Derry’s architecture:1800 to the Twentieth Century

A period of great change in the city

The early 1800s saw major changes in the citys architectural pattern. The density of buildings within the walls increased. Every street was fully built up and the back gardens between blocks disappeared under new wings and extensions. Pressure for sites meant that the orchard below the east wall was finally built over as Orchard Lane and Orchard Street.
This period also saw a spate of public works. Between 1805 and 1808 Shipquay Gate and Butchers Gate were both rebuilt. A new free school (Foyle College), a new Greek Revival court house, extensions to the jail outside the walls, and a new cathedral spire were constructed at this time. In 1826 the Exchange in the town square (now the Diamond) had its open arches built up to accommodate a Public Reading Room. A huge Doric column, Walker’s pillar, was erected in celebration of General Walkers’s part in the Siege of Derry, in 1828.
This spate of building activity at the end of the Georgian era set the pattern for Victorian development. Housing for the merchant and professional classes developed to the north along Strand Road by the bank of the river, with a criss-cross of regular streets running uphill to the infirmary: Great James Street, Princes Street, Queen Street, Clarendon Street. Asylum Road and Crawford Square, completed in the 1870s by one Samuel L Crawford, marked the end of this expansion.
Large Victorian houses in their own grounds – Aberfoyle, Dill House and others extended the suburbs of the town further north, where the Gothic style Magee College went up in 1856. Other smaller residential schemes of streets and individual houses had been begun by the early 1830s across the bridge at Waterside.
The polarization of more wealthy citizens N and SE left the Bogside, Bishop Street Without and the south slopes of the town hill to industrial development and to houses for the workers. A huddled confusion of small stepped roofs and chimneys sprang up below the southern walls and on either side of the Bishop Street line. Shirt factories, rope works, and a brewery were grouped round William Street, with flour mills and warehouses in Prince Arthur Street. Gas works, replacing an early building in Foyle Street of 1829, went up in Bogside in 1866. Most of the housing was drab, but in places, such as St Columb’s Walk, Fountain Street and Albert Street the development achieved a picturesque miniature scale.
The most significant addition to Derry’s street pattern in Victorian times was caused by the building of a new steel bridge 200 yards upstream from the original timber one. The new Carisle Bridge was declared open in 1863. This opened up the area at the foot of Wapping Lane just below the cathedral precinct and it also led to the construction of two new roads in waterside, Duke Street and Spencer Road. On the cityside, Carisle Road replaced the older Bridge Street as the thoroughfare into the town.
In the same year, 1863, a new line of quays was completed, extending from the old bridge end to the Strand opposite the mental hospital. The city’s rail connections were now extensive with lines via Strabane, Omagh and Enniskillen to Dundalk and Dublin and via Coleraine and Antrim to Belfast.
The period from 1863 to the end of the century was one of the most prosperous for Derry. As a brisk commercial city, it enjoyed an extensive coastal trade and there were weekly sailings carrying emigrants to America and Canada. As the economy of the city expanded, three new building types came to express its commercial buoyancy: warehouses, banks and factories. Shirt factories in particular began to dominate. Tillie & Hendersons, was demolished in 2003, but many are still standing.
Derry’s churches too began to multiply at this time. Its second cathedral St Eugenes was completed in 1873. On the Waterside, All Saints church was built at the apex of Bonds Hill with its solid broach spire rearing high above the road. St Columbs church in the Long Tower more than doubled its size in the early 20th century, to become perhaps the most sumptuous church in Derry. The Presbyterian church in Magazine Street was revamped in 1903 with an Imperial Roman portico.
The Methodists too contributed buildings of some style. They began on the east wall with a Greek Revival church that has now been demolished and then in 1901 a new flamboyant neo-gothic church, designed by A. Forman of Forman & Aston, was built on the Carisle Road.