A 19th Century Country House – Gosford Castle

Gosford Castle was built for the 2nd Earl of Gosford in a delightful Norman Revival style. Now a Grade A listed building, it is said to be one of the largest in Ulster. It is situated in Gosford, a townland of Markethill, County Armagh, Northern Ireland and is a simply remarkable building to feast your eyes upon.

The history of Gosford Castle

Built by London architect Thomas Hopper, Gosford Castle is a 19th-century country house that has seen its fair share of fame throughout its existence. The interior of the castle is centred more towards comfort as opposed to a genuine Norman Revival interior to match the outside of the castle. In modern times, the castle has fallen into disrepair and changed hands several times.

After listing Gosford Castle for sale, it was purchased and converted to a private dwelling.

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Gosford Castle is a 19th century country house. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The early history

In 1610, the Acheson family were granted land in County Armagh by King James VI & I. This was at the very start of the Plantation of Ulster. They got to work straight away and began establishing the village of Markethill as well as building the castle. However, all of this hard work was destroyed during the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The destroyed castle was replaced by a manor house that the Acheson family occupied until 1840, after which a new castle was built that they occupied until 1922. The writer, known as Jonathan Swift, visited Gosford Castle on numerous occasions and contributed greatly to the layout of the gardens.

Designing a new house

In 1819, the 2nd Earl of Gosford, also head of the Acheson dynasty at the time, commissioned Thomas Hopper to design a new house at Gosford. Together, they decided to build it in a Norman Revival style of architecture. This was Hopper’s first-ever attempt at this style, which he later perfected at Penrhyn Castle in Wales.

Hopper received significant help from a local architect by the name of Thomas Duff. In 1837, the building was reported as unfinished and was not fully complete until 1859 when the entrance front was rebuilt by Hopper’s assistant, George Adam Burn.

A fire destroyed the previous castle on the site. Source: Flickr.

Gosford Castle for sale

The 4th Earl of Gosford was forced to sell the castes entire contents in 1920, and after his death in 1922, the castle was no longer occupied by the Acheson family. During the Second World War, Gosford Castle was used to accommodate troops and a prisoner-of-war camp was established on the estate. Following the war, the Acheson family sold the estate to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Ministry of Agriculture established the 240-hectare (590 acres) demesne as Gosford Forest Park. From then on, the castle was used as a storage facility for public records, and in the 1970s, it served as a barracks for soldiers. In 1983, the castle opened as a hotel, yet this was not a successful venture and the building fell into disrepair.

A state of disrepair

The Forest Service, and sooner after part of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, regained control of the property in February of 2002. At this time, the castle was in an almost irreversible state of disrepair and without urgent intervention, it was in real danger of becoming irretrievably beyond repair. This then led to calls for action from the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.

The castle, with its 11-hectare estate (27 acres), was then put up for sale again at the small price of £1, subject to viable proposals for restoration. Then, in 2006, the decaying castle was purchased by the Gosford Castle Development Ltd. For only £1,000. Supported by the architects, the Boyd Partnership, and the Environment and Heritage Service, the developers went forth and put forward a £4m proposal to restore the castle as 23 residences, based on a vertical division of the building and retention of the main rooms.

Black and white image of Gosford Castle
Entrance of Gosford Castle. Source: Flickr.

Redevelopment

In January of 2008, the first residents of the Gosford Castle apartments moved in. However, in 2013, there were reports that the redevelopment had been stalled due to financial issues. The restoration was then undertaken by a talented team of artisans and craftsmen to create homes of two, three, and even four storeys, set within the original fabric of the castle.

It was important that the development retained the character and historic integrity of the castle. To do this, existing staircase and walls were used where possible. On top of that, the original colour schemes in the principal rooms were restored as well as the vaulted ceiling of the inner hall.

The current day

Gosford Castle went on the market in 2018 for the price of £500,000, which included 15 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, and 10 reception rooms, some with antique wainscotting, marble fireplaces and floors, and vaulted carved ceilings. It sold in 2019 for an undisclosed price for refurbishments and conversion into apartments, once again.

It was also used as a filming location for the popular television show, Game of Thrones.

Gosford Castle Timeline

  • 1610- The Acheson family are granted land in County Armagh by King James VI & I and got to work straight away and began establishing the village of Markethill as well as building the castle
  • 1641- The original castle is destroyed during the Irish Rebellion and replaced by a manor house
  • 1819- The 2nd Earl of Gosford, also head of the Acheson dynasty at the time, commissions Thomas Hopper to design a new house at Gosford
  • 1837-The building is reported as unfinished
  • 1859- The castle is complete when the entrance front is rebuilt by Hopper’s assistant, George Adam Burn
  • 1920- The 4th Earl of Gosford is forced to sell the castes entire contents
  • 1922- The Acheson family no longer occupy the castle
  • The 1970s- The castle serves as a barracks for soldiers
  • 1983- The castle opens as a hotel, yet this was not a successful venture and the building fell into disrepair
  • 2002- The Forest Service, and sooner after part of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, regain control of the property
  • 2006- The decaying castle is purchased by the Gosford Castle Development Ltd. For only £1,000
  • 2008- The first residents of the Gosford Castle apartments move in
  • 2013- There are reports that the redevelopment has been stalled due to financial issues
  • 2018- Gosford Castle goes on the market for the price of £500,000
  • 2019- The castle is sold for refurbishments into apartments, once again

Gosford Castle facts

  • The castle was built for the 2nd Earl of Gosford
  • The castle was built in a Norman Revival style by London architect Thomas Hopper
  • Gosford Castle is a Grade A listed building
  • The Earl had to sell off most of the castle in order to pay off his debt
  • The forest surrounding the castle is more than 200 years old

Featured in TV and film

  • Game of Thrones (2011)

Who owns Gosford Castle?

The castle was sold into private ownership in 2019.

Tourism

Gosford Castle is a beautiful place to visit. It is in the very heart of a gorgeous park which is well worth the visits. Surrounding the castle are several walking trails that take you throughout the woodlands and gardens. There is also a well-kept arboretum nearby and many animals to spot within the park. 

Some animals to keep your eye out for include red deer, longhorn cattle, rare poultry, rare sheep, peacocks, and gentle draught horses. There is also a picnic area and campsite for those who would like to spend a night in the open and under the stars. Castle tours are not permitted, though can be arranged if you contact the owners.

If you wish to see inside the castle, book a night or two at the Gosford Castle apartments. Nearby, you can also visit Gosford Forest Park, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, and the Armagh County Museum.

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