The sale of Powerscourt House
Powerscourt Gardens are one of the most popular attractions in County Wicklow and I am lucky enough to visit them regularly bringing visitors to see these stunning gardens, in their magnificent setting. No one is ever disappointed - the combination of the house, the gardens and trees is such that National Geographic rated these gardens as third best in the world!
In 1961 my mother was finishing her training as a Froebel teacher and wrote a study of North Rathdown. The big story in the area was the sale of Powerscourt Estate - truly the end of an era.
Powerscourt House and estate had been in the possession of the Wingfield family since the early 1600's and had been the largest estate in Wicklow. By 1961 the estate was much smaller with much of the land being sold off due to the Land Acts, but it still comprised 34,000 acres, though much of this was mountain. Lord Powerscourt kept a fine herd of Hereford cattle and represented Ireland in a Hereford Society Conference in America.
Crops such as wheat, oats, barley, peas, potatoes were grown on the estate and the gardens were open to the public. Curiously, near the farmyard, Ferguson Tractors (the mechanical "workhorse for the Irish Farmer) had a school where they trained young and old purchasers to use all types of machinery.
One of the catalysts for the sale of this estate was the breakdown of the marriage of Lord & Lady Powerscourt. In her excellent biography "Something to hide - the life of Sheila Wingfield, Viscountess Powerscourt" Penny Perrick portrayed a deeply unhappy woman who controlled the purse strings, due to her personal fortune. As the marriage foundered, she was no longer prepared to subsidise Powerscourt Estate and with the great sadness, Lord Powerscourt had to put the estate on the market.
This sale attracted huge publicity and one of the more fanciful headlines (fake news perhaps?) was that Princess Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon, were seriously considering buying the estate!
Happily, the estate was purchased by Gwen and Ralph Slazenger (he sold the sporting goods company founded by his grandfather to Dunlops in 1958 for a very substantial sum) and they lived in the house and kept the gardens open to the public, even after the terrible fire of 1974 which destroyed much of the house and contents. Their family continue to own and operate this fine estate and have adapted it for the needs of the modern era, while keeping the magnificent gardens and estate to a very fine standard, enjoyed by over 250,000 people annually.