Hezlett House

Hezlett House

Downhill Demesne

Downhill Demesne

Hezlett House is a 17th-century thatched cottage located in Castlerock, County Londonderry. Built around 1691, it is one of the oldest buildings still in use anywhere in Ulster. The cottage has a cruck structure and is situated at the crossroads near the village. It was originally a rectory or farmhouse. Here you will find magnificent cliiftop walks, affording rugged headland views across the awe-inspiring North Coast. The visitor can discover the striking 18th-century mansion of the eccentric Earl Bishop that now lies in ruin, then explore Mussenden Temple, perched on the cliff edge. As an extra treat you can learn about the reality of life in the rural 17th-century cottage of Hezlett House, told through people who once lived there.


The house at Liffock became home to the Hezletts in 1766 and stayed within the family for the next 200 years until the National Trust acquired it. Much is documented about the members of the Hezlett family who lived there. Isaac Hezlett (1720-1790) was the first Hezlett to live in the cottage at Liffock. He acquired the dwelling and some land in 1766. At this point in his life he was married to his second wife Esther and had two sons; Samuel from his first marriage with Margaret Kerr and Jack, half-brother to Samuel. When Samuel’s father died, he inherited the farm at the age of 37 and about five years later he married Esther Steel. She was 22 years his junior and they had eight children.

This story was handed down through generations of Hezletts. Samuel was intimidated by local insurgents to join the United Irishmen; his half-brother Jack was an ardent supporter. He was threatened to be hanged from the Spanish chestnut tree in his own garden. By 1798 the rebellion was at its height and the two brothers were on opposite sides of the war. 30,000 lives were lost when the rebels were finally defeated. Jack escaped to the recently created United States of America while Samuel remained with his family in their home at Liffock until he died in 1821. Samuel's eldest son Isaac (1796-1883) married Jane Swan (1805-1896) in 1823. He built a two-storey extension to form a new self-contained unit for his mother and sisters. This extension could be regarded as a forerunner of what we call today a 'granny-flat'. Isaac also increased the acreage farmed at Liffock.

Jane was an educated and capable woman and by marrying her, Isaac ensured that his offspring would be well nurtured and given encouragement to develop their abilities. At least two of their sons were sent for a formal education to Templemoyle Seminary; an agricultural school. A third son attended Royal Belfast Academical Institution and another one became a bank official. Hugh (1825-1906), Samuel and Jane’s eldest son, increased the acreage of the farm once more. By putting his education to good use he made the farm more productive; more cash crops were grown and the herds of dairy cattle and sheep were increased. The outputs from the farm which generated income included the cash crops of flax, barley, potatoes, oats and turnips, in addition to wool, milk, calves, pigs and eggs. Hugh also oversaw an extensive re-modelling of the farmyard and outbuildings. The 1881 Gladstones Land Act paved the way for further Acts which enabled tenant farmers to buy the land they had hitherto rented. So by the early 20th century the Hezletts were not tenant farmers but owner-occupiers.

The second Hugh Hezlett (1872-1946) inherited the farm in 1906 when his father (the first Hugh) died. He managed the farm and dairy, while his brother Thomas performed much practical labour and ran a daily milk round in Castlerock. He married Margaret Ann Mark in 1910 and they had three children. As he got older Hugh spent much of his time and energy devoted to public life. The third Hugh Hezlett (1911-1988) married Molly Douglas in 1945. They adopted a child (Hugh Douglas, born in 1960). He now lives in the Isle of Man. In 1976, with funds provided by Ulster Land fund and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society the National Trust acquired the house from Hugh Hezlett.


Frederick Augustus Hervey was born in 1730 as the third son of John Hervey, heir to the 1st Earl of Bristol. It was unlikely he would ever inherit the title, so he chose a career in the Church. It appears that he wasn't the usual churchman. Frederick inherited the title of Earl of Bristol in 1779, after his brothers died. But there's much more to Frederick then his titles. The facts tell us that Frederick married Elizabeth Divers at 22 and that they had five children. He was appointed Bishop of Cloyne by his brother - the 3rd Earl - in 1768 and only one year later as Bishop of Derry.

The Earl Bishop was an eccentric and colourful person. He had an eye for the ladies and was reputed to have had many affairs, earning the nickname 'the English Casanova'. Among his mistresses was society beauty Madam Ritz, as well as Emma Hamilton who was also the mistress of Admiral Lord Nelson. What society said about the Earl-Bishop - 'That abominable wicked old fello'; - 'A most excellent companion, pleasant, intelligent, well read'; - 'A shallow stream, rapid noisy, diverting but useless'; - King George referred to him as 'that wicked prelate'; - His own daughter called him a cruel man. The other side of Frederick. There is no doubt that the Earl-Bishop was a cultured man. He was widely travelled and had a fine appreciation of art, especially Greek and Italian. Frederick was well read and he was an expert in flora and fauna. There are many examples of his eccentricity. It is said that he made his clergy run a leapfrog race on Downhill beach to see who would win the best area. When he died while travelling in Italy in 1803, he asked that his body be shipped back to England in a cask of sherry.

Mussenden Temple is probably the Earl Bishop's most famous construction, standing on the very edge of the cliff above Downhill Beach. But a family scandal is associated with this awe-inspiring building. The domed Mussenden Temple was designed as a library and built for the niece of the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry - Frideswide Bruce, of whom the Bishop appears to have been extremely fond. Some say the Earl Bishop and Frideswide were far too close - when the Bishop disagreed with his long-suffering wife, he often went to stay with his 'cher cousin'.

Without actually naming them, the Freeman’s Journal suggested that the relationship between the Earl Bishop and his niece was not altogether proper and - although this was later denied in print - the mud stuck. Frideswide married a wealthy and elderly London banker named Daniel Mussenden and, as a gift to her, the Earl Bishop built the splendid library called the Mussenden Temple. This was to house part of his celebrated Library and was supposed to be a place to which Frideswide, when she visited, could retire. The temple was finished in 1783 but it's said that the mortification of the scandal affected Frideswide's health, which had always been delicate. Although there is no proof, it may have contributed to her early death. The Temple, which was to have been her refuge, became her memorial when she died in 1785.

The family history of the Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey, is as colourful as he was himself - full of gossip and scandal. If it wasn't for him, the Herveys would only be known for their connection with Ickworth and Downhill Demesne wouldn't exist. The Herveys were an established English family who held lands in Ickworth from 1467. When Frederick Hervey was born, it was unlikely that he would hold a title. His grandfather John was alive and Frederick was a third son. So how did it come to pass?

John Hervey was the founder of the family fortunes - created Earl of Bristol in 1714. The 1st Earl made two fortunate marriages, acquiring land and money. His eldest son, also called John, was heir. He had a sharp intellect and a keen ear for gossip. His memoirs of the Court of George II and Queen Caroline became a classic. However, John died before his father and in 1751, the title passed to his eldest son, George William. The 2nd Earl was a sickly character, forever 'taking to his bed'. Nevertheless, he was a prominent politician and administrator. He doesn’t appear to have been a pleasant person: arrogant and grasping, he used his position to benefit himself and his family. He appointed younger brother Frederick, Bishop of Cloyne and then Bishop of Derry - one of the richest bishoprics in Ireland. George died in 1775 and, as a bachelor, was succeeded by his brother Augustus, a naval Vice-Admiral.

Augustus – the unlucky 3rd Earl. The 3rd Earl made a disastrous marriage to society beauty, Elizabeth Chudleigh. As a sailor, he spent long periods at sea. While he was away, his wife conducted a series of affairs. While drunk, Augustus suggested that he hadn't been properly married. Taking him at his word, in 1769 Elizabeth married the ageing Duke of Kingston. Upon Kingston's death, the story emerged and Augustus was dragged into a society scandal. It appears that the bigamy scandal broke him or he was worn out with his own philandering. He died in 1779, leaving his estates, including Downhill, to younger brother Frederick. Frederick became 4th Earl of Bristol and is well-known as the eccentric Earl Bishop, founder of Downhill Demesne.


Tea and coffee facilities are offered at the reception of Hezlett House. It is perfect for a picnic in the sheltered gardens. Baby-changing facilities are available and pushchairs are admitted. There is a Family guide and children's quiz/trail. Family activity packs available. There are Mobility toilet facilities at Lion's Gate. Fully accessible grounds with grass paths and slight undulating terrain. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : Mussenden Road, Castlerock, County Londonderry, BT51 4RP

Transport: Castlerock (NI Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : Ulsterbus 234 Coleraine to Londonderry stops near by

Opening Times Hezlett House : Saturday to Monday, 10:00 to 17:00; 21st June through August, daily, 10:00 to 17:00

Opening Times Downhill Demesne : Daily, Grounds - Dawn till Dusk; Facilities, 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Adult £5.00; Children £2.50; Group Adult £4.25.

Tel: 028 7084 8728