Lissan House is an historic 17th century house set in 267-acre estate near Cookstown, County Tyrone. The estate was home to the Staples family from about 1620 until the death of the last incumbent, Hazel Radclyffe-Dolling (née Staples), in April 2006. The house and estate is now run and managed by a charitable board, who help secure the future of the property for the benefit of the community.
The story of Lissen House began with barrister Thomas Staples who originally come from Yate Court, near Bristol in Southwestern England, in about 1610 as part of the plantation of Ulster.
He built the first Staples home at Lissan on the site of an even more ancient house in around 1620, using timber, stone and handmade bricks. He set up an ironworks, feeling great oaks for charcoal to smelt the ore.
In recognition of his industry and effort to civilise the local population, King Charles I created him 1st Baronet of Lissan and Faughanvale in 1628. His descendants lived here through times of poverty and prosperity, conflict and peace over four centuries.
In about 1660, Thomas’ youngest son Robert, the 4th Baronet, constructed much of the house which we see today, though it has been much adapted, refashioned and embellished by subsequent generations. Over the centuries, the Staples family grew and flourished as well, contributing significantly to the local community, the Church, the law, business and to the Crown.
Lissan House has been at the heart of historic events almost since its first construction. During the 1641 Rebellion, the Estate was seized by the Ó Quin, its terrified inhabitant Charity, Lady Staples, being imprisoned in Moneymore and Castlecaufield with her family for over two years until her husband Sir Thomas was able to rescue her.
The fires of the Lissan Iron works were kept alight to make staves and weapons for the rebels, thus securing the house from the destruction that befell many of its contemporaries.
The Rev. Thomas Staples, who rented the Estate from his cousin the 7th Baronet, opened up coal mines at Coalisland in 1749 and employed the legendary Sardinian Engineer Davis Ducart to design the White Bridge and Water Gardens at Lissan.
His son, the Rt. Hon. John Staples P.C., M.P., a cultured well travelled gentleman, married the famous but unfortunate beauty Henrietta Molesworth who had been severely injured in a fire in London. She was ‘a wonderful little lady with a wooden leg who burled around the countryside in her cabriolet ’. Their great great grandson was the much lauded CS Lewis.
Sir Thomas Staples Q.C., 9th Baronet and Queen’s Advocate in Ireland married the heiress ‘Handsome Kitty Hawkins’ and they added the beautiful Ballroom for musical soirees. Their nephew, ‘naughty Sir Nathaniel’ the 10th Baronet made further additions to the house and banished his wife,
Lady Elizabeth in favour of the notorious Miss Potter. Sir Nathaniel’s sons each in turn brought drama to the household, not least the notable and eccentric Victorian artist Robert Ponsonby, ‘the Barefoot Baronet’. He called his children ‘the Chicks’ and it was his grand-daughter, Hazel who gave us Lissan to the community managed by a charitable board.