Sometimes piecing together the history of a building or a business is like doing a jigsaw without the final picture. Some pieces are missing, while pieces from other puzzles may have been included. Such difficulties face the researcher of The Star public house.
The first mention of the business I have found was in July 1890 when Joseph Roache, proprietor, advertised for a barmaid for the Star Hotel. A further advertisement of 1893 placed it at 19 & 20 Ballymagee Street, the modern High Street. Using different sources I have tried to piece together the history of the businesses on this site. The building numbers in different sources can vary as modern house numbers were not introduced until later.
In the valuation of 1863 at position 17, on the south side of Ballymagee Street, Wilson Barr held a house, offices and yard from Robert Edward Ward. The valuation was £12. In early valuations hotels and public houses are not always identified as such. He had received a 21 year lease of the premises in 1862 which was converted into a 60 year lease in 1881. A modern address of 20 Ballymagee street has been added to the rental. In 1858 Wilson Barr first appears in a directory as a publican and grocer in Ballymagee Street. His last appearance was in 1884 when he was described as a spirit dealer and grocer. None of these entries give a house number. Wilson Barr is mentioned by Seyers in his reminiscences of the 1860s. He stated that Mr Barr had a spirit, timber and general merchant’s business in Ballymagee Street and also owned the corn mill behind. He does not give an exact address for the premises. This mill must be either the mill in Mill Row which was demolished to make way for the Flagship Centre or an earlier version of it.
Mr Barr continued to be listed in the valuations at position 17 until 1883 when he was replaced by Edward Glancy in the same year and then by Joseph Roche (the spelling varies in different sources) in 1890. Edward Glancy had been granted a spirit license in 1882, both for Holywood and Bangor, but no street was named. All three were recorded in the valuation as tenants of Robert Edward Ward.
On 4 October1887 an advertisement appeared in the Belfast News-Letter for an auction of premises at Nos. 19 & 20 Ballymagee Street, the same numbers as the 1893 Star advertisement. It refers to the “In the matter of the Trust Estate of David Erskine”, a grocer and spirit merchant who held the premises under an agreement for 5 years beginning 1 May 1884 from Wilson Barr. The yearly rent was £23 12s 6d.
The premises were described as “long-established” and in a central position in Ballymagee Street. They were well fitted up and “adapted for carrying on a respectable Family Grocery, Wine, Spirit, and Bottling Trade”. It would be an eligible investment for a purchaser with moderate capital and a knowledge of the business. In April 1887 David Erskine had appeared at the local Petty Sessions because his premises were open for the sale of liquor on a Sunday. His residence was given as Main Street. On the following 7 October the North Down Herald stated that David Erskine of Ballymagee Street had gone abroad and his stock and furniture were to be auctioned. The appearance in court might explain the sale of the business. It also might explain why his tenure was so brief it was not mentioned in the valuations. Nor was he listed in any of the directories.
The next reference to the premises was in 1889 when Mrs Anna Jane Barr offered the Dew Drop Inn in Ballymagee Street for sale. The business was described as well-known and long established. Extensive alterations and improvements had recently been made and it had ample bottling accommodation. No details of the accommodation were provided. A lease would be granted to the purchaser for ten years at £25pa. As if to reassure a purchaser the premises were stated to have a good trade attached. Moreover Mrs Barr’s sole reason for selling was due to Mr Wilson Barr’s death and the fact that she had another business requiring her undivided attention.
I have not been able to find his death on the Irish Genealogy website or a will on the PRONI website. There is, however, a memorial in Bangor Abbey graveyard which almost certainly refers to his family. It was erected by Wilson Barr in memory of his parents, Elizabeth and Nathaniel, and other members of his family. His wife Ellenor (sic) Barr died on 7 July 1869 aged 47. I have been able to find 2 marriages for a Wilson Barr. In the first he was described as a weaver when in 1846 he married Ellen Leebody. He was the son of Nathaniel, a farmer. In 1872 he married a second time to Anne (or Annie) Jane Partridge when he was described as a widower and a merchant. According to the memorial Wilson Barr died on 8th July 1889. This meant that his widow was offering a lease of the premises less than a month after he died. The reference to another property in the advertisement must relate to the Esplanade in Quay Street. When properties were demolished to create the open area (now the site of the McKee Clock and fountain) Ann Jane Barr received £30 compensation in 1891. The Steamboat Hotel discussed in my first Hotel article stood nearby.
Then in September 1893 there was an advertisement for the auction of The Star at Numbers 19 and 20 Ballymagee (now High) Street on the instructions of the proprietor Joseph Roache. He held it by a lease for 10 years from 1 August 1890 at the very low rent of £25 a year. These are the same terms mentioned in the advertisement for the Dew Drop Inn. The Star was described as a ‘very valuable & extensive retail wine and spirit establishment’. The situation was one of the best in Bangor, close to the new Esplanade and the Steamboat Pier. Moreover it was 30 minutes by rail and 50 minutes by steamer from Belfast. Bangor itself was ‘one of the most convenient, rising and popular watering resorts in the North of Ireland’. Mr Roache was selling because he wanted to resign from the spirit trade.
Perhaps a reason for his selling is provided by a court case in November 1892. He was fined 20s with costs at Bangor Petty Sessions for a breach of the Sunday-closing Act. It is interesting that David Erskine had earlier been fined for a similar offence. There were regulations about serving drink only to bona fide travellers on a Sunday. This meant a publican could serve someone from Newtownards or Belfast, but not a Bangorian.
A further footnote occurs to Joseph Roaches’s career in Bangor; in August 1890 the North Down Herald alleged that he was displaying an item from the ruins of Herculaneum, one of the towns overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.
A second advertisement for the auction of The Star appeared later in the same month. Although the information was much the same, it contained several new inducements for the purchaser. The public house had “a very extensive and lucrative trade attached”. It was also a grand opportunity and “with a little tact and ability it might be easily made the best stand in Bangor”. It also mentioned the premises had a rere (sic) stabling yard.
According to a valuation John Cahoon replaced Joseph Roche in 1894 and still retained the property in 1899 and it was described as a public house. He was a tenant of Robert Edward Ward and the valuation remained the same at £12. He was not listed in any of the directories of the 1890s.
Finally, where exactly were these premises? Using the modern street number 20 which appeared in a rental and the evidence of the valuations, it is almost certainly on the site of the building at number 20 High Street which Patton dates to c1930. It is currently occupied by two businesses, Mario’s Pizza and Grill and Chillies Indian Takeaway. It might be tempting to assume that the public house occupied the premises which are now Wolsey’s, but there was another hotel/public house in the property next door to the The Star and between it and the Gas Works which were replaced by the Flagship Shopping Centre. This hotel will be the subject of another article.