At the east of High Street in Newtownards the Market Cross was built in 1636
The Market Cross dates to 1636, by which time Hugh Montgomery’s Newtownards settlement had grown to around 100 dwellings mainly clustered around the area of the market cross. The original building was flat topped with a parapet and had a tall pillar in the centre surmounted by a carved lion.
Markets were held on Saturdays with special fairs on the 23rd January, second Saturday of March, 14th May and 23rd September. They were popular events which drew merchants from as far afield as Belfast and Scotland.
There are descriptions of wine being dispensed from the gargoyles on the festive occasion of the restoration of the monarchy and the Proclamation of Charles II in 1660. During this time period, the small room within is thought to have been used to house night-watchmen, from which they could patrol streets and light the town lamps.
Some interpretations state the cross was damaged by Cromwellian forces in 1653 and rebuilt in 1666, but an account by William Montgomery, grandson of Hugh in 1683 describes the building in its original form. It was at some point between then and the Ordinance Survey mapping of 1830s that the cross took on its present conical roof.
The importance of the settlement’s centre here diminished in the 1770s when Alexander Stewart created Conway Square and a new market house, now Ards Arts Centre. During this redevelopment, 60 new houses were built, and the opportunity was taken to re-orientate the town to focus on the new piazza rather than the market cross.
In the early 19th century, linen production became very important to the town and a weaver’s quarter developed near the cross around a spinning factory on Castle Place. At this time the old cross marked the entrance from the high street into the poor quarter of town which stretched down towards the Old Shore Road.
Local memory also recalls that the Old Cross functioned as an office from which the Londonderry family collected rents on their surrounding estates and property, probably in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the 1940s it was noted the interior had been used as a prison for the drunk and disorderly.