Every so often I devote the column to one of old thoroughfares of this ancient city and the reaction to this item is always very positive. So this time I get down to Peter Street which is one of the oldest streets in what is the oldest city in Ireland, so that’s a fair old storied- pedigree. Much of it was subsumed by the development of City Square Shopping Centre which opened for business in 1993. This was fitting in its own way as this street was from earliest times a heaving living hub of commercial/retail activity. In this account courtesy of and under the expert guidance of Daniel Dowling’s wonderful tome, one of my favourite books- Waterford Streets Past and Present.

We learn that it’s situated entirely within the Viking walls, except for the western end adjacent to the Cross (market cross, bottom of Patrick’s Street, I assume), which is in the Anglo –Norman area. Its layout in an east-west direction was part of the Viking street pattern. Archaeological excavations of parts of the inner city undertaken mainly in connection with the development of City Square has shown that is street is undoubtedly pre-Norman in origin.

St Peter’s – 1314 AD

The street is named after the medieval church dedicated to St Peter the Apostle, whose feast day is June 29th, this church and cemetery were situated on ground midway off to the south side of the street. The earliest known mention of the church was in 1314, in the incident of Henry Cas, who had feloniously slain Symon Le Harper who then fled to the church of St Peter from which he made his escape. By 1746 historian Charles Smith wrote that St Peter’s Church was then long time in ruins, and by the middle of the 20th century, hardly a vestige of it remained over ground, apart from some slight remains which were to be seen in the yard of the old police station in Lady Lane. This street mentioned as far back as the 13th century is situated within the confines of 5 of the civil parishes of the city, St Peter’s, St Michael’s, St Olaves, St Patrick’s and Trinity Within. (You can see readily where the city centre street names came from). A lease of a piece of ground to one Jasper Horsey in 1574 mentions this street with its bounds described as “ extending from the lands of James Goegh on the north, to St Peter’s on the south and in breadth from the house of Piers Dobbin on the west, to that of James Madan on the east”. The property owners on this street in 1641 were – watch out for many still familiar Waterford surnames- Patrick Archer, Wm Grant, Luke White, Wm Cleere, M/s Deverex , John Leonard, Sir James Walsh, Christopher Sherlock, James Lyncolne, Paul Carew, Katherine Bryver, Jaspar Lumbard, the Cathedral Dean and Chapter and the also Waterford Corporation.

Interestingly following the political upheavals of the late 1640’s and the Cromwellian occupation, a very different picture with the displacement and expulsion of the old properties and business people. In 1664, the following were the new tenants and possessors of the properties in Peter Street: Rice Thomas, John Mullard, Rich Crippes, Luke Masson, Christopher Treniman, Tady Dunne, Wm Wood, Thos Lane, John Lapp, Wm Jeffries, Hestor Rogers, Jos Barr, Nicholas Moore – to name just some. Two of these new possessors, Masson and Treniman, each had a brewhouse in the street in 1664, each holding two of the larger properties then existing in the street.

The Shopping Centre of Waterford

And everything else it seems in 18th century Waterford! Here’s a list of people and their businesses of Peter Street in 1788. C Bowman, Plumber and Glazier; J. Bracken, Grocer; N &W Clarke, Brass Founders, Braziers and engine makers; J Crawley, Printer and book Sellers; A Dobbyn, Attorney; D Fuller, Mathematician and land Surveyor; S Gill, Merchant; G Glanville, woollen Draper; J King Grocer, Oil & colour Man; J Lawson, Cabinet Maker &Upholsterer; Henry Magee, Apothecary; B Moore, Builder & Carpenter; Wm Morris Toyman and dealer in Hardware; J Morrissey, Liquor Dealer; J Sutherland, Boot & Shoemaker; R Wilkinson, Saddlery Warehouse; Ald Sir John Alcock, Knight, President of the Court of Conscience; Wm Barrett MD, Physician and Stephen Grant MD, Physician. More grocers, haberdashers, drapers and bakers are listed but sufficient detail to give us a flavour of the business milieu of this busy street which must have buzzed with even more business activity of all kinds of everything than today’s shopping centre – a virtual heaving hive of activity as we described it earlier. All in turn indicating what a thriving city it was back then – we could do with bringing back that business buzz to the city centre today.

Towards the middle of the 19th century there were 77 separate tenements in this street, including 764 houses and shops, St Olave’s Church, a timber yard, a parochial school house and miscellaneous other properties. The houses in 1841 were generally 3 storey structures which were mainly in use as shops with family accommodation overhead, and the street was then described as tolerably wide and paved. The municipal fish market was situated off the northside of the street, in an area between Crooke Lane and Trinity Lane, in the 20th century. It was the last indoor fish market in the city and continued to function until its closure before mid-century. However the tradition lingered on into the 70’s- remember the ladies who continued to sell fish near the corner at the cross-end of Peter’s Street.

At its Foundations

The City Square development in this and adjoining streets, has completely altered this thoroughfare as the main path through the modern shopping centre runs along the course of Peter’s Street, one of Waterford’s oldest as we said at the outset. What remains of the foundations of the old church of St Peter’s, are now preserved in the basement of the complex and are set against a mural depicting life in Peter Street when St Peter’s was in use. The extensive archaeological dig at the time of the excavations of the site yielded up a rich harvest of artefacts which told a myriad tales of a thousand years of living in this ancient area. All of these have been preserved and recorded and a selection is on regular display in the Museum of Waterford Treasures at the Granary. Incidentally to finish on a lively note, while now no one lives on this once teeming city street so full of life and activity a very enjoyable get-together of old neighbours/denizens of St Peter’s Street was organized about 12 years ago to celebrate remember and perhaps renew those ties that bind.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down this ancient and truly historic memory lane – at the very heart of Waterford.

Go Seachtain Eile, Slan.