Documents in the attic give unique insight into city life 100 years ago

A very early Derry edition of the Belfast Telegraph.
A very early Derry edition of the Belfast Telegraph.

Documents giving a snapshot of life in Derry a century ago have been uncovered during renovation work at a key historical building in the city centre.

The documents, which date from the 1880s up to after the First World War, were uncovered in a water tank near the rafters of the historic three-storey building on the edge of Castle Street and Magazine Street.

Some of the old documents found inside a water tank in the attic of a historic city centre townhouse on Castle Street.

Some of the old documents found inside a water tank in the attic of a historic city centre townhouse on Castle Street.

The water tank had doubled up as a time capsule and had survived a fire, and bomb damage to the building during the Troubles.

Joe Coyle, whose family own the 12 Castle Street building (which houses Baldie’s Barbers), said they were stunned at the stash of documents uncovered.

Mr Coyle, whose own family’s business Alpha Stained Glass, has relocated from the same Castle Street building to Springtown Industrial estate to facilitate ongoing extensive renovations of the three-storey address, said that the documents provided a window into Derry’s past.

Among a number of important publications are newspaper editions from Armstice Day, hand-drawn artwork, examples of different finials and roof tiles relating to the building trade, and publications including Newnes pianoforte songbooks and a 1917 copy of ‘The Irish Builder and Engineer’.

Of local interest are telegrams relating to Derry’s cattle market and dating from 1888 when a ‘Mr McDaid, Waterloo Place’ apparently had ‘20 cattle more than entered’.

There are also 100-year-old telephone bills, and housing materials amounting to £370 for building a house in Westend Park, and Nazareth House raffle tickets from April 1918 with top prizes including a tonne of English coal, pair of wool blankets, a five pound note, and a ten stone bag of flour. The tickets are in aid of St Columb’s Hall and the results were to be published in the Derry Journal.

Most of the documents relate to a Mr Patrick Campbell Esq who is believed to have owned and occupied the Castle Street building in some capacity during this period, and who is also thought to have been the treasurer of the Nazareth House society.

An original receipt for silks and other fabrics from Austin’s department store for Mrs Campbell of Westland Villas was also found.

A massive walk-in ‘Millner’s Patent Thief Resistant’ safe with a bronze seal was also uncovered in the building.

Displaying the documents for the Journal at their new premises, Mr Coyle said: “All this was discovered in the water tank during the building work, which has been going on since January.

“The building is undergoing extreme renovation because it is so old, and we are turning it into four apartments and two commercial shop units in conjunction with the Walled City Partnership.

“Every time they pull a floorboard up they seem to find something else. All the stuff in the water tank really shows you everything about the local area.”

Mr Coyle said they hoped to preserve and incorporate some of the old historical documents within the building behind frames, while experts will be welcomed to examine them in the meantime.

The old safe, which when it was opened several years ago was found to contain coroner reports, will also be incorporated into the building at Castle Street.

Mr Coyle and his sister Theresa said the restoration of the Castle Street building restored back to its original glory, was the vision of their late father, well known businessman Joe Coyle, with their mother Geraldine overseeing the project.