For centuries there has been a lane leading from the shore at Queen’s Parade south to King Street. Now as the area is about to be transformed, it will mostly disappear. The name, The Vennel, comes from Scotland and before that possibly from France. It reflects the settlement of Bangor by Scots in the early seventeenth century. The area between Queen’s Parade and King Street also contained two small groups of houses. King’s Place had 4 houses and stood some distance down The Vennel on the west side. It also appears in some sources as Argyle Cottages. West Place ran northwards from King Street[formerly West Street], along the side of the 20th century timber yard. It also had 4 houses. These two small clusters of houses are only found in some sources and are sometimes confused. They existed for much of the twentieth century. Various sources help us to glimpse the area at different periods in its history.
The earliest detailed depiction of the area is on the Raven Maps commissioned by Sir James Hamilton about 1625. These are now in the North Down Museum. One of them shows a lane with houses on both sides, leading south from the harbour and what was then called Sandy Row[now Queen’s Parade]. The back gardens on the east side adjoin the gardens behind the properties on Main Street. On the west side the gardens of the houses run back to the river which is now under Southwell Road[this road did not exist in 1625]. This lane seems to me to lie further west than the modern Vennel and may represent an earlier lane which has disappeared. It all depends on how accurate Thomas Raven’s maps were.
The next representation of the area is on a 1757 map. This shows a lane definitely on the line of the modern Vennel. There are no houses along it. Its northern part is bounded on both sides by properties on Sandy Row and its southern part on the east by the gardens of Main Street properties and on the west by a large garden stretching south from Suitor Row[now King Street]. It seems to be considerably further east from the river than on Raven’s map. It is possible that Raven was correct, the older lane and its houses disappeared and were replaced by a lane nearer to the back of Main Street. At the very least the houses had disappeared. Southwell Road did not exist in 1757 and the river, now under it, was open as it flowed to the sea.
The next glimpse comes from 1798 and is mentioned in Harry Allen’s 1985 trail booklet, Back of Bangor. It contains a sketch looking down towards the sea made by Bertha McGimpsey. He says “At the foot of this narrow lane in 1798 the Establishment hung two United Irishmen as a message to the men of Bangor.” Unfortunately he did not give any names. He also adds “For many years after this another establishment hung a red light as its message to the men of Bangor.”
In 1834 the lane existed, but the one house it contained was of such a low value, it was exempt from paying rates. A directory dated 20 years later lists one inhabitant: John Lamont, a stationer and grocer. He also appears in directories of 1856 and 1858. Directories list no further inhabitants until 1896. The long gap does not mean that no one lived there, just that they were not included in the directories. This is evident from the valuations made for local rates.
In 1863 the valuation recorded 2 unoccupied houses. The immediate lessor was John Field and both had a rateable value of £7. This was still the case until the early 1870s. In 1874 Eliza Clanny became the tenant of John Field in one of the houses. She was succeeded by William McMeekin in 1876. Eliza Service took over the other house. The properties consisted of a house, office and yard and each was still valued at £7.
By the 1880s further changes had taken place. William McMeekin was replaced by John Montgomery in 1888 and Eliza Service by James McMahon. Andrew Diamond was now the immediate lessor and the valuations had dropped to £6. Two additional people were listed John Mercer, a tenant of Frederick Campbell had a house and yard valued at £3 10s 0d. Robert Smith had a house only valued at £2 10s 0d. Both Diamond and Campbell had properties on the west side of Main Street and it appears that the properties on the east side of the Vennel were carved out of these.
The 1901 census does not have a separate entry on The Vennel, but at least one of those listed in the directories as resident in The Vennel in 1901 appears under King Street. He was Alexander McCaw a van driver aged 38 living with his wife Mary aged 37, and 3 sons. The house was listed as second class.
The Vennel appears separately in 1911. The residents include labourers, a milk vendor, a coachman, a motorman and a bricklayer. No occupations were listed for the wives. There was one first class house and 6 second class. King Place also appears. The occupations of 3 of the heads of households were vegetable dealer, butcher and car driver. The most interesting household was that of William H. Hassan [the index has Hasson, but the actual return is Hassan]. He was a retired gold digger. A report of his death in 1927 in his 83rd year in the Spectator confirms that he had followed this occupation in Australia. On his return he served for a time as bailiff of the Bangor estate. In 1911 he was living with his mother Hannah aged 92 and her sister Charlotte McMeekan aged 97. Hannah is mentioned by Seyers in his booklet on Bangor in the 1860s. She was running a boot business on the Parade – the section of Quay Street on the sea side demolished in the early 1890s to make way for the esplanade. All three were buried in Bangor Abbey graveyard. The headstone records that Hannah was widowed in 1847 when her husband William, a master mariner, was lost from the ship “Wm. Perry” bound from Danzig. He was 29. Hannah died in 1912 in her 94th year. Her sister Charlotte had died the previous year.
Later Spectator directories record people living in The Vennel, King’s Place and West Place, but have no occupations. In 1969 there were some famous Bangor names with premises there: Minnie Delino and Teresa Caproni. In more recent memory there was a barber’s shop, and the entrance to the Queen’s Cinema.
Now this area of Bangor is to be transformed. King’s Place and West Place had already disappeared in the 1980s, the former under the present car park. They were already boarded up c1980 when my father took me to see them and photograph them. Meanwhile The Vennel survived, but gradually the residents and businesses disappeared. On 31 March 2022 most of The Vennel was officially abandoned except for the upper part. Part of the lane leading up from Southwell Road and backing on to the Queen’s Parade premises was also due to be abandoned.
If anyone has any memories or photographs of the area they can contact me through the Bangor Historical Society website.