Every time a notable building in Derry is demolished, a “tiny unique thread is rent from the city’s fabric - forever lost.”
This is the view of the man who has just written what has been described as the ultimate guide to the city’s historic built heritage.
Daniel Calley’s ‘City of Derry: An Historical Gazetteer to the Buildings of Londonderry’ covers the centre of the city in detail - street by street and, quite often, building by building - describing not only what is there now but, also, tantalisingly, what has gone.
Calley says this “precious legacy is a fragile one.”
In his foreword to the new book - published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) - Calley recalls that, from the late 1960s, the city suffered decades of violent strife which resulted in the destruction of many notable buildings.
“But this was small beer in comparison to the activities of post-World War II town planners, ‘urban renewal’ gurus, and traffic planners. Countless buildings were needlessly razed and dozens of communities obliterated.
“To cite only two of the most egregious examples: the streets just outside of the Bishop’s Gate and the adjacent Lecky Road flyover. Those who blew up the Walker Testimonial [on the City Walls overlooking the Bogside] and those who pulled down Nailor’s Row both caused destruction of irreplaceable cultural assets.”
Respected local architect Joe Tracey, who penned the preface for the new book, says that, because of its “predominantly physical features and its dominating walled city core”, the area retains an “overall reassuring timelessness that refuses to be submerged in advancing modernity.”
Mr. Tracey takes the opportunity to hit out at the proliferation of what he describes as “tall, intrusive electricity generating windmills” which, he says, are “spreading like rashes on precious landscapes.”
He adds: “In the 1970s, much concern was expressed with regard to electricity, power lines and other overhead cables blighting the countryside. These now pale into insignificance beside the windmill invasion.
“The landscape of the Derry City Council area has been ravished by the erection of a multiplicity of rotating blades on the ridgeline from Creevedonnell to Slieve Kirk to the slopes of Kilodge. The Department camouflages the intrusion with the smokescreen of economics and pollution. Visual pollution can be equally repellent.”
The historical gazetteer itself - which is wonderfully illustrated with images of some of the architectural gems featured on these two pages - covers the city from Abbey Street to York Street and Abercorn Road to William Street.
All in all, it’s a fascinating and enlightening tour of both the social history and architecture of Derry.
‘City of Derry: An Historical Gazetteer to the Buildings of Londonderry’, by Daniel Calley, is available from local booksellers.