William Street in the City of Londonderry

William Street runs from the corner of Waterloo Street and Waterloo Place northwestwards towards St. Eugene's Cathedral and is intersected by Rossville Street and Little James Street.  See 1905 Map of the City. Although the street lay outside the walls of the city, a distinction was made in nineteenth century records between William Street [within] which lay within the city boundary in the townland of Londonderry; and William Street [without] which lay outside the city boundary in the townland of Edenballymore. Throughout most of the nineteenth century the city boundary in this part of the city was marked by Mary Blue's Burn. The within, without division was dropped after the County Council Act of 1898.

The records listed in this example will allow you to see the range of sources that you would need to consult in order to find out who was living in a street in a city at various times from the 1830s to the early 1900s. I have included this example because it demonstrates the particular problems of looking for an ancestor in a sizeable street within a city in the latter part of the nineteenth century. This was a time when a street, such as William Street, would have experienced considerable redevelopment due to industrial development and the arrival of  immigrants from both the surrounding countryside and further afield. Furthermore, it demonstrates the problems caused by administrative changes in the latter years of the nineteenth century. For local historians the sources provide the raw material with which to write a history of the street.

1831 Census Returns [See pages 27; 28; 30; 33; 34; 35; 36; [Edenballymore] [Butcher Street Ward] - pages 46; 47; 48.] 1834 Map. Excel PDF
1832 Voters' List - read more.  Excel PDF
1832 Townland Valuation - read more.  Excel PDF Valuation map
1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation - read more. Excel PDF Valuation maps
Printed pages
1867 List of Persons with Burial Rights in the City Cemetery Excel PDF
1868 Voters' List Excel PDF
1860 to 1910 Griffith's Revision Books - read more. Excel PDF
1901 Derry Almanac Excel PDF
1901 Census Returns Excel PDF

Click here to see some photographs of William Street, 2009.

What follows is not a complete history of the street. It is more of an introduction to, and a commentary on, the sources in the table above..

The map of 1905 shows the location of William Street within the city and explains what is meant by the left-hand side of the street and the right-hand side of the street. The exact location of Mary Blue's Burn which divided the street into William Street [within] and William Street [without] can be seen on the 1834 Valuation Map of the street.

The 1831 Census Returns show that the population of William Street at that time was 659 persons. The table below gives details of the number of houses in the street in 1831 and the religious breakdown of the population. It is interesting to note that at this time 56% of the population was protestant. The other point of note is the average number of families per house. The fact that it is 1.7 suggests that some houses were multiple-tenancies. The database of the 1831 Census Returns show that 26 of the 89 inhabited houses in the street were multiple-tenancies [30%] .

Street Inhabited Houses Uninhabited Houses No. of Families Total in Houses E.C. % R.C. % Presb. % Others %
William Street 89 4 153 659 190 29% 287 44% 138 21% 44 6%

There are other records available for this period containing lists of names that can be matched to the names in the 1831 Census Returns. The 1832 Townland Valuation, with its accompanying 1834 map, lists the names of householders in the street at that time and the map allows you to locate each of them precisely in the street. However, it must be remembered that not all persons listed against a property actually lived there. It is important, therefore,  to compare the 1832 list of names with the names of persons in the 1831 Census who did actually live in the street.

The Voters' List of 1832 provides additional information on names and occupations of some of the residents of the street in the 1832. This list is often referred to as Dawson's Book because it contains comment by G. R. Dawson's agents in November 1832 on the voters who were most likely to support him in the forthcoming election where his rival was Sir Robert Ferguson. In 1832 the franchise had been extended to 10 freeholders and as a result many more of the skilled working class in towns could vote. 32 persons are listed as eligible to vote and their occupations are also given. There is an interesting mix of professional people, merchants and tradesmen in the list. We can only assume that the remaining 50 or so householders who were not eligible to vote were probably labourers of some sort. There is an asterisk in the database against the names of those persons who also appear in the 1831 Census Returns and the 1832 Townland Valuation which means that you should be able to locate the houses of many of these people in the street.

Normally, the 1832 Townland Valuation also provides detailed information on individual buildings within a street. However, the book containing this information on William Street is missing from the VAL/1/B set of books for the city. Fortunately the VAL/2/B manuscript books from the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation of the city are available for William Street. I have provided you with an example of one page to let you see, exactly, the kind of information that is available on each property. I have databased the information on the main building [usually a dwelling house] within each property in the street. This information can be compared with the information on houses in the 1901 Census Returns [see below] and this will give you a good idea of what the houses in the street might have looked like during the second half of the nineteenth century. Unfortunately today all of the buildings in the upper part of the street have been replaced either by new housing or a large car park.  Some of the houses from Rossville Street/Little James Street down to Waterloo Place can still be seen today but, again, some modern redevelopment has taken place - see photographs. For those of you who can visit the street, you might want to see if you can identify any of the nineteenth-century buildings in the lower part of the street and see to what extent their dimensions match the measurements given in the VAL/2/B book.

A copy of the actual pages from the printed version of the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation and a copy of the accompanying large scale map [dated 1859 and enlarged in scale by me] have been provided for the street. This will enable you to pinpoint the exact location within the street of each property numbered in the valuation list.

Virtually all of the properties listed in the earlier 1832 Townland Valuation, with its accompanying 1834 map can be matched with the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation. It is also possible to match up some of these locations with the names listed in the 1831 Census Returns. However, because the residents of streets in towns are not as stable as their rural counterparts in townlands, success with names may be more limited.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the entire city double its population due mainly to an influx of people from the surrounding countryside and further afield attracted by industrial development in the city. Many of these people came to William Street. There are two key sources that help us to see who these people were and where they lived in the street - the Griffith's Revision Books and the 1901 Census Returns.

The Griffith's Revision Books which cover the years 1860-1930 make it possible to match up some of the properties and names in the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation with the names and houses in the 1901 Census Returns as well as see the amount of change that took place in the street during the second half of the nineteenth century. A comparison of the valuations of individual buildings in 1859 and c.1900 will indicate those buildings that were redeveloped or refurbished in the second half of the nineteenth century. In fact, you should be able to pick out certain blocks in the street where redevelopment or refurbishment of properties took place after 1859.

At first the valuers used the 1859 map to record any new properties and changes in the numbers of existing properties. However, the 1859 map, at a scale of 2 feet to the mile, was not large enough to record the new changes. By 1873 the valuers had begun to use a much larger scale map [10 feet to the mile] for the street and recorded all changes on this map up to c.1910. During this time the numbering of the street changed quite a bit. You will be able to see these changes on the 1873-c.1910 map, including the original 1859 numbers. As you will see from the case studies of the five families, this map plays a key role in locating families within the street in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Copies of the 1859 map and the 1873 map are too big to be accommodated on one page. So, I have presented the 1859 map in two sections and the 1873 map in four sections. Note that the map that I have used for 1859 has been enlarged to a scale of 4 feet to the mile. The 2 feet to the mile version is of poor quality and very difficult to read without a magnifying glass.

The availability of three other sources provide additional evidence on persons living in the street between 1867 and 1901. These are, an 1867 list of persons in the street with burial rights in the city cemetery; a voter's list for 1868, and a list of names from the 1901 Derry Almanac. The 1901 Derry Almanac is particularly useful because it lists the occupiers of houses in the street [by local street number] for the same year as the 1901 Census and, therefore, fills in many of the gaps in the Griffith's Revision Books for that time. The 1867 and 1868 lists include the occupations of most persons listed and the 1868 voters' list also included the religion of most persons and whether they voted for Lord Claud Hamilton or Mr Dowse, or did not vote at all. The 1868 list also includes street numbers for the period. It looks as if these street numbers are not the same as those in use by the 1880s.

The 1901 Census Returns are probably the most important of all the sources listed here. These returns provide both statistical and personal details of families living in the street on 31st March 1901 and allow us to infer information about individuals and families such as when they might have been born, where they were born, when they were married, etc. Unlike the valuation records which only list the names of the heads of households the 1901 Census Returns provide information on individual members of a family such as age, sex,  level of literacy, marital status, religion, occupation and where the person was born. These returns are the only source that provides details of the relationships between persons in the latter part of the nineteenth century that can be matched to the civil and church records of the period. The place of birth of married couples and their individual children provide some clues as to where people might have come from - important information in a street where about half of the families living there in 1901 were probably relatively recent arrivals.

The returns also contain some information on houses and outbuildings which, when decoded , can give some impression of the size and appearance of the house that each family was living in at that time and the 1901 description can be compared to the house dimensions given in the VAL/2/B manuscript books from the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation.

The table below shows the number of inhabited houses and the number of families living in them as well as the religious breakdown of the population in the street in 1901.

Street Inhabited Houses Uninhabited "Houses" No. of Families Total in Houses E.C. % R.C. % Presb. % Others %
William Street 84 23 113 623 32 5% 471 76% 106 17% 14 2%

Population and houses

Despite the overall increase of population in the city, the population of William Street appears to be 5% lower than it had been in 1831. The main reason for this is the fact that by 1901 the street had many more exclusively commercial premises in the street with no families living in them. Also by 1901 the buildings between Abbey Street and Francis Street were all part of Watt's Distillery which was now enumerated in adjoining Abbey Street.

The table above shows that there were 84 houses in the street occupied by 113 families in 1901. The term Uninhabited "Houses" is something of a misnomer. Only one of these buildings was actually an uninhabited dwelling house. The other 22 were shops, warehouses, workshops or factories with no families living on the premises.

The figures in the table below calculated from the House & Building Returns in the 1901 Census Returns show that all houses were slated. The average number of front windows and rooms per house reflect the fact that many houses in the street were two or three storeys. The average household size is not simply the result of large families it is also influenced by the fact that many houses were classified as multiple-tenancies or had boarders. 14 of the 84 inhabited houses [17%] were treated as multiple-tenancies by the enumerators. Here they enumerated families separately even if they were all living in one room. One house [No. 62 in the North Ward] had  8 rooms with 7 separate families living in it. There were some 36 houses that had 107 persons who were listed as boarders. One house [No. 22 in the North Ward] had a family or 4 living in it with 17 boarders. The enumerators treated it as one house. So, if we add houses like this to the category of multiple-tenancy then some 60% of the houses in the street could be classified as multiple-tenancy. This explains the average figure of 7.4 persons per house.

% of houses slated

Average no. of front windows

Average no. of rooms

Average household size





Religious breakdown of the population in the street in 1901

The figures on religion are in complete contrast to the 1831 figures when 56% of the population was protestant. By 1901 the protestant population had fallen to 24% and the Roman Catholic population was now 76%. These differences reflect the changing character of the street particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century. Clearly the people moving in from Donegal were most responsible for increasing the Roman Catholic population. The disappearance of the Church of Ireland population is more problematic. I think some of these may have been merchants and could have moved to the new houses being built in the suburbs in nearby Great James Street and Clarendon Street, etc.  Clearly, such an assertion would require more detailed research. It would be worth reading John Hume's book, Beyond the Walls: Social and Economic Aspects of the Growth of Derry, 1825-50 (Belfast, 2002) for background information on these developments.

Occupations of heads of households

The occupations of the heads of households in the 1901 Census Returns reflected the industrial and commercial activity going on in William Street and the adjoining streets during the second half of the nineteenth century. They included many engaged in the shirt industry. There were a number of shirt factories/workshops both in the street and nearby. There was also a brewery for a time and Watt's Distillery in adjoining Abbey Street. Stevenson's Bakery in the street was another source of employment. There was a cabinetmaker, a coachbuilder's labourer and, of course there were the usual grocers and publicans. The list goes on and a perusal of the Profession column in the 1901 Census Returns database will give details of the range of occupations and professions in the street at that time.

Families in the street

The people attracted to William Street in the second half of the nineteenth century came from a variety of places. The 1901 Census Returns give details of where individuals were born. Using this information on where married couples and their individual children were born, it often possible to work out where a family might have come from. In many cases hypotheses can be checked against marriage and birth records.  In 1901 there were 113 heads of families listed in the 1901 Census Returns for William Street. 34 of these [30%] listed themselves as being born in Donegal. A further 20 [18%] had been born in places as widespread as Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh, Belfast, Sligo, Dublin, Lincolnshire, Wales and Russia. A further 16 [14%] gave their place of birth as either Co. Derry or Co. Londonderry. 43 [38%] indicated that they had been born in Derry/Londonderry. Some included the word city and it is difficult to be sure whether they had been born in the county or the city.  These figures suggest that at least half of the people living in the street in 1901 had come from outside the city and I suspect the figure could be as high as 60%.

The presence of surnames such as Boyle, Coyle, Doherty, Gallagher, McDermott, McGeady, McGinley, McGonigle, McNulty, Quigley, O'Donnell and Sweeney confirm the strong Donegal connection. Of course some families bearing these names could have been in the city, if not the street, long before the latter years of the nineteenth century.  Names such as Archibald, Darcus, Garmany, Harris, Pollock, Porter, Richards, Roulston, Stevenson, Trafford have clearly originated in Britain but as you will see presently it would be wrong to assume that the bearers of these names all arrived during the Plantation of Ulster. In fact many of these people arrived in the street during the second half of the nineteenth century when the city was experiencing significant  industrial growth.

One such family was that of Evan Richards. He had been born in Wales, his wife had been born in England, as were his three children, two of whom appear to have been twins. His name first appears in the Griffith's Revision Books as occupying a house [Street No. 75] and a factory [Paragon Shirt Factory] in 1897.  Another family was that of Alfred Trafford, a cabinetmaker, who had been born in Lincolnshire. A study of the birthplaces and ages of his children indicates that he must have been married twice and his second wife was an Isabella McKinney born in Co. Donegal whom he married in 1871. David Harris, a draper, was born in Russia and listed his religion in the 1901 returns as Jewish. His wife, also Jewish, was born in England. Their daughter was born in Co. Derry  and was aged 3 in 1901. This suggests that he may have arrived in the street during the 1890s. Was he originally a refugee from the persecution of Jews in Russia during the late nineteenth century? Then there was the family of William Garmany, an engine fitter, born in Co. Armagh, who appears to have to come to William Street via Belfast.

However, the vast majority of the new migrants arriving in the street were coming from Donegal. I have selected a few of these families for more detailed study. These include the families of Denis and James Cassidy and their sister Ellen who was married to James Lecky. Denis and James Cassidy were butchers and James Lecky was a cattle dealer.  Both the father of the Cassidy brothers and the father of James Lecky had been cattle dealers and had originally come from Co. Donegal but their children were born in the city. I also selected the family of  David Archibald, a labourer and former land steward, who had moved into William Street from Co. Donegal.  David and his wife had originally been married in Co. Londonderry where their first child was born. The family then moved to Co. Donegal where the remainder of their children were born. The family moved into William Street towards the end of the nineteenth century. The final family is that of Manasses Doherty and his wife Anne who were married in Donegal but very soon after their marriage moved into the city, first to Eden Place and then to 111 William Street. Manasses was a labourer, a maltser and probably had a variety of jobs over the years..

There are many other families that I could have chosen, but that is for another day. For example, Bernard Quigley, a publican, who was the son of a farmer who lived in the townland of Ballynagard relatively close to the city, Michael Tracy  and the Boyle family who were also publicans, John Darcus, an engine fitter whose family had a long connection with the city, - the  list is almost endless.

Having studied the street for some time, I came away with the impression of a street bustling with people and industry a hundred years ago. Today William Street is a street of two parts. The section of the street from Rossville Street/Little James Street towards St. Eugene's Cathedral at the top of the street is residential. The two exceptions being a large car park beside Little James Street and the swimming pool on the left-hand corner at the top of the street. The houses today have been built very recently and nothing remains of the buildings which would have been in the street in 1901. At that time this part of the street would have been a mixture of commercial/industrial buildings intermingled with residential properties many of which would have been multi-tenancy.

The section of the street from Rossville Street/Little James Street to Waterloo Place/Street is very different. This section of the street today is almost entirely commercial and contains a variety of shops. Whilst there has been redevelopment, which has obliterated the architecture of the older buildings, there are still many buildings which are probably not very different from what they had been in 1901.

A note on the databases

With the exception of the 1858 Griffith's [Tenement] Valuation and the 1834 and 1859 maps, the information in the above sources has been databased and is available in Excel and PDF formats. With two exceptions, the names and properties in the databases follow the order in which they were listed in the original document. The two exceptions are the 1867 and 1868 lists, which are presented alphabetically by surname. This is because both lists contain only a limited number of names for the street and it was not possible to match the names accurately to locations within the street at that time.

Changes in Administrative Divisions

When looking at the sources you should be aware of the changes that took place in Administrative Divisions within the city after 1898 and the fact that, around the same time, the street was renumbered. You should have a look at this paper - Administrative Changes to William Street, Derry/Londonderry.

Copyright 2018 W. Macafee.