Big plans to transform Derry’s Cathedral Quarter

A view towards the Cecil Frances Alexander Music Rooms. [28-02-12 SML 3]
A view towards the Cecil Frances Alexander Music Rooms. [28-02-12 SML 3]

Exciting new plans for the transformation of Derry’s Cathedral Quarter have just been revealed.

The proposals focus on the ‘Cathedral Precinct’ - the historic district of the Walled City located around St Columb’s Cathedral.

The Dean of St Columb's Cathedral, Reverend Dr. William Morton and Mark Lusby from the Holywell Trust who outlined plans for the proposed redevelopment of the cellars at the Deanery and also the music rooms at the cathedral to Environment Minister Alex Attwood MLA. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 24.2.12

The Dean of St Columb's Cathedral, Reverend Dr. William Morton and Mark Lusby from the Holywell Trust who outlined plans for the proposed redevelopment of the cellars at the Deanery and also the music rooms at the cathedral to Environment Minister Alex Attwood MLA. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 24.2.12

Cathedral Dean, Dr.William Morton, and his Select Vestry say they are extremely keen to diversify the tourist potential of this ancient part of the Walled City.

Dean Morton is convinced the Cathedral Quarter visitor experience can be enhanced by developing other properties in the area such as the Deanery, its stable yard and stables, the Cecil Frances Alexander Music Rooms, No 1 St Columb’s Court and the former Cathedral Schools.

The plans were handed over to DoE Minister Alex Attwood on Friday afternoon.

Dean Morton believes the full regeneration of the Cathedral Precinct - which will require funding investment of just over £1 million - can have a “catalytic effect” and not only promote the regeneration of the area but also radically improve the experience for both visitors and local residents.

A view of the interpretative centre entrance. [28-02-12 SML 2]

A view of the interpretative centre entrance. [28-02-12 SML 2]

Dean Morton says the historic buildings, which open directly onto the City Walls, lend themselves to housing major exhibitions such as ‘The Story of the City Walls’.

The Deanery Basement, meanwhile, could provide a unique opportunity to experience what life was like “beneath stairs” in Georgian Derry.

The capital works, says Dean Morton, could be taken forward in a phased approach in distinct elements, as and when funding is available, with the Deanery and No 1 St Columb’s Court being the priority for 2013 - Derry’s City of Culture year.

It’s understood the National Trust has expressed an interest in establishing a long-term exhibition on the “Earl Bishop” - Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, who was Bishop of Derry from 1768 to 1803 - in this building using possibly more than one of the three storeys.

Dean Morton says: “We would greatly welcome this development if a cocktail of funding could be sourced. To understand the cultural life of the city, it would be necessary for native and tourist alike to appreciate the enormous contribution of someone like Bishop Hervey to architecture, art and history.”

The colourful Hervey breathed new life into the city after his appointment as Protestant Bishop of Derry in 1768. He became renowned for his great building ventures and for his travels throughout Europe. The Earl Bishop toured for almost fifty years.

In between times, Hervey improved and developed his diocese. He treated his curates well and reached out the hand of friendship to all religious traditions - most notably he donated a large sum of money for the building of Derry’s first Catholic church, the Long Tower.

While visitors gain an experience of the ‘Upstairs’/higher echelons of society from the Earl Bishop exhibition, if the Deanery basement were to be restored in period style it would, says Dean Morton, provide a complementary ‘Downstairs’ experience in terms of servants’ quarters with an almost complete gambut of features which would have been part of early 19th century life: kitchen, ovens, pantry, scullery, system of bells connecting with ‘Upstairs’, wine cellar, bedroom accommodation, etc.,

The ‘Precinct’ plans also include another two-storey building, linking the Deanery Courtyard and the Cathedral grounds, which, if restored, will accommodate an exhibition on Cecil Frances Alexander and her hymns which are now part of “hymnody” the world over.

Her life and writings, says Dean Morton, should most definitely be part of the cultural experience for visitors in 2013.

CF Alexander, who was married to Anglican clergyman William Alexander, afterwards Bishop of Derry, penned such famous hymns as “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “There is a Green Hill Far Away” and the Christmas carol “Once in Royal David’s City”.