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A Short History of the Saddler’s House, 36 Great James Street

In 1871, George Skipton, a prominent local landowner, of Beechill House (now the Beech Hill Country House Hotel), sold a plot of land in Great James Street, twenty feet wide and one hundred and sixteen feet deep, to William Dickson, a saddle maker. Dickson, whose business was located in nearby Waterloo Street, undertook to build and complete within two years “a good and substantial dwellinghouse … and to expend thereon the sum of three hundred pounds at the least”. Dickson promised that the house would not be used for the “slaughtering of cattle or for [the] making of soap or rendering of tallow… or for any other objectionable or improper use…” He and his family lived at No. 36 for the next 39 years until his death in 1910, when the house passed into the possession of his widow Eliza Anne. When she died, 8 years later, she directed that the house be sold and the proceeds divided between three of her sons who lived abroad. Two had settled in Canada and another in South Africa. John Alexander Dickson, the fourth son, a flour and general merchant, who lived in Derry, bought the house for £400 pounds. On his death in 1941, he left No. 36 and five other properties in the city to his widow, Grace Brooke Dickson.

About this time the Dickson family ceased to reside at 36 Great James Street. The house was leased to a Mrs. Roulston and her two daughters for £50 pounds per annum. The new tenants kept a boarding house for male lodgers working in the city and at times during the Second World War there were up to 14 men living there. In 1971, Grace Brooke Dickson died and left her estate to her daughter, Maureen Elizabeth Hamilton Parke, the wife of the Rev. John Cecil Parke. Seven years later, in 1978, the Parkes, possibly influenced by the deteriorating political situation in Derry, and the consequent violent unrest in the city centre, sold the property to us. We were told that not long before a patrolling British soldier had been hurled by a bomb blast through the glass inner hall door before landing, fortunately without injury, on the stairs leading to the first floor!

We began renovations soon after purchasing the property. Perhaps because the house had been in the possession of the same family since it had been built, no radical alterations to the original structure had been made. We were fortunate to acquire virtually all the original features and fittings dating to 1871, including panelled doors, marble fireplaces, ceiling plasterwork, pine floorboards, and sliding sash windows. However, the house had no heating system, apart from coal fires, and only one bathroom and an outdoor toilet. We tried, as far as possible, to retain the building’s original fabric and character while installing modern heating, plumbing and electrical systems. No. 36 served as an ideal family home in which we brought up our three daughter in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1984 a nearby bomb caused considerable damage to the roof and the front windows, but fortunately the structure of the building was not affected, nor were we.

About 1990 we tentatively began operations as a B&B, using only a few rooms on the ground and first floors. At that time, because of the “Troubles”, there was a lack of accommodation in the city centre, together with a low volume of visitors. Business improved in the course of the 1990s as the political situation inched slowly towards the 1998 Good Friday settlement. As our daughters grew up and moved out, we increased the number of en suite bedrooms to seven. In 2008, we modernized the kitchen and extended the dining room to cater for the needs and tastes of the current generation of tourists. We feel sure that George Skipton and William Dickson would approve!


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