mole logo

Patrick Moffett: The Dunville Family
of Redburn House, Holywood

Patrick Moffett was a grandson of William Moffett (1873-1961), who was the Dunville family's blacksmith. An indication of the date of this document is given in one of the sentences: "As I write this, the calendar reads 30th October 1978." More recent research has shown that some of the information in the document is inaccurate or incorrect. We plan to add more of Patrick Moffett's document to this website page, including his acknowledgements, and to add notes regarding information which appears to be inaccurate or incorrect.


Local People Remember

St. Malachy's Chapel in Alfred Street, which dates from 1844, was noted for having the loudest bell in Belfast. Dunville's had a distillery directly opposite the chapel. Every time the bell tolled, it was said to cause the large wooden vats in which the immature whisky was fermenting to vibrate. As a result, the Dunville management used to run across the road to the chapel and plead with those in charge to please do something about the bell. A compromise was agreed upon: the bell would be muffled. That was in 1900. Dunville's distillery has vanished, but the bell remains muffled to this day.

One night very late, Bobby Dunville let himself into the house, walked into the drawing room, and as he reached its centre, something fell across his shoulders and startled him severely. It was his pet ape which had somehow got into the house and had been swinging from the chandelier.

One particularly fine weekend in high summer Bobby had Bruno staked out on his forty yard long chain on the fine lawns in front of the house. Spotted by passing soldiers who approached him and began teasing the animal. They then returned later, but in the interval Bruno has grown cunning, he manipulated the chain so that he could sit on twenty yards of it, with twenty yards showing. When his tormentors - thinking he was at "chain's length" - began again their teasing tactics, the bear pounced. One man got a few cuffs on the head before he managed to escape. After that the bear was left in peace. (There are various accounts of this incident, but I believe this one to be correct.)

One day, Bobby Dunville fired at a rabbit, killed it, and in the process accidentally wounded his gamekeeper Tommy Thompson. A local doctor spent three hours removing thirty-three shotgun pellets from his body.

In 1914 there were sixty hunter and four carriage horses in the stables (part of which is still standing), tended by sixteen grooms. The horses were taken to County Meath for the hunting season.

Other Nationals and Local People Remember
Stories about the Dunville Family

"A lot of water has passed under the bridge since…"

The children of Knocknagoney scooped up their marbles and stood awed at the roadside as Mrs Dunville swished past in a black and yellow Rolls-Royce.

OR Bobby Dunville, ginger hair blowing in the wind, roared up My Lady's Mile in his open Hispano.

OR wrestled with the black bear in his zoo.

OR was bundled into a dummy waiter and hoisted up to his room.

OR during a splendid function at Redburn house he set loose a badger among the guests.

OR roared with laughter when two nationally famous actress sisters shinned up the nearest tree when he freed the bear from its cage.

OR when the same bear chased a British soldier down Jackson's road. (There is another account of this story.)

OR when a slightly drunk motorist driving along Old Holywood Road one dark night saw a zebra trot across the road in front of him.

OR when Bobby and William would remove the tyres from their cars and roar around the estate on the rims.

OR when their father, Colonel Dunville, scared out of his wits by the shrieks of a cockatoo perched on a shelf in a dark corridor, would yell, "Thorpe, bring me a soda syphon." He then drenched the squawking bird, shouting, "take that, you b*****d". The house had seventy-five rooms. It was built on land called "Fiddler's Field". When viewed from a height the field was shaped like a violin. Redburn cost £28,000 to build in 1868.

OR the hot air balloon "Banshee" would lift off from the grounds of Redburn, Bobby on board

OR when two footmen in full livery stood in the entrance hall at Redburn.

OR when the cook, Mrs. Marshall, would flee in terror from Bobby's black panther (which was still caged).

OR when my grandfather, William Moffett, who made the cages for Bobby's animals, would wrap his tools in an apron, tie this to the handlebars, jump on his bicycle and ride out to Redburn to shoe the family horses. (A tumbler of whiskey was handed to him on arrival before he ever saw a horse.)

OR Mrs Dunville, a tartan cape over her shoulders, with split skirt and riding boots, and two six-guns belted around her waist would stride about the estate taking pot-shots at any cat she saw.

Bobby was trying to populate the estate with rabbits of various colours, one object being that he intended to present his wife with a fur coat made from their pelts. His mother was attempting to discourage the cats (hence the guns).

His wife is reported to have pointed out to him that it would be much easier to buy a coat in Belfast.

Bobby's main interests were sailing and animals and ballooning. He read three pages from a prayer book each night before sleeping.

When Bobby took guests out to a hotel for dinner he would order whiskey for all, with the instructions, "Anything but Dunville's".

The family only lived at Redburn July and August, and Christmas.

Once, as Bobby lay ill in his first-floor room, he got the groom, Jack Farrar, to bring his favourite hunting horse into the house, up the ornate staircase to his bedroom, in an attempt to cheer himself up.

The clock in the Priory church, Bangor Road, was originally at Redburn.

Mrs. John Dunville fished for shark off the coast of North Island, New Zealand.

OR set off on her own to pilot a hot-air balloon, year 1906.

OR joined her husband in balloon races from Dublin to Macclesfield in 1908.

OR cheered him on in the exciting Gordon-Bennett balloon races from Germany to England, 1906-1908.

OR joined her husband and Mr Vere Ker-Seymer, as third Crew member from Hurlingham on those lazy, sunny Sundays, so long ago.

OR swished around Redburn in a gorgeous peacock blue dress with a long train made like a peacock's fan-tail.

OR rose at her usual time of twelve noon (in later life), delicately sipped a tumblerful of whiskey, wound up her HMV gramophone, put on her favourite record and danced with a guest, who then drove her around the Countryside, returning in time for dinner, and sipped a second tumblerful of whiskey, dressed, and went in to dinner.

OR attended morning service with her son John at Holywood Parish Church.

Eric Thorpe, the Head butler, opened the private bar at Redburn house precisely at noon, closed it at three p.m., opened it again at six p.m., and closed it again at midnight. Rumour has it that the staff then literally crawled up to bed. It is said of the Dunvilles that they were very generous employers.

Thorpe, the Butler, received £150 per year; at a time when the norm for a similar position was £100 p.a.

Mrs Dunville's three sisters were ladies-in-waiting to Queen Alexandra when she was in London. Once, when introduced to Mrs Dunville (before her marriage), the King looked her in the eye and quipped, "No reason why you should be a lady-in-waiting!" Edward VII (He was then Prince of Wales.)

The third son, William Gustavus, or Billy to the family, was remembered as a young man with the most charming manners. He displeased his Mother by marrying a girl from the Newtownwards Road, Belfast.

They were packed off to Australia and set up a sheep station of their own: Barry Station, Nundle, New South Wales.

After raising three daughters they returned to Ireland, divorced, and William emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, with one daughter, where, it is said, they were reduced to living in a shack.

Ghosts and Mysterious Sightings
Were Reported From Redburn

Not so long ago, three young men spent the night (or part of it) sleeping on the floor of the "ballroom". At this time the house was still intact, but the family were dead, the Americans were long gone, and Holywood U.D. Council had not yet agreed on the most suitable means of running their acquisition. There was still carpet on the stairs and a piano in the "ballroom". They were awakened to the piano playing away with no one near it. And as they fled in terror, a ghostly carriage drawn by four white horses galloped noiselessly past the front door and down the drive.

Other Nationals and Local People Remember

In the summer of 1919, Colonel Dunville was flying a single-engined B1 plane in the Holywood area when he crashed in the hills close to the site of the RAF radio station (not then built). He had been for the past two years Commanding Officer of No. 1 Balloon Wing at Roehampton. Men trained by him were sent to the western front as Artillery observers. He was on first name terms with King George V, who on frequent tours of inspection would say, "John, you can run this unit any way you like, as a Naval Station if you so wish." Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force, and so John Dunville held during his lifetime conflicting ranks: Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Colonel and finally in 1926 he was made an honorary Wing Commander in the RAF and received the additional honour of the CBE. Incidentally, he was uninjured in the air crash.

A local merchant had the contract for delivering coal to Redburn: one ton per day plus two tons on a Saturday. Dunvilles kept a "herd" of ten or twelve Jersey cows. Mr Alfie Frazer (who lived on the Downshire Road) milked them, then the cans were loaded onto two donkeys and Mrs Frazer led them to the rear of Redburn House where she supervised the making of butter and cheeses and cream.

During the hot summers of the twenties, Colonel Dunville held cricket matches in the grounds. Marquees were erected, food and plenty of liquid refreshment provided and many Holywood people invited. These fêtes usually lasted seven days and "Banshee" taken for a sail.

The basket for this balloon lay in an outhouse for years after the family had gone.

One night during a function, Bobby let his black bear off its forty yard chain to show it off to the guests (no account of their reactions). He then fed it supper, a dish of three star Dunville's Whisky. Leading it outside again, he secured its chain to a stake and left the animal to its own devices. As the whisky took effect the animal ambled up the drive in front of the house and commenced scoring its claws into the bodywork of the guests' cars. Tiring of this, it found a far more fascinating pastime. It noticed that when it sank its razor-sharp clutches into the car tyre (singular) it was rewarded with a delightful hissing sound. Grunting with pleasure it went round the other three tyres in turn. Sitting on its haunches it enjoyed the chorus of hissing. How many cars received this treatment I don't know, but Bobby Dunville would almost certainly have made good the damage willingly. Bruno was quite a character; I'm developing quite an affection for him. More about him later.

The balloon "Banshee" was manufactured by Short Bros & Harland Ltd.

"A lot of water has passed under the bridge since…"

The small terrier dog out walking through Redburn with his owner stopped dead in his tracks. The hair on his back stood on end and he stared up at something invisible to his owner.

On another occasion the same lady and dog in company with a neighbour and her dog walking in the same area were alarmed to witness the two animals stop in their tracks and stare at something invisible to their owners. Their fur bristled with fear and the neighbour actually collapsed in a dead faint while the terrier turned and bolted.

During the war when the services occupied Redburn House and other premises in the grounds, documented reports of ghost sightings were numerous. Whether this was to keep out snoopers, I cannot say. My informant was a trifle indignant at my suggestion.

Redburn House was built on the site of an old farm. Part of which was retained and built into the rear of the house. The stone used in its construction came from Scrabo, County Down.

The red sandstone used to build the outhouses came from Dunonald in Scotland. The outhouses were added at a later date. Circa 1879.

Some of the circular iron supports were supplied by Wm. Greer and Sons and Peden Ltd, Belfast.

A stained glass window was installed in the hallway in memory of John (Johnkins) by his mother. VC.

The evergreen adorning the family burial plot at the Priory, Holywood was a slip from John's grave in the British Military Cemetery at Villers Faucon.

Halloween was a recognised time for ghost sightings. Mrs. John Dunville was interested in spiritualism. So apparently was her gamekeeper, Tommy Thompson. As I write this, the calendar reads 30th October 1978. Perhaps tomorrow night I will pay Redburn a visit.

On a lighter vein, the Duke of Devonshire with Mr. Robert Grimshaw Dunville, sat side by side in an open carriage from Belfast to Redburn, 1896.

The Duke was a great Liberal MP and known in Political circles as "Harty Tarty" (when he was lord Hartington). Mr R.G. Dunville's son, John, was the Duke's private secretary.

The railway station at Holywood was the stopping-off place for Dunville guests, where they were met by horse-drawn coaches and "swished" up Downshire Road to Redburn.

The local postmen at Christmas time got so "sloshed" on Dunville's Whisky while delivering cards and presents to the house, that some of the local men had to complete their deliveries for them.

When Wing Commander Dunville died in 1929, his daughter-in-law, Bobby's wife, who was the daughter of a South African High Court judge, and had been devoted to her father-in-law, was so distraught with grief that she placed an expensive brooch he had once given her, on his grave, and hired a local man to stand guard over it all night long.

Bobby died beside his wife at her father's home in Johannesburg, South Africa, sometime between 12 p.m. and 6 a.m. on January 11th 1931.

I believe she later married again and has a son, a major, serving in an Irish regiment.

Bobby was a crack rifle shot. He used to place targets on top of the ridge overlooking Redburn House, a distance of six hundred yards, and score bull's eyes consistently, by moonlight. An eyewitness to this is still living but I intend protecting his identity.

During the rebellion of 1916, Bobby was captured along with five other men, by armed insurgents. With the other men he was stood against a wall (village of Castlebellingham) and one by one executed. As the man next to him was shot, Bobby turned to watch him fall. As he did so a bullet struck him in the chest, and he dropped to the ground unconscious. The killers, fully realising he was still alive, were about to finish him off, when a lorry, lights full on, came into view. The insurgents then made off. After surveying the scene, his rescuers took him north, where under medical care he slowly recovered. He died aged 38.

Bobby Dunville, christened Robert Lambart Dunville. Born 18th February 1893, died 11th January 1931. Educated at appropriate "prep" school then Eton College 1907-1911.

Captain Life Guards, attached Grenadier Guards.

Home on convalescent leave when captured by insurgents, Easter 1916.

A lady who wished to remain anonymous, remembers as a girl of five, in 1912, visiting Redburn with her mother and grandfather, three or four times yearly. This was at the invitation of Mrs. John Dunville. (Mrs. Robert Grimshaw Dunville (the lady in the love letters) and mother of John was still alive at this time, aged 72, and living in the house). She can remember vividly Mrs Dunville (junior) giving her a box of jewellery to play with, in which were emerald brooches, sapphire necklaces and ruby ear rings.

She can also recall that Mrs. Dunville was greatly distressed about some matter and sought the advice of her grandfather Mr. ***********, in whom she had great faith. The only words she can recall after 60 years are, "*** is giving me hell".

The "Black Pearl", a steam yacht of 343 tons, sailed from Cultra Yacht Club pier (this could not have been later than 1882, as the pier was burned out that year), Dunvilles on board.

Bobby attended Eton College from 1907-1911.

John attended Eton College from 1909-1914.

They were known as Dunville Major and Minor.

There were thirteen servants in the house alone. (1920s)

Some of the servants' names remembered. There were: Eric Thorpe (head butler), Paddy McCann and Eric Baldwin (chauffeurs), Alfie Moore (head gardener), Mrs Marshall (cook), Tommy Thompson (gamekeeper), Alfie Frazer (yardman), Sam Farrar (head groom) and Jack Alfie Farrar (his son, assistant groom), Emily Moore (laundry lady), J. Black (assistant butler, died not long ago aged 98) (Tommy Thompson was also 90+ when he died), William Moffett (blacksmith), M. Farrar, J. Black, G. Gilmore, J. Dunwoody.

Some of the animals in Bobby's private zoo: a black bear, a zebra, a kingaju, a black panther, a kangaroo, pheasants and badgers and rabbits in the woods. And of course some monkeys.

Some people say Mrs Dunville was more of an animal lover than her son, although there are some baffling paradoxes.

Colonel Dunville in his later years spent much of his time in his bedroom which was at the front of the house on the first floor. At the left hand as you entered the front door. After the hallway with its blazing fire one had the "ballroom" on the right. Behind it the drawing room and finally behind that again the dining room.

WEBSITE BY JILL HOLROYD AND MILES
LAST MODIFIED: 20 JANUARY 2017