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History of Merchant's House
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Number 16 Queen Street is an imposing four-storey over basement townhouse. A listed building of historic and architectural importance, it forms part of one of the best preserved terraces of Georgian-style houses in Londonderry and is included in a neighbourhood Conservation Area. In 1867, Robert Hastings, a surgeon in the Royal Navy, purchased a plot in Queen Street for the erection of “one good and substantial dwelling house”. Unfortunately, Hastings died “of fever caught in the discharge of his professional duty” in 1868 before the building was finished.

The house was subsequently acquired for £250 pounds by Ross Hastings, who was probably related to Robert. Ross Hastings was a prominent city merchant. He was also a city councillor, a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Port and Harbour Commissioners, President of the Londonderry Unionist Association, and a governor of Foyle College and of Gwyn’s Institution. The 1901 and 1911 Censuses show that Hastings and his wife employed two live-in servants to cater for their needs. A previous owner of the house informed me that King Edward VII was rumoured to have taken tea in the house, possibly while he was visiting the city as Prince of Wales in the late nineteenth century. Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the boy scouts movement, may also have stayed at the house during the 1930s.

After the death of Ross Hastings in 1915, the house passed into the ownership of William McCullagh, another wealthy city merchant. It was because No. 16 had originally been owned by two prominent members of the mercantile class that we named it the “Merchant’s House”. Following McCullagh’s death in 1928, the property was acquired by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and was used as a rectory by the incumbents of St. Augustine’s Church (within the Walls) for the next thirty years.  From the late 1950s onwards, the house was broken up into a number of tenement flats or apartments and became the residence of numerous families until it was acquired for offices in 1974 by James Doherty, a prominent pork butcher, after his former premises had been bombed during the “Troubles”. The butcher eventually sold the house to the Bank of Ireland who used it until we acquired it in 1993 and began the process of restoring the building to its original domestic usage.

While renovating the house in the 1990s we discovered an infestation of dry rot which took time and effort to eradicate. The building had to be rewired and re-plumbed, and an updated central heating system installed. By degrees, the “office” or “institutional” ambience of the house, dating from its more recent usage, was replaced with a more gracious, elegant feeling. Using research and imagination we have endeavoured to reinstate the building’s original character. Ugly fire doors were removed, bricked-up fireplaces opened up, original floor boards were uncovered and varnished, and items of period furniture replaced desks and filing cabinets. The Merchant’s House has been operating as a successful B&B for discriminating travellers from the late 1990s.  The most recent renovations, completed in 2009, involved transforming the former servants’ quarters in the basement into en suite bedrooms with under floor heating. The house has been featured in several newspaper articles and an interior design magazine, and has been shown on Northern Ireland TV. We were recipients of a Gulbenkian/Civic Trust award in 1997 for our work in restoring this house.

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