When Merville Garden Village was completed in 1949, Merville House was given to the community centre provision. However over the years Merville House was steadily feeling the affects of age and has undergone a £1.2m renovation and is now an important part of local Newtownabbey community life.
Officially re-opened on 27 April 2006 by the prominent Belfast community activist Baroness Blood, the restoration project was undertaken via Merville House Limited, a company set up in 2001 by the Merville Residents’ Association, one of the oldest residents groups in Northern Ireland, to formally garner funding from North Belfast Local Strategy Partnership, Newtownabbey Local Strategy Partnership, Newtownabbey Borough Council, International Fund for Ireland and Ulster Garden Villages Limited, as well as from other sources.
To reflect the history of the original Merville estate, the principal rooms in the house are named after some of the families that have an affiliation with the estate. These families are:
Sir Arthur Chichester (1739-99), the 5th Earl of Donegall and 1st Marquis of Donegall. Previous inference has suggested that he probably built Merville as a bolthole for contemplation and leisurely pursuits.
Soldier-turned-Resident Magistrate, Lt. Col. John Rowan (1778-1855), High Sheriff of County Antrim in 1814, come to live at Merville in 1823 after he married Dorothea Blair, the widow of the residence’s previous owner, James Blair (1756-1820).
Merville was in the permanent status of Dorothea since 1800 until the estate was sold to the future Sir Edward Coey in October 1849. John Rowan was the eldest brother of Sir Charles Rowan KCB (1783-1852), the joint founding Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police. The Rowans originated from Ballymoney, County Antrim.
Wealthy provision merchant Sir Edward Coey (1805-87) is almost certainly the most illustrious of all owners of the Merville estate in regard to his wealth and standing in Victorian Ulster. Responsible for introducing cured ham to Ireland from the United States in the mid 1830s, Coey went on to be elected the first and only Liberal Party Mayor of Belfast in December 1860. He was also conferred High Sheriff of Belfast and Deputy Lieutenant of County Antrim. He died at Merville in June 1887 aged 82.
The distinguished Frederick Charles Gunning Robinson (1872-1934) worked for many years in the family pork processing business of A.T. Robinson of Shankill Road, west Belfast, before establishing his own provision merchants in 1905 under the trade name Fred C. Robinson Ltd after dropping Gunning from his full name. Operating from their premises at York Street, Belfast the business specialised in ‘Ham and Rolled Bacon.’ Fred C. Robinson died in England in 1934 aged 62.
After his death his eldest descendant, Arthur Robinson (1900-93), took over the running of the family business and managing the Merville estate on behalf of his widow, Isabella. The last surviving member of the Robinson family to have lived at Merville is Fred C. Robinson’s youngest daughter Joan, who resides at Newtownards, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
During the Second World War the house and grounds were used as part of the British ‘war effort’ as Northern Ireland was strategically important to Great Britain, as well as acting as a lookout in support of the Atlantic convoys into Great Britain from the United States of America.