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(by HERBERT DEVINE.) Belfast Telegraph 1929

Belfast, in 1660, consisted of five streets and five lanes, comprising one hundred and fifty houses, all told.

But rapidly, every year afterwards Belfast spread out and increased.

Even in 1666, Belfast paid by far the biggest "hearth money" tax III all Ireland.

The "hearth money" tax, ancient in England, was first Imposed in Ireland by Charles II. The ancient roll of names of those who paid this tax was kept In the ` Record Office in Dublin, so was probably, consumed in the burning of that building It was, of course. in no very well- preserved condition even before that, but the list of names was legible and very interesting.

Lord Donegall had forty "hearths," the largest number in any house in Ireland at that time. Indeed it, would take some beating to-day. Actual "hearths," you know. Not windows. The Earl of Meath built a house in Dublin about this period. The house was considered to be a very grand one. But it had only twenty-seven chimneys. After Lord Donegall's residence there were only two houses in Belfast with four chimneys. There were nine houses with three, eighteen with two, and all the other hundred and twenty had one each.


If money was valuable in those days, less than £100 being the equivalent of several thousands of our money, the people got value for it. Some of the old accounts belonging to the Donegall family give us a very enlightening insight into the cost of living in, those "good old days." In that same year, 1666, for instance, sixteen yards of "mattin" were ordered for settling "My Lord and Lady's seat in church." Seems a considerable quantity for two :eats. Yes, but it was 2d a yard'.

Again, by "My. Lady's" order, "the Summer suit for Mr. Charles."-eighteen years of age-cost 7s 1½p. Not "a yard;" 7s 1½p for the whole suit for a lad of 18. And a great man's son at that.

Still. it takes some swallowing to grasp that money was quite so valuable as implied by the will of Thomas Dobbins, of Belfast. even in 1655. He leaves "to Alice Dobbin's children" (he leaves a doubt, with us as to whether they were his. Alice may have been previously married, of course) Anyhow he bequeaths to them "one half-crown to be equally divided among them, share and share alike." Nay, he does more. He leaves "the same sum-same manner of- in division for the children of his two sisters, when they come to demand it.'''

A more generous spirit. still, is exhibited by John Taylor who, some years later, leaves "His wife two silver spoons that were formerly her own." John Taylor could hardly take them with him-as he had presumably taken them from her on " What's yours is mine and what's, mine is my own."

An unusual tax was levied in 1773. Absentee landlords, who were away from their property for six months in the year, were ordered to pay a tax of 2s in. every £1 of rent.


In 1792 no carter was to travel on Sunday under pain of a fine of twenty shillings -some money for a poor Carter in those days and two hours "in the stocks." One rather fancies there is no record of a carter "trying it on" a second Sunday.

The year of the Rebellion was followed by two of the worst years ever known in Ireland. There were severe snowstorms in 1799, followed by constant rain an great floods. The crops were destroyed.

A proclamation issued in Belfast that none but brown bread was to, be eaten. And rich people were to have no "second course" at dinner. Soldiers were forbidden to wear any hair powder. All the money possible was to be given to the poor.

A generous collection was made for a soup kitchen. For 1s 1d nine tickets could he obtained. Better off people purchased these and distributed theta to the starving poor of the city. Each ticket secured one quart of soup and one pennyworth of bread.

Card tables were asked to double the sums left for cards. Dances and other amusements were expected to provide, 1s per guest for the charitable funds. Theatre tickets---an anticipation of the entertainment tax of our day !--were sixpence extra. And all the money thus raised was to be used for the benefit of the poor.

The next year was worse in its way. For 1800 was abnormally dry. The ground was parched. And still no rain fell. These two years were long referred to as "the wet year" and "the dry year." By 1801 all Ireland was in a deplorable state. For there was no old seed stock for supply anywhere.

The year 1800 seems to have been notable for a number of special new regulations in Belfast. "All wandering swine" were to be taken "for the use and benefit of the old poorhouse."

No burial was allowed to take place in St. George's graveyard under penalty of from £5 to £20.


The rates appear to have been very fairly arranged. Houses that paid from £5 to £20 rent had to pay 6d in the pound. Those that paid from £20 to £80 rent, paid 1s in the pound. Houses of over £80 a year rental paid 1s 4d. Houses unoccupied for 6 months paid no rates or taxes. Churches, public charities and foundations for education were all declared free of all tax.

An act was passed in 1800 for paying, lighting, and for keeping a night watch. The streets were to be widened, cleaned and improved. But not more than £1,000 was to be spent in one year.

Gunpowder was to be kept, locked in a separate place, and if it were not so kept a fine of £10 was to be enforced. It was also to be sold only in daylight, or £10 was again the fine. No fires were allowed to be lit, on board ships in docks on any pretext whatsoever, or there was risk of a penalty of £5.

The street lamps were well protected law. The punishment for breaking, extinguishing, or injuring a street lamp was from one to six months imprisonment

For training horses on the streets of Belfast ( ?) the fine was from 5s to 20s, the same as for throwing dust, ashes or rubbish on those streets. Hence, perhaps, the traditional cleanliness of Belfast, constantly remarked by strangers. Second nature.

Two masons in Belfast struck work in 1800. They were sent to jail for three months. Six shoemakers combined in the same year to have their wages raised. They were at once sent to Carrickfergus Jail. the judge remarking: " How could trade go on or trade improve if such actions were permitted." His lordship would rub his eyes to-day!


Beggars in Belfast were obliged to wear badges at this time as so many "outsiders" began flocking into the city in the beginning of the century when Belfast was already going ahead by leaps and bounds.

Two men were hanged in front of the Bank Buildings in 1816. for burglary. Belfast's prison was then the House of Correction. built in 1803 in Howard Street. It stood then among green fields, and on the stone over the front door was carved: "Within amend. Without beware."

Serious offenders were sent to Carrickfergus Jail, until the County Prison was built on the Crumlin Road. In those early years one stipendiary magistrate sat on alternate days in the police court. Two special constables were in attendance.

The old Sugar House Company offered £52 10s regard to anybody giving information as to who started the rumour that a mall fell into a pan of sugar and was boiled to death and that the sugar was afterwards sold.

An advertisement appears in a Belfast paper at this period : "Woulf, the Dentist, leaves Belfast, but Mr. Sigmond will replace him for a year if he gets encouragement. Though, at the same time, he must confess that no ladies he ever knew stood in less need of his assistance or the aid of any art."

One wonders where 'Mr. Sigmond -- despite his name-hailed from. Blarney?