Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:
HB01/04/001 A

Extent of Listing:

Date of Construction:
1740 - 1759

Address :
Prehen House Prehen Co Londonderry BT47 2BP


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
C4190 1442

Owner Category


Exterior Description And Setting

Overview of Main House: An important early Georgian classical country house, probably built in the early 1740s, possibly to a design of the Londonderry architect and builder Michael Priestley. It has two storeys over an unusually fine brick-vaulted basement, with a short rectangular U-shaped plan, unrendered rubble-stone walls and sandstone dressings. There is a handsomely rusticated entrance façade, facing north-east-north, with a regular four bay elevation on the upper storey, crowned by a high solid parapet with pedimented breakfront centre. On the ground floor a single bay flanks each side of the centre, with a pedimented door and two flanking windows grouped into a single composition. The front elevation door and window surrounds have architrave mouldings punctuated by blocked Gibbsian surrounds with keystones, while the pediment has acroteria, possibly a later addition, and the Knox family arms within the tympanum. Both the front façade outer corners and breakfront have prominent ashlar quoins, while a low chamfered plinth projects from both the front and side elevations. A narrow plain frieze surmounts the front elevation below a bold eaves cornice, the latter being carried along the west elevation facing the river, where it also supports a solid parapet with pedestal breaks. The east and rere elevations have plain ashlar cornices, gutters and no parapets. Both west and east sides of the building have a regular four bay fenestration with no dressings, while the building’s rere is recessed in the centre. The house has no surrounding basement area or passage, its windows each being lit by separate ground openings. On the roof there are four regularly disposed chimneys and a steeply pitched hipped roof, supported internally by impressive and splendidly preserved 18th century King-post trusses. Front Elevation Detail: The solid roof parapet is articulated by pedestal projections at the corners of both house and breakfront. It has a modest cornice and rises about four feet above the eaves cornice of the house; it is rendered to imitate ashlar and the surface was painted a brown-yellow, but now much weathered. In the tympanum is the Knox coat of arms, carved on a rectangular limestone block; this comprises a winged falcon on a perch, above a pair of half moons, a fish and the motto ‘Iv [sic] et virtute’. A pair of neo-classical acroteria flank the pediment’s raking cornice; these were present on the parapet by the 1870s, but may have been added in the early 19th century. Urns on the parapet ends were placed here in the 1970s; they derive from Summerhill, Co. Meath, a very large 1730s house by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, that is now demolished. There is no gutter or downpiping on the front façade, and the eaves cornice boldly projects beyond the wall face, as is typical of houses of this period. This cornice incorporates an Cyma recta moulding, below which there is a narrow plain frieze on line with the upper architrave of the upper windows. All four first floor windows have identical Gibbsian surrounds with triple keystones, the tops of the latter being imbedded within the eaves cornice. The siding-sash wooden frames, each six panes over six, are all later replacements, probably of late 18th or early 19th century date. All four ground floor windows are of similar size with matching Gibbsian surrounds and sliding-sash frames of six panes over six; these have very fine glazing bars indicating these too are all later replacements. The rusticated blocked surrounds of the two windows flanking the doorcase have been crudely, though not unattractively, incorporated into the door surround blocks to give the impression that both windows and door are part of a single composition. The door opening itself is surmounted by a boldly projecting deep pediment, supported on a frieze with reverse ogee moulding and a massive triple keystone below. The door contains six panels and is approached by two stone steps with low flanking wall, presently supporting a pair of sitting lions that were brought here in the 1970s from Rathbeale, Co. Dublin; in the 1870s there were urns in this position. There is a prominent chamfered plinth coping at the base of the house - the coping overhanging the wall face. The wall face both above and below this plinth are unrendered and have been without render since at least the 1870s. There is clear evidence that the wall surface was originally rendered, and probably stripped in the early Victorian era when it started to become fashionable to expose the stonework of buildings. West Elevation Detail: This is the facade facing the River Foyle and consequently visible over a great distance. Probably for this reason, the solid parapet on the front of the house was continued along this elevation. As with the house front, the parapet is articulated with pedestal projections, four in number, and the parapet surface, which is painted a brown-yellow, is rendered to resemble ashlar blocks. The outer pedestals are crowned by urns from Summerhill, Co. Meath, placed here in the 1970s. The two inner pedestals are capped with two cement copies of large falcon statues from Ranfurly House in Dungannon, a former Knox house now demolished; the falcon copies were placed here in the 1970s, having been brought here by the Pecks from Rathbeale Hall, near Swords, Co. Dublin. The projecting eaves cornice on the house front is also extended along this façade, but without the narrow plain frieze. Below, there are four regularly disposed windows on each floor, each with a stone lintel but no stone surround. All have their brick lining exposed along the window sides, due to the fact that this elevation, like the others, lacks its original render. The sliding-sash windows, all six panes over six, appear to be late 18th or early 19th century replacements for originals. There are no gutters and two downpipes, the latter entering the wall face just below the cornice. A prominent plinth with chamfered ashlar coping is present along the base of the façade, below which the brick lined camber-heads of the basement windows are visible. There is no basement area passage, each window being lit by its own opening; these opening appear to have been protected in the 19th century with cast iron grills, one of which survives. East Elevation Detail: No parapet surmounts this façade. Instead the roof slates overhang an iron gutter with holding iron brackets, supported by a plain ashlar cornice, whose underside contains a neat channel groove to disperse rainwater. There are two iron downpipes and the elevation, like the others, is unrendered. Four regularly disposed windows lie on each floor, each with a stone lintel, but the original brick linings on the reveals have in all cases been either replaced or concealed with cement. As with the front and west elevations, the house plinth is marked by a chamfered stone coping, the latter overhanging the wall face. Basement windows are just visible below the plinth coping, each lit by an individual opening in the ground. South or Rere Elevation Detail: At rere of the building the central area is recessed to create a U-shaped plan with flanking ‘wings’. There is no regular disposition of openings on this facade and these house ‘wings’ are not symmetrically disposed. The south-east wing is wider than the south-west wing, due to the need to accommodate the servants staircase beside the main staircase in the house centre. There is an ashlar eaves cornice with iron guttering, similar to the east façade, while this façade too is unrendered. The basement is accessed through three door opening in the central recess of this façade; all with brick linings and slightly cambered heads. All these openings are approached from the yard down a wide flight of stone flagged steps, the latter apparently having been only installed in the 1970s. The windows have plain ashlar architraves, including the two long windows in the recess which light the main stairs and the servant’s stairs respectively. The Roof and Roof Space: There are four regularly disposed chimney stacks on the roof and these are placed close to the ridge junctions, thus forming roughly a square - an unusual feature in a country house of this type. There was once a fifth chimney rising from the central valley, and this serviced some form of stove on the servant’s staircase. The chimney stacks are smooth rendered with projecting caps and pots; early photographs show that the pots were once very tall. The hipped roof has a steep pitch and is lined with Bangor blue slates. There are lead work flashing to the chimney stacks, valleys, parapets, ridge and hip rolls. Inside, the internal brick walls rise above the eaves level, to provide additional support for the unusually impressive King-post trusses and purlins, all of which are 18th century pine originals, secured with wooden dowels. Access to the roof is from above the servant’s staircase, with openings in the central valley and behind the front parapet. There is a pair of iron rings secured to the centre of the roof pitch behind the front pediment, and these are matched by another pair of iron rings on the coping of pediment itself; these are present on an 1870s photograph of the house and appear to have been once used to secure a flag draped over the central breakfront. There are remarkable surviving timbers in the roof space. The timbers are of pine, mostly rough cut with saw, with axes marks present, and secured with wooden dowels. A number of joiners marks survive, one being in the north-east corner, while in the north-west corner of the roof space the letters ‘1774 MP’ are inscribed on a purlin. The roof construction is mostly of the King-Post truss form, with the exception of the central area above the staircases, above the boudoir and above the eastern central area, where the roof is supported by massive purlins, resting on internal brick walls, raised to support them. These raised brick walls have cambered openings in their centre to allow access through the roof. In these areas the purlins support large rafters (there are no principal rafters), which rest upon the purlins and support spaced cross boards, onto which the slates have been fixed; torching of the slate’s undersides is also a feature. The south-east, north east and whole western side of the roof is supported by impressive King Post trusses, which are secured by both wooden dowels and iron strap clamps. The purlins in these King-Post sections of the roof have been butt-jointed into the principal rafters, so that the outer face of the purlin is flush with the outer side of the principal rafters. The level of the roof space above the boudoir is higher than the rest of the roof, to accommodate the coved ceiling below. Kitchen Wing and Yard: A small enclosed courtyard lies to the rere of the building, flanked by a single storey late 18th or early 19th century kitchen wing, attached to the south-east corner of the house. It has a long rectangular plan with walls of coursed rubble stone, partly rendered and no plinth. There is a plain ashlar cornice with a slated hipped roof surmounted by a centrally positioned brick chimneystack. The long three bay elevations are pieced by camber-headed windows and doors; there are no openings at the south and north ends. A door provides access to the yard and another door with small porch provides access to the garden on the east side. At the south end runs a lean-to range, with rubble stone walls and slated roof, added post 1860. On the opposite side of the small courtyard formerly lay another matching long rectangular single-storey building, attached to the south-west corner of the house. Old photographs show that this once had a very steep roof. It was dismantled in the 1920s, but its brick-lined cambered window and door openings are still present facing onto the courtyard. It may have contained the laundry and wash rooms. The flagged yard is entered from the south through a centrally placed door-opening, surmounted by cement falcon statues, being copies of originals from Ranfurly House in Dungannon; the falcon copies were moved here from Rathbeale Hall in the 1970s. In the south-east corner of the yard there is a brick-lined cambered headed blocked doorway, which appears to have once led out into an adjacent building. Landscape Setting: The house stands on an elevated position above the east bank of the River Foyle, one and half miles south of Craigavon Bridge; in the 19th century the house and its wooded parkland were very clearly visible from The Casino in the town of Londonderry. It was originally placed within an ancient woodland, which had been transformed into a formal or geometric demesne, with a straight tree-lined avenues cut through the trees - the main one being aligned upon the front or north façade. Some relics of this formal layout are still apparent on the 1830s Ordnance Survey map. However, it’s
setting was transformed into a naturalised landscape park in the late 18th century, possibly when the new road to Strabane was laid down alongside the river in 1795. The parkland still contained substantial blocks of the old woodland, particularly to the north and north-east of the house, through which ran the main avenue approach. Much of this area to the north is now sadly covered by modern housing estates, but the two-bay early Victorian gate lodge survives, still with its pyramidal roof, alas now devoid of any architectural pretension, including its once fine gate piers, iron gates and screens. Parkland still survives to the west, south and east of the house, only partly damaged by development. Immediately to the south lie the yard ranges, coach house and walled garden.


Historical Information

Prehen means ‘place of the crows’ and during the 17th century the banks of the River Foyle in this vicinity were still thickly wooded. The townland of Prehen, part of civil parish of Clondermot, and barony of Tirkeeran, was acquired as part of Goldsmith’s Proportion in 1614. Thomas Raven’s map of the Proportion, made in 1619, shows the townland clearly with a house located close to the water, south-west of the present mansion. This building, evidently a single storey gable-ended dwelling, occupied by one William Taylor, was undoubtably destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion. The property was acquired in 1664 by Alderman Alexander Tomkins and his wife Margaret, daughter of Alderman Thomas Moncreiffe. Tomkins was Mayor of the city at the time of the siege of Londonderry in 1689 and there is a memorial dedicated to ‘Tomkins of Prehen’ in Derry Cathedral erected in 1678. His house at Prehen, which was probably built in the 1660s, must have stood on the site of the present building. However, it may not have been a large affair, for although Tomkins is described as ‘of Prehen’, his main house was probably in the city itself. Whatever house stood here, it must have been badly damaged in 1690 when the more irregular troops of James II gutted houses in the vicinity of the city. A house is shown here, surrounded by an extensive woodland, on Van der Hagen's painting of the town of Londonderry, painted in the 1730s; unfortunately, it does not show much more than a gable protruding through the trees. Alderman Tomkins’s son George served as MP for the city from 1715-39 and lived at Prehen; he also apparently had a residence in Mobuy, Co. Londonderry. On stylistic and architectural grounds we can deduce that the present house was built in the early 1740s. It is therefore most likely to have been built by Colonel Andrew Knox, who in 1738 married Honaria, daughter and heiress of Andrew Tomkins of Prehen. Andrew Knox was descended from a Scot, the Rev, Andrew Knox, who was consecrated Bishop of Raphoe in 1610, and was granted the monastic lands of Rathmullan in 1614. On the death of his father George in 1741, Col. Knox inherited the family houses at both Rathmullan and Munnymore, Co. Donegal. It is likely that the income from this inheritance provided the financial stimulus to built the present house at Prehen. While there is no documentary proof to support it, on stylistic grounds it seems very likely that he engaged the Londonderry architect Michael Priestley [or Priestly], who died in 1777 and is buried in Derry's Cathedral Graveyard.. There are similarities with Lifford Court House (1745), notably in the use of the parapet and Gibbs door surround and deep pediment ; it is worth noting that in the latter town Andrew Knox's brother George was curate. Another Priestley house, Porthall in Donegal, built in 1746 for John Vaughan of Buncrana, also shares a number of features with Prehen. The Lifford Court house was to witness the trial of ‘half hung’ John MacNaghten of Benvarden in December 1761. He was found guilty of murdering Mary Ann, the only daughter of Col. Andrew Knox and later executed. The event, which began with his perusal of the hand of Mary Ann Knox in 1759, followed by her attempted kidnapping and murder in a coach near Strabane, was a major and tragic event in the history of Prehen during the time of Col. Andrew Knox. Col. Knox was to serve as MP for Donegal for 27 years. He was a religious man and made friends with the dissenter John Wesley (1703-91), who stayed at Prehen in the 1760s. In 1760 George Knox, son and heir of Col. Andrew Knox, and brother of the murdered Mary Ann, married Jane, daughter of Thomas Mahon of Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon. On the death of his father he succeeded to the Rathmullan and Moneymore properties in 1774 and later on the death of his mother in the 1790s he also inherited Prehen. He lived until 1840 and was responsible for creating the parkland around the house in the 1790s (now much reduced) and for building a gate lodge c.1820. The adjacent road alongside the Foyle here was laid down in 1795. The house and its parkland is depicted in a Brocas print c.1800 from the city of Londonderry. Prehen was inherited by George Knox’s eldest son Andrew, who was Lieutenant in the Donegal Militia and for many years MP for County Donegal. He married Mary, daughter of Dominick McCausland of Drenagh and was in turn succeeded prematurely in 1848 at Prehen by his son George, then a minor (1832-1910). George had a successful military career, being Lieutenant-Colonel in the Londonderry Artillery and High Sheriff of County Donegal in 1862. He liked to travel around the world, collecting curios abroad, including a wife he found in Switzerland, Rose Virginie Grimm of Neuchatel. He died in November 1910, leaving no sons, and thus the male line of Knoxes at Prehen came to an end. George Knox had two daughters, one of whom married Ludwig Von Scheffler, Doctor of Philosophy at Weimar near Hamburg. They in turn had a son George, born 1884, who became a Page to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar and later Governor of the Royal pages at the Emperor’s Court in Berlin, where he was honoured with the title of ‘Baron’. He inherited Prehen from his grandfather aged only 26, but a condition of the inheritance was that he add the name Knox to his own for the term of his natural life, and that he become a British Citizen within two years of the testator’s death. The inheritance was contested in court, which Baron Scheffler won, and he subsequently settled in Prehen. Unfortunately, the Great War broke out in 1914 and Baron George Otto Louis Von Scheffler-Knox found himself declared an enemy alien and the house and lands of Prehen were sequestered by the government and later placed on the open market under the Enemy Property Act (conveyance signed by Stephen Tallents, Custodian under the Enemy property Act). The Baron himself died in 1966. During the 1920s the demesne was sold off in lots, and the house was subsequently subdivided into flats. The once fine woodlands, for which Prehen was famous, were sold in 1927 to the McGregors, timber merchants (Londonderry), who then felled many of the trees. The felling caused an outcry at the time and a portion of these woodlands were saved - the area now known as Prehen Wood. This wood was purchased in 2003 by the Woodland Trust with support from the Prehen Historical and Environment Society. During the 1939-45 war the house was requisitioned by the army for troop accommodation. Eventually, the mansion, its outbuildings and some of the surviving parkland were acquired by in 1971 in the name of Julia Peck, granddaughter of Winifred Knox, authoress of 25 historical novels and histories. The house, then in an extremely poor state of repair, was subsequently restored by her parents, Carola and the late Julian Peck, who moved here from Rathbeale Hall, near Swords in 1974. Mr. Julian Peck died in 2001 and the property now belongs to his son, Mr. Colin Peck, who has opened the house to the public. References: Mss Map dated 1828 or 1829 by JL. Townlands of Currody, Bolies, Brickilns, Prehen. Ordnance Survey Map Sheet 20 (1832) Ordnance Survey Map Sheet 20 (1856) PRONI D/2807 The Irish Society (1822) A Concise View of the Irish Society, p93. PRONI MIC/26 Templemore Church of Ireland Register The Registers of Derry Cathedral, Parish of Templemore, 1642-1703 (Parish Register Society of Dublin, 1910), p367. Burke’s Landed Gentry (1846), p1404. Pue’s Occurrences, 11th September 1739. View of Foyle toward Prehen by Henry Brocas View of Londonderry by the Dutch artist Van der Hagen, c.1730 Ordnance Survey Memoirs (1835) Penelope FitzGerald (1977) The Knox Brothers. Macmillan, London Bence-Jones, M (1978) Irish Country Houses, p235. Burkes, London Rowan, Alistair (1979). North West Ulster, p405-6. Penguin, Harmondsworth Dean, J. A. K (1994) The Gate Lodges of Ulster, p119. UAHS, Belfast Mss Notes compiled by Colin Peck.

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form F. Structural System H+. Alterations enhancing the building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

V. Authorship Z. Rarity W. Northern Ireland/International Interest


This is one of the finest early Georgian country houses in Northern Ireland. Built largely in the early 1740s, it retains its original plan and many of its original features, including its noteworthy King-post truss roof timbers, some of which retain joiner's marks. The first floor of the house is particularly noteworthy in that it retains virtually all its original features - its window surrounds, its door surrounds, its dado rails, its skirting boards and all its original chimney pieces - all with fairly simple surrounds of a Cornish cream marble. The boudoir, lying directly above the hall, is the best room in the house and is particularly noteworthy for a its splendid coved ceiling. The ground floor was altered in the later 18th century, particularly the hall, drawing room and dining room, all of which had new door and windows architraves, and painted ceilings and walls, the latter partly restored by Alex Cobbe in the 1970s. These late 18th century alterations do not detract from the quality of the house; on the contrary they add interest to the building. Finally, the brick basement of this house survives remarkably intact, its walls being unrendered. This basement was built to prevent damp (as was the custom at that time) and was never used for servant's rooms, so consequently the brick walls were never rendered. The external render of the house must have been removed prior to the 1860s, perhaps in the early Victorian period.

General Comments

The best early Georgian country house in the western part of Northern Ireland, comparable to Preistley's Port Hall (1745) and also Bogay in Co. Donegal. Built largely in the early 1740s, probably by the Londonderry-based-architect and builder, Michael Priestley [or Priestly] who died in 1777 and is buried in the Cathedra of Derry. The first floor retains virtually all its original features including all with simple surrounds of a Cornish cream marble. The ground floor was altered in the later 18th century but these alterations do not detract from the quality of the house; on the contrary they add interest to the building. Finally, the brick basement of this house survives remarkably intact, its walls being unrendered. The external render of the house must have been removed prior to the 1860s, perhaps in the early Victorian period.

Date of Survey

Friday, September 28, 2007