Eligible Properties - Portaferry Townscape Heritage Initiative

Address:  Market House
Owner: Ards Borough Council
Cluster: The Square
Existing Use:  Community
Occupancy:  100%
Date of Construction: 1740-1759
Heritage Merit: B+ Listed Building
Listed Building Reference: Not Applicable
Brief History:

The Savage plaque on south elevation suggests the building was built in 1752, however the Archaeological Survey of Co. Down (1966) suggest that the present structure dates from c.1800. The Ordinance Survey Memoirs, which date from the early 1830s, give a date of 1752, possibly based on the observance of the Savage plaque. Damage caused to the Market House during the course of the 1798 Rebellion may have resulted in the structure being repaired, or partly rebuilt, between late 1798 and c.1800. Whether partially rebuilt or not, there seems little doubt that a market house has stood on this site since 1752.

The person responsible for its construction was Andrew Savage of Portaferry, a member of the ancient family of Savage of the Ards who had been developing the town since the early seventeenth century. Marriage to Margaret Nugent, the daughter of Andrew Nugent of Dysert, resulted in his changing both his name (to Nugent) and becoming converting from being a Catholic to a Protestant. His desire to have a market house was realised by 1752, himself paying for its construction.

The Market House not only served as a place to carry out business and attract trade, but also served as a court and a centre of local government. It also provided as place for social activity and more leisurely pursuits. The description of the premises provided by Ordinance Survey Memoirs of the 1830s states that 'the rooms to the right and left in the upper storey are the library rooms for the Literary Society and the Mechanic Institute Library. The centre room serves (but seldom) for a ballroom. In this room the seneschal holds manor court, where debts to the amount of 40s and under are settled. There is also a court leet held in June (once in the year) for appointing a grand jury, petty constables, plotters and apprizers, laying on cess for the repair of houses, purchasing weights, seals. A temperance society frequently drink tea in this room, upon which they ornament it with green leaves etc.’

During the 1850s clocks were added [or replaced] to the pediments on the north and south elevations and some internal renovation and decoration were carried out later in the century. A daily reading room was opened on the premises in 1853 and the founders of Portaferry’s first bank, The Penny Bank, made use of the building as a place to receive deposits during the mid 19th century. By the 1930s its prominent social position within the town had diminished with the ground floor used at times as a barber’s shop, a butcher’s shop and a carpenter’s workshop. This fall in importance was partly due to improved communications and changes in the structure of local government over the previous century, which had resulted in the subsequent shift of administrative bodies to buildings elsewhere, such as Newtownards. By this stage Portaferry’s role as an important market centre had significantly diminished. By the mid 1960s the building was dilapidated and there were calls for its demolition. The Market House was however eventually purchased from the Nugent estate by North Down Rural District Council, and restored during 1971-72 for use by the local community.