The History of Prehen House

Prehen House is one of the North West’s most historic buildings. Situated next to the famous woods, it commands stunning views of Derry, the river Foyle and the hills beyond.

Prehen is intimately linked with the history of Derry. Records reveal that it was inhabited by 1640; in 1738 the Knox family began their great association with Prehen when Andrew Knox, the MP for Donegal married Honoria Tomkins, the Prehen heiress.In Victorian times the colourful Colonel George Knox was one of Derry’s most eminent figures. But with World War I looming his grandson Baron George Carl Otto Louis von Scheffler Knox was put under house arrest. Soon after the 3,641 acre estate was seized as ‘enemy property’.

Happily, the house was brought back into another branch of the Knox family and today the North West has a wonderful heirloom forever linked with the history of the City.




Prehen was originally the home of the Elvins and the Tomkins families. The early eighteenth century marriage of Andrew and Honoria brought about the great Knox dynasty at Prehen.

In the mid-nineteenth century Colonel George Knox fell in love with a Swiss girl, Rose Grimm and had two daughters. The eldest married a German academic, Dr. Ludwig von Scheffler. Their son George became well known at the court of the Kaiser and moved in the highest circles throughout Europe.

This George inherited Prehen as Baron von Scheffler Knox. At the outbreak of the Great War he escaped arrest with local conspiracy and was able to rejoin his regiment in Germany, but thereby lost his Irish inheritance. The house was brought back into another branch of the Knox family and the Baron’s son was able to hold his wedding reception there in 1988.

Elsewhere, members of the Knox family have come to prominence. Dylwin Knox was pivotal in breaking the famous Enigma Codes. The Bible translations of Mgr. Ronald Knox have been hailed as major achievements, and there have been writers and poets aplenty, too.


The Legend of Mary Ann Knox has forever gained a place in the folklore of Ireland.

A daughter of Andrew Knox, she first encountered John McNaughten when she was 15 years old. He was twice her age and a gambler. In deep financial trouble, he was made welcome at Prehen by his old friend Andrew Knox. But McNaughten developed a fatal attraction for young Mary Ann.

When it was discovered that Mary Ann had been tricked into a secret marriage with McNaughten, they realised that he was after her dowry to feed his gambling habit. Preparations were quickly made to take Mary Ann to safety. On November the 10th 1761 Andrew set off with his daughter to Dublin. But the Knox coach was ambushed by McNaughten, and in the mayhem Mary Ann was fatally shot by her lover.

McNaughten went to the gallows but the hangman’s rope broke. With a chance of escape offered by an uproarious crowd McNaughten said that he did not want to be known as ‘half-hanged’. After being hung a second time, he has forever since been known as ‘Half-Hanged McNaughten’.

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