The town is beautifully situated a little beyond the northern extremity of Lough Strangford, which, previously to the reclamation of about 100 acres, now under tillage, formed its boundary on that side; and is surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. It consists of one spacious square, with several wide streets and others of inferior character, and contains at present about 1300 houses, many of which are handsomely built. Great improvements have been made under the auspices of the Marquess of Londonderry; a new line of road has been constructed to Belfast, avoiding the hills of Scrabo; and new roads also to Cumber and to Grey abbey, crossing the grounds reclaimed from the Lough: two neat bridges have been built over the river, and various other improvements are contemplated. The first attempt to establish a public brewery, and also a public distillery, was made in this town in 1769; but both failed, and, in 1819, John Johnston, Esq., purchased the premises and rebuilt the brewery on an extensive scale; more than 7000 barrels of beer are brewed annually, and adjoining are large malting premises for the supply of the brewery and for sale, in which the malt is made from barley grown in the neighbourhood. The weaving of damask is carried on to a small extent; about 600 looms are employed in weaving muslin, and 20 in weaving coarse linen for domestic use. More than 1000 females are constantly employed in embroidering muslin for the Glasgow merchants, who send the fabrics hither for that purpose. The market is on Saturday, and is amply supplied with provisions of all kinds; and fairs are held on the second Saturday in every month, also on Jan. 23rd, May 14th, and Sept. 23rd, for cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and pedlery.
By the charter of Jas. I. the corporation consists of a provost, twelve free burgesses and an indefinite number of freemen, assisted by two serjeants-at-mace. The provost, who is also judge of the borough court of record, and clerk of the market, was to be chosen annually from the free burgesses on the festival of St. John the Baptist, and sworn into office on that of St. Michael; the free burgesses, as vacancies occur, were chosen from the freemen by the provost and a majority of their own body, by whom also the freemen are admitted by favour only; and the serjeants-at-mace are appointed by the corporation. The public business is transacted by a "Quarter Court," consisting of 23 inhabitants, who are summoned and sworn by the provost as grand jurors, and act as a court leet in the election of various officers under the corporation, and exercise the power of presentment to be levied on the borough for various purposes. This court, which from its name would appear to have been formerly held quarterly, is now held annually, before the provost, between Michaelmas and Christmas. The corporation, under their charter, continued to return two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, when the borough was disfranchised. The borough court of record, which had jurisdiction to the amount of five marks, has long been discontinued. The provost now is either re-elected annually, or, being once elected, continues to hold his office for life; the burgesses are no longer chosen from the resident, free-men, nor has the corporation, since 1821, exercised any municipal functions, except the holding of the Quarter court by the provost. A manor court is held before a seneschal appointed by the Marquess of Londonderry, every third Saturday, for the recovery of debts not exceeding £10; and a court leet annually, at which various officers are appointed for the manor, and also a constable for the borough, whose sole duty it is to assist in preserving the peace. The general sessions for the county are held here, in June and December, before the assistant barrister for the division of Downpatrick; petty sessions are held on the first and third Saturdays in every month, and a constabulary police force is stationed in the town. The church, built by Sir Hugh Montgomery, has been converted into a court-house, recently fitted up by the Marquess of Londonderry, and in which the sessions are held. The town-hall, for the transaction of the corporation business, is a handsome structure in the Grecian Doric style, erected in 1770 by the first Marquess of Londonderry: it is surmounted by a cupola, containing a clock, beneath which is the entrance into an area leading through the centre, on one side of which is the flesh market and on the other a weighhouse and other requisite offices and stores; above is an elegant suite of assembly-rooms, and other apartments, in which the members of the Down hunt hold meetings. A handsome stone cross of octagonal form, decorated with canopied niches, was built by the corporation in the centre of the town, to replace the ancient cross destroyed by the insurgents in 1641.
The parish comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 14,803 statute acres; the land is of good quality, and the system of agriculture highly improved; there is no waste land, but about 700 acres of valuable bog, from which the neighbourhood is supplied with fuel. There are two quarries of excellent freestone in the mountain of Scrabo, equal in appearance and superior in durability to that of Portland, besides five others of inferior quality; large quantities are raised for the supply of the neighbouring districts, and several cargoes have been shipped to America. Some extensive lead mines are held under lease from the Marquess of Londonderry by a company in the Isle of Man; the ore is very rich, but the mines are very indifferently worked; the water being imperfectly carried off by a level, the lessees have sunk a new shaft and erected a steam engine to raise the ore and to drain the mine; the ore is shipped at Bangor and sent to Flint, where it is smelted. Under Scrabo are three thin veins of coal, which show themselves in the Lough; but they are at a great depth beneath the surface, and no attempt to work them has yet been made. Regent House, the seat of P. Johnston, Esq., an elegant mansion in the Grecian style, recently erected by its proprietor, is built of polished Scrabo stone, and situated in tastefully disposed grounds, commanding a fine view of Lough Strangford and the adjacent country. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the diocese of Down, and in the patronage of the Marquess of Londonderry, in whom the rectorial tithes are impropriate, with the exception of those of the townland of Ballyskeagh, which are appropriate to the see of Down, and are paid by the Marquess. The stipend of the curate is £64. 12. 3., of which £40. 12. 3. is payable by the impropriator, and £24 from Primate Boulter's fund: he has also the glebe, which comprises 28½ statute acres, valued at £40 per ann.; and the glebehouse, a good residence, situated in the town, and built at an expense of £700, of which £415 was a gift and £46 a loan from the late Board of First Fruits. The church, a handsome cruciform edifice, was built in 1817, at an expense of £5446, of which £831 was a gift and £3692 a loan from the same Board; the remainder, £923, was a donation from the late Marquess of Londonderry. In the R. C. divisions the parish is the head of a union or district, comprising also the parishes of Dundonald, Bangor, and Donaghadee; the chapel is a small plain building. There is a place of worship for a Presbyterian congregation in connection, with the Presbytery of Antrim, and two for those in connection with the Synod of Ulster, one of which, recently erected in Regent-street, has a handsome hewn stone front of the Doric order; there is also a place of worship for Seceders, another for Covenanters, and two for Methodists. About 620 children are taught in the public schools of the parish, for one of which, on Erasmus Smith's foundation, a spacious house, with residences for a master and mistress, was built at an expense of £1000, defrayed jointly by the Marquess of Londonderry and the trustees of that charity; and for another a house was lately erected by Francis Turnley, Esq., under the will of his late father, with a house each for a master and mistress, and endowed with £3 per ann. to be distributed in prizes to the children. There are also ten private schools, in which are about 450 children, and four Sunday schools. A house of industry, which has completely suppressed mendicity in this parish, is supported by general subscription, aided by an annual donation of £25 from the Marquess of Londonderry, who also gave the house and premises rent-free. In the bog at Loughriescouse was found, in 1824, at a depth of 23 feet below the surface, the body of a highlander in a good state of preservation; parts of his dress were perfect, but the body crumbled into dust on exposure to the air. The head and horns of a moose deer were, in 1832, dug up on the townland of Ballymagreechan, and are now deposited in the museum at Glasgow. The cemetery of the abbey of Moville is now used for a parochial burialground; and near the old church, now the court-house, are the ruins of a private chapel, built by Sir Robt. Colville. In that church were interred the remains of the Earls and others of the family of Mount-Alexander, of several of the Colville family, of the first Marquess of Londonderry, and of his father.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis