Monday, February 26, 2024

2024 Visit to Coleraine

History is a perpetual dialogue between the past and the present,
that is never neutral or objective
SOURCE, What Is History?, E. H. Carr. 1961

It has been said of me that when I am asked to look at a field in front of my nose and then to report back on how many cows can be seen, that I can be stupidly slow to come up with an answer. I count the cow plops, smell the cows and taste the grass. Why? Dunno, but here I am now in Coleraine, trying to make sense of the herd of JACKSONs who landed in Northern Ireland in the early-mid 1600s. Boots on the ground. Tasting the grass.

This Air BnB listing which is part of the converted Irish Society School on Beresford Place, was exactly where I had to be to pursue this quest. The BERESFORDs, JACKSONs, and The Irish Society are all part of the story that I am tracking.

A COLERAINE landmark will not be demolished despite being put up for sale on the open market, it emerged today. The Honorable the Irish Society, is offering for sale the former red brick school at Beresford Place. But they have stressed that it is a Listed Building and is fully protected. Therefore, it cannot be demolished to provide a prime site. Spokesman Edward Montgomery said he was disappointed the Society could not find suitable tenants for the building and were left with little option but to put it on the market. However, he affirmed: "It's a listed building and is just as safe in the hands of any developer as it is in our possession. SOURCE: Belfast Telegraph Fri 21 Dec 2001 at 10:00

In spite of the speed with which the BERESFORDs and JACKSONs clambered up to the upper rungs of the various social and political ladders of Coleraine (and later of Dublin) by getting knighted and such, a 1905 etching of the initial Coleraine home of Sir Tristram BERESFORD (1574-1649) reveals that the buildings that these early families first lived in during the early-mid 1600s were much more modest.

there are some of the old houses remaining which were built by the Irish Society at the time of the first settlement, the wooden frame works for which were brought from London. The frames were of oak and the walls were completed by studs being nailed to the frames and plastered with catin clay which is clay mixed with hay and rushes. There is an old house opposite the one occupied by Mr. Alexander Mitchel in New Row which is said to be the residence of Sir Tristram Beresford the first settler of that family.
SOURCE: Ordnance survey memoir for the parish of Coleraine, County Londonderry: a description compiled as part of the field survey for the first edition of the six inch Ordnance Survey maps [1830-1840] p 21

Later, I will try to pin down the actual location of this Beresford house on New Row [These three streets [Bridge street, Church Street New Row] and the Diamond are the largest and most respectable in the town. SOURCE: Ordnance survey memoir [1830-1840] p 5 ]. For now, the floor plan leads me to suspect that it likely housed two separate households, separated only by a hallway.

 Sir Tristram Beresfords House 1905 etching. From Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1835-1840

Early records show that these BERESFORDs of Coleraine had first hailed from Co. Kent in England, and after that had intermarried at least once with the JACKSONs of Jackson’s Hall. In spite of this (or possibly because of it) the two families had engaged in several long and complicated legal feuds with each other. They took turns getting elected to various positions in local politics during the years when they had also leased land from and held office in The Honorable the Irish Society. Conflict of interest? No doubt. 

These days, if you want to fish in the River Bann, you still need to check in with the Irish Society. They hold extensive fishing rights in Northern Ireland, rights that at least one JACKSON was found guilty of abusing in the 17th century.

The JACKSON residence and place of business was built by William JACKSON (1628-1688). He also happened to be the husband of Susan BERESFORD (1645-1706). Their home was on the west side of the River Bann, on a hill looking down on the town, a site that would be reasonably defensible if under siege. Like the BERESFORDs first home, the initial building on this site had been no more than a cottage when King James I had first leased the property to the Clothworker’s Company in 1609. First built in 1680, and initially called The Mansion House, the building was later enlarged in 1770.

George JACKSON [aka Sir George JACKSON (1776-1840)], living in Surrey [Beech Hill], England was the final JACKSON holder of the original 1663 lease. By 1801 he had been spending money faster than he had been earning it, owed about £30,000 and had to borrow to pay the interest. He then sold the lease to T.K. HANNYNGTON, who went bankrupt, and what was left was then bought by the ALEXANDERs. During this time, Jackson Hall became dilapidated, and was then taken over by a Mrs. MAXWELL who had a robust enough fortune to be able to repair it. SOURCE: Coleraine in By-gone Centuries. 

As the Joni Mitchell song has it, Pave Paradise, put up a parking lot. In this case, there is a literal parking lot on the grounds where Jackson Hall once stood. Given that the house itself would have been sited on the higher part of the land, I choose to believe that it would have been sited slightly above the current parking lot, looking south through this clump of old trees. I will need to consult more maps to verify this.

In the softened light of a calm autumnal sunset the clear reflection of the bridge, its peculiar construction, the shipping at the wharf, the few old fashioned houses in Killowen, and the graceful trees in the grounds of Jacksons Hall, throwing their deep shadows on the tranquil waters, all contribute to make the prospect beautiful. pp 2-3 Ordnance survey memoir

A week ago, when I first got off the train at Coleraine, instead of resorting to Google maps, I chose to use my 1904 Ordnance Survey Map to find my way to my B&B. Much more informative.

 The B&B is in the triangle in the middle of the map which is labelled: Schools

I can unreservedly recommend this as a place to stay. The wing that I am in was built since 1904, and since it includes three bedrooms, it is large enough that I have been able to host friends from elsewhere in Ireland. Convenience-wise, there is a huge Tesco Grocery store just a block away. For specialty groceries, there is McAtamney’s Butcher Shop not far around the corner, while further up the road is The Belfry Deli and a little to the east is The Copper Pig. All are excellent. 

As befits a town that began within the confines of a palisade, nothing is more than ten minutes away.