Derry’s history to go online

Derry’s public records for the last 338 years will be available at the click of a mouse from next week.

The historic records of Derry Corporation, which date from 1673, will be available to view online from tomorrow.

Ten original volumes of Derry Corporation minute books, which cover the period 1673 to 1841, currently reside at Public Records Office NI in Belfast, while thirteen later volumes, 1841 to 1901, are located in the Derry City Council Archive at the Harbour Museum. The new online resource will enable anyone with an internet connection to access any of the volumes from any location.

Bernadette Walsh, archivist with the Council’s Heritage and Museum Service, said tomorrow’s launch would be the culmination of almost two years hard work in collating the information. She said the online service will “greatly enhance the collection of resources available”.

Few seventeenth century records relating to Derry have survived and the first minute book in the collection records the development of the city following the Ulster Plantation and the sieges of 1649 and 1689.

The volumes contain some very fascinating accounts of figures from the city’s past, including that of the Governor of the Fort of Culmore in November 1683 when the Corporation ordered him to cease stopping “merchants Shipps and other vessels at the said Fort” and demanding goods. The account recalls how the Governor demanded wine and other goods from them “for the payment of prerequisites” such as anchorage as it was a “great discouragement of trade”.

The first meeting recorded in the volume details an order which was made for the payment of 20 shillings, quarterly to Edward Cooper for keeping the locks and keys of the City Gates in order.

In April 1675 the Corporation wrote to the Irish Society in London asking them to grant the Corporation ground on each side of the ferry gatehouse to enable the construction of a ‘common gaol’.

Another matter which concerned the Corporation at this time was the non-return of some of the city’s cannon which had been sent to Galway and Sligo by Sir Charles Coote, Commander in Chief of Parliamentary forces garrisoned in Derry during the siege of 1649. On April 3, 1675 the Corporation instructed Alderman Norman to communicate with the Irish Society “about bringing back the gunnes which belong to the city,” and what “Alderman Norman shall find needful to expend in applying himself to the Society on this important attempt shall be reimbursed him out of the chamber”.

Five years later in May 1682, it was reported that one of the Corporation’s brass demy cannon “sent from the garrison by Sir Charles Coote when Commander in Chief of the Parliamentary forces in Ulster to some other parts of the Kingdom” was now in Kinsale having been “carried thither from Galway” and a further two were “now at Sligo”.

In Volume Two, which covers January 1688 to July 1704, there is a wealth of recordings on the great siege of the city and the political turmoil of the time. A resolution, expressing condemnation of a Jacobite plot to assassinate King William III in 1696 was copied into the minute book on 16 April of that year “with the names of all the Subscribers”. The names of 226 people, listed in three columns, were a form of census of the walled city at this time. The first Common Council of the City after the lifting of the Siege was held in the Town Hall on August 27, 1689: At the council it was ordered that a number of named citizens “shall be sworne in Burgesses of this City, in place of soe many dead”.

The online archive has been established by a partnership project between The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) Derry City Council’s Heritage and Museums Service. The collections include Corporation records such as minute volumes and correspondence, plus a wide range of architectural drawings, art work on paper and private collections relating to the railway industry, the shirt factories and civil rights.

The online archive will be launched at the Tower Museum at 2pm tomorrow.