The first group of people to inhabit this area were the Stone-Age hunter gathers, 7000-3500 B.C. To have survived they would have fished from the shores of the lough and hunted for pig, small animals and birds in what would have been dense forests that grew right up to the water's edge. They would have used flint to make arrow heads, Spears, axes and cutting tools.
Gradually hunting gave way to the Neolithic farmers, 3500-2000 B.C, who would have worked the land to grow crops and had domesticated animals possibly pigs, sheep or goats.
Scrabo Hill was occupied by people of the Bronze-Age, 2000-3000 B.C. and then the Iron-Age, 300-500. The remains of a late Bronze-Age settlement can still be seen today on the area now occupied by Scrabo Golf Club.
Ted Griffith's study of the site revealed four huts grouped together in a circular enclosure, a hundred feet in diameter. At the northern end of the site, was a second enclosure which contained a single large hut. Outside the enclosure were further huts.
Scrabo Tower, which was built in 1857 stands in the center of what was an Iron-Age fort, (Iron-Age 300 B.C. - 500 A.D). The fort was oval shaped, three hundred feet long and one hundred and twenty feet wide, and was surrounded by a ditch. When lightening conductors were being added to the tower during the 1980's animal bones and pottery were found.
These finds were used to date the fort to about 500 A.D. This was an impressive hill fort and could have been used by the rulers who lived in the area in historical times.
Although an important area from Early Christian times, the first town
was not built until the coming of the Norman adventurer, John De Courcy,
in 1177. Following Norman practice, the conquered area was divided into
small counties, one of which was the "County of BLAETHWYC of the
Ardes" and it was in this county that the New Town of the Ardes was
The extent and perimeter of the medieval town have never been exactly ascertained, however the location of pottery and other finds from this period would suggest that the town wall (probably an earth bank) may have run from the tide bank at the Ards Bowling Club, across the present Court Street and High side, to the vicinity of the Market Cross along the North Side of Greenwell Street and rejoining the tide bank just beyond the present Market Street.
In the center of the little town, the great Dominican Priory was built in 1244. About the same time the Abbey church of Movilla was rebuilt and its ruins can be seen today on the eastern outskirts of town.
The medieval town declined along with the Norman colony and was
reduced to nothing more than a few mud-walled cabins and roofless
buildings by the time Hugh Montgomery and the Scots settlers arrived in
the Spring of 1606.
Montgomery used the old Priory as a temporary residence and soon started to build a typical Jacobean market town. One of the principal streets was High Street with its merchants and traders, houses and shops. By the end of the 17th century this street extended into the present Mill Street. Other streets constructed at this time were Greenwell Street, Movilla Street and Market Street. At the meeting of these streets the Market Cross was erected in 1636. It was during this period that Scrabo stone became widely used in both public and private buildings and its use predominated as the town expanded during the 18th century. The Market Cross was built using Scrabo stone as was the Market House which succeeded it in the 1770's.
It was at this time that the town was redesigned with a new town center based on Conway Square based on Conway Square (named after, Alexander Stewart's daughter-in-law, Lady Sarah Frances Seymour-Conway) and with new streets radiating north, south, east and west and named after these compass points. Early in the 19th century Regent Street was constructed and Francis Street widened to provide a coach route through the town from Belfast to Donaghadee. These two streets provided the main thoroughfare of the town to this day.
The town continued to expand throughout the 19th century. New streets were laid out to house the handloom weavers and other workers. To cater for the spiritual needs of the people, many new churches were built and the number of Presbyterian churches in the town further increased following the religious revival of the 1850's.
Commercial premises were built, such as factories, shops and banks
serving not only the needs of the town's people, but those of the
surrounding countryside. The 20th century has seen continued suburban
expansion and the role of the town change from that of a market town to
a dormitory town of Belfast.
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