1 Mandeville St,
BT62 1HL

Historic Pub Interior

There is so much to see and enjoy in this beautiful, ornate old Victorian pub that it’s very difficult to know where to start.

Better known to the local people as McConville’s, it was originally the Mandeville Arms Hotel, named after the Duke of Mandeville from Tandragee in the barony of O’Neill. The licence goes back to 1856 to the original 39 premises, some yards further up West Street, and you can see a photo of this business on the wall at the end of the bar.

In the 1890s, Rose Ann McConville built the present establishment as a hotel, with 11 bedrooms, and the licence was transferred. Much of the history of the pub was imparted to me, appropriately enough, in one of the ten delightful little wooden snugs, by Paddy Conville, whose father John worked most of his life in the business.

These snugs are totally unchanged since they were installed 100 years ago, with their individual doors, small tables and push-button bells for service. Like all the woodwork in the bar, they are of solid mahogany and have those lovely little coloured glass windows which characterise the Victorian style.
A glance will tell you why this is a listed building: it is Portadown’s answer to Belfast’s world-renowned Crown Liquor Saloon.

When it was being built, the same batch of timber that went into the Titanic was used, but happily, the Mandeville Arms has enjoyed a kinder fate than the famous liner. Robinson and Cleaver provided all the window blinds, with delicate lace edging, and at the time these were the talk of the town for their expensive elegance and grandeur.

Another remarkable feature of the pub is that the original central heating pipes, as good as the day they were put in, are still running through the snugs. The First Presbyterian Church and McConville’s Hotel were the first premises in Portadown to have central heating installed, a job done by the old Musgrave Company of Belfast.

With the cattle market just across the street, these same snugs have been host to many private deals and financial transactions. It was also on these tiles that all those dead feet clattered down the years because the floor, like everything else, has steadfastly resisted change.

You can see the cracks just inside the doors, where the old barrels of stout would have 40 been roughly deposited on the patterned tiles. Speaking of tiles, the beautiful handpainted ones that run the entire length of the counter face, top and bottom, are as perfect now as when they were just done, and the same is true of the lovely moulded ceiling that draws admiration from all who see it.

You will get some idea of the pride and care shown by the owners in this little story about the ceiling.
The time had come for the ceiling to be repainted, but none of the colour cards matched exactly the “tobacco- cream” already there, so ICI was called down and with infinite patience mixed a colour to simulate precisely the existing one.

Such is the concern of owners and customers alike that nothing should be done to alter the appearance or character of the pub. An interesting point arises from the picture in one of the snugs of the old distillery in Comber, home of the famous Old Comber Whiskey.

Apparently, at one time in the pub’s illustrious past, this whiskey, now rare and valued by connoisseurs, was the largest-selling whiskey in the house, and sold in generous measures. In fact, you can still see the fine original pewter measures, including the celebrated naggin, on the bar counter, as a tribute to the days when whiskey was the staple drink.

In 1908, for example, a cup of hot Bovril cost one old penny more than a half glass of whiskey – there’s maybe some truth, after all, in the phrase “the good old days”! Also on the bar counter is a very rare and interesting It’s a little figure with a story to tell.

brass figure of a portly gentleman with a cigar in his mouth, rather in the style of Winston Churchill. He’s actually a gas flame lighter for pipes, cigars, and cigarettes, and was very much in use during the Great War when matches were in short supply. Little twists of paper were supplied and these were lit from the brass man’s cigar to light customers’ tobacco.

The figure is called the Titchburn claimant and was produced by the enterprising Victorians, who saw a chance to cash in on the famous Titchburn case that had so excited the public’s interest. Sir Arthur Titchburn’s fourteen-year-old son went missing, presumed drowned, at sea and shortly afterward his father died.

Years later, an Australian turned up claiming to be the lost heir to the two million pound fortune, and convinced the old Lady Titchburn that he was her missing son. A three-year court battle ensued, at the end of which, in the mid-1870s, the claimant was proved to be an impostor, and was given a fourteen-year jail sentence for his trouble.

These little brass images sold well at the height of the case, but now are rare and prized. On show too, are the original gas lamps that once flickered through the tobacco haze, but these are no longer in operation.

The McConville family, in earlier days, bottled their own stout and spirits. The house was famous, especially for rum, and McConville’s Navy Rum was one of the leading drinks.

Behind the counter, sunk into the wall, are the four original steel-ringed barrels, with bungs and taps, that served the Spirits, and one of these was always filled with its popular rum. Then along the top of the magnificent mahogany stillion is a row of bottles of crusted port from the year 1900, bottles which are opened only very rarely on the most special occasions.

The large model ship, brown with age, the beautiful old clock willed to the pub by an appreciative customer, the hanging lamps – it’s not possible to make mention of all this great pub’s attractions.
Just go down to the fine hand-tinted photograph of John McConville, the associate founder of the business, and tell him that the present owners, coming into the 5th generation of the family, are carrying on the running of the Mandeville Arms, the best pub of its kind for many miles.