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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:
HB01/22/009 A

Extent of Listing:
Main building, pillars & gate screen

Date of Construction:
1860 - 1879

Address :
Main University Building University of Ulster Magee campus Northland Road Londonderry BT48 7JL


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
25/05/1976 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
University/ College Building

Former Use
University/ College Building

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
C4331 1789

Owner Category

Exterior Description And Setting

Detached symmetrical two-storey sandstone Gothic Revival building, built c.1860 to the designs of Edward Gribben and two-storey hipped roof extension added 1905, to designs by Matthew Alexander Robinson. Rectangular on plan facing east with a three-storey central entrance tower and advanced gabled pavilions to either end. Later two-storey flat-roofed extension abuts the rear elevation, built c.1989. Extensively renovated c.2000. Pitched natural slate roof with terracotta ridge tiles and lead valleys set behind crenellated parapet wall. Several ashlar sandstone chimney stacks to the ridge with decorative clay pots interspersed with copper lanterns. Cast-iron rainwater goods supported on iron drive-through brackets to the rear elevation and cast-iron hoppers and downpipes breaking through parapet wall. Coursed smooth ashlar sandstone walling with fine lime pointing, projecting plinth course and continuous string course between floors. Original slender 2/2 timber sash windows without horns are set behind stone tracery windows, Tudor-arched to first floor with continuous hood moulding, square-headed to ground floor, all having flush splayed sills. Both ground and first floor stone tracery comprises paired trefoil openings to lower portion that extend and split into four equally spaced smaller trefoils above. Symmetrical two-storey front (East) elevation consists of a central square-plan three-storey entrance tower, flanked by three equally spaced bays that are topped by castellation featuring quatrefoil motifs above each window and an advanced gabled projection with two-storey angled bay. Pie-ended steeply pitched natural slate roof to the tower with octagonal crocketed pinnacles rising from the four corners and corbelled out below the parapet. To the centre of each elevation a further octagonal pinnacle rises above the parapet with poppy-head finials. To the southeast corner of the tower is a clasping octagonal three-stage tower with trefoil blind panels to each face at each level. This tower rises above the parapet as a series of crocketed pinnacles with tapered spire and metal finial. To the northeast corner is a stepped buttress. To the upper levels is a two-sided angled oriel window with windows as per ground floor (front elevation), surmounted by crocketed finials and drop finials to the base. Tudor-arched door opening with hood moulding and painted diagonally-sheeted double-leaf doors. Door opens onto sandstone paved platform and seven steps to bitmac front driveway with a pair of octagonal squat sandstone pillars supporting shield yielding lion statues. The north side elevation to the entrance tower has large four-light stone tracery windows with slender 2/2 timber sash windows and hood mouldings to ground and first floors and a pair of Tudor-arched window openings to the upper level with hood mouldings. The gabled end pavilions also have pie-ended steeply pitched natural slate roofs set behind raised gables to the outer corners having octagonal crocketed finials corbelled out below the parapet and a central pinnacle rising above the apex to the gable. The south pavilion has stepped angle buttresses and a two-sided angled bay window with paired 2/2 timber sash windows set behind stone tracery (detailed as above); carved stone oculus centred above bay with quatrefoil blind opening. The north gabled pavilion is detailed as per south pavilion with stepped diagonal buttresses, a pair of diminutive tracery windows at ground floor level and a two-sided angled oriel window to the upper level with corbelled base. South side elevation comprises an advanced gabled projection with five light window openings at each level. Pointed-arched to the first floor with interlacing stone tracery and continuous hood moulding. Square-headed to the ground floor with stone tracery; fixed lights behind with slim horizontal glazing bars. To the gable is a oculus with geometric tracery. The recessed part of the elevation has stepped buttresses and diminutive windows with a Tudor-arched door opening having replacement steel-clad door and hood moulding with square label stops. The rear (West) elevation also has three gabled projections and is abutted by a flat-roofed wing connected to the two-storey flat-roofed 1960s block and a further single-storey flat-roofed extension to the southwest. The rear elevation has rough-cast rendered walling with ashlar sandstone plinth course and flush ashlar sandstone quoins. Windows are detailed as per front elevation with flush sandstone surrounds. The south gable has four-light square-headed perpendicular stone tracery windows, that to the first floor rising in the centre. The north gable is abutted by a two-storey rendered block with hipped slate roof and projecting cornice mould, ruled-and-lined rendered walling, square-headed window openings with 2/2 timber sash windows and bottom-hung overlights. The north side elevation has a central advanced gable flanked by stepped buttresses with square-headed window openings to ground and first floor, with lugged architraves, and a pointed arched windows centred below the apex. The advanced gable has timber framed French doors with four blank panels above to left and cruciform stone mullions with corresponding fixed light above two pane sliding sash to right. To left and right of this gable are single fixed lights above horizonal stone transom and two-pane sliding sash below. At first floor, two pairs of 1/1 sliding sashes with central stone mullion. Materials: Roof Natural slate RWG Cast-iron Walling Ashlar sandstone / rough-cast render Windows Original timber sash and fixed lights Setting: Located on extensive University Campus grounds to the west of Northland Road and to the south of Rock Road on an elevated site with views of the Foyle River to the east. At the Rock Road entrance is a pair of decorative wrought-iron gates and matching pedestrian gates supported on square iron pillars with swan neck screen plinth walls supporting iron railings and terminated in a pair of Gothic styled octagonal sandstone pillars with trefoil panels. West (Northland Road) boundary demarked by rubblestone (schist) walling.


Gribbon, E.P. Stewart, G Robinson, M A

Historical Information

The Magee University building, a two-storey 11-bay sandstone Gothic building possessing projecting central and end bays as well as an octagonal turret, was constructed in 1856-1865 as a training college for Presbyterian Ministry in Ireland. At the beginning of the 19th century there were over half a million Presbyterians in Ireland, most of which were based in Ulster. For over three centuries the sole university in the country had been Trinity College in Dublin but at the dawning of the new century and the establishment of new educational colleges (such as the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1810) the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster moved to establish a local college for the education of Presbyterians who wished to pursue a career in ministry. The project to create a Presbyterian College did not progress until the 1840s and during this period the Queen’s Colleges at Galway and Cork were created. It was not until the death of Martha Magee in 1846 that plans for the erection of the college proceeded. Martha Maria Magee (c. 1755-1846) was born in Lurgan and married the Rev. William Magee of First Lurgan Presbyterian (who died in 1800). Following the death of her unmarried brothers, Martha Magee inherited a fortune of at least £75,000. At the time of her own death on 22nd June 1846 Martha Magee left £20,000 to the General Assembly to be expressly used for the establishment of a college for the education of the Presbyterian ministry. Despite Magee’s bequest, it would be almost two decades before the college would be opened at Londonderry due to political interference, debates over where to site the institution and construction delays. Prime Minister Robert Peel refused to authorise the creation of the Presbyterian college as the Tory government were undertaking the formation of the non-sectarian Queen’s Colleges and refused to sanction the creation of a college that would only be available to one denomination. Delays continued into the 1850s due in part to the failure of the General Assembly to decide upon a location for the new college. As early as 1850 the trustees of Magee’s Will decided upon Londonderry as an appropriate site for the college. In that year Londonderry’s Corporation formed a committee that endeavoured to raise further funds to ensure the erection of the college in the city. The other potential sites were at Belfast, Armagh and Coleraine, but with the creation of the Assembly College on Botanic Avenue in 1853 (HB26/27/004) only Londonderry remained as a viable option and it was decided to build the college there (Holmes; Logan). In 1854 the trustees of Magee’s Will acquired three fields in Edenballymore that belonged to Samuel Gilliland, a local flour miller, grocer, wine and spirit merchant who also owned the mill on the Strand Road (HB01/22/013). The design of Magee College was subject to an architectural competition. The trustees invited plans that would provide eight classrooms, eight houses for professors, a common hall and library capable of holding 500 people, a laboratory and a small room to be used as a museum. The Gothic Revival design of Edward P. Gribbon, a Dublin-based architect and quantity surveyor. Gribbon (born c. 1821) began his career as an architect in Dublin where he designed Ormond Quay Upper Presbyterian Church (a Gothic church which originally possessed octagonal turrets similar to the one at Magee) but, following his appointment as quantity surveyor to the War Department in Ireland, he carried out few architectural commissions and operated mostly as a surveyor. Although Gribbon submitted the successful design for Magee College the execution of the plans were entrusted to Gordon Stewart (d. 1860), Londonderry’s County Surveyor who had recommended Gribbon’s design to the trustees (Gribbon was relieved of his role due to a dispute that broke out between himself and the college trustees). The foundation stone of Magee College was laid on 18th August 1856 but, due to construction delays, the college was not opened for almost another decade. Although Magee was established as a Presbyterian College, at the laying ceremony Dr. John Brown (a trustee) stated that ‘no surly janitor shall stand at the gate to say to men of any denomination, “here is a fountain of science and piety at which you may not drink.” On the contrary, men of every creed and no creed, if they conform to the laws of order and decency, may attend its lectures and share its literary distinctions’ (Lacey, pp 206-7). The builder contracted to undertake the construction of the college was Matthew McClelland who operated from business premises on the Strand Road (UTD). Although the Irish Builder noted that the college was ‘approaching completion’ in December 1859, the college did not open its doors to students until 1865. By 1861 over £8,500 had been expended on its construction. The Natural Stone Database records that the building was primarily constructed of Scottish Giffnock Sandstone with locally-quarried Derry Schist utilised as a secondary material (Irish Builder, p. 829; DIA; NSD). Magee College was officially inaugurated on 10th October 1865 with an initial roll of 26 students. The building was depicted on the c. 1873-1910 Annual Revisions Town Plan which showed the building along its current layout (without the later extensions that were added to its west side in the 20th century). The UAHS guide for Londonderry records that the grounds located in front of the college were laid out to designs by Daniel Ferguson, a Scottish horticulturalist who was curator of Belfast’s Botanic Gardens in 1836-64 and died before the college was opened (UAHS guide, p. 39). The Annual Revisions set the total rateable value of the new college at £200 in 1865. Due to its failure to acquire an association with any of Ireland’s universities, Magee College possessed few students in its first decade (in 1874 only eight students were enrolled). In 1879 Magee became one of the constituent colleges of the Royal University of Ireland resulting in an increase in enrolment numbers (this was furthered by the admittance of women students from 1883). Following its connection with the Royal University of Ireland a number of additions were made to the Magee College campus. The professor’s houses that were originally intended to be built along with the college building were erected in the 1880s and 1890s (see HB01/22/009B-E). The college’s roof was damaged by severe storms that wracked the north during the winter of 1894-95; the roof was subsequently repaired. In 1905 the two-storey L-shaped rear extension to the north-west side of the college building was built to designs by Matthew Alexander Robinson (1872-1929). In 1907 another benefactor, Basil McCrea, left his entire estate to the college. The donation allowed the trustees to hire new lecturers and professors and to build an additional professor’s house at the corner of the Northland Road and Rock Road (built in 1911). Magee College maintained its connection with the Royal University of Ireland until 1909 when the college was cast out of the Irish University System on the grounds of being denominational and sectarian. The college then became affiliated with Trinity College Dublin with which it continued to be associated until 1953. The First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland increased the value of the college building to £350 in 1936. During the Second World War Magee College was requisitioned by the Royal Navy. Recently uncovered plans have shown that the Allied forces established a secret underground bunker beneath the current car park and lawns of the college. The bunker was known as Base One Europe and was utilised to co-ordinate over a million Allied troops during the Battle of the Atlantic (at the end of the war the Nazi submarine fleet officially surrendered at Lisahally outside of Londonderry). Other buildings that were utilised for wartime purposes included Talbot House (demolished in 1988 to make way for modern extensions) which Holmes states was used as ‘headquarters of the first United States base of its kind in European waters.’ The underground bunker was filled in with concrete and has only recently been recovered using archaeological techniques. During the war classes were held at the Model School on the Northland Road and at some of the red brick professor’s houses. With the end of the Second World War the college was returned to educational use. From 1953 the college received government funding under the Magee University College Londonderry Act. In that year Magee University College broke from Trinity College Dublin and reformed as two separate colleges, Magee Theological College and Magee University College, a secular college. The distancing of Magee from its original theological purposes and the granting of government funding allowed the university college to develop its curriculum and increase its staff and student accommodation. As a result the increase in the numbers of students, a number of the former professor’s houses were converted into residences for students. With the formation of the university college in 1953, Magee’s college building was increased in value to £500. In the 1960s it was hoped that Magee would become Northern Ireland’s second university but under the Lockwood Report (1964) it was determined that the university be built in Coleraine and that Magee should be closed. Public outcry in Londonderry resulted in Magee being incorporated into the ‘New University of Ulster’ which had been established in 1968. Following the changes the value of the Gothic college building was increased to £1,760. The Magee College building was listed category A in 1976. The university established at Coleraine ultimately failed to attract sufficient numbers and in 1984 Coleraine was merged with the Ulster Polytechnic at Jordanstown, the Arts College in Belfast and Magee College to form the ‘University of Ulster.’ During the decade following the creation of the University of Ulster, a number of building projects were undertaken to increase the facilities at Magee’s campus at a cost of over £8.5 million. The two modern redbrick teaching blocks were erected in 1988 to the southeast of the original building whilst the two-storey extension was added to the rear of the Gothic college building in 1989. A modern library was built to the south of the campus in 1990 and in 1991 the interior of the college building was refurbished (NIEA HB Records; University of Ulster website). During the Second Survey the original Gothic college building continued to be utilised by the University of Ulster. It now forms the centrepiece of the Magee Conservation Area which was designated in 2006. The conservation guide states that ‘the Magee Conservation Area is immediately identifiable from the surrounding riverside setting … elevated on sloping land it overlooks the flat reclaimed riverbank along the River Foyle. The elegant, refined sandstone spires and finials of its institutional Gothic style pierce the skyline against a backdrop of mature trees’ (Conservation Area Design Guide). References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/5/20/1 – First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1830) 2. PRONI OS/6/5/20/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1853) 3. PRONI VAL/12/E/157/1/1 – Annual Revisions Town Plan (c. 1873-1910) 4. PRONI VAL/2/B/5/16A – Griffith’s Valuation (1857) 5. PRONI VAL/12/B/32/11B-ZA – Annual Revisions (1862-1897) 6. PRONI VAL/12/B/33/2A-2F – Annual Revisions (1898-1931) 7. PRONI VAL/3/C/6/10 – First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1936-57) 8. PRONI VAL/4/B/5/14 – Second General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1956-72) 9. Irish Builder (17 Dec 1859) 10. Ulster Town Directories (1852-1918) 11. First Survey Record – HB01/22/009A (1970) 12. NIEA HB Records – HB01/22/009A Secondary Sources 1. Calley, D., ‘City of Derry: An historical gazetteer to the buildings of Londonderry’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2013. 2. Ferguson, W. S; Rowan, A. J; Tracey, J. J., ‘List of historic buildings, groups of buildings, areas of architectural importance in and near the city of Derry’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1970. 3. Holmes, R. F. G., Magee 1865-1965: The evolution of the Magee colleges’ Belfast: B. N. L. Printing Co., 1965. 4. Lacey, B., ‘Siege city: The story of Derry and Londonderry’ Belfast: The Black Staff Press, 1990. 5. Logan, W., ‘The story of Magee College’ Londonderry: Standard Office, 1909. 6. Rowan, A. J., ‘The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster’ London: Yale University Press, 2003. 7. ‘A design guide for the Magee Conservation Area’ Belfast: Department of the Environment, 2010. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - 2. Natural Stone Database - 3. University of Ulster website - 4. Dictionary of Ulster Biography -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation H-. Alterations detracting from building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

U. Historic Associations V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance Z. Rarity R. Age S. Authenticity T. Historic Importance


Detached symmetrical two-storey sandstone Gotchic Revival building, built c.1860 to the designs of Edward Gribben with Stewart Gordon, county surveyor and named after its chief benefactor, Martha Magee. The building occupies a prominent site to the northwest of the city and forms the centrepiece of Magee Campus as part of a wider collection of impressive nineteenth-century buildings (HB01/22/009B-G inclusive). Built as a Presbyterian Minister's College and later associated with Trinity College Dublin, the building stands as the first third level education building in Londonderry and holds a further layer of historical importance due to its use as a World War Two base for Atlantic operations. The Gothic style is typical of colleges keen to exhibit the importance they attached to religion; well-proportioned with central tower and advanced gabled pavilions to both ends, sandstone details including spire and pinnacles to the roofline, interspersed with crenellated parapets and perpendicular tracery to Tudor-arched windows, greatly enrich its façade. The rear flat-roofed extension detracts; however the overall composition is still very impressive. Internally, despite some loss of some historic fabric, the most elaborately decorated room (Great Hall) remains and a stained glass window, dedicated to Thomas Witherow, by Ward & Partners survives in the room above the entrance. Lion statues on stone plinths flanking the main entrance, together with the octagonal stone pillars and curved gate screen at the top of Rock Road, enhance its interest, whilst the rubble schist stone walling along the Northland Road boundary further augments the character of its setting within the Magee Conservation Area.

General Comments

Date of Survey

17 June 2014