(Paper by Anthony Malcomson, published on PRONI's website and reproduced here with permission. Crown copyright.)

The Gosford Papers consist of c.40,000 documents and c.300 volumes relating mainly to the estates (in Cos Armagh and Cavan) and financial affairs of the Acheson family of Markethill, Co. Armagh, successively baronets of Nova Scotia (1628), Barons, Viscounts and Earls of Gosford in the peerage of Ireland (1776, 1785 and 1806 respectively) and Barons Worlingham and Acheson in the peerage of the United Kingdom (1835 and 1847). Broadly speaking, they all fall within the period c.1750- c.1960. The papers of the 2nd Earl of Gosford as Governor of Lower Canada, 1835-1838, are separately referenced under D/2259: all the rest bear reference D/1606.

Gosford Castle.

Family history

The following brief résume of Gosford family history is taken (in the main) from a chance reference in the Rev. Edmund Farrer's Portraits in West Suffolk Houses ... (London, 1908) and from a newspaper account in the archive of an attempted sale of Gosford Castle, c.1925 (the castle was not actually sold till after the Second World War): 'Gosford Castle, near Markethill, with 645 acres, is for sale. This involves the severance from the county of Armagh of the Acheson family, which has been intimately associated with it for the past 324 years. The estate was acquired by ... [them] in the reign of James I [1611]. Since that time the name appears frequently in the roll of sheriffs and of members of parliament for the county, and several members of the family have filled the office of Vice-Admiral of Ulster. ...'

'The founder of the Irish branch of the family was Archibald, eldest son of Capt. Patrick Acheson, a cadet of the family of Acheson [of Gosford, which is alternatively described as being in East Lothian or in Haddingtonshire]. He was born in Edinburgh, but settled in Ireland as early as 1610. He was appointed a Master in Chancery on 27 June 1628, after which he was for many years Secretary of State for Scotland, which office he held till his death. He was created a baronet on 1 January 1628/1629, and had a grant of 16,000 acres of Nova Scotia. He married, first, Agnes Vernor of Edinburgh, and second, Margaret, daughter and heiress of the Hon. Sir John Hamilton, second son of Claud, 1st Lord Paisley. He died on 9 September 1634. In Laing's Nova Scotia (1867), p.120, is a roll of the baronets of Nova Scotia who had territorial grants from Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, and on 1 January 1628/1629 there is this entry: "Sir Archibald Acheson of Clancairney [Markethill], Knight".'

'... Sir Archibald Acheson [5th Bt (1717-1790)], who was in 1776 created Baron Gosford of Markethill, and in 1785 was advanced to the dignity of a viscount, was described as a steady friend to the government, and a most respectable man. He was the father of ... [the 2nd Viscount, and 1st Earl of, Gosford (c.1742-1807), who was appointed joint Governor of Co. Armagh in 1791 and colonel of its militia in 1793. He did much to make the once independent and indeed radical county of Armagh amenable to the wishes of Dublin Castle. He did not, however, succeed in persuading his son and heir, then one of the M.P.s for Co. Armagh, to support the Union in 1799-1800 (though there may have been tactical collusion between them on the issue). The earldom of Gosford, a reward for the father's support, was deferred at his request until 1806, so that it would not look like an Act of Union peerage. The 1st Earl died a year later, in 1807. The 2nd Earl (1776-1849) was] ... Governor of [Lower] Canada [1835-1838]. The late [4th] Earl of Gosford, who died in 1922, was a close friend of King Edward VII and of Queen Alexandra.

Swiftian associations

[The Acheson family's most famous friend was Dean Swift]. Some months after Stella's death, Dean Swift went to the home of Sir Arthur Acheson at Markethill, where he stayed for eight months. In 1729, after his return to Dublin, Swift wrote to Pope referring to the pleasant days he had spent at Gosford and to the civility of his hosts, which was not marred by Swift issuing orders to cut down trees during Sir Arthur's absence. The Dean gave the name of Drapier's Hill to a farm which he took from Sir Arthur Acheson; he intended to build a house there but changed his mind. "The Dean's Reasons for not Building at Drapier's Hill" is the title of one of his poems ... [which satirises] the quiet and indolent ease of Sir Arthur Acheson ...'

Unfortunately, the Gosford Papers, which are almost exclusively an estate archive (the principal exceptions being D/2259 and D/1606/1), contain no reference to the association with Swift. One isolated 'stray' from the two main blocks of the archive, D/385, a map of the estate and demesne at Markethill in 1754, does however contain a sketch of the Acheson house which Swift visited and knew, and which (after extensive re-modelling in the mid-1780s) was destroyed by fire in c.1805.

Family estates

The Acheson estate consisted originally of all or part of the manors of Baleek, Coolmalish [alias Clancairney?] and Drumorgan, Co. Armagh, mainly in the Markethill and Hamiltons Bawn areas of the county. This 'original Armagh estate' had a (badly paid) rental of 10,500 in 1817 and comprised c.8,000 acres and the following townlands (spelt more or less as they are spelt in the documents):

Ballyanny, Bryandrum, Brackly, Ballindarragh, Cabragh, Cordrummond, Carricklane, Corhammock, Coolmillish, Dennismullan, Drumlack, Edneykennedy, Glasdrummond, Lisnagat, Markethill, Sibochane, Turleys Land, Baleek, Carrowmannon, Carrickananny, Creggan, Crunaught, Carrickgallogly, Drumnahoney, Drumnahuncheon, Drumgean, Dirlet, Grayhills, Lisdrumchor, Lurgyross, Hamiltonsbawn, Ardgonnell.

In addition, the family owned from the early 17th century the manor of Corrowdownan (in and round the town of Arvagh), Co. Cavan, which had a rental of 2,700 in 1817 and comprised c.6,500 acres and the following townlands:

Arvagh, Brankill, Castlepoles, Corduff, Carrinainey, Corron, Corhanagh, Cardownan, Corlisbrattan, Cordonaghy, Drumshinny, Drumhillagh, Drumyouth, Drumlarney, Drumcrow, Drumberry, Forthill, Woodland, Gartylouth, Ticosker, Dunaweel, Lackin, Drumalt.

In the late 1820s, the 2nd Earl of Gosford expanded his Co. Armagh estate to c.12,000 acres by purchasing most of the property of the Richardson family of Richhill and all the surviving property of the Graham family, formerly of Ballyheriden (the latter rounding off the existing Gosford estate in the manor of Drumorgan, round Hamiltons Bawn). These additions comprised the following townlands:

Richhill estate : 1st Division; Ballybreagh, Ballintaggart, Drumnahuncheon, Drummond, Derryhale, part of Mulladry.

2nd Division; part of Ballyleany, Ballyloughan, part of Ballynahinch, part of Mulladry, Mullalelish, Richhill.

3rd Division; Annaboe, Annaregh, part of Ballynahinch, Crucat, Corcreevy, Drumard, Liscuborough, Mullaletragh, Manooth, Rockmacreeny, Shurish.

Graham estate : Ballyorgan, Corlust, Carrive, Curry Mill, Derryraine, Drumorgan, Drumbeecross, Drumbee Beg, Killeen, Drumfergus, Drummond, Drumgaw, Drumilly, Killyrudden, Drumines sic, Darvagh, Killycopple sic, Leitmacollum, Lattery, Macantrim, Outlack.

William Greig's survey

The best-known component of the Gosford Papers is the survey (D/1606/6B/12) carried out by William Greig of the original Armagh estate (prior to the additions of the late 1820s), which was published by P.R.O.N.I. under the title General Report on the Gosford Estates in Co. Armagh, 1821, by William Greig, with an introduction by F.M.L. Thompson and D. Tierney (H.M.S.O., Belfast, 1976).

For all its importance in terms of economic and social history, it had absolutely no effect on Lord Gosford - quite the reverse. Greig advocated retrenchment (the estate was already burdened with a debt of 45,000), a reduction in rents (which were in high in relation to the value of the land and the tenants' ability to pay) and other improving measures. However, it looks as if Lord Gosford's secret purpose in commissioning the report was to see what potential there was for increasing rents in order to finance his dream of building a huge Norman Revival castle.

The building of Gosford Castle

Work on the castle began soon after the report was completed, in c.1820, and was still in progress in 1858. The cost was an alleged 80,000 (not a surprising figure, in view of the size and quality of the building). Lord Gosford had married Mary, daughter and heiress of Robert Sparrow of Worlingham Hall, Beccles, Suffolk, and the Norman style - of which there are a number of genuine East Anglian examples - may have been her idea. It was also probably her money which in large part financed the venture.
The architect was the Englishman, Thomas Hopper, who later executed a similar (and now fully restored and preserved) commission at Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales, for a very much richer client. Hopper's work at Gosford is if anything superior to Penrhyn. However, Lord Gosford was not entirely satisfied. In response to his recriminations about workmanship and bills, and his insensitive reference to a rival architect, William Playfair (who had been working at Drumbanagher, near Newry, Co. Armagh), Hopper replied sadly, in January 1834: '... I suspect it did not cost him one hundredth part the thought, and but a small portion of the trouble, which I took to try to make Gosford Castle as convenient and as good as I wished it to be. ... I have always felt a sorrow that I ever went to Ireland. I now consider it a misfortune ...'. After Hopper's death in 1856, the work was continued by George Adam Burn (who had been employed under Hopper since 1853).

Lord Gosford's relations with his wife, as well as with Hopper, may have been affected by the strains of castle-building. The couple separated, and Lady Gosford went back to live at Worlingham, where she died some years before her husband in 1841. The story is told that, on its return journey to Co. Armagh for burial in the family vault at Mullaghbrack, her coffin was mislaid by the drunken servants whom Lord Gosford had sent to fetch it, and was conveyed by train to somewhere in the Midlands. At some time after her death, the Worlingham estate was sold.

Encumbered estates

Gosford family finances were probably ruined forever by the building of Gosford. The 2nd Earl of Gosford died in 1849. The 3rd Earl (1806-1864) was a noted bibliophile, who formed a 'large and extremely beautiful' library at Gosford, accommodated in one of Thomas Hopper's most successful interiors, including an 'extraordinary series of county histories ... [and] a perfect copy of the First Folio Shakespeare ...'. This library was sold by his son, the 4th Earl (1841-1922) in 1878, allegedly to settle a gambling debt. A part of it was re-sold a few years later for 11,000, and another part is now in the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York. At about this time, in 1877, the Co. Cavan estate was advertised for sale under the Landed Estates Court (successor to the more ominously named Encumbered Estates Court), although little or any of it seems to have been sold at this time. The financial difficulties, of which these are clear indications, were then exacerbated by the 4th Earl's already-mentioned involvement in the 'Prince of Wales's circle'. Land Purchase completed the process of decline.

Title deeds and leases

The papers include surprisingly few title deeds, and those that there are will be found at D/1606/15. They include a Rolls Office copy of a constat grant from Charles I to John Hamilton of the Hamiltonsbawn estate in Co. Armagh, 1629; a late 17th- or early 18th-century copy translation of Sir George Acheson's patent of lands in Co. Armagh, 1639; and a bundle of deeds, 1744 and 1764, deriving from a post-nuptial settlement made after the marriage in 1740 of Arthur Acheson, later 1st Viscount Gosford, and Mary Richardson, youngest daughter of John Richardson of Richhill, together with a release and another deed concerning charges laid on the original Armagh estate and the Cavan estate under that settlement.

Leases are numerous, relate to all the estates and run from c.1770 to c.1850. In addition, there are 13 lease books or lists of leases, 1801-1910, relating to all the estates but particularly to the Graham.

Agents' correspondence and related papers

The agents' correspondence, with related papers, relates to all the estates, and includes: agents' out-letter books and bundles of correspondence, 1832-1984; in-letters to the most famous Gosford agent, William Blacker, 1816-1848, with related accounts, agreements, deeds of annuity, printed notices, etc, including letters from William Greig about his survey, 1816-1822, letters and papers about the 2nd Earl of Gosford's purchase of the Co. Armagh estate of Colonel H.E.C.V. Graham for 66,000 in 1829, papers about tree registration, and papers about Lord Gosford's farming society, farming premiums and farming dinners, etc; in-letters to Blacker's successors, William Wann, J.C. Wann, H.A. Johnstone, W.H. Edwards and Miss Ethel Edwards, 1846-1962, and out-letter books recording letters written by them, 1875-1878 and 1934-1963; personal estate correspondence of the earls of Gosford, 1848-1875 and 1904-1921; bundles of estate vouchers, 1817-1930, which include building accounts for Gosford Castle in the 1820s; annual abstracts of accounts with the agent, 1819-1899, also including building accounts; indexed series of agents' memoranda and correspondence, 1831-1891, which include details of rent reductions and provision of seed following the Famine; and Irish Land Commission papers.

Rentals and accounts

Rentals and accounts (except as mentioned above) include: rentals and rent books for the Markethill estate, 1787-1909; bog rentals for the manor of Belleek, Co. Armagh, 1817-1819 and 1861-1902; rentals of the Graham estate, 1829-1851, which then merge with the main Markethill rentals; rentals of the Richhill estate, 1822-1830 and 1881-1909; rentals and account books for the Co. Cavan estate, 1816-1924, with bog rentals, 1824-1903, though mostly 1824-1847; rentals for the Co. Armagh estate excluding Richhill, 1909-1916, and for all the surviving Cos Armagh and Cavan estates, 1917-1959; agents' account books, 1856-1920; ledgers, day books and cash books, c.1880-1963; and volumes recording clover seed, lime, vetches, etc, either sold or given to tenants, recording timber on the Gosford demesne, recording stock and crops on the Gosford home farm etc, 1831-1930.

Maps, surveys, plans, valuations, etc

These include: maps of the Graham estate, 1730 and 1819-c.1850; a written survey of Bryandrum by Mark Brown, 1766; a survey and map of Hugh Brown's farm in Drumlack by William Lawson, 1771; maps, elevations, drainage plans, etc, for the Cavan estate 1786-1868; maps of Gosford demesne, etc, 1800-1877; a volume of maps of Coolmalish Manor, including one of Gosford demesne, by William Greig and John Hill, 1818, together with a lease book for the manor which gives details of the number of cottiers on each farm, 1829; maps and surveys of Archibald Sinclair's farm, 1822, and of Robert Wallace's farm, 1826, both in Bryandrum, surveyed by Alexander Richmond; valuations and maps of the Richhill estate, c.1826 and 1885; a volume containing tithe composition details for the parishes of Armagh, Ballymore, Killevey, Loughgilly, Mullaghbrack and Tynan, Co. Armagh, 1837-1838; a plan by Alexander Richmond for straightening the river between Drumlack and Coolmalish, 1845; 2 indexes to tenants in all the Gosford estates in Co. Armagh and Cavan, 1849; a survey and lease book with details of tenants' religious denominations, covering the whole Armagh estate except Richhill, 1852; a 'Statement of the census of the Gosford tenantry, as to their creed or religion' in Cos Armagh and Cavan, 1871; a copy of the Poor Law valuation of the Armagh and Cavan estates, 1880; and a typescript copy of a report by J.C. Boyle on the condition of Gosford Castle, 1940.

Electoral, legal and judicial records

Material of the above description includes: a return of freeholders on the Gosford estates in Co. Armagh, c.1830; Co. Armagh election accounts, 1830-1832; court books for the manors of Drumorgan and Belleek, 1838-1848 and 1842-1847 respectively; and miscellaneous legal papers, including bills of costs and lists of ejectments, 1790, 1808 and 1820-1939.

General correspondence of the Gosford family

Of particular interest is the general correspondence of the Gosford family which, though not unrelated to estate administration, has mainly wider bearings. For the period c.1750-1800 this has been augmented by photocopies of Gosford letters which somehow or other reached the National Library of Ireland in Dublin via the late T.G.F. Paterson, Curator of the Armagh County Museum; the photocopies have been integrated with the originals and all have been calendared in detail.

This section of the archive includes the personal, political and general correspondence, 1745-1867, of Sir Archibald Acheson, 5th Bt, and his successors, the 1st Viscount Gosford and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Earls of Gosford, including a few letters to Lord William Bentinck, brother-in-law of the 2nd Earl of Gosford. The correspondents include: Sir Francis St John [owner of Tanderagee, Co. Armagh]; Dean Walter Cope of Drumilly, Co. Armagh; Henry Boyle [later 1st Earl of Shannon]; Sir Capel Molyneux of Castledillon, Co. Armagh; Samuel Blacker; Alexander Stewart of Ballintoy, Co. Antrim, and Acton, Co. Armagh; William Brownlow of Lurgan, Co. Armagh; Richard Rigby; Madame de Salis; the 4th Earl of Sandwich; the 1st Earl of Charlemont; John Garnett, Bishop of Clogher; the 2nd Earl of Lanesborough; Sir George, later Earl, Macartney; the 4th Viscount Townshend; the 2nd Marquess of Downshire; the 2nd Earl Camden; James Harden; Francis Saunderson of Castle Saunderson, Co. Cavan; the 1st Marquess of Buckingham; the 1st Marquess Cornwallis; and the 3rd Earl of Altamont. There is a notable run of letters between Lord Gosford and the Hon. Arthur Acheson, 1785-1789, mostly containing good advice from father to son.

Other topics covered by the letters include: the Charles Lucas affair in 1749; maintenance of the bridge at Caledon, Co. Tyrone, 1752; an unusually detailed discussion of the management of election interests in Co. Armagh in the 1750s and 1760s, in Co. Cavan in 1768, in Enniskillen and Co. Armagh in 1776 and in Co. Armagh and Old Leighlin in 1783; the choice of Lord Lieutenant in 1766; the progress of the Septennial Bill, 1766-1768; the release of John Wilkes from prison in 1770; Sir George Macartney's jaundiced view of his own 'ministerial career' in Ireland (as Chief Secretary) in 1773; a subscription for the Nova Scotia baronets in 1778; the responsibility of Loughgilly vestry for road maintenance in 1780; the failure of the harvest in 1782; the purchase of garden seeds in Dublin in 1785; the election of the Speaker of the Irish House of commons in 1785; the severe winter in Co. Armagh, 1785-1786; building materials for Gosford Castle in 1786; the 'Interest Bill' in 1788; the Co. Armagh election campaigns of 1789 and 1794, the latter in unusual detail; the elections for Co. Down and Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow, in 1790; the disturbances in Co. Armagh in 1796 between the 'Orange Boys' and 'the lower orders of the Catholics', with Lord Gosford's graphic account of a parade of 1,500 Orangemen at Markethill on the 'Twelfth' in 1796; the Co. Cavan election of 1797; the government's military preparations in June 1798; and the Act of Union in 1799-1800.

On this last theme, there is a memorable description in July 1800 by the 3rd Earl of Altamont: '... the row in the Castle yard this morning not to be believed; the nearest thing that could be to a mutiny; great claims for payment, great chagrin, and shame alone acting to stop mouths for disappointments innumerable ; Drogheda says he never knew till this morn that he was to get a British peerage ... . The Speaker kept us waiting this day from two till four o'clock, the Lord Lieutenant all the time in the lobby ; it seemed to me to be a peevish manoeuvre and wrong ...'

After 1800 the correspondence includes some references to post-Union British politics and Court life.

Further architectural material

Other noteworthy components of the correspondence include an artificially assembled bundle of letters, accounts, plans, etc, addressed to the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Gosford concerning architecture and building, 1820-1858. The buildings concerned are Gosford Castle; the Gosford estate office [presumably in Markethill village]; Markethill market house, session house, national school and police station; Kildarton Church, Co. Armagh; and the school house and market house of Arvagh, on the Gosford estate in Co. Cavan.

The correspondents include the builders of the Arvagh school house, Benjamin & John Reilly, 1820, and the architects/clerks of works engaged on Gosford Castle from 1820 onwards: Thomas Hopper, Thomas Duff (a major Ulster architect in his own right, but between 1838 and 1845 Hopper's assistant or clerk of works at Gosford), Eliza Farrell, widow of a previous clerk of works, John Farrell, who was employed in 1835 and died in or by 1843, George Adam Burn, who worked under Hooper from 1853 and succeeded Hopper in 1856, and Richard Turner of The Hammersmith Iron Works, Ballsbridge, Dublin.

Local government in Co. Armagh

Contrasting with this artificial creation is an original bundle of signed copies of an address to the 2nd Earl of Gosford, together with 2 voluminous rolls of signatures and much correspondence, 1838. The address is from 'the proprietors and inhabitants' of Co. Armagh on Lord Gosford's entering on the duties of Lieutenant of the county, to which he had been appointed in 1831, but from which he had been absent while Governor of Lower Canada, 1835-1838. There is an original bundle of letters to him and to his successor the 3rd Earl, as Lieutenants of Co. Armagh, 1834, 1841 and 1847-1851, about law and order and marches and meetings in the county. There is also a quantity of letters and papers of the 3rd Earl of Gosford as Colonel of the Co. Armagh Militia/Infantry, 1848-1860, including a 'contingent account' book for the regiment, 1848-1853.

The Governorship of Lower Canada

The correspondence of the 2nd Earl of Gosford as Governor of Lower Canada (which bears reference D/2259 as opposed to D/1606), comprises c.600 letters and papers, 1835-1840, relating to his period of office. There are contemporary duplicates in the P.R.O., London, or in the National Archives, Ottawa, of the letters and dispatches in the Gosford archive exchanged between Lord Gosford and Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, and of the letters from Sir John Colborne and Sir Francis Head, successively Lieutenant-Governors of Upper Canada, Sir Colin Campbell, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, and Sir John Harvey, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. The papers unique to this accession are therefore of greater interest.

They include: 26 letters from J. Buchanan, writing from the British Consulate, New York, to Lord Gosford, giving news of Canada and of the progress of Lord Durham's mission and reflecting his despair at the intransigence of the 'Family Compact' in Upper Canada, 1838-1839; 78 letters making introductions or seeking patronage, including letters from Lords Dufferin, Devon, Jocelyn and Westmorland, Daniel O'Connell, William Smith O'Brien, etc, 1835-1839; and 81 miscellaneous letters, 1830-1840, from various correspondents including John Sharman-Crawford, Edward Ellice, M.P., H.S. Fox, British Minister at Washington (1835-1843), Joseph Hume and John Neilson, together with a long memorandum of a conversation between Lord Gosford and Louis Joseph Papineau.


The arrangement of the archive speaks for itself. One point which perhaps needs to be emphasised for the benefit of students of architectural history is that the vouchers relating to the period when Gosford Castle and other Gosford-inspired structures were being built (D/1606/2) are as rich a potential source of information as the artificially assembled bundle of letters and papers concerning architecture and building (D/1606/1/2). The political historian, too, should note that the personal, political and general correspondence in D/1606/1/1 is much more wide-ranging than the local politics of Co. Armagh, important though those local politics were in the history of the Orange Order.