Gate Lodge to Brooke Park, Londonderry
Those inhabitants of Londonderry who are of a certain age - probably over fifty- will remember the imposing Gwyn's Institution in Brooke Park with its classical portico. Who was the individual who gave his name to this building? It is named after a Mr. John Gwyn who was born in Muff, Co. Donegal.
This gentleman died on 1st August 1829 having made his last will on 16th May 1818 with a codicil dated 21st May 1824. He left the bulk of his estate, something over £40,000 (more than £4,000,000 today) for, "as many male children of the poor,or lowest class of society, resident in, and belonging to the city of Londonderry, and the precincts around the same, as hereafter described, as the said funds will feed, clothe and educate - orphans, or such children as have lost one of their parents, always to be preferred." He defined , "the precincts," as being the North West Liberties together with the village of Muff and a circuit of a mile around it, but went on to make provision for including the Waterside area of the City when funds permitted.
The 1824 codicil contained an expression of wish by the Testator to the effect that he would like the funds left by his will to accumulate to the sum of £50,000 before a school was established. As created the trust had a total of twenty one trustees. Due to the number of orphans resulting from the cholera epidemic of 1832 the trustees deemed it expedient to open a school without any further delay. The school therefore opened on 1st April 1833 in rented property in Shipquay Street which had previously been an hotel. By 1835 a total of 81 boys were being cared for.
Gwyn had been born into the Established Church although he subsequently became a Presbyterian. His will did not however limit the benefits of his bequest to any denomination. Of the 81 pupils in 1835, 10 were Church of Ireland, 28 were Presbyterian and 43 were Roman Catholic. He did however provide that the teachers should be, "Protestants or Protestant Dissenters."
So that a more permanent home could be achieved for the school a ten acre site was purchased by the Trustees for the sum of £200, but the construction of a building was postponed in the hope that the Bishop's Palace could be acquired. This did not come to fruition and accordingly Gwyn's Institution was constructed on the aforesaid site which we now know as Brooke Park. The aim was to cater for upwards of 200 boys.
Ultimately, in 1891, in accordance with a Scheme determined by the Educational Endowments Commission, the Trustees adopted a boarding out system and the building and grounds were sold to the Trustees of the Brooke Estate who subsequently handed them over to the Londonderry Corporation.
Gwyn's testamentary benevolence still benefits the City. The Young Charity, ( which benefited girls) was incorporated into the Gwyn's scheme and the The Gwyn and Young Endowments was thus created. Unfortunately the capital sum left by Gwyn does not appear to have kept pace with inflation. The, "deemed charity," list indicates assets between £100,000 and £500,000.