Derry - A Rich History

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A good museum will use archives and objects to tell important stories and to stir the imagination of researchers and visitors.

It could be argued that the two most important documents in the care of the Archivist of Derry City Council are the two earliest surviving minute books of Londonderry Corporation: Volume One contains the minute books of the Corporation from 3 February 1673 (i.e. 1674 new style) to 30 July 1686, and Volume Two covers the period 2 January 1688 (new style 1689) to 20 July 1704.

In reading these Minute Books it is clear that the 1st day of January was not the first day of the year; the new year, in fact, commenced on 25th March! It was not until 1752 that the ‘new style’ of dating was introduced, and from 1753 the year commenced on 1st January.

It is also clear that these minute books provide a wealth of information, together with colourful insight, into the city’s history and population just before and after the Siege of Derry in 1689. To illustrate their potential I have selected a few extracts which shed light on the development of the city’s port in the latter half of the 17th century.

By 1619, Derry was completely enclosed within a stone wall, 24 feet high and 18 feet thick, and a quay had been built by Shipquay Gate.

During the 17th and 18th centuries Londonderry Corporation was responsible for upkeep and development of the port. In order to maintain and improve the river, harbour and quays, the Corporation could gather tonnage dues (rate levied was based on tonnage of ship), anchorage (rate based on class of ship, such as one mast or two masts or more) and quayage (rate, for ships, based on cargo type and quantity).

The course of commerce didn’t always run smoothly. The Governor of Culmore Fort was ordered, in February 1690, to cease interfering with ships trading with the port! The fort at Culmore, on a sand spit, 4 miles downstream from Derry, guarded the entrance to River Foyle from Lough Foyle.

At the meeting of Londonderry Corporation of 4 February 1690 the minute book reports “An order Requiring and commanding the Governor of the Fort of Culmore, To Stopp no vessels, Ships, or Boats, comeing in, or going out of the same, nor to take any ffees or Perquisits from the owners, or Majesty there unless he have an express warrant from his Majesty for so doeing.” It was then ordered “That the said order shall be communicated by the Sherriffs to the Governor of the said Fort, for his Due observance, for the future.”

A month later it was reported that the Carmen in the city were overcharging in drawing goods from the quay to the market place. The market place was then located at the Diamond in the centre of the walled city. The minute book, dated 20 March 1690, reports “Upon a complaint made of the extravagancies of the Carmen in this City: Ordered That for what Loads they Draw from the Key, the Length of the Markett place, They shall receive no more than one penny half penny, And beyond the Guardhouse two pence.”

Four years later, on 16 April 1694, the Corporation was attempting to resolve a dispute between Widow Nightingale and John Greham over the graving bank for dry-docking ships which had been leased by the Corporation to John Nightingale, a Burgess of the Corporation who had died in September 1693.

It would appear that John Greham, without any authority, had been collecting fees from ships dry-docking in the graving bank since John Nightingale’s death! The Corporation, therefore, ordered that: “Mrs Nightingall have the graveing Bank paying to the Chamberlain yearly one shilling sterling and that shee keep it good repaire, with good Moreing posts.”