History of Downhill House
Today, Downhill House is standing in ruins, however in its time it was a magnificent building once home to the Earl Bishop.
The house was built in around 1780 by the Earl Bishop on the designs of his architect Michael Shanahan. It had a three-storey, south-facing front which you can still see today, with two long wings to the back, which stretched towards the sea and ended in two immense curving bastions of basalt.
Why was Downhill House built?
The Earl Bishop built his home here because the land formed part of his Diocese as the Bishop of Derry. So he decided that this remote spot was the ideal place for him to have his family home.
Who lived at Downhill House?
Downhill House was home to Frederick Hervey (1730–1803) – known as the Earl Bishop from his twin titles of Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry – and his family. At 22 years old he married Elizabeth Davers and they had five children.
Frederick was widely travelled and well read. He was also an expert in flora and fauna and had a fine appreciation of art, especially Greek and Italian.
However he was also regarded as an eccentric character. It is said that he made his clergy run a leapfrog race on Downhill beach to see who would win the best area. He was also reputed to have had many affairs and before he died while travelling in Italy in 1803, he had asked that his body be shipped back to England in a casket of sherry.
The destruction of Downhill House
Once a grand Italian-inspired home, Downhill House was devastated by a fire in May 1851. The house was almost entirely gutted by the fire – the library was completely destroyed and more than 20 pieces of sculpture were ruined. Most of the paintings were rescued, but a Raphael, The Boar Hunt, was reportedly destroyed.
After the fire
Despite the fire, the house remained in the family until at least 1948, though they rarely lived there after 1920. During the Second World War the house was requisitioned by the RAF. Downhill was then dismantled after the war and its roof was removed in 1950.