Heart of the city
Standing on land reclaimed from the River Foyle, the Guildhall has been at the heart of city life since 1890.
Between the walls and the river
From the 1600s our town halls had been in the Diamond but in the late 1880s it was decided to locate the building that would become the civic hub of our city between its two most famous icons – the historic walls and the Foyle.
The Irish Society
The £19,000 (£1.5 million today) needed to build the new town hall was a gift from The Honourable The Irish Society, who also donated the land on which it stands.
What’s in a name?
The name Guildhall was chosen to mark our long connection with the City of London, whose guilds helped establish the city of Londonderry. This, however, does not seem to have been the original choice. When the foundation stone was being laid in 1887 the Governor of the Irish Society announced that the new Townhall would be called the ‘Victoria Hall’, in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee.
Consumed by fire
On the morning of Easter Sunday 1908 a devastating fire swept through the Guildhall, leaving only the clock tower and the side of the building facing the river intact.
Rising from the ashes
Despite the setback, optimism was in the air. Derry’s shipping industry was thriving, shirts made by the women of the city were worn around the world and what is now the world’s oldest independent department store, Austin’s, had just opened a striking new store in the Diamond. The Guildhall would be reborn, even better than before and, once more, The Honourable The Irish Society would bear the cost of the new building, this time a significantly more expensive £26,000.
The task of designing the beautiful red sandstone building you see today was given to the same architect, Matthew Alexander Robinson, recently elected city surveyor, engineer and architect, who designed Austin’s in the Diamond and who would later design Craigavon Bridge. Neo-Gothic with Tudor overtones, it would become the focal point of the city.
Windows to the past
Opened in 1912, the Guildhall’s colourful stained glass windows, some portraying city life over the centuries, would become its most popular feature. They were the gift of The Honourable The Irish Society and the London Companies, with windows representing the carpenters, turners, painters, ironmongers, glaziers and many others.
In 1972 many of those windows were damaged and much of the interior of the Guildhall was destroyed by bombing. It would take a six-year restoration programme before the building could re-open.
A place to share
It is here that our births, marriages and death are registered. Me meet and marry here, dance and debate, picnic outside in the sun and enjoy our city’s famed artistic offering here – theatre, music and song - and celebrate Christmas in style! Fairs and feis’s are hosted here and our councillors meet here every month (in a new Council Chamber when the Guildhall re-opens.) The Mayor keeps his Parlour here too and it is to the Guildhall that so many of our visitors come to learn about our city.