Last week I wrote of the first Town Commissioners elected by the ratepayers of Athy who replaced the Borough Corporation abolished by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1840. The first Corporation members had been appointed following Henry VIII’s Charter of 1515 and those appointed held office for life. In it’s early years the borough of Athy was primarily concerned with fortifying the town and paving the streets. Finance was provided through the tolls and customs collected by borough officials at the Tuesday market and the five annual fairs held in the town. It would seem that in time these monies originally destined for public works in the town were appropriated by the Dukes of Leinster.
The Corporation which had extracted custom and tolls on fairs and market days since 1515 continued to do so throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. At the commencement of the 19th century the following rates of custom were collected.
ARTICLE MARKET DAY FAIR DAY
Covered Standings with soft goods 10d. 1/8
Flat Standings 6d. 1/=
Standings for hand won cutlery 3d. 6d.
Prize or cast cloths standings 1/1 1/1
Hatter standings 1/8 1/8
Breeches makers standings 10d. 10d.
Brogue makers standings 2d. 6d.
Hawkers 2d. 6d.
Each load of wooden Ware 4d. 6d.
Each car with pigs, calves or lambs 6d. 6d.
Each car with one pig, calf or lamb 1d. 1d.
Each car with coals or culm ½ d. ½ d.
Each carcase of Pork, Bacon or Mutton 1d. 1d.
A strange butchers car standing 4d. 4d.
Bacon or salt meat per tub or table 2d. 2d.
Earthen wares per load 4d. 4d.
Calves, sheep, pigs or lambs each 1½ d.
Horses, mares, mules or asses each
Black Cattle, half to buyer, half to seller
The customs were let each year to the highest tenderer, with the successful person having the sole right to collect them within the town on the Market and Fair days. In the last five years of the corporations existence the tolls were collected by toll collectors appointed and paid for by the Corporation. The toll and custom receipts were paid to the Duke of Leinster, on what authority it cannot now be ascertained.
Another source of finance were payments for cranage. A public weighing scales was located in the Market Square and to it came the farmers and dealers who bought and sold their produce by weight. The schedule of cranage charges for 1817 indicate that ½d. was charged for weighing corn, malt, flour, butter, wool hides, coals, culm under 100 lbs. weight, and 1d. over that weight. Potatoes were weighed free of charge while 1d. was paid for weighing meat carcasses.
Apart from the yearly election of officers and nominating the parliamentary representatives when called up to do so, the Borough Council was of little benefit to the people of Athy. Whatever tolls and customs were collected were transferred to the Duke of Leinster, thereby reducing the Boroughs capacity to carry out improvements to the town. Presumably the Sovereign and his officials adopted some rudimentary policy in relation to the cleaning of the town. Certainly no Borough staff were so employed but householders may have been required to keep pavements and streets in front of their premises in a tidy order. The Borough did accept responsibility for public lighting in the town at some stage during the 18th century and by 1820 it had 30 public lamps which were maintained and lit by the town lamp lighter at a cost in 1824 of £22.00 per annum. Water pumps were also provided throughout the town, four being available to the public by 1800. By 1824 the town had taken to itself further Fair rights exercisable on different dates throughout the year while to the Tuesday Market operated by Charter the town now added a market on Saturdays. The Markets were particularly handicapped by the imposition of tolls at the Toll Gate at the entrance to the town on the Athy Castlecomer road. The resulting fall off in business in the town no doubt prompted the then Duke of Leinster in 1824 to propose to the town corporation the abolition of customs and tolls hitherto collected on his behalf on the two weekly market days. The taxes were still to be imposed and collected on Fair days while on market days only coal and culm were to be subject to custom. The retention and indeed the doubling of the custom on coal and culm to 1d. was justified on the grounds that being a trade carried on between the collieries and Dublin, its payment would not interfere with the town of Athy or the Duke of Leinster’s Estate. The Dukes proposal provided for the retention of the Cranage charges from which he suggested a scale of payments for the various Corporation officials, while the extra ½d. custom on coal and culm was to fund a suitable salary for the town Sovereign. The salaries adopted by agreement of the Borough in 1824 were :-
Deputy Sovereign £30.0.0.
Town Clerk £11.7.6.
Billet Master £ 2.5.6.
3 Sergeants at Mace £6.16.6.
Bellman £ 2.5.6.
Weightmaster at Crane £15.0.0.
Weightmasters helpers £ 5.0.0.
Weight master (coal and culm) £10.0.0.
Receivers on Fair Days £1.10.0.
3 Assistants on Fair Days £1.10.0.
4 Collections at other Custom Gates £ 3.0.0.
4 Assistants £1.10.0.
Collector of Market Square £1.10.0.
Park of the Dukes proposal was the setting up of a Committee comprised of townspeople to advice the Sovereign on matters relating to the cleansing and lighting of the town. Although this was agreed the records do not indicate whether the Committee was ever established.