As the way has finally been cleared for the city centre development to be known as the New Street Centre I thought I would devote the column this week to tracing the history of this old/new street. I do so, as with other forays into the highways and byways of this ancient city, under the expert guidance of Daniel Dowling’s masterful tome – Waterford Streets, Past and Present – as he takes us by the hand to tell us of its many stories down the centuries. 

Despite the appellation of ‘new’ it’s a very old street whose nature and character has adapted/changed with the evolution of the city. Along with Stephen Street it is a very historic part of the city and I’m pleased to note that a detailed archaeological survey is to be undertaken before the massive development project gets underway in earnest. There are layers upon layers of our history here worthy of record. 

The whole area is in need of rejuvenation, a fact never disputed, but now after the various reviews of the planning process there is a greater awareness of the balance to be struck between the needs of development and conservation in the context of an historical area. 

The street


This street which extends westwards from the Applemarket, connects with John Street and Michael Street, with Newgate Street and John’s Lane. It originated as part of the new gate development of the late 15th century, which provided an additional gateway into the Anglo-Norman city wall. That development was designed to give access to areas west of the then city, such as Kingsmeadow, Kilbarry and Upper Butlerstown and further afield. The new roadway linking the new gate with Michael Street became known as New Street – the name it retains today despite the passage of time, as we noted above. 

Historically it lay in the civil parishes of St John’s Within and St Michael’s but a small area at the north western end stood in St Stephen’s Within. (Within or Without referred to a location of a parish inside or outside the city walls). Owners of property on this street in 1641 included such names as Thomas Wyse, Henry White, Jasper White, the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, and the Hospital of the Lepers’ House.

The following names featured 43 years later as owners: Philip Ward, James Casey, George Walter, John Nagle, Elizabeth Devereux, to mention just some. 

In the 18th century it was a fashionable residential street and the fine houses that had been built here included many four-storey structures, a few of which became the town residences of some of the wealthier county families especially during the winter periods. As early as 1705 the Corporation decided that the street should be paved and the work was carried out, according to the records, under the supervision of Alderman Denis. In February 1776 a house with offices, turret and gardens was being offered for letting in New Street. The notice stated that it was fit for a gentleman, and was provided with a pump and a great flow of water, and was situated in a wholesome and pleasant situation! In 1793 the street was again to be paved, provided the inhabitants contributed half the cost of the work. 

New schools

Many do not realise another historical significance of this street in that it was the location of the first ever school founded in 1802 by Edmund Rice who went on to establish the Irish Christian and Presentation Brothers. He started this first school in the humble and primitive accommodation of a stable attached to one of the big houses. It was from that modest beginning, to provide education for the sons of the poor and disadvantaged of the city at that time, that the Irish Christian Brothers were later to become a major force in Irish education.

But this was not the only place of learning to be established on this street. In 1803, just a year after Edmund rice’s school it was announced that the Misses Brown were to open in New Street an academy for the instruction of young ladies based on the ‘methods adopted by the most approved English seminaries’. An advertisement for the Waterford Academy, situated on this street, dated 15th August 1807, announced that “Mr Ardagh, grateful for the flattering and distinguished support he has experienced, respectfully informs the public that in consequence of the vast and rapid increase in the number of his pupils he has been necessitated to change his residence, and therefore, taken that very extensive and commodious house at the upper end of New Street, which for health and convenience scarcely needs comment. The spacious and lofty apartments, the beautiful and interrupted prospect of the adjacent country, with its several other local advantages, all combine to render it as eligible a situation for a seminary as can be imagined”. Seminary had the general meaning then of a place of learning.

Moving on

As one of the fine residential streets of the city (similar to Lady Lane and Lower O’Connell Street) in the 18th and early 19th centuries, its fortunes began to decline when the wealthier residents began to move to the suburbs to new house then being built which possessed both space and privacy – many of these were along the Dunmore Road, setting a trend lasting to this very day! The large houses which were thus vacated acquired a new type of owner who converted them into tenements or multiple dwellings, each to accommodate several families.

In 1841 it was described as “a tolerably wide street, the houses vary from 2-storey to 4-storey high and in rather bad repair, and occupied principally by labourers, and some petty shopkeepers”. In 1850 there were seven of these houses let into lodgings.

For a while this new development operated under the title of “The Brewery Centre” as a St Stephen’s Brewery, which was situated in this street, was established at the beginning of the 19th century on ground which had formerly been part of the leper hospital property. The brewery was founded by Birnie and Lynagh, it remained in their ownership until the 1830’s when it was purchased by Dunford and Condon. It was next acquired by Patrick Kiely and Sons, a name associated with the place down to the present day.

In 1865 under their ownership the brewery was producing the following types of ale and stout: East India Pale Ale, Strong XX Ale, Superior Mild Ale, Pale Butt, Export Double Stout, Medium Stout and Single Stout. Brewing ceased at this establishment circa 1940 but the premised continued to function as a wholesale operation to the licensed trade until very recent times- it seems to retain a certain storage function, pro tem, as it awaits redevelopment as part of the over complex.

Over and out

In 1938 the large overcrowded tenement houses in this street were closed, as unfit for human habitation under the appropriate Housing Act of 1931. The tenements and occupiers were transferred to newly erected house at Prior’s Knock and Hennessy’s Road – I assume that’s the origin of the houses formerly known as ‘the flat-roofs, now totally rejuvenated. The vacated houses were demolished and the new houses were built there on the site about 1950. These were an attractive set of what nowadays are called ‘town houses’ but alas these too are to be subsumed by the new complex. How many passer-bys have noticed the plaque on one of the houses which bears the inscription: “Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), founder of the Irish Christian Brothers, opened here his first school in 1802”. Yes indeed, a New Street with an old story.

Talking of changes in our landscape, the wall and farmhouse at Ballygunner Cross has been finally demolished opening up new vistas. The wall and house here must have been hundreds of years old. But things as always move on. More next week.

Go seachtain eile, slan.