Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Historical Background

The excavation in the car park off Bishop Street aims to uncover evidence of Derry~Londonderry’s development as far back as the medieval period or beyond. It is an ambitious undertaking as only one other archaeological dig in the City has discovered remains which can be definitively dated to the pre-plantation period.

Historical background
The Bishop Street Within car park is one of the most important heritage sites in the City. It was once occupied by a medieval Augustinian monastery inhabited by monks who had adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine sometime during the thirteenth century. Several centuries before, the site of the present car park may also have been where St Colm Cille founded the earliest known church at Doire. However, local tradition also holds that the site of that first church is located outside the City walls where the Long Tower Church stands today.

Long Tower Church

Early maps of Derry suggest that the current St Augustine’s church, a nineteenth-century building off Grand Parade, is built on the site of the church of the medieval Augustinian monastery (and where the CAF undertook a small excavation in 2012 - a copy of the report on that excavation is available to download from the CAF website).

Sapphire, Brian and Grace excavating at St Augustine's church in 2012

The maps also show that the monastic complex would have extended well beyond the confined boundaries of the small St Augustine’s church and graveyard that we see today. Some early monastic buildings survived into the seventeenth century and were used by the Elizabethan soldiers under Sir Henry Docwra when he established his fort here in 1600. Later, some of the monastic ruins were renovated by English settlers during the plantation period and the church used as a place of worship until a new church, St Columb’s cathedral, was completed in 1633.

1625 map of the ‘city and island of Londonderry’ by Thomas Raven held in TCD showing the Bishop’s House set back from Bishop’s Street.

The fate of the monastic buildings is not fully known. Early seventeenth-century maps (1618-25) show that a Bishop’s Palace, and accompanying gardens, was located towards the centre of the plot now occupied by the car park. This would have been partly built from upstanding remains of the Augustinian complex but seems to have been swept away by the later seventeenth century when the site was remodelled.

Further development of the site took place in the mid-eighteenth century during the episcopate of William Barnard, who rebuilt both the Bishop’s Palace and St Augustine’s Church. The Palace was again re-imagined and remodelled not long after by the Earl Bishop Hervey during his tenure (1768-1803). 

In response to the United Irishmen Rebellion, between 1798 and 1803 the Palace was used as an army barracks and the gardens as a parade ground ‘opening onto the walls’. The building was returned to the church in 1803 and remained as the Bishop’s Palace until 1945 when it was bought by the Freemasons and used as a Masonic Lodge with the grounds more recently converted into a car park.
Masonic Hall, and former Bishop's Palace on Bishop Street

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