In keeping with the trend that Downton Abbey has set this week I decided to share a little secret with you all. If, like me, you love Downton Abbey and all that’s associated with it. From the beautiful 1920’s style outfits to the décor and old English Language that’s used. Then you will love this because we have our very own Abbey in our very own city…
Prehen house is beautiful raw stone manor which overlooks the river foyle and city of Londonderry. With its expansion of green walled gardens and an adjacent coach house it’s no wonder the Department of Enviroment called Prehen a building of national importance. Not only is the house steeped in history but it also holds the North Wests greatest and most tragic love stories…the legend of half hanged McNaughton.
I remember being a little girl when I first heard of Prehen house and the legend that is linked to it and being automatically fascinated but it wasn’t until two years ago that I made my first visit to the house. Given a guided tour by the current owner, Colin Peck of The Peck family. I was completely speechless as we walked from room to room but the minute you walk through the door you’re instantly transported back through the centuries to a world since gone by.
The Knox family first began their association with the house in 1738 and then moved in in 1740. Andrew Knox, the MP of Donegal married Honoria Tomkins, the Prehen heiress. They had two children George and Mary-Ann Knox. Mary-Ann was thought be very beautiful and she started to have an affair with a man called John McNaughton who was a friend of her fathers and they were also of the same social class. The two fell in love but Andrew Knox opposed the relationship and the marriage so the couple married in secret.
In 1760 in an attempt to keep the lovers apart Andrew Knox planned to take his daughter to Dublin in a coach protected by armed outriders. John McNaughton hijacked the coach and an argument broke out which resulted in John firing a gun but sadly Mary- Ann died from the bullet. McNaughton fled but was later convicted and sentenced to public hanging. Nobody would take the job as hangs man as he was quite popular in society so Andrew Knox hired his own men and the rope snapped. The crowd shouted for him to flee but he spoke back and said that he loved his wife and he did not want to be known as ‘half- hanged McNaughton and ordered the hangs man to get on with his work. Since this his name lives on a legend.
When I entered the hall on my visit I instantly fell for the house and this is why I love it so much. Standing tall is four busts showing off faces of previous family members. The staircase is straight opposite on the right and a door to the left, if I remember correctly is the kitchen and scullery and a secret door takes you to what would have been the servant’s quarters.
The two adjacent rooms, the first on the right being the drawing room. It is in this very room that Mary-Ann Knox was waked. The next door is the library, but was a dining room back in the 1800’s. This is my favourite room in the house. As I looked around I instantly think that I would be quite happy to be locked in here for a while. It is home to over 2500 rare books.
Colin Peck who is the proud owner and is responsible for the uptake of the house which his parents first bought in 1971 after years of neglect. His ancestors owned it from 1740 until 1914. Prehen house was thought to be designed by Micheal Priestly and owned by the Knox family for 170 years. Although the house is full of memorabilia I was told that the Knox possessions were auctioned after the Great War. At this time the lord of the manor was German and was put under house arrest. After he escaped back to Germany the estate was seized as enemy property and was auctioned in Belfast in 1912. Sadly only some of the items were saved and remain in the house till this day but there are in fact photographic records.
Mr Peck and his family should be very proud as they have managed to bring the house back to life without losing its character. It feels very odd standing in jeans with the light flickering overhead because when you look around you half expect candle light and flowing Victorian style dresses.
If you haven’t already been I strongly urge you to pay this outstanding place a visit. I for one cannot wait to return to this grand old home on the top of the hill.