This morning’s official opening of The Bishop’s Gate Hotel, in the heart of the historic Walled City of Derry, marks a major milestone for the regeneration of the city centre and, no doubt, will be a significant boost to the tourism industry in the north-west in general.
The luxury 31 bedroom boutique hotel is the latest project of the Inner City Buildings Preservation Trust, a subsidiary of the Inner City Trust which is dedicated to preserving the unique built heritage of the 17th century Walled City.
The multi-million pound hotel development involved the complete restoration and refurbishment of the iconic Northern Counties Building in Bishop Street Within and adjacent properties in London Street.
Once a well known city centre landmark, the Northern Counties was formerly a private members’ club and base for the city’s business and civic leaders. When the club closed in 2004, the building lay vacant and, by the time the Trust purchased it in 2012, the Grade B2 listed building had already fallen into a state of serious disrepair.
Working in close partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Department for Social Development and the Department of the Environment’s Northern Ireland Environment’s Agency, the Trust secured the necessary funding to embark on an ambitious and imaginative project to rescue the historic building, restore its former opulent splendour and bring it back into use.
“The Trust aims to bring historically important buildings back into meaningful and economic use. The Bishop’s Gate Hotel is the perfect example of how we can work together to safeguard our historic buildings while promoting social and economic development,” said Helen Quigley, Chief Executive Officer of the Trust.
She continued: “Our built heritage is a unique attraction for both tourists and investors and increasingly, it is a source of civic pride for people of all ages. “Breathing new life into such an important historic city centre building will enhance the city as a whole while businesses in the immediate vicinity will benefit from having a luxury hotel on their doorstep.
In excess of 60 people will be directly employed by the hotel while another
133, including sub-contractors and six traineeships, were employed during the construction and fitting out phases of the project. In keeping with the Trust’s ethos of supporting the local economy, indigenous manufacturers and suppliers were used creating a significant multiplier effect.
The Chief Executive Officer continued: “I am confident the Bishop’s Gate Hotel will be an important catalyst for the further renaissance of the inner city and in particular, it will have a very positive impact on the evening economy.”
John Meehan, Chairperson of the Inner City Trust said the completion of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel was the realisation of the Trust’s five year investment plan for the inner city. He thanked the funding bodies for their continued support and faith in the Trust’s flagship project which he said was a major vote of confidence in their ongoing work to preserve the city’s unique built heritage.
Paul Mullan, Head of HLF Northern Ireland, said: “Heritage Enterprise was launched in 2013 to support economic growth by removing financial barriers that meant so many historic buildings were simply too expensive to be brought back into use. Thanks to National Lottery Players, £80m has been awarded so far, and is helping to transform communities right across the UK through job creation, skills development and stimulating additional investment.
“I am delighted to be here to celebrate the official opening of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel, which is the first Heritage Enterprise project to begin commercial operations in the UK. Northern Ireland is again at the fore of maximizing heritage as an aid for wider regeneration and this hotel will undoubtedly be a great asset for the City and its people.”
The Minister for Social Development, Lord Morrow MLA said his Department has had a long and successful working relationship with the Inner City Trust.
“The Bishop’s Gate Hotel is a superb example of how the Trust is restoring and re-invigorating significant historic buildings and finding new and innovative ways of sustaining them through uses more appropriate to 21st century Londonderry.
“I am delighted that my Department was able to support this project through an Urban Development Grant award of £595,000.”
Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan said: “This is a major economic boost for the City, creating over 60 new jobs. It will offer local and international visitors an opportunity to eat, sleep and breathe our rich and varied built heritage by being able to stay in a building with such a unique history. It brings this historic listed building back to life and I am pleased that my Department has been able to contribute £155K towards sympathetically restoring it to its former glory.
The Minister added: “Revitalising an underused area of the city, provides an enhanced offering for tourists to experience the rich culture and history Derry has to offer.
“I have often said that our heritage can be used to realise wider economic potential and this is a perfect example of that. I commend all involved in making this exciting project a reality.”
Local man Ciaran O’Neill, recently elected President of the Northern Ireland Hotels’ Federation, has returned to his roots to take on the role of Hotel Operator. Well known and respected within the hospitality industry, Ciaran previously managed the Da Vinci’s Hotel and The City Hotel in Derry before taking on the role of Regional Vice President for Interstate Hotels with responsibility for Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The refurbishment of the Northern Counties Building was led by Derry architect and conservation specialist, Karl Pedersen of Mullarkey Pedersen Architects. The contractor was Declan Conway of Conway Brothers.
One of their challenges was how to incorporate the unique decorative features of a 19th century gentlemen’s club into a modern hotel environment and they managed this very successfully. From the moment visitors step through the hotel’s beautifully restored brass and mahogany revolving door, they will feel like they are stepping back in time.
Most of the building’s original features, including the sweeping staircase, Inglenook fireplace, the decorative panelling and plaster mouldings have been retained or restored. The interior design and artwork throughout the hotel acknowledge both the building’s strong links with the judiciary, clergy and military and its prime location on one of the most historic streets in Ireland.
This is not the first time the Northern Counties Building, which dates back to the late 18th century, has been reincarnated. At the turn of the 20th century when Derry was enjoying an economic boom, it was extensively remodelled by internationally acclaimed architect Alfred A Foreman, who was best known for his flamboyant and quirky style. It is believed the lavish remodelling in 1902 was the Northern Counties club members’ way of impressing their visitors. WB Yeats, Edward Carson and Winston Churchill were among the luminaries who stayed in the Northern Counties as guests of local members.
Now, more than a century later, the latest remodelling of the Northern Counties Building, this time as the luxury Bishop’s Gate Hotel, thanks to the combined efforts of the Trust and funding bodies, it will once again be an ideal venue for impressing visitors.