Time Line

 

Pre 1600

The lands around Boom Hall lie within the townland of Ballynashallog (previously known as ‘Gortneshalyg’ or ‘Corneshalgagh’).  At the time of the monastic settlement of Derry the townland belonged to St.Augustine’s Abbey and in 1609 the townland (523 acres) is recorded as being in the occupation of Walter Tallon.

 

c.1610

After the ‘Flight of the Earls’ and land forfeiture from the old ‘Gaelic Order’ the land on which Boom Hall was to stand was known as ‘Gunsland’ and it was granted to The Honourable, The Irish Society as part of the Plantation of Ulster.  

 

Mid 1600s

 

The Civil Survey of 1654 lists the townland as belonging ‘to the Cities houses’ and the landowner as The Honourable, The Irish Society.   By 1685 ‘Gunsland’ belonged to the adjoining estate of Brook Hall

 

Late 1600s

 

Within the immediate vicinity of the current Boom Hall a number of military features are evident - including Charles Fort built by Royalist forces in 1649 during the 1st Siege of Derry.  Charles Fort was attacked twice, without success, by ‘parliamentary’ ships before the siege was lifted.  Charles Fort was reoccupied during the 2nd Siege of Derry in 1688-89 by Jacobite forces intent on maintaining a blockade of the city.  In order to prevent ships delivering supplies to the city, the Jacobite army built a boom across the Foyle. 

The boom’s western end was located somewhere within what would subsequently become the Boom Hall demesne.  In addition to the reoccupied Charles Fort, the western end of the boom was also protected by the creation of a bastion (sometimes known as the New Fort) and several adjacent entrenchments.

 

1700s

 

 

Historical evidence suggests that the Alexander family, who acquired the lease on Boom Hall at some point after the Williamite Wars, had lived in an earlier house on the estate, also called Boom Hall - the precise location of this earlier Boom Hall is not known, although a family history prepared in 1863, but not published until 1946, by the Rev. Robert Alexander (1795-1872), who had lived at Boom Hall as a child, indicates that it was located to the north of the present Boom Hall, possibly somewhere in the vicinity of the walled garden. 

 The survival of a curvilinear Ha-Ha wall, presumably dating to the 18th Century, to the SW, South and SE of this position is consistent with this suggestion.  This earlier Boom Hall would also have been associated with a garden landscape, but one probably laid out in the more formal style typical of the period before 1740.  A number of garden features, datable to both periods of parkland design, can still be identified on the ground or from cartographic and aerial photographic evidence. 

1772

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Alexander (1730-1802) was the 3rd son of Nathaniel Alexander (1689-1761) & wife Elizabeth (nee McClintock).  An officer of the East India Company and merchant in India 1752-72, he amassed a fortune he estimated at £150,000 but which was probably much more.  

On his final return to Ireland in 1772 he purchased the Boom Hall estate plus land at Moville (Donegal) & Ballycastle (Antrim).  He rebuilt Boom Hall to the designs of Michael Priestly and it appears that much of the demesne was remodelled as a landscape park in the naturalistic style then in vogue.  Alexander became MP for Londonderry in 1774. 

  

 James Alexander and wife Anne (nee Crawford)

 After his acquisition of Caledon Estate (Tyrone & Armagh) from the 7th Earl of Cork & Orrery in 1775-76, Boom Hall was apparently given to his elder brother Robert Alexander (1722-90).   James Alexander was elevated to the Irish peerage as Baron Caledon, 1790; and further created Viscount Caledon, 1797, and (1st) Earl of Caledon in 1800.  

The original house was rebuilt as a rectangular block of two storeys above a rather low basement, with a fairly high hipped roof on a plain cornice.  The entrance front was of seven narrow bays with a three-bay breakfront centre, the sides of five bays, and the garden front had a broad canted bay in the centre and a single bay either side.  It was built of dark ashlar stone but the canted bow on the garden front and the three-bay centrepiece on the entrance front were rendered.  A projecting porch was added later to the entrance front.  Inside, the house had a cubic central hall.

  

Famous Hymnist Cecil Frances Alexander and her husband William Alexander, Bishop of Derry & Raphoe 1867 (C.o.I.) and Archbishop of Armagh / Primate of All Ireland in 1896

 The Alexanders were important people in the city, boasting several MPs, were some of the founders of the Bank of Ireland (which remains to this day one of Ireland’s major banking institutions).

The family also included Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh, William Alexander (1824-1911), husband of the famous hymn writer, Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander who wrote such notable pieces as “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and the Christmas Carol, “Once In Royal David’s City”, and Field-Marshal Harold Alexander (1891–1969) was renowned for his bravery during WWII and later became Governor General of Canada.

 

1779

 

 

Robert Alexander (1722-90) was the second son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Alexander (1689-1761) – a merchant in Londonderry, he married Anne (nee McCullough) in 1759. He was given the Boom Hall estate by his younger brother James in about 1779 – encapsulated in a Memorandum of Agreement dated 19th October 1779 the year of the building of Boom Hall is given as 1779.  

 Robert died 27 March 1790, aged 68.  His widow died 20 January 1817.  Upon his death in 1790 Boom Hall passed to Robert’s second son, Henry Alexander MP (1763-1818) – first son, Rt. Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Alexander (1760-1840) had chosen a clergyman’s life, later to become Bishop of Clonfert, 1802-04, Down & Connor, 1804-23 and Meath, 1823-40.

 

1790

Henry Alexander (1763-1818) was educated at both Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Trinity College, Dublin - called to the Irish Bar in 1785; was MP in the Irish Parliament for Newtown, Askeaton & Londonderry, 1788-1800; MP in the UK Parliament for Londonderry (1800-02) and Old Sarum (1802-06) – he became Colonial Secretary for the Cape of Good Hope, 1806-18.  He married Dorothy (nee Rivers) in 1807.

 Henry Alexander died and was buried in Cape Town, South Africa in 1818, aged 55.  His widow died in Co. Donegal, 46 years later in 1864.  Despite having seven children, Boom Hall estate passed back to James Alexander’s lineage and to Du Pré Alexander (1777-1839), 2nd Earl of Caledon and the only son of James (1st Earl of Caledon) and his wife Anne.

 

1818

 

 Du Pré Alexander (1777-1839), 2nd Earl of Caledon inherited the Caledon House estate from his father in 1802 and Boom Hall from his cousin Henry in 1818.  He remodelled and extended Caledon House to the designs of John Nash, 1806-13 and again in 1835.  He purchased an estate at Stratford near Salisbury (Wilts), to which the Old Sarum parliamentary borough was attached, in 1802.

It is not recorded that Du Pré Alexander and his wife Lady Catherine Freeman Yorke ever lived at Boom Hall – it is likely that Henry’s widow Dorothy and her children lived there for some time and that the property was then leased out.

 

1830s

 

 

The Valuation List of 1831 shows that Boom Hall was occupied in the early 1830s by the Very Rev Thomas Bunbury Gough, Dean of Derry – possibly due to the fact that the present Deanery was being rebuilt.  The lessee was Daniel Baird of Cassino, Londonderry.

Colby’s 1837 ‘Parish of Templemore’ states that Boom Hall was occupied by the Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, the Rt Rev. Richard Ponsonby.

      

Rev. Thomas Bunbury Gough (1777-1860), Dean of Derry and the Rt.Rev. Richard Ponsonby (1772-1853) – appointed the last CoI Bishop of Derry in 1831 before becoming the first Bishop of the united bishopric of Derry & Raphoe in 1834.

 

1839

 

 Du Pré Alexander was succeeded by his only son, James Du Pré Alexander (1812-55), 3rd Earl of Caledon.  A representative Irish peer from 1841-55, he died young (43yrs) leaving three sons and a daughter all under the age of 10yrs. 

 It is unlikely that James Du Pré Alexander and family ever lived at Boom Hall as he had also inherited the Caledon House estate from his father in 1839.  He sold Boom Hall in 1849 to Daniel Baird and so ended the Alexander family association with Boom Hall after 80 years.

 

1849

The Boom Hall estate was sold to Daniel Baird on 29th October for the sum of £6,000. The estate extended to 125 acres.

Daniel Baird

 The Baird family rose to prominence in the early 19th century through the business activities of Daniel Baird (c.1795-1862) who was a merchant and shipowner, trading principally with the West Indies and the Baltic.   A one-time Mayor of Londonderry and alderman of the city, Daniel Baird became High Sheriff of Co.Tyrone in 1854, where he had acquired an estate of around 5,000 acres in and around Newtownstewart.  If his social progress was smooth, his home life was more troubled. His first wife Mary died in 1837 and several of their children also died young. He married again and had a further daughter, but she also died young.

Daniel Baird lived at Boom Hall from 1849 until his death in 1862.  When he died, his entire estate was left in trust to his only surviving descendant, his grandson Daniel Baird Maturin, with his widow and second wife Barbara (nee Delap) having “the benefit and living of Boom Hall for her natural life”. 

 Daniel Baird Maturin was the son of his eldest daughter Jane (died 1851) and her husband Charles Maturin, a barrister-at-law who later became the Crown Prosecutor for County Londonderry. As his name suggests, Maturin descended from a Huguenot family who had arrived in Ireland from the Low Countries in the early 18th century. Several members of the family, including Charles' father, Henry Maturin, were Church of Ireland clergymen. 

 

1862

Daniel Baird passed away on 2nd March 1862 - Boom Hall and the immediate demesne was left to his wife Barbara for her life (died 22nd January 1879) with remainder in strict settlement to his 13 year old grandson David Baird Maturin at age 25yrs conditional upon him adopting the name Baird as his surname.

Boom Hall was let to the Cooke family (John & Joseph Cooke are recorded as having lived there in 1870), although Barbara Baird continued to live there until her death in 1879.

 

1875

 

Daniel Baird Maturin (1849-1924) applied to adopt the surname of Baird pursuant to the terms of the "name and arms clause" imposed by his grandfather.  His step-grandmother's life interest in his estates ceased with her death in 1880.  Boom Hall had been let to the Cooke family since 1862 and he continued this arrangement. 

Meanwhile Daniel Maturin-Baird built himself a new house on the Newtownstewart estate which he had also inherited from his grandfather. 

 

1878

The ground rents were purchased from The Honourable, the Irish Society on 22nd January for the sum of £416.3.4.

Boom Hall (front garden) - photographed by Alexander Ayton in the late 19th Century.

 

1880

Upon Barbara Baird’s death full control of Boom Hall passes to her grandson Daniel Baird Maturin Baird.  He was 30yrs by this time and had established a life for himself in London - he chose not to live at Boom Hall, instead to continue to lease the house, grounds & contents to the Cooke family (John & Joseph Cooke were both trustees of Daniel Baird’s will).

As the political situation in Ireland deteriorated in the late 19th century, many Anglo-Irish families found it prudent to establish a home in England, and Daniel had done this by 1889 - living permanently in London. Later in the 1890s he bought a suburban villa called Croy on the Portsmouth Road at Kingston-on-Thames and moved his family there.  Maturin-Baird married Eleanor (nee Parsons) in 1889 and had 3 daughters and a son.

 His property in Ireland was either let or managed by agents.  Boom Hall was leased to the Cooke family until about 1882, and later to James Corscadden until 1892, Sir John Barr Johnston and H.J. Cooke.

 

c.1882

 

Boom Hall is leased to James Corscadden Esq. until about 1892.  Corscadden was a ship owner / shipping agent and timber merchant. 

 

c.1892

 

Boom Hall is leased to [Sir] John Barr Johnson - originally from Beragh, County Tyrone, he had come to the city as a young man and built up a prosperous business in the agricultural, implement and seed line.  During his Mayoralty, Johnston had the honour of welcoming the future King George V and his Queen, then the Duke and Duchess of York, to the city.  He was knighted the following year (1899).

 

Boom Hall was the setting for many social gatherings.  On 9th August 1898 a garden party was held here to welcome the annual visit of the Irish Society.  Many of the city’s dignitaries were received by their hosts the Mayor, John B Johnston and his wife.  The 3 men standing at the back, looking slightly out of place, are employees of [Sir] John Johnston

 

c.1900

 

Boom Hall is leased to Henry J. Cooke (eldest son of Joseph Cooke).  It is believed that the Cooke family continued to live there for several years after Henry’s death in 1923.

 

 In this view at Boom Hall c.1900, Joseph Cooke and his wife Frances can be seen seated by the entrance porch.  Archie Cooke is seated on horseback while two of his brothers, John (wearing the fez) and Harry, are leaning against the porch wall. George Gilliland, smoking a pipe, is standing holding the reins of his horse, beside him is his wife, Frances Cooke.                       (Photo courtesy of Mr & Mrs Patrick Cooke)

 

Boom Hall 1909

 

1924

Daniel Baird Maturin Baird died on 6th June resident in England. Boom Hall estate is inherited by his only son Lieut. Col Charles Edgar Maturin-Baird (1899-1994),

Charles Edgar Maturin-Baird continued to let Boom Hall to the Cooke family

 

 Henry J. Cooke and Family c 1910

and then to Michael Henry McDevitt whose family ran a local hosiery business until the Second World War when it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy.

Charles Edgar Maturin-Baird married Angela (nee Hatfield Harter) in 1922 and had 2 daughters and a son.  When he retired from the army in 1933 he bought Langham Hall near Dedham in Essex, a recently modernised late 18th century house, where he brought up his family.

    

Alec Wyncoll married Frances Caroline Cooke (who was known as "Carleen") in August 1923, the eldest daughter of the Cooke family who lived at Boom Hall.  In spring 1925, Carleen spent the last weeks of her first pregnancy at Boom Hall, where daughter Angela Mary was born on 24th March 1925. Alec is pictured at Boom Hall with greyhounds accompanying, in the weeks around Angela's birth, and is pictured looking relaxed both with the new baby and at ease in the grounds of the house. One of the greyhounds, Gyp, is shown posed beside the steps of Boom Hall's private lighthouse. In a later account to Angela of the day of her birth, it seems Alec spent several anxious hours outside in company with the gardener waiting for news to be relayed from within.

WWII

(early 1940s)

Boom Hall was requisitioned by the Admiralty and occupied by the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WReNS) who erected several American Quonsett huts around at least two sides of Boom Hall, the concrete bases of which remain. The WReNS left the Hall and Estate in a poor state of repaiir

 

1946

The house was left uninhabitable and in 1946 Charles Edgar Maturin-Baird claimed £2,600 in war damages against the War Office. The claim was eventually settled in full and Charles Edgar Maturin-Baird began restoring the house for reoccupation by his pre-war tenant, Michael Henry McDevitt of Red House, Castlerock (Donegal).

Delays in obtaining building licences and materials and disputes about the restoration process (apparently but Mr McDevitt objected to the pace of the work and the colour of the paint (green throughout) led him, however, to agree in 1949 to sell the house to the tenant and to hand over the remaining reparations money so that the tenant could complete the works to his own specification.

 

1949

Prior to the war, Michael Henry McDevitt (1894 – 1969) had expressed an interest in buying Boom Hall and after repairs had been carried out, Lieut Col Maturin Baird sold Boom Hall and a total of 26 acres (26a 3r 38p) to Michael Henry McDevitt for £3,000 on 3rd November – almost 100 years to the day that the Baird family had first acquired Boom Hall from the Alexander family.

Interestingly, McDevitt chose only to buy the house, contents and immediate surroundings of around 26 acres along with the stable block, but not the stack yard or majority of parkland, which originally totalled 125 acres. 

 

1950s

The remainder of the estate (approximately 100 acres of land) was sold to various purchasers in the 1950s ~ although it is believed that the Maturin-Bairds still own the foreshore, as it would appear that this was never sold.

 

1969

Michael Henry McDevitt died a bachelor and intestate on 18th May. Letters of administration were granted to a niece, Helen Mary McCann on 8th September 1969.  Michael Henry McDevitt never married and the house passed to his younger sister Annette Mary McDevitt who was the last person to live in Boom Hall.  

Annette was an English teacher in the local Thornhill College. She was unmarried and had no children.  Most of the house was closed up when she lived there, indeed the house fell into a state of serious dilapidation and the contents were routinely and systematically ransacked.  When Miss McDevitt died, the property was left to her niece Helen Mary McCann.

 

Miss Annette McDevitt – date unknown

 

Early 1970s

A major fire in the early 1970s destroyed the roof and gutted the building -essentially making the house uninhabitable.

Boom Hall is now in a decaying state. The stable block remains largely intact, although are in serious state of disrepair.

 

c.1980

  Considerable lands were vested for roadworks in connection with the construction of the Foyle Bridge (which opened in 1984) – the Boom Hall Demesne was effectively bisected.

Excerpt from John Doherty in ‘From the Collon to the Border’

One summer after picking Gooseberries at the McDivitt house at Boom Hall, I was asked to help out with some work in the walled garden. This was at the invitation of Patrick McDivitt, who seemed to be the only one who took an interest in the garden and grounds. Patrick was one of four people who resided in the big house at Boom Hall. The others were named Michael, Annette, and Marcella .The family had two other large houses; one at Fahan in Co Donegal, and one at Downhill, Co Derry.

They also owned a factory in William Street in Derry, which produced socks. During my time associated with the family this business had ceased, and all the redundant machinery was stored in the old stable yard associated with the Boom Hall house. Their other business was a drapery business which was in Duke Street in the Waterside. This business was still in existence in the 1950s, and Patrick and Michael worked in this business then. Annette was a teacher at Thornhill girl’s school.

I would have described the McDivitts as slightly eccentric, but a very honest and kind family. All of the four that I knew had not married. Patrick completed most of the work in the garden and in the grounds around the house. His outside work included cutting grass with a scythe, and pruning roses and grapevines in the greenhouse. My task was to accompany Patrick; he would do most of the physical work and I simply was there as a companion and to do light duties. Patrick was slightly hard of hearing and would always ask me to tell him if the family car horn sounded so that he could go for his dinner. This was the communication method between the others at the house and Patrick when he was working in the garden. Patrick also liked to smoke, and during these intervals he would tell me a little of the history of the house.

 The Boom Hall house was taken over by the Wrens during the 2nd World War, and they had to use one of their other houses. The Boom Hall estate, again, had two approaches from the Culmore Road, and each had a lodge. The back lodge and avenue were generally unused during my time. Patrick explained that during the war the approach to the house from the front lodge, a tree-lined avenue, was used extensively to store ammunition. The trees by the avenue formed a natural camouflage. In the springtime, Patrick would also attempt to prune the vines in the greenhouse, but there was such a large greenhouse that he never quite got to grips with it. When doing this he also took the time to explain how this should be done to myself. Across from Boom Hall, on the other side of the River Foyle, Patrick explained that there was a battery emplacement, which was for the defence of the shipyard during the war. This was referred to locally as the “battery plantin’”.

 At the age of 12/13 I was asked if I could do some minor tasks in the house itself. The front door of this house was actually on the second floor, and the lower quarters, which were unused at this time, were originally where the servants lived and contained the kitchens, etc. The interior was grand in nature, and was in good condition. The grounds outside of the house, however, were neglected, with bushes, grass, and weeds growing. I remember a set of stones placed in a semi-circle on the ground opposite the front of the house. Patrick told me these had come from the Giants Causeway. I used a bicycle to travel via the back lodge avenue to get to the McDivitts, and during the winter time this could be quite daunting and eerie, as the road was surrounded with large trees which completely covered it in places.

 My job was to bring coal up from downstairs for the fires, and either light the boiler or clean it out. There were two large boilers in place in the house, probably since the war years, but only one was used during my time. Coke had to be taken in from storage and left close to the boiler. Kindling was gathered from around the house and used for lighting the fire. I would carry out these tasks 3 times per week.