A Bishop whose influence extended way beyond the pulpit

On August 1, 1730 Frederick Augustus Hervey was born the second son to John Hervey, the Second Baron Hervey (1696-1743) and Mary Lepel (1697-1769) and lived a privileged life in England.

The Casino in the 1880s.

Educated at Westminster School and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, the flamboyant young Hervey graduated in 1754 with an MA, but it was a circuitous route he followed to get there, according to available records. In 1748 Frederick began studying law at Lincoln’s Inn, but after three years he threw in the towel and left Cambridge without taking his degree.

He married Elizabeth Davers in 1752. She was an attractive daughter from landed gentry living in a neighbouring and rival estate to his family’s ancestral estate at Ickworth in Suffolk.

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After two years of marriage Frederick decided to switch from law to theology, setting himself on a course which would eventually result in his arrival in Co Londonderry as the Bishop here in 1768.

The Casino in the 1880s.

Noted as a particularly clever and cultured man, by Hervey 1763 he had been appointed as Chaplain to King George III, and took time to furhter his children’s education in Italy before being consecrated Bishop of Cloyne, Co Cork, in 1767. He was appointed to the seat by his brother, the Third Earl. It was the following year that Hervey came to Londonderry as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe and began changing the cityscape here and extending his hand architecturally across the county, particularly and at Downhill.

1: St Columb’s Cathedral spire

Hervey is said to have governed the Diocese wisely and conscientiously.

Those not associated with the congregation and history of St Columb’s Cathedral will be interested to learn that it was none other than Frederick who was responsible for the first Cathedral spire that dominated the Londonderry skyline. According to records, however, the spire had to be dismantled a few years later, as it was too heavy, but it was rebuilt.

An artist's impression of Downhill, much as it would have appeared in the time of the Earl Bishop. Note Mussenden Temple to the left.

Indeed, Cathedral records declare: “St Columb’s is the first Cathedral in the British Isles to have been built after the Reformation and is a fine example of ‘Planter’s Gothic’. There was practically no change in the appearance of the building from 1633 to 1776 when the Bishop of Derry (the 4th Earl of Bristol) added 21 feet to the tower, and placed above this a very tall and graceful stone spire, making a total height of 221 feet, but about 20 years afterwards, his addition to the tower showed signs of giving way and the whole was taken down and rebuilt, the tower being completed in 1802 and the spire being added about 20 years later.”

2: Bridge over the River Foyle

Bishop Hervey is credited with building many of the city’s fine buildings, but he also built a bridge across the Foyle. It was because of his industrious building work that he, apparently, earned the nickname ‘the Edifying Bishop’.

A number of the pictures associated with this feature, kindly supplied by St Columb’s Cathedral Churchwarden, Ian Bartlett, shows the bridge, and one image shows the construction in detail.

The Hervey Bridge was made of wooden structure and was the first bridge to span the River Foyle. It opened in 1790 and was eventually demolished in 1865 after Carlisle Bridge was built alongside it in 1863.

The bridge was credited with playing a major role in the economic development of Londonderry and was constructed entirely from money raised by the Earl Bishop by the US bridge builder Lemuel Cox. It connected Bridge Street to Walkers Place in the Waterside and cost in the region of £16,000 compared to the £15 million the Peace Bridge took to build three years ago.

3: Long Tower Church

Hervey was certainly considered ahead, not least because of his stance in favour of Roman Catholic emancipation. However, he was known to get on well with all denominations, and pitied the Presbyterians, who suffered religious discrimination, and it is recorded fact that Hervey had a hand in the building of a number of Roman Catholic churches in the district, including Long Tower church.

Indeed, such as the esteem in which the Earl Bishop was held that at his family home in Ickworth an obelisk was inscribed with a tribute which reads: “Sacred to the memory of Frederick, Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry, who during 35 years that he presided over that See, eandeared himself to all denominations of Christians resident in his extensive diocese. He was a friend and protector of them all.”

Long Tower took its name from the medieval round tower near the building, that survived until the middle of the 17th Century. Building work at Long Tower got underway in the mid-1780s, led by Fr Lynch, supported by Hervey, who made a donation of £200 and who donated four Corinthian columns, which still stand at the altar today. It is believed these columns came from Naples and had originally been intended for a house Hervey was having built at Ballyscullion, but he chose instead to give them to Long Tower.

4: The Casino

Several of the pictures enhancing this article show the Earl Bishop’s summer house, or casino, which he had constructed in the deer park just outside the City Walls. Surrounded by a quarried stone wall, cut and transported from Dungiven, it is said the wall also contained pumice stone from the volcanic mountain of Vesuvius which Hervey brought home with him after one of his overseas travels.

A highly affluent man, Hervey had his own carriage and in good weather the Herveys would make the short distance from the Bishop’s Palace on Bishop’s Street Within by carriage to the Casino for picnics.

Sold in the late 19th Century, the handsome building passed into the hands of the Catholic Church, who established St Columb’s College in 1879 to prepare students for Maynooth and it was ultimately demolished to make way for the College’s Chapel during World War II.

5: The Bishop’s Palace

One of the most impressive buildings on Bishop Street Within is the Bishop’s Palace, which was built by Hervey’s predecessor, Dr Bernard in 1761.

It was the official residence of the Earl Bishop and was erected on the site of the Augustinian convent. Interesting features of the basement include servants’ quarters, a wine cellar and a smoke room. A number of records exist regarding refurbishment work including the palace being cleaned in 1787 in readiness for painters to begin work, and repair work to window sashes, coach-house doors, the brass for window curtains and for a lock for Mrs Bradley’s door. She was the housekeeper at both the palace and Downhill.

The Hervey family lived here until 1790. It was on the steps of the Palace that he reportedly made his last appearance to the people of Londonderry.

The Palace was the official residence of the Bishops of Derry until 1946. The Bishops of Derry and Raphoe now reside at See House on Culmore Road.

6: Foundation stone at Bishop’s Gate

In 1789 celebrations were held in Londonderry to commemorate the Siege of Derry. A procession led by Hervey and the Catholic Bishop and associated clergy and church officials made it’s way to the Cathedral and then to the Bishop’s Gate, where a foundation stone for a new arch was laid by the then mayor of the city.

7: Tamlaghtfinlagan Parish Church, Ballykelly

If someone was to devise an ‘Earl Bishop Tour’ it would not be complete without a visit to a charming church in Ballykelly: Tamlaghtfinlagan.

The church as it stands now was built in 1795 by Bishop Hervey. Frederick never saw the completion of this church as he had left the country for good in 1791, before building work was finished. The chancel, vestry and gallery were added in 1851, and the north aisle was built in 1859 by Joseph Welland.

The church sits on the edge of the village. Its name means ‘the Plague Monument of Findluganus’ - Findluganus (or Finlagan) is the Patron Saint of the parish. He was a contemporary and friend of Saint Columba, who was said to have founded an abbey in the district in or about 585.

8: Tamlaghtard Old Church

The old Church of Tamlaghtard was built with assistance from the Earl Bishop and it bears the hallmarks of his architect, Michael Shanahan. St Cadan’s formed part of Frederick’s building programme and bears striking architectural similarities to many churches all over the Diocese. If by chance you are heading up to Benone Strand to enjoy the good weather of late, and see the sign pointing to St Aidan’s Church and Holy Well, it’s worth the detour.

Tradition has it that St Aidan is linked to the original church at Tamlaghtard. In 635 Aidan, an Irishman educated in Iona, went to Lindisfarne or Holy Island, Northumbria at the request of King Oswald to establish a Christian community in the Celtic tradition. Aidan died in 651 and was buried on Holy Island. However, the water from the ‘holy well’ at Tamlaghtard is said to cure ills when it is applied to the afflicted area.

9: Bishop’s Road

If you do venture down to Benone Strand then also try and squeeze in a drive along the Bishop’s Road.

Lore of the land has it that Frederick built the spectacular Bishop’s Road which stretches from Downhill across the top of Benevanagh to Limavady, and he built it so that he could enjoy the dramatic views on his journeys to and from the Bishop’s Palace. In truth, the road was little more than a mountain track for turf cutting and sheep tending and did not, in fact, continue out to Limavady. However, what is historic fact, is that Bishop Hervey contributed financially to the road’s improvement (as he appears to have done with countless roadworks in the county) and he also made full use of it to exercise his horse.

10: Mussenden Temple and Downhill

Perched on top of a cliff, atop of a tunnel, through which the train hurtles between Londonderry and Coleraine, Mussenden Temple was a curiosity for me as a child.

As a youngster visiting the beach I was told wild and macabre tales about Mussenden and how it was a burial site, but that was more than likely one of my elderly relatives’ tales to ensure good behaviour on days out when I was small and impressionable.

Mussenden Temple, in fact, was anything but a burial site: Built between 1783 and 1785 it was named after the Earl Bishop’s cousin, Frideswide Mussenden, who died at the age of 22, in 1785. She died before the temple was finished. Architect was Michael Shanahan based Mussenden on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. Constructed of basalt from the area, it was finished in Ballycastle sandstone.

The basic structure was carved by James McBlain, whose son, David, undertook the decorative work. Above the entrance to the temple is the Earl Bishop’s coat of arms and a frieze bears a quotation from Lucretius: “Tis pleasant safely to behold from shore the rolling ship and hear the tempest roar”.

Intended as a library originally, bookcases once lined the inside, and the magnanimous Bishop also allowed the structure to be used by members of the Roman Catholic faith for Mass.

It is apparent that the Bishop had a ‘thing’ for circular buildings, which is apparent if you visit Downhill Demesne - the domes of the original house and the vast circular facades, dovecote and belvedere, are still partially visible.

Now a ruin, the once splendorous building has really deteriorated since it was abandoned after World War II.

Work began on the house in 1775 and was eventually completed in 1791. The Bishop’s architect, Michael Shanahanwas chiefly responsible for the build/design. The house originally took the form of a villa, but the building grew in conjunction with the Earl Bishop’s ever increasing art collection, which needed suitable display space. Many of the rooms had elaborate ceilings, while the walls were decorated with exquisite plasterwork and grand marble fireplaces completed the living rooms. All were destroyed in a fire in 1851, but the slideshow attached recreates the look of how this once magnificent home once appeared.