Family, political and general correspondence, 1707-1868, and estate correspondence, legal and financial records, 1523-c.1953, relating to all the Irish estates and some of the English estates of the Downshire family which were managed from the Irish seat and estate office at Hillsborough Castle, Co. Down.
The founder of the family fortunes, Moyses Hill, came to Ireland as a landless adventurer during the reign of Elizabeth I. He received a grant of land from the crown in 1592; subsequently, by judicious marriages and the constant acquisition of land, by 1845 the Downshire estates were at their greatest extent comprising property and extensive land in Newry, Hillsborough (the Kilwarlin estate), Carrickfergus, Islandmagee, Malone, Castlereagh, Dundrum, Loughbrickland, Banbridge, Hilltown, Edenderry (King's County), Blessington (Wicklow), Kilkenny, Hertford Castle (Hertfordshire) and Easthampstead Park in Berkshire. In the 1820s, when a parliamentary enquiry established the ownership of the country's land, Lord Downshire's property, amounting to some 115,000 acres in Ireland and a further 5,000 in England, was among the most extensive in the United Kingdom. There was little change in the composition of estates until their dissolution under the land purchase acts at the beginning of the 20th century. Hillsborough Castle was sold to the Northern Ireland Government in 1924 for use as the official residence of the Governor.
The archive comprises: title deeds; family settlements; testamentary papers; leases; maps; surveys; plans of both private houses and civic buildings (the Downshire family were possibly the greatest landlord town planners in Ireland); account books; corporation books; roll books; correspondence of the first Marquess and his successors and their wives and families; and that of the Downshire agents.
Of interest to those researching the management of large estates and connections of the landed gentry; as the 2nd Marquess, Arthur Hill, was probably the most active county magistrate in pursuing counter-insurrectionary measures during the 1790s, his correspondence is of the widest significance.
Approx. 50,000 documents and volumes, occupying c. 300 PRONI boxes.
See PRONI references D/607 and D/671 for catalogues of the papers. The catalogues are available for consultation in PRONI's Public Search room.
See http://www.proni.gov.uk/records/private/dnshire.htm for a more detailed introduction to the collection.