Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Huguenot Settlement in Lisburn (pt2)


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By Hugh McCall -- 1870.


The tyranny of Louis the Fourteenth, which by revoking the act of toleration call the Edict of Nantes in 1685 forced upwards of three-quarters of a million of his Protestant subjects away from the shores of France, and scattered them abroad over most of the other nations of Europe. A great number of them settled in London, where they founded the art of silk weaving in Spitalfields; some settled in St. Giles, and worked in fancy jewellery and other golden ornaments. About six thousand of them fled to Ireland, of whom many settled in Dublin, where they commenced the silken manufacture, and others sought out for themselves homes in some of the Southern counties. Most of these Huguenots, when at home, had been employed in the manufacture of silk or the finer fabrics of linen. Almost immediately after reaching the place of their adoption they commenced work, imparting to those around them the art and energy they had been wont to exercise when peacefully settled in the land of Gaul. About that date an act had been passed by the Cromwellian parliament prohibiting the import of French linen or cambric, and consequently the demand for such goods had largely increased in Ireland and Great Britain.

During the reign of William the Third, and many years after the first batch of French refugees had settled in Lisburn, Mr. Louis Crommelin joined the colony. This gentleman was a native of Armandcourt, near St. Quintin, where for several centuries his forefathers had carried on the flaxen manufacture on their own extensive possessions in the province of Picardie. Seeing in the distance the little cloud that the betokened the coming of the storm, the Crommelin family, in some degree to escape the persecutions that were commenced against the Protestant population of France, collected their movable property and fled to Holland, where they sought shelter in Amsterdam, and became celebrated there as merchants and bankers. At the personal solicitation of the Prince of Orange, Louis, the junior of the family, came to Ireland for the purpose of taking charge of those colonies of his countrymen which had been established in different provinces of this island. Descended from a long line of leather manufacturers, the members of which had for centuries been promoters of textile enterprise in France, Mr. Crommelin had peculiar claims on the fealty of his fellow refugees, and no sooner has he got settled in his new place of residence than he found himself surrounded by numbers of old friends, all of whom were delighted to acknowledge him as their industrial leader. The manufacture of linen in Ulster was then principally confined to medium and low sets, for although the description of goods made in that province was much superior as to degree of fineness to that produced in any other part of Ireland, still the trade was combined within comparatively narrow limits. Except in a few cases, the looms were badly constructed; some of the more forward weavers had adopted the improved machine introduced nearly six years before by the Earl of Stafford, but the great mass of workmen had clung with the tenacity of prejudice against "Saxon innovation" to the old and rudely-made loon. When leaving Holland for his destined home, the head of the Huguenot people brought with him a number of the newest style of looms, and after arriving at Lisburn he had vast numbers of others formed from these models. In course of that year -- 1698 -- Henric Mark Dupré settled in Lisburn. This ingenious refugee had been famed in his own country for his skill as a reedmaker, and his joining the linen weavers was a most important matter for the trade at that time, the reeds in general use being of an inferior description and unsuited to the manufacture of fine fabrics. Heddle-striking and other sections of loom gearing were re-modelled, and the spinning-wheel, the music of which for nearly a century and a half afterwards added so much to the cheerfulness of the cottagers fireside and the farmer's ingle-nook, was added to the list of improved machines. Previous to the advent of the French refugees into the North of Ireland, the distaff and spindle form to principal mode of flax-spinning; a few of the higher ranks of females, who made the spinning flax one of their sources of amusement, had possessed themselves of wheels, but these were rare and seemed more objects of curiosity than of general use. The Irish spinning-wheel, though simple in form and mechanical construction, wrought wonders for the linen manufacturer, and no sooner had it been adopted in the households of the multitude than a great improvement was affected in the quality of yarns. Then came the superior mode of measuring the thread as it was thrown off the wheel by what was called a reel -- a circular machine so constructed that one hundred and twenty rounds produced a "cut" three hundred yards long; twelve of these counted as a hank, and again four hanks constituted a spangle.

In the working out of projects for the advancement of the linen trade Nicholas De Le Cherois -- who had been Lisburn for a great many years -- took considerable interest, and he, too, had the good fortune to be a favourite with the English monarch. The respective families of the Huguenot leaders were much respected at the Court of St. James, and several of their members received special marks of favour at the hands of the king. There was some years ago in the possession of the house of De Le Cherois a captain's commission, dated the first day of August, 1694, presented by "William and Mary, by the grace of God King and Queen of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, &c., to their trusty and well-beloved Nicholas De La Cherois, Esquire, of Lisburn, Ireland."

The family of De La Cherois originally belonged to Champagne, where they had long held a distinguished place in society. In the fifteenth century one of the most celebrated warriors at Agincourt was of the same stock. Like the other sufferers by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the De La Cherois were forced to fly from France, and leave their large estates behind them. They first took shelter at Amsterdam, and in 1689 the brothers Nicholas and Daniel ranged themselves under the banner of the Prince of Orange. Arriving in Ireland with his Majesty, they were at the meeting of the contending forces near Drogheda, and fought gallantly side by side with French troops during the battle against King James. Nicholas De La Cherois married a sister of Louis Crommelin, and his brother took for his wife a cousin of the same gentleman. King William rewarded him for his heroic conduct that the Boyne by presenting him to a lucrative appointment in India; and Nicholas, who settled at Lisburn, enjoyed the joint personal friendship of his Majesty during the remainder of that monarch's life.

Soon after the French people arrived at Lisburn several branches of the Linen Manufacture Improvement Society were opened in different parts of Ireland, and a grant from the Crown was made for the services of ministers whose duty it was to take spiritual charge of the Gaelic exiles and preach to them in their own language. Lord Conway granted the Lisburn colonists a site for the erection of a place of worship, which was known by the distinctive term "French Church," and stood on the ground later occupied with the Courthouse in Castle Street. The Government grant of sixty pounds per annum was first paid to the Rev. Charles De La Valade, a native of Guienne, who at his death, which took place at Lisburn in May, 1755, was succeeded by a relative of the own, the Rev. Sauamaures Du Bour Dieu, a gentleman of considerable talent in literature, and who left behind him many evidences of his abilities both as a divine and a local historian. The first member of the family of Du Bour Dieu that settled in Ireland was chaplain to the famous Schomberg, and stood beside that gallant soldier at the battle of the Boyne; and when he fell from his horse mortally wounded by gun-shot, the reverend gentleman carried him in his arms to the spot on which he died in a short time afterwards. The son of Schomberg's chaplain, the Rev. Saumaurez Du Bour Dieu, was for nearly half a century minister of the French Church in Lisburn, but for some time before his death, which took place in January, 1812, he held the living of Lambeg, the members of the French Church having by that time gradually merged into union with the congregation of the Lisburn Cathedral. Mr. Goyer, another of the victims of the persecuting Louis the Fourteenth, was clerk in the Huguenot Church, and continued in that situation until the service was given up. His father originally belonged to the province of Picardie, were, in the days of religious toleration in France, he was engaged in the double capacity of farmer and silk manufacturer. After having been dispoiled of all his property, he took refuge in Ireland, and in 1688 arrived at Lisburn, in which place he succeeded in establishing the manufacture of silk goods on what was then considered an extensive scale. Mr. Peter Goyer taught school for many years in Bow Street, Lisburn; and his son, the late Mr. William Goyer, was long known and highly respected as English master in the Belfast Academy.

The town of Lisburn having been one of the principal places chosen by the refugees who sought shelter in Ireland from the persecutions of the intolerant King of France, still contains many records of those Gallic colonists. In the eastern corner of the graveyard that surrounds the handsome Cathedral, the ashes of many of those exiles have long reposed. On one of the tombstones we find the following:-- "Here lieth interred the remains of Ann, wife of Samuel Louis Crommelin, who died the 3rd August, 1718, aged 31 years; also Henrietta, second wife of Samuel Louis Crommelin, who dated 19th of March, 1732, aged 37 years. Esther, wife of James Crommelin, died 2nd September, 1743, aged 41 years. And Samuel Louis Crommelin, who died 2nd September, 1743, aged 57 years." There is also the following additional record on a different gravestone:-- "Six foot opposite lyes the bodye of Louis Crommelin, born at St. Quintin in France, only son of Louis Crommelin and Anne Crommelin, Director of the Linen Manufactory, who died beloved of all, aged 18 years, 1 July, 1711." The director of the French colonists, Louis Crommelin, he whose latest days were spent in giving higher status to Ireland's linen manufacture, died in July, 1727, aged 75 years.

On another stone the following hardly legible letters may be traced:-- "Here lieth the body of John Chartrés, linen merchant of Lisburn, who died on the 31st August, 1719, aged 71 years. Also the body of Frances Marshall, wife of the above, who died December 12, 1691, aged 40 years."

The burial ground of the Obrés had an old headstone from which the ravages of time have obliterated all the characters except "Oct. 1716." On a comparatively new slab there is the following:-- "Here lieth Edward Smith Obré, who died August 1st, 1797, aged 49 years. Also his wife Elizabeth Obré, who died 12th May, 1820, aged 73 yrs." Near the same secret spot another notice says:-- "Here lieth the body of Louis Rachét, merchant, who departed this life the 13th of October in the year of our Lord God 1726, and in the 57th year of his age." In addition to these there were in the Kilrush and Lambeg burial-grounds at the commencement of the present century many gravestones bearing the name of Bulmér, Boyer, De La Cherois, D'Ermain, Du Pré, Bouchier, and St. Clair; but nearly all those mementos have fallen into decay. Many of the remnants of those people are, however, still residents in Belfast and Lisburn. A few of the descendants of the De La Cherois families reside at present in Donaghadee.

The history of the persecution which, under the despotic government of Louis the Fourteenth, spread so much desolation and distress among those whose only crime was their determination to stand by the faith of their fathers, contains some of the most heartrending instances of human sufferings ever endured by any people. In that war against religious freedom Louis Perrin, grandfather of Judge Perrin, lost nearly all he possessed. He was a native of Nonere, and owned some property there, but from which he had been obliged to fly in order to save his life. In due time the ship in which he sailed arrived at Waterford, and after spending some months in that city he journeyed towards the North and settled in Lisburn, where, for upwards of half a century, he was a highly-respected citizen. Louis Perrin, junior, conducted a classical school at the northern end of Castle Street, and while so engaged he published a French grammar which, as an elementary work, attained considerable popularity.

(To be Continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 31 May 1918 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week for several years. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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