Establishment of Gwyns Institute
The Park owes its existence today due to two local philanthropic benefactors, each with two very different aims, namely John Gwyn and James Hood Brooke. The site was originally laid out in the Victorian era as part of the establishment of a boy’s orphanage. John Gwyn was a local businessman, who was born at Drumskellan near Muff in County Donegal in 1754; he moved to Derry with his mother and began a grocery business in Bishop Street. They prospered and John later became a linen merchant and gradually accumulated wealth. When John n died in 1829, this philanthropic bachelor had left the bulk of his wealth amounting to over £40,000 for ....................
‘as many male children of the poor or lowest class of society resident in and belonging to the city of Londonderry and the precincts around the same, as hereafter described, as the said funds will feed, clothe, and educate, orphans or such children as have lost one of their parents always to be preferred.’
The trustees of John Gwyn’s will purchased the site for the sum of £200 and on Monday, September 9th 1839, the foundation stone of Gwyn’s institute was laid by the Protestant bishop of the day, Richard Ponsonby. The building was designed by Samuel Jackson and built by John Lynn, the building opened its doors to its first pupils in 1840.
The grounds to the orphanage included formal grass terraces, a pond, rose garden, shrubberies and boundary planting, a kitchen garden and orchards. Although the orphanage, Gwyns institute was demolished in 1986, the grounds of the orphanage survive as the lower part of the park retains much of the original path layout and other features such as the grass terraces and the location of the pond remain. By the end of the 19th Century the children formerly cared for within Gwyn’s Institute were being boarded out and the building and grounds, including a un- gardened portion of the site to the north, became available for sale.