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A Short History of Darcus and Cathedral Cottages, 14 & 16 London Street.

While the deeds of these properties date to the late 18th century, the sloping cellar walls of No. 14 suggest that there may have been an earlier building on this site. In those days, London Street was a relatively unimportant thoroughfare, while nearby Pump Street was the preferred location for the houses of the gentry and professional classes. Stewart’s Map of 1738 shows that a house and plot of land which fronted on to Pump Street, and stretched back along London Street as far as No. 14, belonged to John Darcus (1680-1730s), a member of a prominent Derry family. One of his sons was wounded while fighting with the British Army in the American War of Independence (1775-1783).

 In 1767 the Irish Society transferred the lease of this property to another of John’s sons, Henry Darcus (1718-1795). This holding included houses on London Street (14 to 22 in today’s numbering). In 1823, John Darcus (born in 1800), grandson of Henry Darcus, sold part of his inherited property in London Street to George Franks, an attorney at law in Derry. That same year John, possibly emboldened by the proceeds of his sale, “took off” with an actress, Mrs Lascelles, to London. We have named 14 London Street “Darcus Cottage” to commemorate the long connection of the Darcus family with this house.

In 1862 the now ageing George Franks transferred several properties (including 14 & 16 London Street) to his daughter Mary Ann, and her husband Thomas Knox, in lieu of the dowry he had pledged to pay when she married in 1842. Mary Ann died in 1875 and her husband in 1888. Their property was inherited by their children who sold it to David Spain in 1922. The following year, David Spain disposed of 14 & 16 London Street to Frederick James Simmons, who was later knighted. During the course of the remainder of the century, No. 14 had seven different owners and No. 16 eight owners, before we acquired both from the Inner City Trust in 1998.

According to the 1832 Valuation Records, Mr. Franks’ house in London Street (now No. 14) had a pantry, privy, cellar store, and office. Attached to it was a coach house and passage (now No. 16), with a dwelling over the coach house. City maps show that sometime between 1832 and 1873 the property was split into two separate houses, and No. 16 acquired its own front door and staircase. An annual street directory of Derry, published from 1862, enables us to trace the various tenants who lived in these houses. No. 14 served as a pub run by Eliza Gallagher in 1870. By 1893 the City of Derry Unionist Registration Office was located there, and Daniel Holland, its agent, lived next door in No. 16. He later became Governor of the Apprentice Boys Society. By 1902, the Londonderry Unionist Association was also based in No. 14. For some years following 1916 the property housed the Orange and Protestant Friendly Society Office, together with its agent, James Goligher. By 1975, No. 16 London Street had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive considered it unfit for human habitation and ordered its demolition. Fortunately, remedial work was carried out on the building and the demolition order was rescinded in 1979.

A curious incident occurred in 2002 when a Canadian named Patrick Darcus and his wife arrived at the Saddler’s House B&B looking for accommodation.  He had a map showing properties in the city owned by his family in the past. Clearly marked on the map were Nos. 14 & 16 London Street.  We naturally brought the couple to Darcus Cottage, and Patrick and his wife slept in the house that his great-great grandfather had once owned. On leaving, Patrick noted in the visitor’s book: “Mr. Darcus has returned and is very happy with the way his house has been restored.” We trust that other guests will share similar sentiments about these quaint historic properties.

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