Carrickfergus Corporation in the 1830s

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The corporation, under the style of "the Mayor, Sheriffs, Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Town of Carrickfergus," consists of the mayor (who is an alderman), 16 other aldermen, two sheriffs (who are burgesses), 22 other burgesses, and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by a recorder and town-clerk (who is also clerk of the peace), two coroners, three town-serjeants, a water-bailiff, sword-bearer, and other officers. The charter of the 10th of James I. granted a guild merchant within the town, and ordained that all the merchants should be a corporation, by the name of the "Two Masters and Fellows of the Guild Merchant of the Town of Knockfergus, " the masters to be elected annually from and by the merchants of the guild, on the Monday after the feast of St. Michael, with power to make by-laws and impose fines. The guilds now remaining are those of the Hammermen, Weavers, Carters, Taylors and Glovers, Butchers, Trawlers and Dredgers, Hookers, and Shoemakers or Cordwainers, incorporated at different periods; but their restrictive privileges in trade have been abandoned as impolitic or useless, and they are now kept up only in form.

The mayor is elected annually from among the aldermen, at an assembly of the corporation at large, on the 24th of June, and by the charter must be sworn before the constable of the castle, or, in his absence, before the vice-constable, and in the presence of the mayor for the preceding year, on Michaelmas-day; he has power, with the assent of a majority of the aldermen, to depute one of that body to be vice-mayor in his absence. The aldermen, who may be from 8 to 16 in number, are chosen, on vacancies occurring, from the 24 burgesses by the remaining aldermen, and are removable for misbehaviour by a majority of the body. The sheriffs are eligible from the free burgesses by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, annually on the 24th of June: they are sworn on the feast of St. Michael before the mayor and burgesses, and are removable for cause.

The burgesses, who are not mentioned by any of the charters as a definite class in the corporation, and were formerly unlimited in number, have been restricted to 24, and, according to practice, are elected in an assembly of the mayor, sheriffs, and remaining burgesses, neither freedom nor residence being requisite as a qualification, and are supposed, like the aldermen, to hold during good behaviour. The freemen are admissible, in courts of the whole corporation held by the mayor, by the right of birth extending to all the sons of freemen, also by marriage, apprenticeship to a freeman within the county of the town, and by gift of the corporation: among other privileges granted by charter to the freemen, of which most have been long disused, it was ordained that no person should be attached or arrested in the house of a freeman, except for treason or felony.

The recorder is eligible by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, to hold his office either for life, for a term of years, or at the will of the corporation, as may be deemed expedient, but is usually elected for life: he may, with the consent of the mayor and a majority of the aldermen, appoint a deputy to execute the office. The town-clerk is eligible by the whole body, and holds his office during pleasure; and the coroners, by the charter, are eligible by the mayor, sheriffs, burgesses, and commonalty, from the inhabitants, annually on the same day with the mayor and sheriffs, or any other deemed more expedient, and are removable for cause; but in practice it is considered that they ought to be elected from the freemen, and they appear to hold office for life or good behaviour. A treasurer, who was formerly the mayor for the time being, is now appointed by the assembly, and is usually an alderman.

The "assembly" is composed of the mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, and burgesses, who manage all the affairs of the corporation; they assume the power of making by-laws, and of demising the property of the corporation. The charters of Elizabeth and James confirmed to this borough the right of sending two representatives to the Irish parliament, which it continued to exercise till the Union, since which period it has returned one to the Imperial parliament. The elective franchise was vested in the mayor, aldermen, burgesses, and freemen of the town, and in the freeholders to the amount of 40s. per annum and upwards in the county of the town, amounting, in Jan., 1832, to about 850; but by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, the non-resident freemen, except within seven miles, have been disfranchised, and the privilege has been extended to the £10 householders and the £20 and £10 leaseholders for the respective terms of 14, and 20 years; by this act the 40s. freeholders retain the franchise for life only. The number of voters registered at the close of 1835 was about 1200: the sheriffs are the returning officers.

The mayor (as also his deputy or vice-mayor) is a justice of the peace within the town, and is further (without mention of the vice-mayor) constituted a justice of the peace throughout the county of the town, being empowered, with the recorder, ' to hold courts of session and gaol delivery: he is admiral of the liberties, which extend northward to Fair Head and southward to Beer-looms, about 40 miles in each direction, with the exception only of Bangor and the Pool of Garmoyle; and may issue attachments against ships and cargoes, or against persons on board, for the recovery of debts wherever contracted: he is also a magistrate for the county of Antrim, and he or his deputy is judge of the Tholsel court; he is appointed custos rotulorum of the county of the town, and is escheator, master of the assays, and clerk of the market; and the charter empowers him to grant licences for ships coming to the port, upon entering, to buy or forestall merchandise, and also for the salting of hides, fish, &c.

The recorder is a justice of the peace within the county and county of the town; he is the assessor of the mayor in the Tholsel court, and he or his deputy is judge of the court leet and view of frank-pledge to be held in the town twice a year, within a month after Easter and Michaelmas. In 1828, on the petition of the inhabitants, two additional justices were appointed by the lord-lieutenant, under the powers of the act of the 7th of George IV., cap. 61. The corporation has not any exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising within the borough, except that which results from its forming a county of itself: the courts are those of assize and quarter and petty sessions, also a Tholsel court, a sheriffs' or county court, a court leet with view of frankpledge, and a court of pie-poudre. The assizes for the county of the town are held at the usual periods before the mayor, with whom the other judges of assize are associated in commission; since 1817 they have been held in the county of Antrim court-house, under the act of the 28th of George III., cap. 38, confirmed by several succeeding statutes. The quarter sessions are held before the mayor, recorder, and the two additional justices, in the market-house, which has been appropriated for that purpose since the building called the Tholsel was taken down: the court has jurisdiction over all felonies and minor offences committed within the county of the town, with power to inflict capital punishment, which, however, is not exercised, offences of a more serious kind being referred to the judges of assize.

The Tholsel court, which is a court of record, having jurisdiction over the county of the town to an unlimited amount of pleas in personal actions, is by the charter to be held every Monday and Friday, but is now held on the former day; and is empowered to proceed by summons, attachment (which is the usual form), distringas, or any other process, on affidavit before the mayor, whose presence is only deemed necessary in the event of a trial, which seldom takes place. Petty sessions are held once a week, usually before the two additional justices. The assistant barrister for the county of Antrim holds his courts here for trying causes by civil bill; and the assizes and two of the quarter sessions for the county of Antrim are held here. The local police consists of three constables, appointed and paid by the grand jury of assize, and of twelve unpaid constables appointed at the court leet.

The charter granted one-third part of the customs' dues of the port to the corporation, who enjoyed considerable advantages under this privilege, which, in the year 1637, they surrendered to the Crown in consideration of a sum of £3000, to be paid to trustees and invested in land, but from its non-investment the town has been deprived of all benefit accruing from this grant. The charter of the 10th of James I. also granted the right of fishery in the river and a ferry over it, with various fines, waifs, wrecks of the sea, forfeitures, &c., arising within their liberties, from which they derive no advantage at present. Their revenue arises exclusively from rents reserved out of their property in lands, amounting to about £359 late currency.

The corporation court-house and gaol were at "Castle Worraigh" previously to 1776, in which year the county of Antrim grand jury exchanged their gaol and court-house in the vicinity of the castle of Carrickfergus for "Castle Worraigh, " on the site of which part of the present, courthouse for that county was built, and the corporation continued to use the old gaol of the county of Antrim until 1827, when prisoners under criminal charges were removed from it to the new gaol; and after the passing of an act for regulating prisons, the old Tholsel having become ruinous, a new arrangement was entered into between the respective grand juries of Carrickfergus and Antrim, by which the former pay, in lieu of all charges, "£13 for every 365 days of a prisoner confined in the county of Antrim gaol. " The court-house for the county of Antrim is a neat building, fronted with hewn stone, situated at the east end of the main street; and adjoining it, on the north side, is the gaol, which, though capable of containing 340 prisoners, is but ill adapted for their classification or for the preservation of strict discipline.

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