Reading in a local newspaper recently of the €673,000 net profit made by Newbridge Town Commissioners from pay parking reminded me of the explanation offered by Council officials when it was first proposed to bring pay parking to Athy. Its purpose, the then Urban Council members were informed, was to better regulate traffic and was not a revenue collection exercise. I did not believe the explanation then and am still not convinced having seen the implementation of pay parking in Athy in recent years. Indeed, since the scheme was first brought in, the pay parking areas have been extended and the parking fees have been substantially increased. This does not to me seem to reflect the need to regulate traffic, rather confirms that its purpose is to raise revenue.
The Town Council as successors to the Borough Corporation which was abolished in 1840 is of course following a well trodden path in extracting money from those with business to transact in Athy. The former Borough Council collected custom and tolls on fair and market days following the granting of a charter by Henry VIII in 1515. They continued to be collected up to the 19th century. Initially the customs and tolls were let each year to the highest bidder, with the successful person having the sole right to collect them within the town on market and fair days. In the latter years of the Borough Council’s existence the tolls were collected by toll collectors appointed and paid for by the Council. However, the tolls and customs collected were handed over to the Duke of Leinster, on whose authority it cannot now be ascertained.
Another source of finance were charges 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 shows that a half penny was charged for weighing corn, malt, flour, butter, wool hides, coals and culm under 100 lbs. weight and one penny over that weight. Potatoes were weighed free of charge, while one penny was paid for weighing meat carcasses.
By 1824 the town of Athy had taken to itself additional fairs held on various dates throughout the year, while to the Tuesday market operated by charter the town now added a market on Saturdays. However, the markets were particularly handicapped by the imposition of tolls at the toll gates on the Dublin Road and the Kilkenny Road. The resulting falloff in business no doubt prompted the Duke of Leinster in 1824 to propose to the Borough Council the abolition of customs and tolls collected on his behalf on the two weekly market days. Taxes were still to be imposed and collected on fair days, while on market days coal and culm were still to be subject to custom. The Duke’s proposal also provided for the retention of the cranage charges which he suggested could finance a scale of payments for the various corporation officials, while an extra half penny custom on coal and culm was to fund a salary for the Town Sovereign.
The Borough officials in 1824 and the salaries which they were paid or shared 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.
Weighmaster 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 Collectors at other Custom Gates £ 3.0.0.
4 Assistants £1.10.0.
Collector of Market Square £1.10.0.
At least the early 19th century town folk had some idea where the tolls and taxes collected on fair and market days were spent. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the very generous parking fees now collected by the current Town Council. Indeed, come to think of it, I have never seen any mention of the amount collected each year in parking fees by the local Council. Do you think we might be told what is collected and how the money is spent?
Congratulations to the organisers of tri-Athy which was yet again blessed with good weather. It was by all accounts a very successful two day event and the craft fair held in the grounds of White’s Castle on the Saturday added further colour and interest to the weekend’s activities. I believe the craft fair will be held every Saturday giving the grounds of White’s Castle a new lease of life and one which those who languished in the cells of the former prison could never have anticipated. The Sunday morning Farmers Market seems to be going through a difficult period at this time and needs the townspeople’s support if it is to develop. It would be a shame if either the Farmers Market or the Craft Fair were not to succeed.