Published 21/05/2006 | 00:11
HAZEL Dolling, who has died aged 83, was the chatelaine of Lissan, the house in Co Tyrone that for the last decade she tried hard to ensure would have a future. Her campaign brought her to prominence in 2003 in the BBC television programme Restoration, in which viewers voted for the building they thought should receive lottery funding. Hazel Dolling proved to be a natural tele
HAZEL Dolling, who has died aged 83, was the chatelaine of Lissan, the house in Co Tyrone that for the last decade she tried hard to ensure would have a future. Her campaign brought her to prominence in 2003 in the BBC television programme Restoration, in which viewers voted for the building they thought should receive lottery funding. Hazel Dolling proved to be a natural television performer. She refused to have a celebrity to speak on her behalf, and she was so persuasive that Lissan came a good second to the Victoria Baths in Manchester.
She was born Hazel Marion Staples on June 13, 1923, the daughter of Sir Robert Staples, 13th Bt. Thomas Staples, the 1st Baronet, had acquired 20 "townlands" in Northern Ireland - including Lissan - in the early 17th century.
Lissan is said to be the oldest plantation house in Northern Ireland to be lived in by the descendants of its original builders, one of whom was Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, a gifted painter whose picture An Ideal Cricket Match now hangs in the museum at Lord's. He had many unusual ideas, one of which was that the ills of modern life were the result of man's foolishness in insulating his body against the earth's magnetism by covering his feet in leather. He never wore shoes, hence his nickname "the barefoot baronet".
Lissan is set at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains amidst a forest of conifers - Hazel Dolling always carried a chainsaw in the boot of her car in case the mile-long avenue was blocked by a fallen tree - and the house has been much altered and eccentrically enlarged by various Staples. A ballroom with Chinese wallpaper was added to one end of the house by a music-mad Staples; there is a remarkable porte-cochere protruding from the front, and a substantial tower built to house the clock that came from the town centre at Magherafelt, Co Derry. It is no wonder that the Staples family started to feel the pinch in the late 19th century.
The artist, who was the 12th baronet, often had to pawn his own pictures, while Hazel's father would rise early in order to meet the postman on the avenue and discreetly borrow a few pounds from him.
Hazel was educated at St Mary and St Anne's School, Staffordshire. During the Second World War she trained as an air radio mechanic and joined the WRNS, becoming a third officer.
After the war she was an assistant purser in the Mauretania on the Southampton-New York route, and later had a travel agency in Liverpool before going to live in London. In 1970 she returned to Lissan; her father died in the same year, and she married his agent (and her cousin) Harry Dolling, some 30 years her elder. They lived with her mother at Lissan. After her husband's death in 1986 Hazel Dolling lived alone at Lissan, on the top floor reached by a magnificent, freestanding staircase that sways like a ship at sea when one ascends it. Every few weeks she would lug a gas canister up the stairs for cooking purposes, since there is no electricity beyond what is generated by a water wheel. Once, when Hazel Dolling wished to open a bank account, she was asked to bring her electricity bill as proof of her identity. "But I have never had an electricity bill," she said.
Before she died, Hazel had made over Lissan and the contents to a trust, which she hoped would be able to raise enough money to restore the house for some public use.