Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Preserving Local Authority Records

With the abolition of Athy’s Town Council looming on the horizon my thoughts have turned to the treasure trove of minute books, documents, maps and files which the local authority has accumulated over the years.  What I wonder is planned for those priceless records which document the infrastructural development of the town over many decades.  Preserving those records is an imperative and I hope that both Council officials and public representatives have agreed on a plan of action to archive the Council records of Athy Town Council once the Council is abolished. 

I had the privilege some years ago of examining in detail the minute books of Athy Urban District Council and its predecessors, Athy Town Commissioners and Athy Borough Council back as far as 1781.  Later on I had to visit the Public Records Office in Belfast to study the earliest extant minute books of the Borough Council covering the years 1738 to 1783.  That particular Minute Book was deposited in the Belfast Public Records Office with the Fitzgerald family papers some years ago.  The whereabouts of the minute books prior to 1738 are unknown and in all probability have been lost forever.  Those missing records should prompt local authority officials and representatives to value the records still held by the Council and to ensure their preservation and secure protection for the purpose of future historical research.

Looking through details extracted by me from the minute books of the Borough Council I find a reference to the town clock in 1780 which I had previously overlooked.  William Drill was paid a handsome fee of £6 for looking after the clock, the location of which was not indicated.  That same year is recorded the orders of the Court Leet presided over by the Town Sovereign, Rev. Anthony Weldon ‘that no huckster or forestaller is to buy any commodity or goods coming into the market of Athy until such commodity or goods be brought into the public market place under the penalty of five shillings to be levied and raised by sale of the offenders goods and paid to the informer.’  Obviously the selling of goods outside the town’s market place and the consequent loss of customs and tolls was not to the Borough Council’s liking.

Another interesting reference in the Sovereign’s court records for 1786 was a direction that ‘the meat shambles be removed, they being a great nuisance.’  The shambles was located in the alleyway which ran between Andersons pub and the adjoining premises.  I noted that the Court held five years previously was called the ‘Leet Court’ but that term was not used for the 1786 Court. 

An entry in the Borough records of 1792 referred to the water running from the house of William Cahill, Kildare Street, starch manufacturer ‘having a foul smell so as to be prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants’.  Incidentally Kildare Street in 1792 is today’s Stanhope Street. 

In a recent article I mentioned clock and watchmaker Thomas Plewman.  The borough records for 1800 detail a payment of £3 to Thomas Plewman, being one year’s salary for attending to the town clock.  A similar sum was payable to John Andrews for taking care of the town’s fire engine.  On 3rd September 1808 the Town Sovereign and the Burgesses of Athy passed a bye law requiring every boat loaded with turf passing the weir to pay a toll of ten shillings to be applied by the Sovereign in the purchase of fuel for the relief of the poor of Athy.  The Sovereign in question was Thomas J. Rawson, originally from Glasshealy, who played a major part in putting down rebellious activity around Athy and South Kildare during the 1798 Rebellion. 

I was reminded of McHugh’s Foundry which was once located in Meeting Lane when reading the following entry in the Sovereign’s Court record book of the 27th May, 1820.  ‘We present that a forge for working iron which has been erected by Edward Moore in a house in Meeting Lane is a nuisance and not only exposed the said house but also adjoining houses, all of which are covered with timber and straw to constant danger of being consumed by fire and therefore that business of said forge should be forthwith discontinued.’  So much for early 19th century town planning!

The written record is always an important resource for historical researchers, whether it relates to local authorities or clubs, sporting or otherwise.  I have twice in recent years been tasked with writing the history of two Athy institutions but in each case found to my horror that the records once so carefully compiled over many decades had in one case been destroyed and the other lost and never found.  I sincerely hope that the records relating to Athy Town Council and its predecessors will not suffer the same fate.

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