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.
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.
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
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?