Historic fort and courthouse to be key parts of major new visitor attraction

Hillsborough Fort dates back to the mid 17th century.

Hillsborough’s historic courthouse and fort have undergone a major programme of repair and conservation works as Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) prepares to open them to hundreds of thousands of visitors.

HRP has announced that it will be taking over the long-term management of both buildings – the latest development by the independent charity to transform Hillsborough Castle into a major visitor destination.

Hillsborough Courthouse.

Work is currently ongoing on an ambitious £20 million project that will see the castle, its gardens, the fort and courthouse transformed into a major tourist attraction, which HRP hopes will pull in more than 200,000 visitors every year.

Restoration and improvement works inside the castle are already complete, with construction of the new visitor centre and transformation of the gardens expected to be finished in time for the grand re-opening in April next year.

The fort at Hillsborough was built in the mid-17th century, where it commanded the chief roads from Belfast to Dublin. It was transformed a century later into the distinctive Georgian ‘gothic’ style seen today, by Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire, who was also responsible for building the castle and much of Georgian Hillsborough.

From the fort, a tree-lined path with a set of late 18th century wrought iron gates at each end leads to the village square, where the courthouse is located. Originally built as a covered market, the courthouse was completed in 1810 and now sits in harmony with Hillsborough Castle’s prominent facade.

HRP has undertaken a programme of repair and conservation to prevent deterioration to the fabric of both buildings.

The entrance to the courthouse has been transformed into a visitor reception, which is acting as the temporary welcome space for guests to the castle while extensive work continues to create permanent access, welcome, and visitor facilities at the bottom of the site, next to the A1.

The local council will continue to have a presence within the building to promote tourism throughout Hillsborough village and contribute to the local economy – a key priority for Historic Royal Palaces.

With work also under way on a new learning facility at Hillsborough Castle, the Market Room in the courthouse will host a range of learning and engagement activities for schools and families as well as community events. Visitors will be able to discover the history of the people and events in the building over the years, from its establishment as a market house in the 18th century to the addition of the courtroom a hundred years later, which was active into the 20th century.

Meanwhile, the 10 acres of grounds around the fort will be maintained by the HRP’s Gardens and Estates team and will remain as a green recreational area for everyone to enjoy.

The charity’s ambition is to work with the Hillsborough Old Guard local history group to tell the stories of the fort warders as part of the wider visitor experience, including offering guided tours of the fort and town.

Patricia Corbett, head of Hillsborough Castle, said: “We are delighted to take on the long term management of Hillsborough Courthouse and Fort. Both buildings are intrinsically linked with the history of Hillsborough Castle and its original residents, the Downshire family, and will continue to play an important role for the village of Hillsborough.

“As a charity, our aim to open up these spaces for everyone to enjoy, whilst preserving them for future generations.”

While the Hillsborough Castle project is ongoing, the castle will remain open for daily tours of the spectacular state rooms and majestic grounds.

For more information log on to www.hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle/explore

• Read related story - WATCH: Castle’s ‘locked away hidden gem’ to be opened to all

More from Lifestyle