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History & Heritage

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The Sea Front

Old Harbour picture

Having seen something of the historic central core of the town, it would be foolish to break off without a leisurely stroll along Stranraer's sea-front; to look at the area which might be said to be the whole reason for the existence and growth of the township. There is no doubt that the existence of the fresh-water burns and the shelter available in the lower parts below Sheuchan Ridge would have attracted the first settlers but it would seem equally clear that the sheltered loch and its marine harvest would provide an added attraction. The burgh coat-of-arms showing a ship at anchor and its motto "Tutissima Statio" - safest harbour -make it clear that the civic fathers who adopted these emblems were aware of their importance.

From North Strand Street we can cross Harbour Street and Market Street onto what has always been known as The Breastwork. All this area, between the old timber slipway next to Burns House and the West or Old Pier is land reclaimed and built up in the 1850s and 1860s.

Prior to that the sea had come right up to the rear of an old timber yard building opposite the slipway and from there to the Old Pier built in 1820 - washed the back gardens of the houses on the north side of Fisher Street. Only after the reclamation work was completed did Market Street come into being. The name Breastwork arose from the fact that the sea wall was built first with the infilling behind it coming later. At the same time similar work was carried out on the eastern side of the slipway as far as a point roughly opposite the Salvation Army premises. This was the layout in this area, until various redevelopment programmes from the 1960s onward reclaimed further large stretches between the town and the East or Railway Pier.

This pier came about as the result of the spread of railways into South-West Scotland. An agreement in 1861 between railway company and council saw the company advance money to the council for the construction of a new pier, owned by the council but giving priority in berthage to the company. At this time the Old Pier needed refurbishment but its original debt had never been settled and the council saw the cash and the promise of annual harbour dues at the new pier as a solution to all their problems.

The deal was struck, the pier was built, but it proved to be a bad bargain. Constant repairs - the responsibility of the council - and doubts about the safety of the pier led to further borrowing and the company in 1877 were allowed by Parliament to take over the pier which was reconstructed over the next twenty years. Stranraer actually got a generous settlement from the company and the council were able to carry out necessary work on the Old Pier and around the harbour generally.

In the 1830's a local company had set up a service between the Old Pier and Belfast but it was an irregular feature until the railway company came on the scene. In 1862 the "Briton" made the first official trip from the East Pier and private and railway shipping companies carried on services of sorts for some years without any great hope of something regular until 1872. In that year the iron paddle steamer "Princess Louise" inaugurated a new Stranraer - Larne service on what became known as the short - sea route and since then sailings have never ceased.

All the railway companies got in on the act and eventually a joint committee ran the service with a long line of "Princesses", some of whom played their parts in two world wars while other vessels kept the route open. Over the years the pier has seen many changes, not only in facilities but also in cargoes and where at one time passengers had to wait for the single daily trip there are now continuous services with a variety of vessels, carrying articulated road transport vehicles, lorries, vans and cars and many thousands of passengers between Stranraer and Belfast.

The Old Pier

The Old Pier has played its part within the last decade with its passenger and lighter vehicle services to the Northern Ireland capital, a far cry from the sailing ships which set out so bravely from it almost 170 years ago.

Standing near the foot of the Old Pier is the John Simpson Memorial Tower, built in 1938 as the office for the harbour-master who also controlled the adjacent weigh-bridge. Built with a bequest from a local businessman, it suffered the same fate as many of the council's grandly-named edifices, for, though John Simpson is remembered for his generosity in a few street names, the little tower has always simply been known as the 'Weigh-hoose".

The west side of the Old Pier, at one time forming a boundary for the Clayhole Bay, has also seen changes. What was the bay was cut off from Lochryan in the 1960s to form a marine lake leisure area built largely as the result of another generous bequest from a local trader. It was a popular area for some time but Iater silting problems curtailed its use.

Sailing at the old pier

In the early 1990s, with massive dredging taking place for the new berth at the Old Pier, the opportunity was taken to use the recovered material to fill in the lake, pert of which is now a parking area.

Around the same time, Agnew Park was being given a massive facelift with funding arranged by the former district council from the Millennium Commission, the Dumfries and Galloway European Partnership and Dumfries & Galloway Enterprise and on the 10th August 1996, the new park was formally opened by Her Majesty The Queen.

Where next? 

map the sea front (link to further information) Lewis Street to George Street (link to further information) Hanover Street and Hanover Square (link to further information) Portrodie to London Road (link to further information) The Strand into Harbour Street (link to further information)

The Strand l Portrodie to London Road l Hanover Street and Hanover Square l Church Street into George Street l The Sea Front

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