A HISTORY OF BELFAST.*
IN his preface to this work, the author tells us that having in early life turned his attention to historical and topographical matters connected with Belfast, and having published anony- mously so far back as 1823 the result of his inquiries, it was suggested to him a few years ago that the subject was worthy of being resumed and enlarged upon. Unwilling, however, to un- dertake the labour himself, the author applied to Mr. William Pinkerton, and he consented to compile a history of the town, but died before he had gone further in the matter than the col- lection of a number of documents, which he left unarranged. Under these circumstances, Mr. Senn, feeling it incumbent upon him to take up the matter, resolved, as he says, to write the history in his own way, and though he speaks very modestly of his labours, he has evidently bestowed upon them much thought and care, the result being a volume which, if somewhat ponder- ous in matter and in style, yet contains much curious and valuable information, and which is, perhaps, as good as the subject and the material from which the work was to be gathered permit of its being made, especially as the chronological limit which the author has assigned to himself does not admit of his touching upon the present condition of trade and manufacture in the capital of the North of Ireland. Mr. Benn says little or nothing of Belfast as it was in early times, having been unable to discover more than one or two casual references to a spot which was, however, in immediate proximity to the residence of the Kings of Dala- radia, and where in the year 666 a battle was fought between the Ulidians and the Cruithians, upon the " fearsat " or ford which now runs through the town, and from which its original name of " Bel-Feirste " is evidently taken. He jumps, therefore, * A History of the Totes of Belfast. From the Earliest Times to the Close of the Eighteenth Century. With Maps and Illustrations. By George Bean. London: Marcus Ward. all at once to the twelfth century, at which period John de Curd, a near relation of the King of Man, created Earl of Ulster by Henry II., but called by the monkish chroniclers " Prince of Ulidia " (Le., Down and Antrim), is supposed to have erected the fort or castle, having attached to it the Chapel of the Ford, on the site of which latter, in the High Street, now stands St. George's Church. For the next four centuries the place seems to have continually changed owners ; at one time in the possession of the O'Neils, at another of some English lord or commoner who had obtained it and the surrounding country by deed of gift from the English Sovereign. Essex appears to have been the first ruler to whom the idea occurred of building " a small town " upon a site so advantageous, or as he expresses it, " armed with all commodities, as a principal haven, wood and good ground, stand- ing also upon a border, and a place of great importance for ser- vice ;" but it was left to Sir Arthur Chichester to carry out the measure, and he did so in 1611—that is, about thirty-five years later—the town having been soon afterwards constituted a corporation, with a sovereign or chief magistrate, twelve burgesses, and a commonalty. But the rise of Belfast was in its early days by no means rapid, as it was its unlucky fate to be for a long period perpetually contended for by the Scotch settlers, the Irish Catholics, the Royalists, and the Parliamentarians, and Mr. Benn's history of these petty squabbles is extremely dry and un- interesting.
The author himself declares Belfast to be " unfortunately wanting in all the great essentials with which towns and cities, either ancient or so large, often abound. We have," he adds, "no musty charters or archives, no rare Church history, no patron saint to reverence, no old buildings, civil or ecclesiastical, sur- rounded with historic associations, or glowing with the antique beauty of medieval days, no real archeological lore ;" and indeed but for a few remarkable old documents, he would have been in a sorry plight when attempting to reproduce for us the condition of the place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The expenditure-roll of the Earl of Donegal, deposited in the Public Record Office in Dublin, which gives a minute account of all his disbursements of the years 1665-6 for his private household, as well as for his estate and farms, affords a curious insight into the domestic history of the time, and the prices of provisions and of labour at that period, such an entry as the following enabling us to perceive very clearly the backward state of civilisation in the North of Ireland at that time, "paid labourers for ten days carrying provisions and other things to Carrick- fergus," said provisions and things being of course conveyed, says the writer, on the backs of horses. Indeed, a century later, wheeled vehicles seem to have been rarities in Belfast, and turf and hay were even then conveyed into the town upon slide-cars, or as they are termed by the Northern peasants, " slipes," a kind of rude cart, with shafts so prolonged as to reach the ground be- hind, doing duty in clumsy fashion for the absent wheels, and scraping along in a way most objectionable to the poor horse, whose back had to bear the weight of both cart and load. It would appear from the Donegal roll that a summer suit for a young gentleman of eighteen could be had in 1666 for the modest price of 7s. 11d., while a whole year's " Diett, schooling, cloaths, and other things," for this same Mr. Charles Chichester, cost but £16 15s. 4d. A hundred loads of turf were bought for 30s., while a plumber's labourers (the number is not stated) for twelve days received only 7s. Gd. A pair of pumps for my lady's running footman are purchased for 1s., a pound of tobacco is charged 2s., and a bottle of sack 3s. We also find from the roll that Lord Donegal must have charged himself with the duty of cleansing and repairing the streets of the town, since there are sundry entries of payments on these accounts. The Castle itself seems at that time to have been a tolerably fine edifice, with extensive grounds and gardens ; we hear of the bowling-green, the cherry garden, the apple garden, &c., and in the map of 1685 the topography of the spot is very clearly given, and shows the connection of the sea-water with the gardens, the walks having apparently extended to the water's edge, as we find also an entry in the roll,—" Paid for drawing thorns from the gardens, to make a waye to the edge of the sea," and payments for rolling, cleaning, repairing such walks, and wheeling in ashes and " sinders " to improve them. But while, says the writer, there is mention of strawberries, currants, and gooseberries, the only notice of flowers is this one—" Paid for making boarders [borders] at the Rampier, and for women gathering violatta in ye fields to sett in the gardens."
The old town-book of Belfast is another and more prolific source of information, from which Mr. Benn quotes somewhat largely, giving many of the curious regulations for the government of the town, the management of fairs and markets, the arrange.
build a bridge over the river of Belfast, before his new house, so tial halberts, " the better to arm and strengthen the night-watch, and since novels are social photographs, we turn with the more for the good security and safety of the town ;" and it is further eagerness to Spielhagen, at the present epoch of perilous fermenta-
enacted that, "to prevent the dangers to which persons walking tion in Germany. In Sturmflut, Spielhagen's latest work of in the night about their lawful occasions are incident, every in- importance, he draws with a master's touch a social picture of the habitant in every street and lane of this Corporation shall henceforth, in every year, from the 29th of September to the 25th of March, bang out at their respective doors or windows one lanthorn and candle lighted, from the hour of seven o'clock till ten at night, when it is not moonshine, upon pain of 6d. per night ; " while it is ordained that all inmates and beggars Who come into and secretly convey themselves into the town shall be diligently sought for, and speedy measures taken to dis- charge the town of such. Police regulations, however, must have been decidedly unsatisfactory until a very late period, for in 1768 a proclamation was made to the owners of the swine which infested the streets, "to the discredit of the town," that if houses were not provided for them within five days they would be destroyed ; and the proclamation being disregarded, " the Sovereign, on the 24th October, 1768, with his own hands shot two, and offered to give 13d. to every person who shoots one." " It was a spectacle," says Mr. Benn, " to behold the Sovereign, armed with a pistol or an old flint musket, perhaps with some of the burgesses at his heels, moving stealthily along, probably in High Street or Castle Street, or some other frequented locality, to select a good position to bring down his game, and to hear every successful shot.cheered by the street arabs who followed his steps ;" and as he further remarks, the fact that such a proceeding should elicit no newspaper com- ment or special remark of any kind, gives a curious idea of the manners of the time. The " Bellhour " or bellman of the town of Belfast was in those days a corporate officer, and such a per- sonage, shorn, however, of most of his dignity, was in existence there at least as lately as the close of the old French war, the author himself remembering such an individual, "his cocked hat a little awry, his blue coat faded, the yellow border frayed and dilapidated, and other visible signs of decay apparent," proclaim- ing, with the waggery common to men of his class, "Pace now— Pace all over the world—except in Hudson's Entry, Law's Entry, Flea Lane, and Princes Street." Three letters, published in the Belfast News Letter, the first written in 1772 and the two others in 1780, give but a poor account of the impression made upon a stranger by the dirty town, with its dunghills piled up in the centre of the streets, the absence of pavement, and the scents which greeted the nostril. One of the writers, however, speaks of the in- habitants as industrious and careful, but not very sociable, and says that a spendthrift might learn a. good lesson by spending a little time there. In this latter respect, perhaps, Belfast has not changed, while in all others the strides made during the past fifty years may almost be said to b e magicaL Since the granting of perpetuity leases in 1822, and the introduction of flax-spinning, it has risen from a town of small importance to be the commercial metropolis of Ireland, with a prospect of continuous and advanc- ing prosperity, although, as Mr. Benn shows us, many trades which were once flourishing there have become extinct or of little consequence, giving place to others which have assumed gigantic proportions. His chapters on the former commerce of the town, and on the old families connected with it, as well as the Belfast literary characters of the last century, are all of interest, and more especially so are the pages devoted to the early local tokens. Some of these bear the symbol of the bell, and in one of them we find the double 1 in the name of the town. Mr. Benn gives illustrations of a number of these early local tokens, one of which is heart-shaped ; and the celebrated " Belfast ticket," of course, appears amongst them. Some lengthy appen- dices conclude this history, and contain lists of the Sovereigns and burgesses of Belfast, with those persons who paid hearth- money, the portrait and will of Arthur Chichester, first Earl of Donegal, the pedigree of the Chichester family, and some his- torical matter which it was not found convenient to introduce into the body of the work.