Most of my primary research is carried out reading newspapers. A very black and white world you might think but I have found that these textual artefacts help paint a very colourful image of those who lived long before photographs and the like were invented. While scrolling through 18th century Limerick newspapers I have been able to deduce in some format or other how the people of Limerick lived. In particular what were the types of food they ate and even the clothes they wore…you will be glad to know that Limerick was in line with the latest fashions and trends in London and Paris. My admiration goes out to those ladies and even gents who were and still are skilled with a needle.
In his artistic depiction of Mathew Bridge the artist Samuel Brocas left a beautiful image of Limerick as he saw it in the 1820’s the era of Jane Austen and more locally Limerick author Gerald Griffin.
Looking at this painting we can see a hump back bridge crossing over the Abbey River, with crowed streets on either side of the river. The bridge is known today as Mathews Bridge and on the left we are looking at Charlotte’s Quay and on the right is George’s Quay. However, what makes this picture most interesting is the representation of life and the people of Limerick. Yes! I know and hasten to add that Brocas had a lot to do with this interpretation.
Brocas has accurately depicted a hump back bridge which was completely altered in 1846 by the Pain Brothers. However, when Brocas painted this bridge it was known then as the NewBridge and had been built in 1762 by Edward Uzuld…
The story of the bridge and the building of Limerick in the 18th century is a fascinating one but one for another day.
Marked on the Plan of Limerick of 1769 by Christopher Colles is the ‘New Bridge’ crossing the river from the medieval old town onto the newly intended plan of Newtown Pery. What he has marked as Russell Quay later became Charlottes Quay (named after Queen Charlotte wife to George III).
It appears that the crowds were following a local funeral and of course no better place than to find all of Limerick’s society better represented than on the streets of early Georgian Limerick. I say this because the advertisements in the newspapers for drapery and millinery goods appear to fit with what I am looking at in this picture. I believe it be an accurate and honest attempt by the artist to re produce life in Limerick as he saw it.
Advertisements from the very earliest newspapers contain a very rich history on the types of clothes that people wore or were available. Today I am looking at Hats…or indeed anything that could be worn on your head…including wigs. Of course, one only has to look at the 1769 Trade Directory to see how many people were working in the clothing trade…drapery advertisements throughout the eighteenth century reflected the changing skill base of those skilled in the making of clothes and included Manuta Makers, Stay Makers, Milliners, tailors, knitters, Lace and Wollen Makers. Charlottes Quay by 1790s had become the new and prosperous shopping street, with numerous silk, woollen and drapery stores. The engraving clearly shows the ladies wearing bonnet type hats while on the opposite side of the river and nearer to Baal’s Bridge
there were others who carried their goods on their head on their way to and from their market area.
Aside from advertisements in the local newspapers there were numerous short notices of items that were lost or found. Some people offered a reward. Lost and found items in the Limerick Chronicle of 1774 varied from animals, pistols, jewellery, lace, books and items of clothing. In one case, Rev. William Kennedy, Parish Priest of Newport, Co. Tipperary, had found a ‘silk oyle coat’, BUT before he would return it, the the owner had to pay the cost of the short notice. However, a kindly Mr. Bowen found ‘a new smart cock’d hat’ which was ‘pretty much worn with a band and buckle’. He however, was happy to hand it back to the owner without any conditions. Another noticed entitled ‘Anonymous’ he /she claimed to have lost ‘a small woven band box, containing blend lace, both lappet and tippet, 2 pairs of white pendants and a landscape bracelet set in gold in a small black Shagreen case’. A reward was offered but it did not state the amount. It is clear from these notices that cherished items were not always of high monetary value.