Red Berry Coffee House, Bangor

Today the Red Berry stands at the corner of Main Street and Queen’s Parade. For well over a century there was a public house at or close to the site. Using books, valuations, newspapers and directories it is possible to suggest the names and owners of a succession of public houses and hotels in the area.

In the 1863 valuation the first property listed at the foot of the west side of Main Street was the upper part of a house at number 2, valued at £1 10s 0d. Next door at No4 was William Orr, with the lower part of the house, valued at £1. No 6 was held by William Fowler, a house valued at £2. It is important to remember that while the numbers are consistent in successive valuations, they do not necessarily reflect the modern street numbers.

In 1863 nos 8-10 were held by Stewart Aicken. In his reminiscences of the 1860s Seyers identified this as a public house. Aicken was succeeded by a Mrs Aicken probably a relation, as on the 4 January 1870 the license was transferred from Stewart Aitken to Jane Aitken.

Further changes took place in 1878 when on 2 April John Scott was granted a transfer of the license. Then in January 1879 James Scott offered for sale the public house in Main Street, popularly known as Mrs Aiken’s. According to the advertisement it was held at the very low rent of £18 per annum and had recently been enlarged and improved. A notice in the Belfast Newsletter on 3 February stated that it had been sold by auction to Mrs Margaret Kerr for £240 at a rent of £25 per year.

On 2 April John Scott’s license was transferred to Mrs Kerr. She did not hold the premises for long and on 12 April 1880 they were again offered for public auction at a yearly rent of £25. The advertisement said they were situated at the junction of Main Street and Sandy Row, one of the best positions and were well fitted up and in full working order. Unfortunately no names for the public house were recorded in the sources used.

The valuation of 1883-1893 records two names holding property 8-10: following a vacancy, WA Stormont and then Sarah McCracken held it. A WA Stormont was granted a spirit license in 1882, but the site of the premises is only described as Bangor. In 1887 the Ulster Echo referred to the Clarence Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row, but unfortunately did not name the owner. Mrs McCracken was still recorded in the early part of the 1894-1899 valuation, but this may not be entirely accurate.

The situation is complicated by some advertisements which appeared in the Belfast Newsletter in 1889 and may refer to 8-10. On 11 March 1889 an auction was advertised of property belonging to Mr Samuel McDonald. It referred to an old-established and valuable public house in Main Street which was held for a term of six years at a yearly rent of £26. The premises were well fitted up and in excellent order with a good dwelling accommodation for a respectable family.

The mention of a rear entrance by Sandy Row suggests the property must be at or close to the foot of Main Street. The reason given for the sale was the fact that the owner was resigning from the spirit business. In fact reports from the Belfast Bankruptcy Court show that he had debts of £97 4s 5d.

By November1889 the premises were known as the Shakespeare Hotel when a report appeared in the North Down Herald about the Town Commissioners’ plans for the seafront at Quay Street. It was suggested that the scheme should be extended so that buildings at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row would be pulled down and the site used for a town hall and other buildings. Some of the properties were acquired, but not the Shakespeare Hotel or the Methodist Chapel.

A further report in the same paper in May referred to Mrs McCracken in a case of two female drunks at Bangor Petty sessions. This must be the Mrs McCracken who appears in the valuations at 8-10 and this confirms that the Shakespeare Hotel stood on the site of Stewart Aiken’s public house. Then a new owner appears. On 12 February 1892 a Miss Emma Hicklen was offering for sale The Shakespeare at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row at a lease of six years from 28th February 1889 at a rent of £26, the same as in McDonald’s advertisement. A good business had always been carried on and it was expected to be much enhanced by the erection of the new pier and the transformation of the esplanade in Quay Street. The shop was large with all modern improvements and the upper portion was well suited as a residence.

On 17 March 1892 Emma Hickland, proprietress of the Shakespeare Hotel in Main Street was charged at Bangor Petty Sessions with breaching the Licensing Act. Her premises had been open at prohibited hours and drink had been sold illegally on 27 February. She was fined 10s and costs and the conviction was to be recorded on the license.

The next advertisement to appear in the Belfast Newsletter was on 7 October 1892. This time it was once more called the Clarence Hotel and stood at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row. This was an auction of the building which was owned by Mr James Orr of Glenarm. It refers to the sitting tenant Samuel Mawhinney. He formerly owned premises in Quay Street which had been demolished to facilitate the creation of the esplanade and like Mrs O’Hara had sought premises elsewhere. Mr Mawhinney’s agreement would terminate at 1 March 1895 and he paid £26 a year rent. Mr Orr held the building under a lease for ever at 18s 5 ½ d. The advertisement stated that the property was situated in the leading thoroughfare of Bangor and called the town a popular and rising seaside resort.

On 19 October another advertisement stated that the premises had been withdrawn from sale as they had been privately disposed of to Mr Samuel Mawhinney, the sitting tenant. Also in 1895 the Town Commissioners offered a 10,000 year lease of the premises at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row which they had taken over for their proposed scheme. These were now in ruins and the scheme had been abandoned. Samuel Mawhinney acquired these as he was named in the valuation. They measured 23’ 2” in Main Street beside the Shakespeare Hotel, and 39’ 10” in Sandy Row. Patton dates the present Red Berry building to circa 1895. It seems clear that Samuel Mawhinney, having acquired the Hotel and then the adjacent property had constructed the building which we can see today.

A succession of public houses occupied the building for much of the twentieth century. It is also apparent that the advertisements in particular used the words at the corner of Main Street and Sandy Row rather loosely and it was not until after Samuel Mawhinney acquired Nos 2-10 that term could be truly applied.