Anthony  D  Buckley

Anthony D Buckley, 1981

'Fall of a landlord.’

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Year Book 1979-80, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra.


PEOPLE say that it was death duties that brought down the Beck family, or perhaps it was drink. At all events, the Castle which dominated the skyline and boasted to the local community of farmers and labourers of the power and fabulous wealth of 'Sir Charlesworth Beck' is now a ruin.

Since its inception, all but one incumbent of the baronetcy has been called ‘Sir Charlesworth Beck', a fact which allows folk memory to compress all of the different baronets of the last century into a unified archetypal ‘Sir Charlesworth Beck'. Of the Sir Charlesworth Becks who lived in the district, only the last two are remembered with any sense of individuality.

`Sir Charlesworth', and here I speak of the archetype and not of any particular man, was a stickler for law, order and morality. More precisely he was a stickler for the law, order and morality of the population around him. As a magistrate, he always took the word of the local policemen against that of any supposed felon. As landlord, he exercised strict control over those who would come to live in the area, thus excluding undesirables. There are those today who survey the lawlessness of the present and who wistfully look back to the stern figure of Sir Charlesworth' who kept their world in order.

To farmers, the image of 'Sir Charlesworth' can still conjure up terrible memories of arbitrary rule and cruelty. 'Sir Charlesworth', it is said, could spy a thistle in his tenant's field, and decide then and there that the field should be given to someone more industrious. Widows were, by definition, inefficient, and were liable to be evicted. These memories are still potent and the name of ‘William Ewart Gladstone' is still invoked by some with awe and gratitude for having freed the farmer from the landlord's yoke.

Castle life is remembered for its extravagance, occasionally lapsing, it is hinted, into debauchery. At the drunken merrymaking which accompanied the regular shooting parties, more than once did a reveler tumble headlong over the cliffs into the sea, and shooting 'accidents' were not infrequent. It is darkly said that when 'Lady Beck' had an affair with her butler, Sir Charlesworth' was able to have him murdered. Since 'Sir Charlesworth' was Lord Sherriff, no one ventured to report the butler's departure, and nothing was done.

When the folk-history of the Becks approaches living memory the agglomerated Sir Charlesworth Beck of legend gives way to the figure of a man who is remembered as a real human being. In these times immediately following the Great War, a facade of high living and luxurious splendour was maintained, but beneath this surface, much had changed. Tenant farmers were no longer subjected to the arbitrary whim of the landlord, and many were buying their land. Half a century of legislation, much of it resisted strongly by the Becks themselves, allowed farmers to challenge the social position of the gentry and aristocracy. Revenue from land was now melting away, and death duties, introduced specifically to weaken the landowners, ate into the fortunes of 'Sir Charlesworth'. With careful management and a steady hand, this last 'Sir Charlesworth' might have been able to moderate the decline, but he was a weak man tyrannised by the drink against which p xxx

his tenants railed. Full of bluster against the terrorists of the early 1920s this amiable alcoholic became commandant of the Special Constabulary. A generation or two earlier, he might have held such post by virtue of his title alone. Now, because of his drinking, he was judged incapable and was replaced by a farmer.

Threatened with death by rebellious republicans, laughed at, or worse, pitied by his social subordinates, Sir Charlesworth and his family left Ireland for an extended stay in France. Resting, en route, in Eastbourne, Sir Charlesworth went out for a walk on a stormy evening. The newspapers said that he was startled by a lightening flash and he fell from the pier and was drowned. Local people say he was tipsy.

When Sir Charlesworth died, the world of the Becks was already dis¬appearing. It is said that this last Sir Charlesworth was not really 'the landlord type': he was kindly, a 'plain' man who gave pennies to children and tried to befriend his neighbours. Although it would be almost a generation before the ramshackle estate would be finally dismembered, this man was to be the last to live at the Castle. His demise seems locally to mark the end of a way of life