We truly live in an ancient town whose origins stretch back to the 8/9th centuries during which time the Vikings/Ostmen first began to pull up their Long Ships on the inlet that now coincides with the Mall (the course of the Pill was diverted in the 18th century to create this fine thoroughfare).

The fortification of Dundanion was established, later to be replaced by Reginald Tower. They in turn stood sentinel at the apex of the triangle of streets of the original Viking town. These streets included Peter Street and High Street among a network of others. I am always conscious of the weight of history whenever I walk along that area of town – I am ever conscious of the fact that I am trodding along paths where people have walked before me for 1200/1300 years or more – treading on how many dreams or memories?

With the arrival of the Normans from 12th century onwards the process of triangulation continued apace as the emerging city developed and grew to encompass what became known as the Norman town, enclosed by its extensive network of defensive towers and walls/gates. A significant amount of these remain and to a greater extent than other previously walled towns of Ireland.

Today, I wish to step back in time, like I previously enjoyed doing on Stephen Street, and trace those steps along High Street. As the name suggest it was once the High or Main Street, or if you like, Shoppe Street as the comparable street is known in Galway (more of this anon). I take this journey back to its origin and development in the company of one of my favourite guides – The Streets of Waterford, Past and Present, by Daniel Dowling. It’s a truly wonderful book. It should be on the bookshelf of every Waterford home.


Shoppe or Bothstrete

In is interesting to learn that indeed the former and much older name for High Street was Bothstrete, the words both, in turn booth comes from the Norman French for shop, interestingly the modern French word boutique has similar origins. The street extends east-west direction from Henrietta Street to Arundel Square and was known as early as the 13tth century as Bothstrete, therefore a central and key shopping/market area from very early on.

A Corporation record dating from the Mayoralty of one John Lombard (1407-8) noted the seizing of a vacant plot of ground for the non payment of rent. It is described as “laying in length between Bothstrete in the north, to the land of St John of Jerusalem in the south, and in breadth from William Symcock’s land in the east, to Maurice Wadding’s land in the west. That plot of ground was situated in the parish of St Olave’s. Note the enduring nature of some names in the area.

Located within the old civil parishes of St Olave’s and Trinity Within, it was formerly one of the principal streets for business within the city – as we noted previously. It is furthermore worthy of note that along with names such as Wadding the other names listed as property owners in the street here as far back as 1641: Francis Walsh, John Walsh, Sir James Walsh, Sir Robert Walsh, Peirce Sherlock, James Sherlock, Michael Sherlock, Thomas Strange, Peirce Strange, Lawrence Strange, Thomas White Fitzandrew, Sir Nls White, Jasper White, The Rafter, Deverex of Ballymagir, William Faggan, John Bluett, John Morgan, Peter Dobbin, Nicholas Walsh, Nicholas Wise, Fran Butler, Patrick Madan, also the Dean and Chapter. So it is evident that many have still a familiar ring about that list (not complete).


A Shambles of a Place

No I’m not being derogatory about the place but rather to remind you of the name given to an area which has a concentration of butcheries and abattoirs. In 1704, the Corporation ordered all the butchers to remove to High Street, which was designated as the only street in the city in which they were allowed to have their stalls and to carry on their business. Probably due its proximity to the river for disposal purposes (it took us a while to move on then, didn’t it!).

Some of you may recall from our piece on Stephen Street that the Corporation had an uphill battle to get the butchers of that area ‘to clean up their act’ as a consequence of fouling the street there with animal waste around this time. So it’s obvious now that they all were deported to High Street! By the way, speaking of byways, the contiguous Keyser Street literally connected our street to the Quay and as such its name is derived straightforwardly from that fact – ie Quay (ser) Street.

On my arrival in Waterford all these years ago now I was intrigued as to why Waterford City had named a street in honour of the Kaiser! I learned in time that the origin was much more blatant and pragmatic – and pretty (?) much doing the same job as its neighbour Conduit Lane. As I often say now, it’s a folly to overlook the obvious.


Keeping Inn with the Locals

This street also had a fine reputation for its hostelries – my memory only extends as for back as the Twins – and so we learn that in 1724 Edward Brown, merchant of Bilbao in the Kingdom of Spain, sold his interest in the Fountain tavern in High Street, including a lane which led to it from the Quay (a critical connection I dare say), to an Alderman, Benjamin Morris, for £348.

In 1785 there is reference to house lease complete with its own tennis court – how posh – but it did in time become part of a meat market there. More reason for cheer was in 1802 when a notice appeared in the local paper stating: Blue Bell and Tavern, High Street – Catherine Haire, most respectfully informs her friends and the public in general, that she has fitted up the house lately occupied by Peter St Ledger Esquire; in the most elegant style. Her larder will be constantly supplied with every article the season affords and her cellars with wines and spirits of the first quality. She therefore with every confidence asserts no attention will be wanting to render their accommodation as comfortable as possible. She also begs leave to mention that she has good stabling, coach houses etc, which will be carefully attended.”


Busy Businesses

The businesses transacted on High Street is best highlighted by this list of trades and residents there as noted in records of 1788 – Bakers (Bohan, Brennan and a Flynn)), Upholsterer, Cabinet Maker (Fitzpatrick), Boarding School!, brewer and cabinet maker (Hayden), Wine Merchants ( Hearn, O’Neill, O’Neill ), Hairdresser (Lloyd), Carpenter (Roberts), Spirit Merchants (Roche), Merchant (St Ledger), Shoemaker (Walsh), City Alderman (Morgan), Councilman (Backas).

In the 19th century there was a vegetable market held in this street, which received mention in 1836. In 1850 there were 53 butchers’ stalls in business in the Shambles and at the same time there were 43 houses and shops in the street along with the Customs Stores, the Butter Market and the Bond Store. A Meat Market established at the end of the 19th century continued to ply its trade there until the 1940’s. It was situated at the south side of the street in an area later and eventually incorporated into the new City Square development. Many other businesses had occupied that general site area over the intervening decades including the Arundel Ballroom.

So it was a busy, busy street all down the centuries and thus clearly deriving its name of High Street as once the main shopping street of the city. It was not surprising then that thousands upon thousands of archaeological artefacts were unearthed during the deep excavations necessitated for the building of City Square especially at the depths of the underground car-parks there. The layers upon layers of material yielded up ample evidence of its antiquity, of century upon century of a millennium- long era of living there.

Yes indeed whenever you walk along this way you are treading upon a myriad memories, dreams even ghosts. Nowadays the babble of the bustling market-places are gone, now a one-way street to nowhere in particular. Tread softly……!


Go seachtain eile, slan.