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16 October 2014
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Bishop Hervey

For many it's a very familiar landmark on the North Coast - perched on the edge of a cliff near Castlerock, with little between it and the pounding Atlantic Ocean below.


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Article by Brian Willis.

Mussenden Temple

Mussenden Temple was built by Frederick Hervey, Bishop of Derry in honour of Mrs Frideswide Mussenden, the married sister of his cousin Hervey Bruce. The Bishop himself was also married and scandal was rife that an affair was going on. However, it is thought that they had nothing more than a platonic relationship. Sadly, Mrs Mussenden died at the age of 22, before the temple was completed. Bishop Hervey established a library in the temple and beneath the building a room for Catholic priests to say Mass - an example of his liberal attitude towards the Catholic Church.

Frederick Hervey was born in 1730, became Bishop of Derry in 1768 and, on the death of his brother Augustus in 1778, inherited an Earldom. As Earl of Bristol he was the first "Earl Bishop" for seven centuries. He was a great collector of paintings and sculptures, and a keen amateur geologist. He ploughed his diocese income back into the churches under his care so that, by the time of his death, most had been given a spire. He also carried out many other building works such as the 'Bishops Road', which rises from Downhill and crosses Benevenagh Mountain towards Limavady. All this work earned him the nickname the "Edifying Bishop". He built three great houses, including the one at Downhill close to Mussenden Temple.

Downhill House

The house at Downhill was started in 1775 and was a wonderful building in its hey day with "as many windows as there are days in the year". Inside was a huge library, walls painted with frescoes and a large collection of paintings hung in the corridors, including works by Vandyke, Raphael and Tintoretto. In one corridor there was also a great organ. However, there was a disastrous fire in 1851 and the library and many of the statues were destroyed, though most of the paintings were rescued. Downhill was restored between 1870 and 1874 by John Lanyon and was lived in by the Bruce family until 1922. During WWII it was used as billets for RAF men and women. It was sold in 1944, after which it fell into disrepair.

Your Responses

Joan Kalós - Aug '08
My grandmother was a cook in Downhill Castle during Bruce's time. Her name was Ellen ( Nellie) Thorpe from Articlave Village I wonder if any one has a list of the names of staff during that period?

Downhill and Castle rock hold precious childhood memories for me.
Travelling by steam train from Belfast was a great thrill and seeing the awesome beauty of the grounds and ocean will remained forever scetched on my memory. It really is a beautiful part of the world.

Jennifer Anderson - Dec '07
As a child I too played in the secret garden at my uncle John and Willy's every Sunday. Mom and Dad would take us to visit and we would play in the secret garden and the castle grounds. My cousin Jim from Coleraine would also join us. That would be the above Carole Ross's dad. My sisters and brothers had lots of great times growing up there. My two brothers Brian and Johnny still live in Castlerock. I go back there every three years and love to walk around the castle and Mussenden Temple remembering my childhood. JENNIFER ANDERSON (nee Wray) Vancouver, Canada.

Valerie - Apr '07
As a child in the 70's I spent my summers each year in a caravan in Castlerock. It was always an adventure climbing over the headland, or walking through arched bushes to get to Black Glen Pond. In those days there were always ducks to feed if you scrambled down to the water's edge. The Black Glen itself was teaming with wild flowers, as it still is, and always smelt of wild garlic. My Granny and I would bring a wild flower book and spend time identifying the many varieties we came across. There was a style (now a gate) at the top of the Black Glen which had to be dismounted into the sheep-filled grounds around the house. My Granny's cousin James Carmichael used to rent the land and those were his sheep. I remember clambering over huge stones and broken cornicing and pillars within the ruins of Downhill House. I called it The Ogre's Castle as a child. None of the broken fragments remain today however the house and grounds are as stunning and dramatic as ever. It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world and holds many happy memories for me.

Dawn Stafferton - May '06
Can you please tell me where I can find pictures of downhill house before it became derelict.

Carole Ross (nee' Wray) - May '06
In the 70's, as a child I would visit my great uncles who lived in the big house on the grounds of the Downhill estate. They were Big John and Willy Wray. I mostly remember the upstairs baths being filled to overflowing with apples, and the gooseberry bushes and the damson plum tree in the back garden - we could eat as much as we wanted! The Wray family had also lived in the farm neighbouring the house and are buried in the cemetery opposite the Lions Gate. I remember the beautiful gardens with marble statues.

My siblings and I would play in our "secret garden" in a land my family had helped to build and maintain. My father, now 65 years old, was born in Downhill and would relate stories of his childhood on the estate too. It was a place of happy childhood summer visits and will always feel like a piece of home to me.

Carole Ross (nee' Wray) Johannesburg S.A.

Patsy Johnston - December '04
As a child during war years I visited the castle then occupied by WRNS. I remember the lead being removed from the roof and the cornices being removed- they were pink and gold. In 50's I kept my pony on the grounds there - he was able to browse inside the castle itself which was overgrown. As kids we enjoyed climbing the broken-down staircases up to the walls and trying to walk right around the top. We were not into damaging things in those days.

Damien Deehan - November '04
Great article. Very informative. I live on the Bishops Road at Lisnagrib and was wondering if there are records of when exactly it was built. Thanks again.

John Mc Donnell - November '04
Yes, I remember as a teenager in the mid-sixties playing in the castle grounds. Of course that was a more laid back era, and we never caused any harm or damage, it was just great to be wandering around a real castle!


Do you remember Downhill in better days? Have you memories of walking through the grounds or visiting Mussenden Temple?

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