Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

September Books 13) Belfast, c. 1600 to c. 1900: The Making of the Modern City

13) Belfast, c. 1600 to c. 1900: The Making of the Modern City, by Raymond Gillespie and Stephen A. Royle

This only just about counts as a book, but I'll tally it anyway. It's a 19-page pamphlet produced jointly by the Royal Irish Academy and Belfast City Council, attached to a gorgeous multi-coloured map illustrating the developing historical streetscape, with today's map faintly visible in the background. The landscape we live in is a palimpsest; this little publication helps to establish what was there before.

What is most fascinating is that the defensive walls built in 1642 almost precisely map the security zone I remember well from my childhood. There are one or two shifts of a few metres, but on the whole the twentieth century security gates were placed pretty much on top of where the town's defences had been, a third of a millennium earlier. Extraordinary. (If you consider Dublin's history, by contrast, the commercial heart of the city has slipped about a kilometre downriver over the last thousand years.)

(Click to embiggen)

The streets are colour-coded by the age of the map they first appear on - the darkest green, Castle St, High St, Ann St, Bridge St, Waring St, North St, Cornmarket, etc all appear on the 1685 map; the next level, Donegall St and the various entries including Pottinger's Entry, all appear on the 1757 map; Donegall Square and the old Smithfield market (E31) are laid out by 1833, and the lighter yellow streets by 1901-02.

The original thirteenth-century settlement is marked as C3 on the map, the location of the original Belfast Castle, between Castle Street and Castle Lane and east of Donegall Place. It burned down in 1708, and I don't think there are any visible remains of it. (The current Belfast Castle, 6 km to the north, was built in 1870.) The oldest surviving building in Belfast, dating from 1711, is McHugh's bar on Queens Square, north of the box marked E11 on the map (the 18th-century customs house, which replaced the original one at E10 on Waring Street and was in turn replaced by the current one a block to the north in 1856).

Anyway, I found it fascinating. Though it missed the charming detail from one of the very early maps of Belfast on display in the Ulster Museum, where the surveyors (presumably brought in by Lord Donegall from elsewhere) recorded the name or "Waring Street" as "Wern Street". Even back then, the locals were capable of baffling outsiders with their accents.
Tags: bookblog 2007, maps, world: northern ireland

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