In the 17th century, with the help of Sir James Montgomery, the Savage family began developing the business life of Portaferry. It became a thriving coastal town with shipyards and quays.
A stone quay appears on George Johnston’s chart of the Narrows published in 1755. The water depth of 4.6m at high tide allowed relatively large vessels to enter the port. This was vital in days when sailing ships carried all passengers and cargo in and out of Portaferry.
A second quay at the Salt Pans appears in the Ordnance Survey map of 1834.
The ‘big’ quay and slipway were extended in 1835 to accommodate a new steam ferry. John Lynn of Downpatrick submitted estimates of £90 and £30 respectively for work on the quay using Isle of Man stone ‘with prime timbre fenders at the corners of the quay.’ It was repaired and extended again in 1897. A third ‘wee’ quay was built before 1920.
A ferry between Strangford and Portaferry is known to have operated since the 12th century.
Shipbuilding was a major industry here in the 1800s. The main shipbuilders were the Conways, the McCleerys and Thomas Gelston. Between 1812 and 1822 over thirty vessels were built in Portaferry, a third of them by Thomas Gelston in his shipyard close by the castle.
You can find the graves of some of these people in Templecranny graveyard (No 11).