Sunday, 18 December 2016

St Columb's Park - Notes on an Urban Park.

St. Columb's Park is situate off the Limavady Road in Londonderry and is named after the mansion house which still remains at its centre. Whilst the house and demesne ultimately became known as St. Columb's it was originally called Chatham. The first owners were a family by the name of Rea. On 30th April 1831 Elizabeth Sophia Rea the eldest daughter of John Rea espoused George Hill of Brook Hall and her marriage settlement would ultimately result in the demesne being settled upon the first son of the said George Hill, (afterwards Sir George Hill), by the said Elizabeth Sophia Rea with the usual remainders over. For more than one hundred years the lands would remain in the ownership of the Hill family. Sir George Hill 3rd Bt died in 1845. His widow was not to die until 23rd January 1900. The baronetcy now rests with the 10th Baronet.
By the 1930's the Mansion House was lying vacant and was in a state of some decrepitude The timber panelling in the front reception room had rotted and the wallpaper in this and other rooms was hanging loose on the walls. A large basin had been placed on the landing to collect water falling from the ceiling. The lime plaster had fallen off the walls at the rear of the house and the gardens and orchard were overgrown. Rather surprisingly despite being a substantial property it did not have electric light. The sewage outfall was to an open cesspool in an adjoining field. Internally the accommodation comprised a porch, hall, four reception rooms, a library, kitchen, scullery, larder, servant's room, cloak room, wc and small store on the ground floor. On the first floor there were seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, one bathroom and one wc. The house also had a cellar.
On the 26th October 1937 a deputation of citizens from the Waterside ward of the City came before the Corporation expressing the need for a park for that ward. A resolution was passed referring the matter to the Parks Committee for consideration and report. The then City Surveyor made a preliminary report recommending St Columb's as a suitable site for the proposed park. Negotiations with the agents for the Hill family proved unsuccessful and on 20th January 1938 a resolution was passed by the Corporation to the affect that steps should be taken to apply to the Ministry of Home Affairs for an order vesting the lands in the Corporation. The vesting order became operative on the 28th March 1939. In addition to, "St Columb's," it also caused a small area of land at the top of Browning Drive and which was owned by the Watt family to come into the ownership of the Corporation. 
Shortly before the date of the vesting order and with war looming the War Department approached the Corporation with a view to acquiring some seven acres three roods and eighteen perches of the demesne for the construction of a hospital. It was agreed that the Corporation would be paid for these lands at the rate that the Corporation would be acquiring the lands pursuant to the vesting order. The required lands were ultimately conveyed to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the War Department on 19th August 1940. This site would pass to the Northern Ireland Tuberculosis Authority in 1952. A portion of the hospital lands came back into the Corporation's ownership in 1967. The balance was also eventually reacquired by the City Council. Unity was once more achieved.

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