The Scots Market Town : 1603 - 1770

This section deals with the history of Newtownards form 1603-1770: an era which saw the birth and development of the town as we know it now. When Sir Hugh Montgomery came in May 1606, all that remained of the town founded by the Normans, 400 years previously, was the ruined walls of the Priory and the stump of an old castle or tower house of the O'Neill era. Using this as a temporary residence Sir Hugh energetically set about developing a typical Jacobean market town of which Newtownards is a classic example. It must be remembered that a town was a lucrative investment for its owner or landlord and money accrued from many different sources of which the principle were: (a) The rents of houses and the small holdings of land in the Towns Parks, which went with each house; (b) Fairs and markets in which a toll was paid to the landlord on every item sold; (c) Courts of various kinds where the fines and costs became the perquisites of the magistrate; i.e.., the landlord or his agent; (d) A "Pound where stray or impounded animals could only be redeemed by payment of a fine; (e) Licenses granted to the individuals or groups of craftsmen; (f) A manor mill in which tenants of farms in specified town lands were forced to have their grain milled; a proportion of this (the 'Moulter') went to the miller who in turn paid a rent to the landlord; (g) The Church which was entitled to a tithe (tenth) of the estimated income of every tenant over a wide district. Some of his money found its way into the pockets of the landlord or his agent and was the cause of endless litigation; (h) In the case of a borough the privilege of the landlord whereby he was able virtually to nominate two members to Parliament; (i) Government grants for the building of a 'Bawn' or defended house and the equipping of a militia or local defense force.

Provision was made for all these by Sir Hugh Montgomery and his successors in their energetic development of the town. In 1608 he built his defended house and bawn in the grounds of the old Priory, later occupied by the Castle Gardens Mill and now by a department of the Post Office. All that remains of this are the gateway and the bawn walls with their flanker towers; the walls may not be the original and were probably erected or repaired by the Collville family who bought the town in 1675 from the Montgomery; the first bawn may well have been defended only by an earth bank and water ditch. At the same time (1607) he rebuilt the North aisle of the old Priory and added a tower and steeple to form the official Church of the new community. 

Patents were issued for the holding of Markets and Fairs; the market place later (1637) marked by the Market Cross was at the meeting point of the main roads, Greenwell Street, from Portaferry and the Ards, Chapelbrae Street (Movilla Street) from Donaghdee, an old road now disappeared by the back of Victoria Avenue from Bangor and the very old road by Corry's Street and High Street from Belfast. The present Market Street probably indicates a market and fair green. The market house was on the site of the present Electricity Board show room and the sovereign's (Mayor's) house was opposite to it. An inn on the opposite side of the road, now closed and due to be demolished has a panel bearing 1619 and the initials HM and IH; these were Hugh Montgomery (a relation of Sir Hugh) who was the 'seneschal' and Jean Herriot his wife.

The merchants' and traders' houses and shops spread up the High Street to Pound Street in a long continuous line punctuated by the archways giving access to the rear for the farm vehicles and animals used on the Towns parks. These access arches are still numerous, particularly on the south side of High Street, the most picturesque example being the cobbled alley-way beside Messrs. Edgar's shop. A house, No.10 Mill Street, bears at the back the date 1693 showing that the long street had stretched from the Market Cross to there by that date. The craftsmen seem to have been situated mainly at the foot of Greenwell street or in the Pound street area; this name of course, is derived from the town "Pound" which is still there. The Manor Mill (1622) was on the opposite side of the road to the present building and a little bit further west; some of the foundations, a date stone and the mill race which ran from the mill pond in the hospital grounds can still be seen.

An interesting feature of the town was the 'Back Street' which apparently consisted of a single row of houses stretching from Price's Lane to Mary Street and lying between Francis street and East street; the general line and indeed some of the individual houses can still be traced. This "Back Street" seems to be a feature of the 17th Century town; e.g., Anne Street in Belfast was originally Back Street.

It was the quarter allotted to the labourers and servants, presumably native Irish and Catholics and signal the period of discrimination and oppression which this Century ushered in. About 1620 the Great School of Newtown was established (Montgomery MSS., ed. Hill P.126) probably in Movilla Street, where "golf, archery and football were introduced. This is the first reference to golf in Ireland: perhaps Ards Football Club would also like to claim this distinguished lineage.

This stormy political history of the 17th and early 18th Centuries to a certain extent bypassed Newtownards. The town was saved from destruction in the rebellion of 1641 - a fate suffered by most Ulster Towns - by the vigorous military defence of Lord Montgomery, though the rebels do seem to have got as close to the outskirts of Comber and Dundonald. Apart from damage to its Market Cross it suffered as little in the Cromwellian period and it played little part in the Williamite Wars though part of Schomberg's army was billeted here in the winter and spring of 1689-90. Perhaps Newtownards owes its continued existence in this period to the widespread use of non-flammable Tullycavey (Tullykevin) slate - the last remnants of which are just now disappearing - as much to the moderation and self reliance of its inhabitants. And so little of the town which originated virtually from nothing in 1606 had grown, as a (1777) contemporary account tells us to a settlement of "about 500 houses built of stone and slated". It has now set for its great period of growth and prosperity in Georgian and early Victorian times under its new landlords, the Stewart (or Londonderry) family.




















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