Mussenden Temple, Downhill House and the Earl Bishop

To the uninitiated visitor, Mussenden Temple is something of an enigma. It presents many mysteries: Is it really a temple? Who built it and why? What could possibly be inside it? A new book, The Earl Bishop by lecturer and broadcaster Stephen Price, sheds light on the fascinating story of the man behind the temple. The Earl Bishop was in fact Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry. Born into a distinguished Suffolk family in 1730, Frederick Augustus was many things; scientist, agitator, art collector and Royal Chaplain to George III, who referred to him as “that wicked prelate”.

In 1766 the eldest Hervey brother was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and he soon made Frederick Augustus the Bishop of Cloyne and then Bishop of Derry. The position brought with it a very generous salary. By his late thirties, Frederick Augustus had also inherited the estates of his two brothers and was sitting on quite a fortune.

While the value of money is hard to measure over time, Stephen likens Hervey’s wealth to the level of someone like Richard Branson. “The Earl-Bishop’s annual income was twice what it cost George III to buy Buckingham Palace,” he said.