Abandoned ireland


Downhill Demesne,

Co. Londonderry.

Documenting our Heritage

Downhill House was built in the early 1770s for Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol after he was made Bishop of Derry in 1768. The house was built at a cost of £80000 by the architect Michael Shanahan, although it is also suggested that James Wyatt or Charles Cameron may also have been involved in the design.

The original entrance to the estate was via the Lion's Gate. Lion’s Gate is guarded by two snow leopards, the supporters of the Hervey coat of arms. In 1784 this entrance was replaced by the Bishop's Gate.

The location chosen for the house can be described as a very bleak headland.

In 1801 one visitor wrote:

"It is impossible not to regret the misapplication of so much treasure upon a spot where no suitable Demesne can be created...where the salt spray begins to corrode this sumptuous pile of Grecian Architecture, and the imagination anticipating the distant period weeps over the splendid Ruin, a sad monument of human folly."

And in 1812: "Never seen so bad a house occupy as much ground."

After Hervey's death in 1803, the estate passed to his cousin, the Rev. Henry Bruce.

Bruce's sister was Frideswide Mussenden, for whom Mussenden Temple was built, and which became a memorial after her death.

In 1851 part of the house was destroyed by fire. Frederick Hervey was a collector of fine art and works by Correggio, Murillo, Rubens and Tintoretto were kept in the house, it was reported that most of the paintings were saved.

Following the fire, the house was restored from 1870 to 1874 under the architect John Lanyon.

During World War Two the house was used to house RAF servicemen. The Bruce family however retained ownership until 1946. By 1950 much of the house had been dismantled and the surrounding lands sold off.

The house was acquired by the National Trust in 1980.