Downhill Demesne & Hezlett House (NT)

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Garden Category: Northern Ireland Gardens

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  • Dramatic setting on a wild coastal headland. A landscaped estate, laid out in the late 18th century. Includes family memorials, garden, fish pond, woodland and cliff walks, as well as panoramic views of Ireland’s north coast.

    The Rt Rev. Dr Frederick Hervey (as he was at the time), Church of Ireland Lord Bishop of Derry, commissioned work at Downhill Demesne near the village of Castlerock in the early 1770s, after he was made the Bishop of Derry in 1768. Downhill House, overlooking Downhill Strand and Benone on the north coast of Ireland, was built by the architect Michael Shanahan, although it has been suggested that James Wyatt or Charles Cameron may also have been involved in the early stages of design.[2][3] The construction of the House, and the nearby Mussenden Temple, cost an estimated £80,000.[4] The original principal entrance to the demesne was the Lion’s Gate, which was actually guarded by two heraldic ounces or snow leopards, the supporters of the Hervey coat of arms. In 1784, this entrance was replaced by the Bishop’s Gate.[5] The interior of the house was decorated with frescoes and statues and hung with works by several well-known artists.

    After the death in 1803 of Lord Bristol (he had succeeded to the Earldom in December 1779), the estate passed to his cousin, The Rev. Henry Bruce, who had acted as steward of the Estate during the Earl-Bishop’s absences.[3] Bruce’s sister was Frideswide Mussenden, for whom Mussenden Temple was built, and which became a memorial after her death.

    Downhill was recorded to have escaped serious damage during the Night of the Big Wind in 1839, but in 1851 a fire damaged a significant part of the house and destroyed the library. Bishop Lord Bristol had amassed a large collection of art, which was kept at Downhill and another residence he built at Ballyscullion.[6] The fire destroyed works by artists including Correggio, Dürer, Murillo, Rubens and Tintoretto,[4] although it was reported that most of the paintings had been saved.[3]

    The restoration of the house began in 1870 and continued until 1874 under John Lanyon, the son of architect Charles Lanyon, who maintained many of the original features, although some of the original layout was altered and additions made to the floorplan and decor.

    During World War Two, the house was used to billet RAF servicemen and -women. The Bruce family continued to own the house until 1946; by 1950, it had been dismantled and the surrounding land sold.[3] The house was acquired by The National Trust in 1980; the temple had become a Trust property in the 1940s. Read more ….

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