Derry City Cemetery opened in 1853, but it was not for another 15 years in 1868 that plans were completed for a chapel at the burial ground accompanied by a home for the Superintendent.
The cemetery had already become the place for the ‘great and the good’, particularly of counties Derry and Donegal to be laid to rest, but what was missing was an entrance to the grounds that befitted the status of those being buried there.
On May 1, 1868 the periodical ‘The Irish Builder’ reported: “In connection with the new Cemetery at Londonderry there have been lately completed a Mortuary Chapel and Superintendent’s Dwelling house, which we illustrate in our issue of this date.
“The chapel is a neat building in the Gothic style, capable of accommodating about 220 persons, and, as a necessary adjunct to the Cemetery, will be appreciated.
“The cost of the works has been about £2,000. This sum includes the purchase of the site, entrance gates and approach. Messrs Hutcheon and Colhoun were the contractors, by whom the works have been executed under Mr Robert Collins, City Engineer.”
The £2,000 spent on this project just over 150 years ago, equates to over £220,000 in today’s terms, illustrating that no expense was spared to provide the cemetery with a grandiose entry point.
Simply, a mortuary chapel is a place where remains are briefly confined with or without a religious service before burial.
The architect behind the cemetery chapel and superintendent’s house, Robert Collins, was a consultant engineer for the city of Derry from around 1866 until 1874. Collins was also the engineer to the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners and to the Lough Swilly Railway Company. In 1874 he gave up all three positions having been appointed as engineer to the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway.
Collins also has a direct link to Derry’s most historic monument – the city’s walls. Ferry Gate was of the three gates out of the four original gates named for the first time on Sir Thomas Phillip’s map commissioned in 1622 and most likely prepared by the cartographer Thomas Raven. They eventually formed part of the evidence given to King Charles I in support of his claims that the London Guilds were not fulfilling their legal obligations to implement the Plantation of Derry.
Originally it appears that the Ferry Gate, later Ferryquay Gate, was had battlements but no gate and was accessed via a drawbridge. A set of strong double planked gates was added in 1622.
In 1973, the city’s Corporation ordered that the gate be widened and what remained of the 17th Century gate was removed when the gate seen there today was built in 1866. The construction of the gate was carried out by builder Matthew McClelland, the same contractor who was also responsible for the construction of Magazine Gate and New gate.
Most famously, this is the gate closed by the thirteen Apprentice boys against the Earl of Antrim’s Jacobite troops on December 7, 1688 setting in motion the events which led to the siege.
On June 15, 1866 the magazine ‘The Dublin Builder’ said: “The New Ferry Gate, contracted for with the Corporation by Mr Matthew McClelland, builder, at a cost of £750 is to be commenced immediately. The new gate will have a main arch and two side arches.
“The first will be 17 feet high by 18 feet wide; the latter will have five feet of span and 10 feet of height. Both fronts will be finished in finely wrought freestone, with rusticated ashlar quoins. The keystones of the arch will be carved into memoheads and the structure will be surmounted by a handsome parapet, with freestone balustrading.”
However, the architect was Robert Collins, then a resident of Pump Street in the city, and the heads carved on the headstones represent Rev George Walker, Governor of the city during the Siege of 1689 and Rev James Gordon a Presbyterian Minister.
The contribution made to the city by Robert Collins at the city cemetery, the city walls, port and railway connections also set in motion a lineage of other fine engineers and architects whose marks upon Derry’s civic life continue to this day.
Charles Edward Stewart who was born in 1849, was the eldest son of Abraham Harvey Stewart, the secretary to the Port and harbour Commissioners. He was educated at Foyle College, the Royal School in Dungannon and later at Trinity College, Dublin.
He served his pupillage under Robert Collins and took over his practice when Collins moved to Belfast in 1874. He also succeeded Collins as the consultant engineer to the city Corporation, the Port and Harbour Commission and the Lough Swilly Railway. Between 1881-1883 he superintended the construction of the Letterkenny Railway and subsequently took charge of its maintenance as well as preparing plans for a light railway between Buncrana and Carndonagh.
But, in 1882 in his role as city engineer for Derry, Stewart masterminded the construction of a main sewerage scheme and extensions to the city’s water supply. This experience enabled him in 1890 to join the staff of the Water Department of London County Council, working mainly on water legislation and how to bring a proposed new supply from the Welsh mountains. When his health collapsed suddenly and after a few month’s illness, Stewart died at the age of 52 on July 7, 1901 at his home at Finchley in the north of the English capital.
However, prior to his death Charles Edward Stewart had already ensured that his younger brother had also been trained and apprenticed as an engineer.
Abraham McCausland Stewart was born in 1857 and also studied at Trinity College graduating in 1879. After working as an assistant on the Banbridge extension of the Great Northern Railway between 1880-1881, on the Letterkenny railway between 1881 and 1883 and then to his brother Charles in Derry, he set up an independent practice in the city and succeeded him as city engineer and engineer-in-chief to the Port and Harbour Commissioners after Charles moved to London.
The younger Stewart was engineer for the Stranorlar and Glenties Railway which opened in 1895 and archictect for the stations on the Donegal-Ballyshannon line of the Co Donegal Railways in 1904. In the same year he was appointed arbitrator for lands acquired by Stranorlar Rural District Council and was also diocesan architect for the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe.
Abraham McCausland Stewart died in 1924 at the age of 67 and was buried at Derry City Cemetery.
Robert Collins also took as a pupil Belfast man Francis George Hopkirk who entered his training in 1878 when Collins was engineer to the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway and spent another six years as his assistant and when the former retired he became principal assistant to Collins’ successor Berkeley Deane Wise.
Born on October 2, 1885 at New Ross, County Wexford, Berkeley Deane Wise made a significant impact on the development of railways and tourism, particularly in the north of Ireland.
Wise’s most famous building is Portrush railway station which of course still stands today. By 1891, the existing station could no longer cope with the heavy summer rail traffic. So, wise designed a mock Tudor building with black beams painted on white stucco all on a red brick base. There was an elegant clock tower, some 50 feet high and three platforms, 600 feet long. The station was built by contractor McLaughlin and Harvey and opened in the spring of 1893.
One of Wise’s most outstanding engineering feats was the Gobbins Path which would its way under the cliffs, over 250 feet high, on the coastline at Islandmagee. It was designed to bring tourists to the area onboard the trains of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. The two-mile path was cut into the cliffs with tunnels and bridges, including two tubular bridges 70 feet long. The entrance to the path is known as Wise’s Eye and two of the other promontories were named in his honour, namely Deane’s Head and Berkeley’s Point.
Following a deterioration in his health, in 1906 Wise moved to live with his sister, Mrs Harding at 18 Lough Swilly Railway where he died on May 5, 1909 in sight of the railway station he had built there.
The achievements of the Stewart brothers, Hopkirk and Wise were all set in motion by the man who designed the chapel at Derry City Cemetery.
CAPTION: Ferryquay Gate which was designed by Robert Collins.
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