The City of Armagh during the Plantation

The following historical analysis of the city of Armagh in the early 1600s has been extracted (minus the footnotes) from R.J. Hunter’s thesis on the Plantation in counties Armagh and Cavan.

In 1610 Thomas Blenerhasset described the town of Armagh as follows:

How exceedingly wel standeth Armath, better seate for riche soyle there cannot bee, but so poore, as I doe verily thinke all the household stuffe in that citty is not worth twenty pounds, yet it is the Primate of all Ireland, and as they say for antiquitie, one of the most ancient in all Europe: it is also of so small power as forty resolute men may rob, rifle and burne it: were it a defended corporation it woulde soone be rich and religious, and the security would make one acre more worth then now twenty be. At this present time it is a more base and abiect thing, not much better than Strebane, and not able to restraine no, not the violence of the woolfe.

Contemporaries concurred with his judgements both of its antiquity, ecclesiastical dignity, potential and present decay. It had suffered a half century of military significance and had only recently been de-garrisoned. Furthermore, peculiar historical circumstances had for long made it, although the ecclesiastical capital, unattractive for residence to archbishops whose cultural affiliations cut them off from the northern portion of their diocese. As a monastic centre it had had a distinguished record but in the altered circumstances of 1610 it could derive no prominence or prospects from its monastic tradition.

However, it had potential as a traditional marketing centre, and with the introduction of a Protestant colony and the rebuilding of the cathedral church, as a revived and re-orientated ecclesiastical centre as well. Its most important new function was as county capital and centre of legal sittings. However, the town which was restored and expanded in the thirty years after the plantation had, in some ways, a much greater continuity with its past, if only by reason of the smallness of its immigrant population, than Londonderry, a walled and garrisoned town with an important military role. The pre-plantation settlement fell into three areas, the Trian Sassenach to the north, the Trian Masain to the east, and the Trian Mór to the south. Dispersed throughout these trians or wards, though more densely accumulated in the central ring or hill area, were a series of ecclesiastical institutions of which the cathedral church, the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Franciscan abbey, St. Columba’s church, the Culdee priory, and the nunnery of Templefartagh were perhaps the most important. There was thus a nucleus of roads, paths, and sites from which the transformed town could develop.

The town for the most part fell within the manor of Armagh and was traditionally the property of the archbishopric. However, there were small areas which belonged to the abbey and monasteries, the dean, and the vicars choral. Since this account is based almost exclusively on the see records, allowance must be made for a marginal incompleteness in coverage. How negligible the impact of the reformation had been was demonstrated to the lord deputy on his visit in 1605. The archbishop, Henry Ussher, was instructed to install a minister in the town and preach and reside there himself each summer. The state of the town as a civic centre must have been equally unprepossessing. It is unlikely that Toby Caulfeild the grantee of the abbey had taken any immediate steps to develop the site. In 1609 it was recorded that the archbishop had recently erected a water mill ‘standing upon the river of Calleyne’ but there is no evidence of further development. There appears to have been only one non-Gaelic inhabitant of any standing in 1609, and there is little evidence for the state of the town before the beginning of the primacy of Christopher Hampton in 1613.

In the re-development of the town the well-known device of the building lease appears to have been used. Thus we find that in November 1615 the archbishop leased an area of the city including ‘all and singular the howses, ruinous edifices, creats, and ould walls’ as well as plots, and parcels of land in the liberties of the town (in the area known as the ‘Bende’ an area of ‘wast’ or common grazing) then occupied by a small number both of Irish and English tenants to Theophilus Buckworth, bishop of Dromore, and Edward Dodington of Dungiven a well-known servitor and builder of the walls of Derry. The object was the ‘replanting and re-edifying of the decayed cyttie’ and the lease was for sixty years. No rent is mentioned; the lease appears to have been intended to empower Dodington, who had been the archbishop’s land agent and seneschal in Tyrone since the previous year, and Buckworth who, at this point, held the rectory of Armagh in commendam with his bishopric, to act on the primate’s behalf. Dodington and Buckworth proceeded to lay out the land granted to them into plots for houses within the town to each of which twenty acres of land was allotted from the previously common grazing.

Lessees holdings were chosen by lot, each being a site of fifty feet in length with land behind fifty feet broad and one hundred and fifty feet in length. The tenant undertook, before 27 September 1618, to build a dwelling house, forty feet long within the walls, sixteen feet broad, the walls to be fifteen feet high with gables of brick or stone, the roofs and floors to be of oak, the house to be of two storeys and built of brick or stone and sawn timber ‘according to the form of English howses and buyldings’. The garden plot – and also the twenty acres – was to be enclosed after the English manner with a ditch and hedge of two rows of quicksets. Allowances of stone and clay for bricks and timber for building and lime burning were to be made from the archbishop’s lands, and the tenant, who would hold for fifty-nine years, should pay to the archbishop £2 stg rent per annum, and two fat capons at Christmas, the heriot to be 13/4. Later in 1634(?), a parcel of land was granted in Scotch street (the first time the name appears) for forty years at 5/- per annum and duties on condition to build within two years an English-type house of brick, face stone, or framed timber at least two storeys high.

It is not clear how many leases were made under the original scheme. It should be noted that while longer terms were being granted than in similar building leases in London at this time, the objective was similar in both places, the landlord securing, or attempting to secure, the development of property without major investment, but forgoing any sizeable income until the determination of the first lease.

By this tactic if not perhaps under this precise scheme – Dodington soon ceases to be an official of the archbishop – a number of ‘plantation’ houses were erected in the city. By 1622, apart from an archiepiscopal residence which had been re-built and extended at a cost of £160, eight ‘fair stone’ residences had been erected within the town. The costs of these had varied from £50 to £60. All were held under sixty-year leases, six, with twenty acres of land, being held at a rent of £2. 5. 0, the other two lessees holding a townland or more and paying rent accordingly. Three of the houses (including the two most expensive, and with the larger amounts of land) were held by two local clergy. Two others were held by merchants from Drogheda, Andrew Hamlin and Richard Fitzsimons, himself a landowner in Cavan, and one by Richard Chappell a substantial leaseholder and agent of the archbishop. Eight other plots and portions of land were held by three tenants who had as yet not build their houses, one holding five such sites.

In 1615 ten people are listed as ‘undertakers to build’, and, by 1622, of twenty people who had so undertaken only seven had in fact fulfilled their obligation, and five plots, a speculation in modest scale, were held by Thomas Dawson, a burgess of the town, who later held land at Moyola (Castledawson) in Londonderry, and established an iron foundry there. Four of these twenty were burgesses of the town, and two of these four, Dawson and Hall, had not fulfilled their building obligations by 1622. Most of the delinquents lived in small houses, usually of native type, scattered throughout the town. The commissioners of inquiry in 1622 took cognizance of this building scheme though their report, in common with those of Carew, Bodley, and Pynnar, made no observations on the state of the town.

Up to 1622, then, less than 50 per cent of those who had undertaken to build in the town had done so. Until 1627, if not later, lands in the liberties and demesne adjacent to the town which it had been decided would be granted in lease to British tenants undertaking to build were being let on a yearly basis to native Irish tenants. Within the town the older Gaelic inhabitants retained their houses, on a year-to-year basis, subject to piecemeal eviction if British tenants offering to build houses arrived. It will be seen later that a change in policy took place in 1625.

In 1615 there were on the archbishop’s rental ninety-six houses within the town of Armagh. The annual rents (where stated) of these houses with their adjacent gardens, varied from 13/4 to 6/8. Fourteen British names occur amongst the tenants. In a very small number of cases more than one house was held in the same tenant’s name, though also two tenants, always Irish, occasionally held one house. From 1618 dates the only rental of our period from which a street plan can be derived. The street pattern as it emerges indicates a strong continuity with the pre-plantation town. The houses are mostly of Irish type, and the tenants, while predominantly Irish, appear to have been mixed together irrespective of national origin. Most of the British tenants lived in houses not markedly different from those of their Irish neighbours, but the occasional British-occupied stone house on its larger (and so more exclusive) site must have stood out.

The streets either followed the old roads leading from Armagh in various directions, and named appropriately Monaghan Street (now Navan Street), Dundalk Street (now Irish Street), Newry Street (now Scotch Street), or else were a group of lanes roughly following the contours of the original hill nucleus. Many of the street names were as yet in no way formalised, though it is of interest to note that English, rather than Irish, names are given. Street names implying national areas, as Irish and Scotch street, did not then formally exist nor is there clear evidence that the population was tending towards segregation. By 1641 regional segregation may well have been appearing, but it would seem wrong to speak, as Stuart does, referring to the 1620s, of the citizens being divided into parties not only by religion, language and national prejudices, but by ‘local position’ as well.

In all 123 dwelling houses come to light at this time. In addition various non-dwelling structures are referred to in the survey. Of the houses twenty-seven were held by non-Irish tenants, a small number of whom were Old English. On most of the sites there were out-buildings of various types as well. A few of the houses had only recently been erected, and it is also clear that there were many sites awaiting development. Some parcels of land adjoining the streets had been newly enclosed. The surveyors indicate that there were further houses on the abbey land, held by Caulfeild, ‘of which we can get no certain knowledge’. Two ‘shops’, held by Irish, are referred to.

We have seen that the building lease, as a device to secure the development of the town, was being granted from 1615. Up to the end of Hampton’s episcopate in 1624 this had secured the erection of only a modest eight or nine ‘plantation’ houses, a very partial fulfilment of expectations. The town was not attracting people capable of the financial outlay demanded. As much as 500 acres around the town designed for leasing in twenty-acre units with house sites to ‘gentlemen and tradesmen’ remained unleased after the succession of James Ussher. In expectation of applicants under the original scheme this land continued to be let piecemeal to both Irish and British on a yearly basis, the claims to a more secure tenure of the traditional occupants being necessarily overlooked. Clearly the implication of such a policy for the gradual re-development of the town was the eviction of those whose house areas might be acquired. Accordingly these people – or many of them (it is not possible to state if the entire town had been in this way ‘reserved for English that will build’) – had been let their cottages on a year-to-year basis.

However, two factors would appear to have led to the leasing of these houses or many of them. The first was simply the abortiveness of the building programme. The second was that the greater part of the British population of the town had acquired individual houses which they had expanded or rebuilt, or sites on which they had built. There may well also have been a clamour on the part of the Irish for a security of tenure, from the refusal of which, especially if it could be coupled with rent increases, it must have appeared that little could be gained.

The decision to grant leases to the sitting tenants, Irish and British, was taken by James Ussher, and the leasing began in 1627, though there are about three instances of British residents in the town (other than those with building leases) having leased from before this date. The number of unleased houses at this time is not easily established as complications had been introduced with unrecorded sub-tenancies, and the rentals are not always completely clear. A rental of c. 1620 claimed that the potential episcopal income from this source was £80. The submission to the visitors of 1622 re-stated this figure. However, Ussher has preserved a figure of £60. 2. 0 from a lost rental, and at his accession a rental for 55 houses or tenants totalled £39. 10. 9, the range of rents being from £1. 15. 4. to 6/8, the greater number paying either 13/4 or 10/-. Of these 55, 40 were native Irish.

On 10 September 1627 38 leases were made, each to run for 21 years. Some indication of the rent increases resulting can be seen from the fact that the primate’s income from these 38 tenancies was £34. 1. 4. per annum. These tenants were also required to provide two fat hens each yearly at Christmas or, in some cases, two capons. The leases also required suit of court and use of the lord’s mill. One of the thirty-four surviving leases contained a stipulation to build one ‘faire coupled house after the English manner’ within five years.

At this time some familiar street names occur, Irish Street and Gallows Street, but this does not seem to indicate group segregation. However, the location of individual tenancies would be difficult to identify, and almost all the leases bear a late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century endorsement ‘the tenants being dead and the tenement not meared and bounded, not known where it lyes’. Of these 38 tenants, 25 were British. In May 1628 six further houses were leased, one to a British tenant. The total annual rent from these 44 tenancies was £39. 4. 8. In the same year, there are listed 20 ‘cottages’ in the town (6 British) which were unleased, and which appear to have paid similar rents, totalling £5. 16. 8. per annum. Thus while the decision to grant leases was not extended to all inhabitants, it does seem to have been applied to a substantial proportion of them. In 1639 the archbishop adopted a middleman policy, in leasing ‘most of the town’ for sixty years at £58 per annum to William Hilton, a baron of the exchequer, who was also lessee of the Armagh school lands.

An account of the town based on an examination of rentals has unavoidable limitations. However, they do provide valuable information. Some of them list the arrears of tenants as well as the ‘charge’ due, though to what extent the ratio of arrears to rent payable (in itself difficult to establish, given the account system) may be taken to indicate the prosperity of the town is, perhaps, doubtful. In 1628 a group of tenants, whose quarterly rent was £9. 18. 5, paid £9. 0. 9, i.e. were in arrears to the extent of 17. 8. However, this does not present a general picture. In 1620 a rental of all, or nearly all, the houses in Armagh (other than plantation houses) revealed that, of a quarterly sum of £16. 14. 7. due, £11. 14. 3. was paid, and £5. 0. 4, or 29 per cent of the amount due, was in arrears. The influence of the wartime situation in causing this should not be wholly discounted, but it may also indicate that many townspeople were not thriving and prosperous. In three cases ‘pawnes’ were taken from tenants: a kettle, a horsecloth, and a ‘cadaw’. Thirteen of these tenants, one of them an Englishman, who had in fact left the town, whose unpaid rents came to £1. 16. 2. were designated as ‘not able to pay’. Some had been ‘forgiven’ their rent by the archbishop, two were widows, and most of their houses were decayed. The surviving rentals for the late 1630s are more difficult to interpret, but the impression is of a somewhat similar situation.

The population of Armagh at the end of our period is difficult to assess. The muster roll of c. 1630 lists ninety British male inhabitants of the town and liberties. We have seen, however, that there were more British on the archbishop’s estate than were listed on the muster roll. A figure of over 100 British males can therefore fairly be suggested. It must be noted, however, that Hampton’s building-lease scheme had had only limited success. There were also, of course, a substantial number of native Irish living in the town. The estimated population of New York in 1630 was 300 (400 in 1640); if the native element is included, Armagh cannot have been much smaller.

The absence of will inventories and corporation records makes analysis of the social and occupational structure of the town impossible, but one does find reference to the expected occupations. Most of the leaseholders in 1627 are described as yeomen. There were also two malsters, Matthew Black and William Rastall, one of whom held a malthouse, kiln, and bar, as well as a school-house. A further malthouse was leased to one William McGerr. There was one glover, Richard Francis, and a tan house was held by a certain Richard Unddelly. The Irish family of Crawley or Croly appear to have been merchants and shop keepers.

Just outside the town, Matthew Ussher, a burgess and relative of the archbishop, held a mill. Roger Russell, who made the leases in 1627 on the archbishop’s behalf, was a butcher who had previously moved from Moneymore in Londonderry to Armagh. While in Moneymore, an Irish deponent stated in March 1627, that Russell had frequently harboured rebels and received stolen livestock. Richard Chappell, at one time the archbishop’s rent collector, was lessee of ‘the brick p[ar]ke’. Such evidence is too slight to suggest that the British inhabitants composed the greater part of the artisans and tradesmen within the town.

Some light on one Armagh merchant comes to hand from his ‘answer’ in a chancery suit of post-1635. It seems that in August 1634 a certain John Rown, a Scot, came to an agreement with Sir Arthur Graham, who was then going to England, whereby the latter should purchase on his behalf £70 worth of ‘stuffs’, silks, buttons, and other merchandise. The goods were purchased and Rown sold them ‘both in his shop and in the market place on market days’. However, litigation broke out, at first before the judges of assize at Armagh, and then in chancery, on the terms of the agreement. An Armagh merchant in 1641 had a shop there and also in Loughgall. There was also an English innkeeper in 1641.

It was perhaps as a marketing centre that the town had most importance, and much of its life must have had a rural relevance. In 1610 it was noted that Armagh, with its markets and courts, would be a place of meeting for the colony in the county. The right to hold a market in the town on Tuesdays and two fairs annually in March and August was granted to the archbishop in 1615, and a further fair on 29 June in 1634. The market cross features prominently on Bartlett’s map. There was both a ‘new’ and ‘old’ market place in 1627. Being unwalled, and with the streets in many cases following the roads leading from the town, Armagh shaded with the countryside from which in various ways most of its inhabitants derived their livelihood. The land in the liberties and ‘demesnes’ surrounding was let in small units to many of the townsmen. The town itself must have presented a countrified image with its numerous barns, stables, orchards and gardens, many of them newly enclosed.

Apart from some ecclesiastical restoration, there can have been few buildings or institutions of civic sophistication. A sessions house, jail, and/or house of correction existed, most likely in one building. In 1619 a king’s letter directed that a portion of ground, 80 feet by 40 feet, should be reserved for a sessions house and jail. This was to be built ‘within convenient time’ upon the charge of the town and county, with whatever money had been collected already for that purpose, its custody to be committed to the sheriff of the county. The royal school at Armagh can have developed very little prior to 1641.

As a Protestant ecclesiastical centre the town was revived under Christopher Hampton. In 1622 the cathedral was described as follows:

The cathedral church of Armagh which was ruined and the steeple thrown down by Shane O’Neale, the steeple built the south and northside walls with fair windows, the south and north isles roof ’d and platform’d upon both sides of the church, and the great bell cast by the lo: primate.

The archbishop was non-resident, though he had a house in Armagh, but the dean was not an absentee and a chapter and vicars choral were organised. However, the ruins of the institutions of the old dispensation remained in the town and Thomas Chambers lived in the abbey. Possibilities of restoration must have been in mind in 1641 and, on the evidence of the 1630 muster book, the inhabitants were ill-equipped to meet a military challenge. Although apparently the only group in the county to muster a drummer (one James Moody), no more than forty-nine men were, in any way, armed.

The role of the corporation remains entirely indistinct. In January 1611 the lord deputy and plantation commissioners ordered the town to be incorporated and ‘the Lord Prymate … dealt with-all to make estates to certaine burgesses’, but incorporation did not come until 1613. The first sovereign and two of the burgesses were relatives of the archbishop and most of the burgesses were resident in the town. One of them was Thomas Dawson. The corporation did not receive any grant of land. Fairs and markets, normal in plantation charters, were also not included. Its only source of income was from the right to hold a weekly court of record, with power to impose penalties of up to five marks. However, in practice, law and order in the town was maintained, perhaps exclusively, by the archbishop’s manor court, held before his seneschal. The episcopal landlord had been clearly unwilling to forgo any rights when the corporation was being established. It seems evident that the real source of authority within the town lay in the landlord and not the corporation.