Pottinger’s Entry – One of Belfast’s oldest streets
Pottinger’s Entry is one of the narrow alleys known as “the Belfast entries” which form the very nucleus of the city of Belfast. They are among the oldest passageways in the town. Most of the cobbled lanes ran from High Street to Waring Street or Ann Street. High Street on the banks of the Farset River was the early centre of Belfast’s growing trade and commerce. The entries were the location of the town’s bustling business area and the residence of many merchants.
“…and yet out of the two hundred and fifty-seven of Belfast’s streets, eighty or ninety years ago, one hundred and thirty-five of them were small courts and entrys, and within the narrow confines of these little hidden-away places, Belfast’s riches were piled up, and much of its history – it’s worthwhile history from an Irish point of view – was made”Cathal O’Byrne, As I Roved Out, 1946
From Pottinger’s Lane to Pottinger’s Entry
Pottinger’s Lean [Lane] is first recorded on a map of Belfast in 1715. It is first called Entry on a map dated 1791. Historian George Benn recalls in 1804 .
“Several new houses are advertised to be let in Pottinger’s Entry. They are described as three stories in height and suitable for private families”George Benn A History of the Town of Belfast 1880
In 1822 Thomas Gaffikin [Belfast 50 Years Ago 1875] notes that in Pottinger’s Entry there were 34 houses with 91 male residents and 100 females.
The entry was named after the successful mercantile Pottinger family, who lived here above their business premises.
“Pottinger’s Entry is one of the oldest entries in the town and is named after a distinguished old Belfast family whose name is largely bound up with the history of the city”Belfast Telegraph, 30th January 1990
Thomas Pottinger born c. 1633 was the son of a ship’s captain from Kirwall, Orkney. He came to Belfast in the 1660’s. He married Janet Doake, whose father Hugh was a wealthy shipping magnate. Thomas and his younger brother Edward prospered though this alliance and owned shares in several trading ships.
After the death of his wife, Thomas made another financially astute marriage to Esther Eccles, daughter of a leading Belfast merchant. In 1688 Thomas became sovereign of Belfast, under a new charter, but this only existed until August 1689.
Thomas died in 1715 but the family continued to thrive and in 1759 acquired the estate of Mountpottinger in County Down. However, the later Pottingers were not so entrepreneurial and were known as “notorious spendthrifts”. The house and land had to be sold in 1811 to pay off debts.
There is some suggestion that another branch of the Pottinger line may have lived in Belfast from the end of the sixteenth century. A headstone in Kilmore Graveyard reads ‘The Burying Place of the Pottingers since 1602’. The stone was originally in the old cemetery at St George’s in High Street.
Pottingers of Note
Two notable figures in British foreign policy were Eldred Pottinger (1811-1843) and Henry Pottinger (1789-1856).
Eldred was educated at Addiscombe, the East India Company’s military college. In 1837 he undertook an under-cover intelligence gathering mission in Afghanistan. While in Herat, he was instrumental in the lifting of the siege of the city from Russian and Persian forces.
In the 1840’s he warned of rising discontent among Afghan natives, this was ignored and resulted in the Afghan insurrection against the English-imposed Shah Shuja. Eldred was lucky to escape with his life. He died in Hong Kong while visiting his uncle on 15th November 1843.
Henry Pottinger was born on Christmas day in Mountpottinger, fifth son of Edward-Curwen Pottinger and Anne Gordon of County Down. He also joined the East India Company and travelled extensively throughout India. After the battle of Kirki in 1817 he rose through the military ranks.
In 1841 he was appointed foreign secretary by Lord Palmerston and took a leading role in negotiations with China during the Opium war. He was very successful in these dealings and by the Convention of Chuen Pi, ratified by the Treaty of Nanjing, Hong Kong became a territory of Britain.
Henry Pottinger was appointed its first governor in 1841. Pottinger died in Valetta on the island of Malta on 18th March 1856. His brother, Colonel William Pottinger, erected a marble tablet in his honour in St George’s Church, High Street, Belfast.
Pottinger’s Entry and the Printing Industry
The Joy Family
In the eighteenth century, Pottinger’s Entry was connected with the printing industry. In 1803 the Joy family sold their papermill at Cromac and moved to Pottinger’s Entry. Francis Joy founded the Belfast News Letter in 1737. The News Letter is thought to be the world’s oldest English-language , continuously published newspaper still in the world. Originally republican-leaning in editorial stance, the News Letter is now a unionist newspaper.
The Irishman newspaper was also printed here from 1819 till 1826. Its motto was ‘Man has a right to equal and impartial government’. Its editor was ‘Honest Jack Lawless’.
“On Friday next, the 4th June, the first number of the ‘Irishman’ shall be published. Those who may please to honour the ‘Irishman’ with their advertisements will be good enough to lose no time in sending them to the office No 2 Pottinger’s Entry”Jack Lawless, Belfast Newsletter 1st June 1819
Printers & Stationers
In 1839 there is still an association with this trade. The street directory records for Pottinger’s Entry
- No 2 George Harrison, stationer
- No 8 James O’Neill, printer
- No 14 Marcus Ward, stationer
- No 11 McWilliams, bookbinder
The Marcus Ward Company began as a partnership between John Ward, Robert Greenfield and James Blow. The Blow family were renowned in the printing and paper-making business. An earlier James Blow with his brother-in-law Patrick Neill established the first printing press in Belfast in 1690. Marcus Ward became a distinguished firm publishing illustrated books and using colour lithography. In the 1860’s they were famous for their highly decorative greetings cards and calendars.
Pottinger’s Entry, like other Belfast entries, was the location of numerous public houses, eateries and amusements. In 1852, for example, there was
- Pottinger’s Arms hotel, tavern and coffee house at No 9
- The Hibernian Tavern at No 10
- Edward Lennon’s Billiard Room at No 4.5
- Patrick Devlin Spirit Dealer at No 2
The United Irishmen
It is rumoured that the Pottinger’s Entries bars were venues for meetings of the United Irishmen. Certainly its members were locals and frequented the area.
“The spread of Democratic and Republican opinions in the North of Ireland soon became noticeable…..and in 1791 in a house in Pottinger’s Entry (I have not been able to identify it, but it was almost certainly a tavern of some sort) was founded the notorious Society of United Irishmen”S Ramsey, The Town We Live In, 1889
Indeed many say that the executed Henry Joy McCracken was waked in a Pottinger’s Entry pub in July 1798.
The Morning Star
There was also the Scotch Oyster house run by James Simpson at No 19, this later was renamed the Morning Star. This building dates back to 1810 and is still flourishing today. It was first built as a coaching stop for the Belfast to Dublin mail coaches.
It is said the establishment got its nickname ‘the morning star’ from the local postal workers, who would arrive here as the morning star still shone in the dark skies. This hostelry is the oldest surviving building in Pottinger’s Entry.
The Morning Star
In 1860 the building was owned by iron merchants John and William Riddel. According to Griffiths it was valued at £25. In 1863 the ‘spirit shop and stores’ were occupied by Mr J Steenman. In 1892 the ‘licensed house’ was sold to two well-known publicans Henry McKenna and James McEntee for £65. They redecorated the pub and added to its Victorian features.
Further renovation of the Morning Star was carried out in 1924, by the then owners the Madden Bros, after a malicious fire. The exterior sign and the horse-shoe bar were added at this time.
The Morning Star was extremely fortunate in escaping much damage during World War Two. Many of its near neighbours were destroyed during the Belfast Blitz including Sugarhouse Entry just across High Street.
The Morning Star Today
The pub is situated at the corner of Pottinger’s Entry and Pottinger’s Court.
It is a two storey Victorian building with sturdy square pillars with decorative tiles and a pillastered frontage. It has etched glass windows and a winged lion stands proud over the corner entrance.
The interior ground floor has mahogany furnishings with brass fittings. The upper floor boasts an award winning gastro pub experience. The Morning Star is a true Belfast bar, popular with locals, workers, shoppers and tourists.
Today Pottinger’s Entry is again a thriving, pedestrianised area of small shops and restaurants between the two commercial thoroughfares of High Street and Ann Street. Most recognise Pottinger’s Entry because of its distinctive entrance on Ann Street.
The High Street entrance has been widened following the demolition of the buildings that formed the original entrance and those bordering the entry.
Pottinger’s Entry Gallery
Today there is little sign of the majority of the original buildings although Pottinger’s Entry remains a busy thoroughfare between High Street and Ann Street. It is also the location of some of Belfast’s striking street art and a favourite with buskers and musicians.
The Farset gave Belfast its name (originally Béal Feirste, ‘mouth of the sand-bank ford) and was at the heart of Belfast’s industrial success.
Sugarhouse Entry enjoyed long and varied history from the late 1600s until its eventual destruction in a World War 2 blitz
St George’s Church is a place of peace within Belfast’s city centre that visitors cherish, on a site used for worship since Capello de Vado
Street Art has long featured on Northern Ireland walls. Now Belfast city centre has been enhanced with a range of sensational street paintings
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