Council plan to offload ‘too dear’ stately home

Rebecca Black at Wilmot House, SIr Thomas and Lady Dixon Park
Rebecca Black at Wilmot House, SIr Thomas and Lady Dixon Park

A stately home given to Belfast City Council may be handed back to the family that donated it almost a century ago because it has become too expensive for the council to run.

Alliance councillor Tom Ekin called for Wilmont House to be handed back to the Dixon family at the May meeting of the council on Wednesday night, stating that the council could find no use for it.

Wilmont House, within the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast, dates back to 1859. It was a family home and also played host to American soldiers during the Second World War.

Since then it has served as a nursing home and also for the council as a parks office and the headquarters of the Belfast marathon.

However, in recent years it has been boarded up. The house includes a covenant with restrictions over alcohol.

Mr Ekin said he felt the house was costing too much for upkeep and that it should either be handed back to the Dixon family or the covenant renegotiated.

“The best thing would be to hand it back to the Dixon family,” he said. “It is a rambling old house, falling down.”

DUP councillor William Humphrey backed Mr Ekin’s position at the meeting, telling the council it could make “serious savings” by disposing of the house.

Wilmont House was discussed at a meeting of the council’s parks and leisure committee on April 11.

It heard that a proposal which envisaged the refurbishment of the property over a seven-year period had not fulfilled the criteria as set out with the development brief and, accordingly, it had been rejected.

The council is set to undertake further discussions with a range of parties which had expressed previously an interest in the development of the property and a report would be submitted at the conclusion of the exercise.

A city council spokesman said it had cost around £46,000 last year to maintain security around the property,

Wilmont House was completed in 1859 and is part of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park which was first owned by the Stewarts, a farming family from Scotland.

During the Second World War, the house served as the headquarters of the US army in Northern Ireland.

It was visited by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, during his stay in Belfast in 1904, and in 1934 the house became the temporary residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland when Government House in Hillsborough was damaged by fire in August of that year.

Lady Dixon was created Dame of the British Empire.

Before she died in 1959, she donated the estate to the city of Belfast in memory of her husband, a former High Sheriff of Belfast.