Gosford Castle, Co. Armagh

The village of Markethill was founded by a Scottish family, the Achesons of Gosford, or Goseford, Haddingtonshire, who received a grant of 1,000 acres from King James I in 1610. The Achesons built a strong castle at Cloncarney around 1617, but it was destroyed in the war of 1641. (Fleming 1936, 28). They replaced it with a manor house, where they hosted the celebrated author and poet, Jonathon Swift, in the late 1720ís. He devised the existing nature walks throughout the grounds, where he composed poems. (Evans 1994, 224).

The manor house although occupied to 1840, has practically disappeared. The farmyard and mill can still be seen and the laundry house nearby, is thought to have been part of the house. In 1819, Archibald Acheson, the 2nd Earl of Gosford, (a peerage bestowed on the family in 1776), commissioned the construction of Gosford Castle. Entrusting the design upon Thomas Hopper, an established architect, patronised by the Prince Regent.

Hopper once stated "It is an architectís business to understand all styles and be prejudiced in favor of none", a rule which he himself followed, designing buildings which varied from Tudor Gothic and Jacobean to Palladian and Greek.

Gosford Castle was his first major project using Norman architecture, which placed it amongst the most original buildings of the 19th century. We cannot ascertain whether the choice was his, as he grew up in Rochester, famous for itís 12th century keep, or Lady Gosfordís, who paid for the majority of the building and was herself raised in East Anglia, a region rich in Norman remains, such as Castle Hedingham. (Larmour 1985, 4).

Hopper continued Norman revival architecture at the prestigious castle of Penrhyn, north Wales (1827-1847), which may have been his masterpiece, but Gosford was the pioneering design, and is thus extremely important. It is known as a Norman revival castle due to the numerous ideas which Hopper gleaned from original Norman castles and used in itís construction. The central element of Gosford castle is the keep, surrounded by a number of smaller blocks of towers and buildings, appearing to combine them. (Bence-Jones 1988, 143).

Inside the narrow, unlit corridors, cramped stairwells, extremely thick walls, constructed with granite, (from Mullaghglass Quarries, outside Newry (Gosford Account Bk 2 1821)), and the mouldings around the window arches, effectively recreate the gloomy outlay of a Norman castle. As described the forms and details are Norman in style, but the planning and massing were not. (Larmour 1985, 4). There are Romansque columns and arcading, alongside heavy 14th century style machicolations within the castle. (Bence-Jones 1988, 143). Hopper integrated triangular-headed "Saxon" windows and his own design, the recessed oriel window, in the family wing, where Hopper completed his work in 1839. (Larmour 1985, 4)

The remainder of the family wing, ending in a large keep on the northern corner, a round tower and the new entrance were assembled around 1859, by G. A. Burn, Hopperís principal assistant, and whom Bence-Jones described as a "later architect who lacked Hopperís skills". A third architect, Thomas Duff (reponsible for Newry Cathedral) is mentioned in the accounts of Gosford estate, but it is not clear what task he performed in the building of Gosford Castle.

The interior design of Gosford castle was aimed more at comfort than with keeping with itís Norman revival exterior. There were 197 rooms, including stairways and the 45 basement rooms, in the castle making it the largest house in Ireland. (Armagh Miscellanea Vol. XX).

The library was panelled in wood decorated with Arabo-Byzantine designs, (Larmour 1985, 4), but unfortunately it had to be auctioned in 1884, realizing £11 ,31 8-5s-6d. (Fleming 1936, 30). The modelled pendant heads in the dining room and Gothic foliated bosses are believed to have been created by Smyth. (Larmour 1985, 4). John Smyth, Head of the Dublin School of Modelling, had been commissioned by Hopper for certain jobs. (Gosford Account Bk 2 1821.).

The Gosfords occupied the castle until 1921, when the 4th Earl died, all the furnishings having been sold in 1920 to pay debts. During World War 2 the castle was used as a billet for the Royal Artillery, the Pioneer Corps and the American Armed Forces, whilst the grounds housed a prisoner of war camp.

The Ministry of Agriculture bought the estate in 1958, establishing the forest park. Public records were stored in the castle before the Public Record Office was opened. It housed soldiers in the 1 970s and opened as a hotel in 1983, which proved unsuccessful and is now vacant.


Armagh Misce/lanea Vol. XX


Bence-Jones, M. 1988. A Guide To Irish Country Houses.

Evans, R. 1994. Off the Beaten Track - Ireland. Derbyshire, Moorland Publishing Co. Ltd.

Fleming, J. 1936. No. 31: Gosford Castle, Co. Armagh. Weekly Irish Times: 5th December 1936, 28-30.

Gosford Account Book 2, belonging to William Blacker, former estate agent, information 1821 onwards.

Larmour, P. 1985. Gosford Castle, Co. Armagh - A Neo-Norman Novelty. Ulster Architect March 1985, 4-5.