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Gosford: the Goose Ford

Gosford Castle, Markethill, Northern Ireland
Photo: Northern Ireland Forest Service

Gosford Animal Hospital is in Bakersfield, California. Gosford Stadium is in Coventry, England. Gosford House is in Scotland, Gosford Castle is in Northern Ireland. And the city of Gosford, New South Wales, Australia, was named in honour of the second Earl (and is also the home of a talented artist named Charles Gosford).

Perhaps Gosford City Council should consider replacing its emblem of a pelican with one of a goose, because a painstaking internet search has revealed that the name Gosford means "the goose ford". (We have hundreds of pelicans but hardly any geese.)

As long ago as 1166AD, just 100 years after William the Conqueror's Norman invasion, the Red Book of the Exchequer listed a village of Goseford. The name came from Old English gos ford, meaning "the goose ford" or "the ford associated with geese". The word gosling (a young goose) has a similar derivation.

Two English villages were known as Goseford in the 12th century. Today, both are called Gosforth. The first, in Cumbria, boasts the Gosforth Cross, the tallest sandstone monolith in Britain. The other is a town in Tyne and Wear. And there's another tiny Gosford in Devon.

Villagers soon adopted the name for their families. Records show that John de Goseford was one of Yarmouth's bailiffs or chamberlains from 1272 to 1280.

In 1307, William de Goseford was among townsmen charged with abducting ships that had tried to unload merchandise at Little Yarmouth and Gorleston, thus evading paying tolls at Greater Yarmouth. In those days, says historian Stephen Alsford, "piracy was a two-way affair, with Yarmouth mariners on the receiving as well as the giving end...In 1317, 1328, and 1340 his ships were involved in piratic acts, and in 1337 he was permitted to keep a Flemish ship he had captured. But in 1333 we find him complaining of the seizure of one of his ships at Bremerhaven."

Fast forward to the 1790s, when Robert Adam designed a stately mansion in Scotland, on the Gosford Estate, near the village of Aberlady, for the sixth Earl of Wemyss (pronounced Weems). Aberlady is about 20 miles east of Edinburgh.

Gosford House was begun in 1790 and completed in 1800. Since then many alterations and additions have been made.

"Sadly the house was struck by fire in 1940, while requisitioned by the military," says The Gazetteer for Scotland. "[The fire] destroyed one of the large rooms in the central block and subsequent dry-rot resulted in a large part of the roof being removed. This was not replaced until the 1980s but the fire-damaged room remains abandoned and in need of restoration. Despite this, the 12th Earl of Wemyss made Gosford his primary residence in the early 1950s.

"The house contains a remarkable art collection, primarily due to the 10th Earl, who was a passionate and genuine collector who ignored the current fashion and bought what he actually liked. The collection includes works by Botticelli, Murillo and Rubens.

"The surrounding estate includes classical stables, also by Adam, a mausoleum, ice house and on the north side two octagonal lodges lying either side of impressive gates."

Photographer Alex Morrice lives near Gosford House, and displays several excellent pictures of it on his website. Asked what the mansion looked like now, he replied "The habitable part of the house is all at the left of the picture. The main part of the building lost its roof in a fire when I think it was being used as army barracks in the Second World War. It's now riddled with dry rot."

We asked Alex if he knew of any nearby rivers or streams geese might have crossed 1000 years ago. "There are a couple of burns (streams) running through the grounds of Gosford House," he said. "The grounds feature a series a man-made ponds. I'm not a fan of formal gardens but the ponds are mature - they look like they've been there forever - and they're all linked together. I suspect this may all be a red herring."

The East Lothian Council website reported: "The Council supports the provision of a high quality, golf-based leisure and hotel development at Gosford Estate and Craigielaw, near Longniddry, in association with the restoration of the historic designed landscape around Gosford House. The Council has accepted the principle of residential development within the estate as a necessary component of the overall scheme and fifty houses for sale are therefore provided for."

Moving across the Irish Sea to Armagh County in Northern Ireland, we find that the village of Markethill was founded by a Scottish family, the Achesons of Gosford, or Goseford, Haddingtonshire (now East Lothian), where the original Gosford House was built.

An interesting article on the Gosford Forest Park website says: "The Achesons built a strong castle at Cloncarney around 1617, but it was destroyed in the war of 1641. They replaced it with a manor house, where they hosted the celebrated author and poet, Jonathon Swift, in the late 1720s. He devised the existing nature walks throughout the grounds, where he composed poems.

"It would be wonderful to believe, as rumour has it, that Swift's life and experiences at Gosford provided inspiration for Gulliver's Travels or that some of it was written there. However, if Swift's first visit to Gosford took place in 1728, it is clear that this cannot be the case, since Gulliver's Travels was first published in 1726."

Acheson, who was the British Government's Secretary of State for Scotland, became the first Earl of Gosford in 1776. In 1819, Archibald Acheson, the second Earl, commissioned the construction of Gosford Castle.

The article continues: "It is known as a Norman revival castle due to the numerous ideas which Hopper [the architect] gleaned from original Norman castles and used in its construction. The central element of Gosford castle is the keep, surrounded by a number of smaller blocks of towers and buildings, appearing to combine them.

"The interior design of Gosford castle was aimed more at comfort than with keeping with its Norman revival exterior. There were 197 rooms, including stairways and the 45 basement rooms, in the castle making it the largest house in Ireland...

"Having been handed down from father to son over the generations, the fourth Earl of Gosford was first of all forced to sell off the library to pay racing debts, and eventually, in 1921, the remaining contents had to go.

"During the Second World War, the castle was commandeered. It was used first by the British Army, then by the Americans, and a prisoner-of-war camp was set up in the grounds.

"The estate remained in the Gosford family until after the Second World War. At various times the castle was used as winter quarters for a travelling circus and as a store for the Public Record Office. Eventually, in 1958, it was acquired by the Northern Ireland Forestry Commission. The Army was once again stationed in the Castle in the 1970s during the recent Troubles.

"In 1978 a 99-year lease was granted to a consortium of businessmen whose intention it was to restore and convert it into a luxury hotel. For a time it was opened as a restaurant and night-club, but it was forced to close again. Since then it has lain empty and neglected."

On August 10, 2000, the Ulster Gazette displayed a story headed "Gosford House to be demolished. Hotel to make way for houses". "The Gosford House Hotel in Markethill could soon be demolished to make way for a new housing development," said a report by Melanie McIvor. "Mr David Maxwell has submitted an application to the Planning Service for 33 new homes on the site of the derelict hotel, at the entrance to Markethill...

"Gosford House Hotel has had a chequered past, and has lain disused for almost three years. It was blown up in 1993 by the IRA while under the ownership of Mr Freddie Dougan. The terrorists planted a massive van bomb in the forecourt area of the hotel, wrecking the building. It was rebuilt at substantial cost, and reopened prior to 1997, when, on Boxing Day, the hotel was extensively damaged by fire." [The hotel and the castle were different buildings].

What has all this to do with Australia's Gosford? Here's the intriguing link. As well as being on friendly terms with Dean Swift, the Achesons were close friends of George Gipps, who later became Governor of New South Wales, and who gave his own name to Victoria's Gippsland.

Our town site of Gosford was first referred to as the Township of Point Frederick. In February 1839, the plan was sent to Governor Gipps for approval as the Township of Brisbane Water. The Governor returned it with the notation "Plan of Gosford" without explanation.

Research revealed that Gipps had served as a royal commissioner to inquire into the state of affairs in Lower Canada, together with Archibald, second Earl of Gosford, who was then Governor in Chief of British North America (Canada), from 1835 to 1837. Shortly after they both returned to England, Gipps was knighted and despatched to Australia, to become Governor of New South Wales.

In 1839, he named Gosford after his old pal Archy. His Excellency had acquired the great Australian tradition of mateship.

Gipps governed New South Wales from 1838 to 1846. A few days before he left the colony to return to England, the Sydney Morning Herald sent him on his way with the comment: "From the matured observation of eight years - Sir George Gipps has been the worst governor New South Wales ever had."

Two places in the United States are named Gosford:

Gosford, California is now part of the city of Bakersfield. Andy Kehe, features editor of the Bakersfield newspaper The Californian, told us: "There is no data available on the population of Gosford because it's a road, not a community or a town. There have been a number of developments along the road in the last 10 years or so as the southwest region of Bakersfield continues to grow. Gosford is a name that dates back to before the turn of the century (1900) but I'm not certain who it was named after or what it once was."

Gosford, Pennsylvania is near the town of Kittanning, 43 miles from Pittburgh. Responding to our email request for details, Kittanning webmaster Carl Bromley obligingly drove to Gosford, and reported: "There are 10-12 houses on one dead-end street, roughly 10-12 cars, 1 boat, and 2 motion-detector activated security lights. I didn't see any signs saying Gosford - it would be interesting to know if their mail carrier has heard of it."

Last year (2002) American film director Robert Altman won nearly 20 awards for his film Gosford Park, a satire on the English class system, set in a stately English manor in the 1930s. Altman received the Golden Globe as the year's best director. For more about the film, click on BLOCKBUSTER.


Story first posted June 2003

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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