Thursday, 29 January 2015

Old Belfast

In 1789 Lieutenant Lawson published a Survey of Belfast Lough, a copy of which is now before us. On the Antrim side it extends nearly to Black Head, and on the opposite coast to Donaghadee. At the upper part it includes the town, and the district of Crumuck. [sic.] It is dedicated to the Earl of Donegall. Two engravings of the town itself, which accompany this Survey, are lithographed here.

An artist of about seventy years ago took upon him to give "A South Perspective View of Belfast, taken from Mr. Joy's Paper-Mill." The result of his labour appeared in a large tinted engraving, copies of which may be occasionally met with; and from it the reduced drawing, which is annexed to Lawson's Survey, and now copied here, has been made. Only two of the objects still familiar to the eyes of the present inhabitants appear in the view, – the steeple to the left being that of the Poor-house, and the next that of the Parish Church. The building with the heavy dome probably represents the Market-house, which then stood at the corner of High-Street and Corn-Market, the site now occupied by Mr. McComb's shop. The ancient bell which once repeated the hours, or rung the inhabitants to the market, was lately presented by the present Lord of the Castle to the Harbour Corporation. The old Long Bridge is shown in all its magnitude; but this, as well as Mr. Joy's paper-mill, which our artist selected as his point of sight, are now things of the past. The view, though far from being artistic or even correct, (buildings and objects which must have been in existence at the time, and within the range of vision, seeming to be overlooked,) gives, in a general sense, a very good idea of the appearance of Belfast at that period. The tongue of land, on which the old town originally stood, seems even at this comparatively recent time to have preserved something of its distinctive character, the water appearing to flow up for a great distance behind Ann-Street, – as far, indeed, as Arthur-Street, – and covering what now forms a very considerable portion of the modern town. The profusion of hillocks in the foreground, which may be presumed to represent hay-cocks, prove also that agricultural operations were proceeding in places now occupied by more imposing erections. The glass-houses in Ballymacarrett, if the magnitude of the volumes of smoke issuing from their summits be sufficient evidence, were in full blast; and they were at this time very generally visited by strangers as one of the sights of the town. Among the limited number of buildings here represented, which then composed the town of Belfast, some "old inhabitant" may happen to discover the house of his ancestors, or, peradventure, that near which his own childish foot-steps strayed.




About the same time that this perspective view was taken, a ground-plan of the town on a confined scale was also before the public, either preparatory to Williamson's enlarged map, or reduced by some other hand from that more correct and valuable document. Of this also we give a copy. A very cursory examination of this plan will prove how very inferior it is in minute accuracy to the maps of modern times -- those of the Ordnance Survey, for example. The true direction of the streets, in some instances, is not properly laid down, nor their comparative length and breadth at all preserved. The parish church, rather incorrectly marked with reference to adjoining streets, is called St. Mary's; Waring-Street is very unlike itself in width; the streets in connection with North-Street are not laid down as they now are; and places are shown as being built on, which were open for many years after. The Exchange at this time seems to have been in Ann-Street. Most of the other public buildings marked, are still known; but what is the meaning of "Line of Intended Canal," running apparently in front of the Linen Hall, then recently erected? Was it some engineering speculation of the day, in connection with that famous stream called the Blackstaff?*

The water surrounding an island in the view is probably the Lagan; if so, the draughtsman has ignored both the Blackstaff and Joy's Dam. The situation of the vessels leads to the supposition that the drawing was made previous to any embankments on the county Down side of the Navigation; and if so, its actual date must have been somewhat previous to 1789.

The view shows the Long Bridge, but does not recognise Ann-Street; and this map of the town we suspect is a transcript in part of a much older Survey carelessly adapted to a more recent general map of the district. It may perhaps be considered a map of about 1789. It shows Joy's Dam and the old course of the Blackstaff falling into the river above the Long Bridge. It also exhibits what in the old maps is called the "Long Bank," – the barrier which in ancient times protected the land above the bridge from the tidal water. A gentleman, to whom we showed this map a few days ago, recollected having been taken, when a child, along this bank, and having seen the waves breaking against it. The arches, shown on the plan given by the continuator of Rapin's History, were most probably about the part where Joy's Dam is here shown as intersected by this bank. That water-work, indeed, seems to have been little more than a confinement of a quantity of water in what had been the old bed of the Blackstaff, before it was directed into its present straight course, when the old course most probably gave vent to the superfluous waters only. A very intelligent contributor suggests, what we suspect is the fact, that all the maps of Belfast, previous to a comparatively recent period, have only been alterations, (not amendments,) of some ancient map, now perhaps lost; unless Captain Philips's is assumed to be the original.

The present plan, though rather incorrect and unsatisfactory, is, as well as other maps of Belfast, (both of more ancient and more recent date) well worth bringing under notice, as records of the progress of the town; and their publication in this Journal would ensure their preservation for the benefit and gratification of future inquirers into our local history. No apology is necessary to the readers of the Journal for presenting them with a plan and view of Belfast less than a century old. The changes have been so rapid and so sweeping, that the Belfast of that day has already passed into the realms of Archaeology.

G.B.

* Some contributor will, we hope, reply to this query in a future number.



This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1857.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Views in Belfast (1833)

Being a Supplement
to the First Volume of the Dublin Penny Journal.



ST. ANNE'S CHURCH. 

This church is situated in Donegal-street. It is the parish church, and was erected in the year 1778. It has a handsome Doric portico, and an Ionic tower, of considerable height, with a Corinthian cupola, which is of copper, the tower being formed of wood.



THE WHITE LINEN HALL.

An extensive range of building, situated in Donegal-square, completely surrounded by a handsome railing, on a low brick wall, coped with stone. The area between the railing and the building being tastefully planted with evergreens, and flowering shrubs, affords a most agreeable promenade for the inhabitants at all seasons. The interior of the building is fitted up with different offices and rooms for the factors, and is particularly well calculated for the purposes for which it was designed.



THE ROYAL COLLEGE.

The edifice erected for this Institution is an extensive range of building, surrounded by a wall, with an iron railing in front, situated at the western end of the town, apparently designed to form the centre of a square, on three sides of which, houses, many of them of a very elegant description, have already been erected. The building itself, however, although presenting rather a good front, is by no means of that architectural character which such an institution would demand.



THE CHAPEL OF EASE (ST. GEORGE'S).

Situated in High-street, and erected in the years 1811-12, on the site of an old church taken down in 1777, is an elegant edifice, the portico being one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the kingdom.



MEETING HOUSE, MAY STREET.

Is raised on framed foundations. The front is of modern or Scammozzian Ionic, having two columns and four pilasters, twenty-eight feet high, and fluted. The columns and interior pilasters form a piazza thirty-six feet long, and seven feet wide, over which rises a beautiful pediment. The front of the building is finished with a regular architrave, frieze, and block cornice, which give it a light, pleasing, and, at the same time, imposing effect. Around the windows are moulded architraves. The entrance is approached by a flight of eight steps, the floor of the building standing considerably above the level of the street. The interior is finished in a superb style. This elegant edifice was erected in the year 1828.



CHRIST'S CHURCH, COLLEGE SQUARE.

It being found that a Church was much wanted for the poorer classes of Protestants, the present edifice was erected. The sum of £2000 was granted by the Board of First Fruits; and £3000 were raised by subscription to complete it. It is a plain edifice, with a cut stone front and colonnade of the Ionic order, surmounted with an entablature; the other parts are of brick, with windows in recesses, ornamented with circular architraves. The interior is laid out to give as much accommodation as possible: there are seats for one thousand persons on the ground floor; and there is a handsome gallery, which holds upwards of six hundred persons -- it has been lately inclosed with an ornamental iron railing. It was opened in July, 1833. Near the Church a most commodious School-House has been erected, which was also completed out of the liberal subscriptions of the inhabitants.



MEETING HOUSE, FISHERWICK PLACE.

Erected in the year 1827-28, is built of polished freestone, of excellent quality; the superstructure resting on a basement of granite-stone, which is elevated above the surface about three feet. On the north and south sides are two ranges of well-proportioned windows, separated by a facia-course, which surrounds the building. The principal entrance is on the west front, which has a handsome portico of the Ionic order, consisting of four columns, and antæ, which support a regular entablature and angular pediment. The columns measure twenty-seven feet in height; the capitals of which are imitated from the Ionic temple at Ilissus, near Athens. The entablature of the order is continued along the front of the edifice, supported by antæ, over which runs an attic balustrade. The interior of the house, which is well lighted, displays considerable elegance.



The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, Supplement: Views in Belfast (1833)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Reminiscences of Belfast No2 (1857)

Some apology is perhaps due to the readers of this Journal, for introducing into its pages matters not strictly archaeological. Neither can the observations, such as they are, be properly called reminiscences, inasmuch as they are not exclusively personal, but drawn, to some extent, from information derived from other, but still generally living sources. The writer, however, certainly does not pretend to produce in them, either from his own recollection or that of others, anything on which could be bestowed the smallest amount of that research and learning expected in archaeological works; but being aware that even in such publications great interest has sometimes been attached, at least by certain readers, to the occasional papers of contributors on subjects purely local, or having reference to manners, customs, places, or occupations, that have passed away for ever in our own day or in the generation immediately preceding, and knowing how soon matters even quite recent are forgotten amidst the exciting events of rapidly-expanding towns, he is induced to contribute the few following slight and unconnected notes to the sum of local knowledge, in continuation of his former paper (vol. 3 [1855], p. 260). If much research and ability be required to bring to the open day, – to put in their true light, – objects or deeds which the rust of antiquity has shrouded for ages, some credit, though certainly far less in degree, may be conceded to those who endeavour to preserve things that are passing away, before that rust has concealed them from the public gaze.

Some observations were made in the former paper on the great changes that have taken place in the course of years on the public roads and entrances into Belfast. This naturally leads, as a sort of associating link, to remark on the mode of travel in those days as compared with the present. Beginning with that which was always, and which is still, one of our chief outlets, namely, the road to Carrickfergus, the writer has been informed that about the year 1811 the Academy boys, who were accustomed to assemble before school hours at the Church gate in Donegall Street, were rather disappointed if the ten o'clock bell rang before the "Royal Oak" came forward, that they might see the unusual spectacle, and give it a passing cheer. This it appears was the name of the sole conveyance at that time between Belfast and Carrickfergus; at least exclusively, for it is probable the mail-coach to Larne was running at this period. The vehicle named the Royal Oak or Carrickfergus coach, however, is described as having been originally, to all appearance, a private carriage; but it had fallen from its high estate to public uses, and was just sufficient to accommodate three or four inside passengers. Some person will remember whether it was a daily conveyance or confined to a tri-weekly journey; most probably the latter was sufficient for the travelling wants of the time. It rumbled down Donegall Street with its three or four "insides," the driver apparently quite proud of having accomplished in two or three hours his toilsome journey; and in truth the way, however beautiful and populous now, was in many places both bare and lonely. "Who that sees the unceasing movement of private and public conveyances now on that noble line of road – almost a continued suburb of the town – the crowds of passengers carried several times each day to Carrickfergus and the different stations on the railway, would think it credible that so great a change should have occurred in a space of time so comparatively short? Yet a nearly similar statement might be made of the increase of travelling on every great outlet from the town. Indeed travelling at the period now alluded to was a very serious affair, but about fifteen or twenty years earlier more serious still; and a journey to Dublin, for instance, at the era last referred to, was not to be lightly undertaken. The writer has often heard from relatives the usual method of accomplishing the latter exploit, sixty or seventy years since; for it is not possible to be precisely accurate in inquiries of this kind. A journey to Dubbin was then generally got over in about two days and a half in a post-chaise, at the small charge of nineteen-pence half-penny per mile. Two or three persons would commonly unite in this venture, reaching Newry on the first night, where, of course, they remained till the following morning; and in this way, if no accident occurred, arrived in the metropolis in the time mentioned. Glancing for a moment again to a period beyond those post-chaise days, it may be mentioned, as a statement worth noting, that a very old inhabitant of Belfast, lately deceased, was accustomed to relate, as one of the most curious things that had come to his knowledge in his time, that the ancestress of two or three of our leading families, (whose descendants, perhaps in the second or third generations, have risen to the highest commercial eminence, and who was herself in business,) was in the habit of going from this town to Dublin to purchase goods, mounted on horseback on a pillion behind her servant. This is no doubt an old story, and probably happened about the same time that linen was carried from Armagh to Dublin for sale on horses' backs, which is, I believe a recognised fact; yet it may not be so long ago either, as I have been informed by a very old person that, in her youth, she had seen pillion-riding practised by ladies of station, – one of title among the number. Leaving these remote days, however, and coming nearer our own time, it may be mentioned that, down to a comparatively recent period, travelling on horseback was quite the usual system tor business people; the state of the roads, and the want of public conveyances, rendering it indeed almost the only mode practicable. There are persons living still in towns twenty or thirty miles distant from Belfast, and many of them able to do a good day's work yet, who never thought of any other way of coming to town for business purposes but on horseback. The method of transacting the affair, so far as the travelling part of it was concerned, was after this fashion. A number of the shopkeepers, for instance, or other inhabitants of a town at some distance, would arrange among themselves when it might be convenient to go together, mounted, to their provincial capital, to purchase or sell goods, or transact other business. Their going united in this way was for the sake of company, or at least it was a very common practice; and if all were not ready at the same time, those who were unprepared would be waited for by the others for a day or two; the "go ahead" principle not being in so much vigour then as it is now, nor was time of so much value. It was but seldom that these travellers returned home on the same day, if the distance were considerable, on account of the fatigue of the journey, as well as the time it occupied; and to inquire whether, on some occasions, like the fragments of a routed army, they found their way to head-quarters again in smaller parties, how and when they best could, might, in Shakespearian phrase, be "to consider the matter too curiously." All this will seem very strange to the present travelling generation, accustomed to the speed, the punctuality, and economy of the railway. Very strange, no doubt, to them it will appear, to be told that there are persons still living who, when occasion obliged them to visit Antrim, found the most easy and convenient way of reaching that town was to go on horseback by the old Shankhill Road, right up North Street, and over the mountain above Wolf-hill. By such mode and by such way (the road by the shore, past the Whitewell, not being much better), was Antrim, as well as the important localities beyond it now accessible by railway, reached within a period of seventy years back, or less. Travelling on horseback for business purposes continued even after stage-coaches were introduced. Nor is this to be wondered at, as the roads, even quite near Belfast, in many instances continued down to a late period almost entirely unlit to be travelled with convenience by wheeled carriages. It is not much more than twenty years ago since the stage-coach between Belfast and Downpatrick required from four to five hours to complete its journey between these two places; – eight to nine weary hours of the day being taken up with the double journey. Old travellers on that road, very little previous to the time mentioned, will recollect when the coach stopped at the Beech hill above Belvoir, and several other hills on the road nearly as bad, where it was expected they would alight to enable the horses to drag the nearly empty vehicle up the steep ascents; and if any of them felt disposed to help the machine forward by a good push behind, the service was not thought altogether needless – at least it was the jest of the occasion. The road spoken of was shortly afterwards, no doubt, improved; and in a few months more I suppose the railway now in progress will be the means of reducing this journey to an hour or less, with the entire absence of all trouble and fatigue. Such will indeed be a contrast to what was stated to me once respecting the County Down roads and method of transport. A most respectable man told me, many years ago certainly, and when the informant himself was at a very advanced age, that in his younger days he had been accustomed to send oats to Belfast market in a sack slung across a horse's back, the distance being about sixteen miles, the roads being unfit for any lengthened journey with the wheeled cars of the day, the only vehicle known:– for there were no carts at the time, either for farmer or common carrier; and all this was in a part of the country distinguished now for its progress in everything tending to prosperity and material advancement.

But we must not lose sight of our town, our more special locality, in gossiping about these County Down roads and carriages. The old Corporation of Belfast was a sort of a myth – one of those unsubstantial things of which a good clear view could never be got. The members had, in a manner, no corporate identity; they were destitute of cloaks and cocked hats, without which, of course, no civic importance could be. Many of those dignitaries were non-resident; and the whole affair, though constituted under an ancient charter, had dwindled into the most perfect insignificance. There was certainly a chief magistrate called a Sovereign, who possessed some rights, and exercised magisterial authority. There was also very frequently to be seen, I remember, as a representative it may be supposed of the entire corporate body, an old man called a Sergeant-at-mace; but what the mace was like, and whether he possessed such a bauble at all, were subjects of frequent discussion among the juvenile population. These remarks are intended to be introductory to a circumstance rescued from forgetfulness, and which is of itself sufficient proof of the powerlessness or neglect of the old corporation, and of the very ineffective way in which things were done forty years ago. It is unnecessary to say that such a body as a day police was then unknown, but there actually was a time about that period when there was no night police. In consequence of the frequency of street robberies accompanied with violence, a number of the respectable inhabitants voluntarily enrolled themselves as watchmen to guard the town, and in parties of three or four individuals perambulated the streets during the night, holding their head-quarters in the old Exchange, now the Belfast Bank; and when those who had been out on duty, striking terror to evil doers, came in for rest, others proceeded to perform the same round. It has not been communicated to me how long this continued, whether it was the exclusive night force, or was auxiliary to a few hobbling old men with long grey coats and big wooden rattles, who either then or afterwards constituted the police. It is probable there were no other guardians of the night whatever than those respectable inhabitants who united for this necessary and useful purpose. Two of them, the writer is aware, (and there may be others) are still living; and the book containing the record of the proceedings of this volunteer force is yet in possession of an old and respected merchant of the town.

But if the Sovereign and the other members of the corporate body did not attract so much notice in those days as might have been expected, not so the town Bell-man. This functionary was in constant requisition, exercising his calling as if in a small country town full of petty cases and interests. Belfast then was in fact a small country town in comparison with its present greatness; and it is only among a community limited in point of numbers, and not spread over a very extended space, that the services of a bell-man could be suitable or effective. However, so it was – the bell-man was a reality. He wore a cocked hat and a long blue cloak with a yellow border. In this costume, which from some unaccountable cause soon lost its freshness, but with which he was perhaps furnished every year, he was accustomed to proclaim auctions; to announce that a boat of fresh herrings was on sale at Custom-House Quay; where cheap oaten meal was to be had; that a little girl had strayed away from home, giving, at the same time, a most minute account of the dress and appearance of the runaway; or that such an article had been lost, and offering a reward for its discovery; with the invariable addition "that no questions would be asked." These statements may all appear very trifling and unworthy of record, but really the change from such a state of society in an inconsiderable number of years, to the present civic importance of Belfast – so populous, and with so many great establishments, while the active and influential members of its community know generally nothing of the past history of the town which is the scene of their labours – should not be altogether unmarked. The particular instance brought forward is not mentioned on account of possessing anything remarkable in itself, but merely as one indicator of change and progress. Indeed the time was, and not very distant either, when all the people in the town seemed in a manner to know one another; when the few magnates among us created quite a sensation on their appearance in the streets; but now the magnates are so numerous that they are quite undistinguishable in the crowd. There would also seem to be an entirely changed state of feeling, both on matters on which it is forbidden here to make any comment, and likewise on social questions. As an instance of the latter I have just time to remark that it is little more than forty years ago since two men were publicly executed on a scaffold erected in Castle Place, in the most public part of the town, for attempting to destroy the inmates of a house in Peter's Hill with an infernal machine. Half a century earlier perhaps the heads of culprits would have been exposed, as matters of course, on spikes above the town or castle gates. The modern instance occurred, however, as related, and is only introduced here as a proof of the altered state of public feeling, as no such exhibition would now for a moment be thought of or tolerated; and I could mention many little pieces of domestic history pointing with equal distinctness to the changes which time produces. Thus, there was once a busy little mart of a book-shop in North Street, near the corner of Rosemary Street, which would now and then be closed up; on which occasions this notice would appear on the door, "Gone to Dublin, and will be back in a few days;" indicating both a very easy-going way of doing business, and that even in the book line the Irish capital was in a great measure the centre of supply. Let not this be wondered at, for there were no steam-boats; and even so lately as the winter of 1822 I knew an instance of a person being three weeks at sea before his passage was made from Belfast to Liverpool. Such cases were probably not rare; they formed effectual bars to any considerable intercourse; and direct trade of the smaller class of dealers with England or Scotland, now so general, was then all but unknown. I mentioned just now, what the curious eye might have detected at certain seasons and at a certain period of our town's history, on the book-shop window. On another closed shutter again, or perhaps on several, but in a more obscure locality, so well as I am informed, – the time being a fine sunny day in the month of July, – this notification might be seen, "Gone to the Races"! – so small and simple were Belfast people in these good old days. As in other large towns, the locality, and even the very residences occupied by the gentry or principal inhabitants of one generation become the shops and warehouses of the next, to descend again in some instances, and as time advances, to tenancies of a still lower character. It is unnecessary to say that Donegall Place was until lately the residence of that extinct body, the aristocracy of Belfast. At another period again, High Street contained the dwelling-houses of some of the most important families. So did Donegall Street, Castle Street, and some others; and even in North Street, it is not yet half a century since ladies might have been seen carried to evening parties in sedan chairs, (vehicles now, at least for that purpose, unknown in the town,) their tottering bearers enabled to see their way by the aid of a few public oil lamps which shed their feeble rays across the street.

The supply of water has always been a fertile source of trouble in rapidly increasing towns. The increase of inhabitants is indefinite, at least cannot be calculated on, and an over-abundant supply has not generally been provided to meet the wants of a subsequent time. Our town, of course, has not been free from the consequences of this perhaps inevitable course; but it also stands conspicuously forward as having, in its day of small things – at a very early period indeed – provided its inhabitants with water by artificial means. In the early part of the last century, underground wooden pipes were laid down in the streets, to convey water from the Tuck-Mill dam for the convenience of the inhabitants. I am not sure that anything of the kind was done so early in Liverpool, or in some other great places which have even exceeded Belfast in rapidity of growth. It is also to be noted, that this early water supply was probably to a great extent the result of private enterprise, being generally attributed to one of the Macartney family. These wooden pipes, however, continued to be serviceable down to a recent period. I remember two establishments, and there were probably others, which received water from this source; and I have seen many of these wooden pipes finally taken up. It must, no doubt, have been an entirely insufficient supply for the wants of the town; but the more recent history of the means taken at different periods to supplement it does not come within the scope of the present paper. I can only refer by light touches to matters of minor importance, and not at all to such a serious subject as pipe-water. Thus, many now rather grave personages in our streets will recollect when in their school-boy days there were two public fountains in Fountain-Street, (from which that street derives its name,) and from which water was carried by the inhabitants of the adjoining localities for domestic uses, their houses being unprovided with it; and also when that indispensable article was very generally conveyed through some of the streets by carriers, for sale, in casks, on small carts, drawn by donkeys or old horses, the owners ringing little bells to announce their approach. It was retailed by the bucket; and I believe that for some very highly-prized water there was, till lately, a revival or continuation of the more ancient and general practice.

The present subject is capable of great enlargement. There are many notices, for instance, regarding certain branches of trade and manufacture which have either become extinct, or have altogether risen up within memory. Flax-spinning, which has probably contributed more than any single cause to make Belfast what it now is, dates only from the year 1829. The cotton manufacture is, as is well known, much older; and persons have told me that they remember horse-power in Waring Street being employed in spinning cotton, at the same time that there were large establishments operated upon by a more powerful agent. Many will recollect also the sugar-houses in Sugar-House Entry, and elsewhere, and probably several other branches of manufacture, which, like states and empires, have had their periods of rise, decadence, and fall. Then again the rapid increase of the population is a subject worth taking a note about. An old inhabitant who died about two years ago, informed me, that when he came to Belfast as a youth to serve his apprenticeship, the utmost limit then put on the population of the town was 12 or 14,000. – But it is perhaps unnecessary to continue these rambling recollections any further; what has been written will serve to explain the nature of the information considered to be worth preserving, and may induce others to relate their reminiscences, and probably to bring forward some facts far more interesting than any which could be recorded by the present writer.

G.B.



This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1857.



Thursday, 8 January 2015

Reminiscences of Belfast (1855)

It has been stated that there is no town in the empire which has extended so much, or has undergone such thorough changes in its outward appearance, during the last forty or fifty years, as Belfast. Two or three great manufacturing places in England and Scotland can alone, for rapidity of growth, be put in competition with it. It would be desirable, therefore, that those who remember what this town was fifty or sixty, or even twenty or thirty years ago, should, for the information of the present new generation of inhabitants, and for that of those who in time will push them from their seats, detail what they recollect or have heard of its past condition. If all tho old inhabitants would simply relate what they know for publication, some very important and interesting information would be obtained -- so important and interesting indeed, that when this Journal reaches the venerable age of the Gentleman's Magazine (at which distant period Belfast will probably contain about a million of inhabitants), the numbers containing those statements will be sought for with all the zeal peculiar to antiquarian pursuits, and estimated as beyond all price by the discriminating and curious inquirers of another age. To obtain such a result it is essential that facts of the kind referred to should now be placed on record, as the changes for some time past have been so marked that the necessary knowledge of the juvenile days of our town may be otherwise, in a great measure, swept into oblivion.

To begin at the outside -- at the old boundaries. It may appear somewhat strange to those who only know and can think of Belfast in its present condition as a great manufacturing and trading town -- as altogether new -- to learn that it had once an ancient, strong, and beautiful castle, and that it was in a manner a fortified place. It is not very many years since the last remains of the castle were removed. It is possible that some old person familiar with the locality may recollect the appearance of the ruins -- whether anything was found at their final demolition -- or some noteworthy circumstance in connection with an edifice which was a lordly mansion, and commended for its beauty, grace, and ornament both by the casual traveller and the royal visitor. Part of its site is now occupied by a market, but the place at which it stood is sufficiently indicated by the names Castle-Place and Castle-Lane. As far as can be discovered Belfast was not walled, but merely encompassed by an earthen rampart and deep ditch. The writer perfectly recollects the latter in at least two places. One of these places was between Hercules-Street and Smithfield, in what was, at the time, to some extent waste ground. The other was somewhere near the line of Upper Queen-Street, then not much built upon; but both localities have been so entirely changed that it would be quite impossible to denote the situation of the ditch otherwise than by this general, perhaps vague description. The little boys of that day were accustomed to call these places "the Ramparts;" they were very dangerous and ugly ditches; the depth was uncertain, as they were always full of stagnant and fetid water, but the breadth was probably not less than twenty feet. There were two town gates: one was called the Mill-Gate, and is said to have stood at the junction of Chapel-Lane with Mill-Street, which is perfectly confirmed by finding the ditch in Queen-Street not very far distant; the other gate was in North-Street, near John-Street, and was called the North-Gate. These were the two great outlets from Belfast in ancient times, and they remained so till times not very ancient at all; as many persons will recollect when the way to Lisburn -- by the county Antrim side, that is, -- was by Castle-Street, Mill-Street, Barrack-Street, Durham-Street, and Sandy-Row, and so on to the Old Malone-Road: they will farther recollect when the Linen-Hall was unenclosed at the back, and the broad roads, or now rather streets, which approach it in that direction, were not made. Indeed the writer has himself a sort of faint remembrance -- or rather, he is drawing just now on the memory of another -- to have heard, when a child, a person who came to visit his father from a distance complaining of the way he had ventured to come into town -- by some new road they were making through the fields behind the Linen-Hall. His horse, he said, was up to the saddle-girths for a long distance, and he thought he never would get extricated from the difficulties of that perilous way. This was the present Linen-Hall-Street. Now the other great outlet from the town, by the old North-Gate, led not only to Antrim over the mountains by the Shankill-Road, but also to Carrickfergus. The former route to Antrim and the interior of the country was the old Irish way, and was that used within memory; but there is no one now living who can recollect the way by North-Street as that which was required to be taken in proceeding to Carrickfergus, and yet it really was so. The road to Antrim and other places led straight on; that to Carrickfergus turned to the right at the top of North-Street, passing over Carrick-Hill, so called from being the direct route to that town. The writer was once told, a great many years ago, by a very old lady, a native of Belfast, that when a girl she had seen the Judges of Assize proceeding down Waring-Street to Carrickfergus. This was to avoid the circuitous route by North-Street here described: for at the period in question, probably eighty or ninety years ago, not only was York-Street not in existence, but the top of Donegall-Street itself could not have been opened. Indeed York-street, he has been told, is not yet fifty years formed, and when it was being made there were trees, fields, and ditches in Donegall-Street some distance below the Poor-house. The procession of the Judges through Waring-Street, however, proves that there was another method of exit from the town besides the two original gates. There appears to have been a sort of sally-port, or third gate, nearly where the late Mary-Street was, for the purpose of crossing by the Strand to the country on the Carrickfergus side. This, when peaceful times succeeded, settled down like the two greater gates into a common road or outlet from the town. It appears to have taken the direction of a street called Green-Street, and was most probably the outlet on the Carrickfergus side for persons travelling along the Strand. In this year of 1855 there is not the smallest remnant of castle, gates, ramparts, ditches, or any other object to verify the existence of all these in former days.

Leaving the military position of our town (in which, it must be confessed, it does not appear to have ever arrived at much distinction), we next come to inquire what reminiscences any old inhabitant retains of any buildings within the small compass of the ancient boundaries. Many, without doubt, will recollect the old Market House, which stood in High-Street, at the corner of Corn-Market: it was long in a ruinous state, though we have heard that it was used as a prison in 1798. When it fell into the ruinous condition in which it appeared at the beginning of the present century, or from what cause, seems uncertain. The building on the "Belfast Ticket," which was described by the writer in a former article in this Journal, was conjectured to be the representation of the Market-House of Belfast, in its palmy days. -- None now alive will remember the old church of Belfast. This was also in High Street, occupying, as is well known, the same ground on which the present St. George's Church stands. An old man once informed the writer that he was attending divine service in this church, when an alarm was given that a beam had broken, which produced the usual effect -- the rapid departure of the congregation. It was taken down soon after, though the use of the consecrated ground around it for burials continued for many years, and no doubt persons are living who have attended interments in this place. It was enclosed next the street with a high wall; there were many old monuments and tomb-stones within its precincts, but it had always a neglected and ruined aspect. In the old map of the town, in the British Museum, this church and the castle are the only two public buildings conspicuously marked within the ramparts, and probably many interesting particulars regarding both may yet be brought to light. There are now several episcopal churches in Belfast, but in the times to which we are looking back there was only one -- the Parish Church, as it was called, in Donegall-Street. More curious still, there was also, in those days, only one Presbyterian Meeting-House, belonging to the Synod of Ulster, in the town; the small congregation in Donegall-Street not being of much account, -- neither minister nor people, as it appears, professing opinions altogether in accordance with the recognised standards of the church to which they were nominally attached. It is, therefore, right to say, that but one congregation, in a town in which they are now so numerous and important, represented the entire body of Orthodox Presbyterians of the Ulster Synod, at a period advanced a good many years into the present century. This was the Meeting-House of the 3rd Congregation, in Rosemary-Street (at present under the ministry of Mr. Macnaughtan), which stood on the same site as the present building. It was a very plain edifice, with A.D. 1722, the date of its erection, placed over one of the windows, and when pulled down, a few years ago, was the oldest structure of an ecclesiastical kind in Belfast. The Meeting-House in Berry-Street, which belonged to the Seceders, is also an old building, as are the two in Rosemary-Street, connected with the Presbytery of Antrim. The oldest Roman Catholic Chapel in Belfast is that in Chapel-Lane. We were once informed by a person that he remembered when there was no Catholic Chapel whatever in this town, and that an old dilapidated house in Castle-Street, or Mill-Street, was used as a temporary place of worship; and so unfit was it for such a purpose, that he and others were obliged to provide themselves with bricks or pieces of wood to kneel on during the service. Most of these things are recorded merely as points of contrast between the past and the present, and by no means exhaust the subject, as there must be many circumstances connected with houses of worship in Belfast, and possibly with other buildings that have ceased to exist, which posterity would like to know. It ends all, however, that the writer can now think of as necessary to relate, and so far as external appearances are concerned, regarding the ecclesiastical architecture of our town of old date; that department so dear to the antiquary -- to all educated persons -- so full of interest, beauty solemnity, to all the civilized world. There is not here -- there never was -- any noble old church or cathedral, with monuments and records, with tombs of the mighty, the pious, the learned, the wise; there is "no castle, fort, or tower" -- not even an old house -- not a building of any description, to attract by its quaint antiquity the notice of the passing traveller.

The changes about the quays of Belfast have been so great of late years, and the old land-marks, or rather the old water-marks, have been so entirely removed, that it is very difficult to remember their former situation or appearance. Many persons will recollect the formation of Donegall-Quay, and when almost the entire shipping-trade of Belfast was confined to the small docks that ran up into the town, now closed; and the old narrow quays called Hanover-Quay, Custom-House-Quay, Chichester-Quay, and Merchants'-Quay. These were all quite insignificant, and yet it is to be supposed they were great works in their day. At an earlier period, and before any quays were formed, the embouchure of the little stream which ran down High-Street, depositing its turbid waters in one of the extinct docks above named, was the first and only harbour for ships, in this now important port. Even long after the formation of these quays, it must have retained its use and character; as in the Belfast News-Letter of 22d May, 1770, a tobacconist advertises his goods, and describes himself and place of business as "James Simm, on the Old Kay, opposite the Church."[1] This very strikingly corroborates a statement once heard from an old cooper, that he himself, when one of the "bold 'prentice boys," of Belfast, had often fished in the river beside the church. It does not require, however, to be very advanced in years to call to mind the limited accommodation which existed for shipping till of late times. Older persons will recollect before Donegall-Quay was made at all, and when any quay-room, much above the old Lime-Kiln Dock, scarcely existed; the ship-building yards higher up, and some trifling accommodation beside them, being too far removed at this time from the business parts of the town, and not applied to any extent to general shipping purposes. If we state what is incorrect on this or any of the other subjects touched upon in this paper, we are willing and anxious to be corrected; and as in no particular Belfast has made such rapid strides as in the improvement of its port and harbour, it would be most important that some one duly qualified should describe what the quays and docks of Belfast were seventy or eighty years ago; which could be readily done, if a map of their condition and extent at that time could be procured. There is indeed nothing which will so much strike a native inhabitant of Belfast, or one who has resided in it in his early days and comes to visit it again with his memory awake, as the great changes which have taken place in the part of the town near the sea-side. Not to speak of new cuts and artificial islands in the channel itself, there are docks, quays, houses, public buildings, streets, all the bustle of life and business, where many will well recollect the peaceful strand or solitary fields reclaimed from the tide. The writer of this has bathed, in his juvenile days, in what he thought was deep water, where there are now streets, far within the present outer boundaries, too, of the town in that direction: he remembers when the place called Thomson's Bank was Ultima Thule, a territory quite out of "humanity's reach," and to have heard, a good many years after its reclamation, some of the wise men of the city predicting, or considering it possible, that in the course of centuries Belfast might stretch away to that distant region. There are now on it two flax-spinning mills, the new salt-works, some other large establishments, various buildings, houses, roads, and streets in progress, preparatory to the inevitable, perhaps speedy, submission of the whole tract to the dominion of mortar and bricks and mountain whin-stone, or its restoration to the dominion of old father Neptune in the form of floating-docks. This subject could be extended to a great length, for there are other sides of the town which havo burst their boundaries quite as much, and far beyond the limits to which the most sanguine imagination would have confined them thirty years ago.

When speaking of docks and harbours, we naturally revert to a building which has great connection with them, tho Custom-House of Belfast. This is an old and ugly structure -- as old, perhaps, as the quay which adjoined it, or as the era of the accession of the House of Hanover, to which event that quay was probably indebted for its name. It had been long much too confined for the trade of the port -- was in fact discreditable to it, and will cease to be applied to its present use on the completion of the new Custom-House, now in course of erection. Some inquirer into local history will perhaps preserve the knowledge of its exact appearance and position, at what time it passed away, or was degraded to a meaner office. It would not be less interesting to know what manner of Custom-House preceded it, and what were the nature and extent of the trade of Belfast from the earliest times. In the Belfast Mercantile Journal and Statistical Register there are some papers giving interesting particulars respecting the original Custom-House and the general trade; but these subjects are not precisely those best fitted for the present publication.

G. B.


1. The quay extended as high up as Skipper-Street -- a name in itself suggestive of the vicinity of shipping.



This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 3, 1855.


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Fun in the Pun with Mary and the Lamb


Poetry... What can I say... it's complicated... You just have to look at its wikipedia definition to see that:
Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.
It can be funny, sad, emotional, meaningless, challenging, pretentious [insert adjective of choice] but, more than any other art form, is oh so subjective...

Of course everyone's a poet! Just ask anyone one who works on a magazine with a poetry column. It's not easy to tell someone that the opus they submitted and put their heart and soul into is... not very good.

I was reflecting on this the other day (as you do – especially when the traffic means your journey to work is taking forever) while pondering that most well known form of poetry – the Nursery Rhyme (I doubt there is one person out there who, if asked, couldn't recite one at the drop of a hat) specifically...
Mary had a little lamb
it's fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went
the lamb was sure to go. 
Now before anyone posts a comment that the original states (allegedly) the lamb was a 'he' in the spirit of political correctness I am being gender neutral :P

What you may not realise though is that there are other verses to this popular little rhyme however I thought this one that I wrote is really much better:
Mary lost the rag with this –
It was a little... sinner!
So she grabbed by its scrawny neck
And chopped it up for dinner.
Always have been very fond of lamb chops :) (Please note – no real lambs were injured in the writing of this rhyme!)

And how many of you recall this version which, as a child, seemed so funny...
Mary had a little lamb
she also had a bear.
You always saw her little lamb
but never saw her bear.
(Bear... get it... you could be talking about the bear or Mary being bear... no... oh well...)

I recall using that little ditty as an example years ago when discussing a friends poetry and the merits of how saying the same thing in different forms and styles can affect it such as...
Mary watched her lamb at play
in fields of grass that dance and sway,
but heartache drove her fervent prayer –
sweet memories of her absent bear.
and...
Mary sighed
the lamb sprang
the evening closed
the bear gone
and for this post I've even attempted some haiku...
Spring brought forth the lamb
but Mary did not see it
for her heart was bear
or
The lamb nudged Mary
the promise of Spring brought forth
two had become three


Anyway... I don't think i'll be submitting a magnum opus for publication anytime soon but hopefully I've a least raised a little smile.

Happy New Year :)


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Christmas Fairy

Have you heard of the Christmas fairy, sweet,
Who keeps the home so bright and neat?
Who enters the room of boys and girls,
And finds lost marbles or smooths out curls.
Who mends the rent in a girlie's frock –
Or darns the hole in a tomboy’s sock?
     If you don’t believe it is true, I say,
     You may search and find her this very day,
          In your home.

You must not look for a maiden fair,
With starry eyes and golden hair;
Her hair may be threaded with silver grey,
But one glance of her eyes drives care away.
And the touch of her hand is so soft and light
When it smooths out a place for your head at night.
     If you know of someone just like this,
     My Yuletide fairy you cannot miss –
          It's "Mother."





Poem: The Witness, 11th December 1914.
Image: Christmas Angel by Karen Tarlton.

The Unknown Helper

Grateful to host and hostess, too,
On both your heartfelt thanks bestow,
But don't forget, whate'er you do.
The girl who hung the mistletoe.

Acclaim the half successful trick,
The good old game be shown, or show;
But let your heart to thank be quick –
The girl who hung the mistletoe.

No more the entertaining guest
Your gratitude should feel and know,
Than the unknown, the unconfessed –
The girl who hung the mistletoe.

Applaud the useful vocalist,
The raconteur's delightful flow,
But treasure, when you've cooed and kissed,
The girl who hung the mistletoe.





Poem: The Witness, 11th December 1914.
Image: Mistletoe by Debra Hall.