Thursday 25 July 2013

History of Lisburn (pt5)


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 Edited by JAMES CARSON.
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Macaulay, in his "History of England," pictures King William III., when he passed through Ireland, as thinking "how different an aspect that unhappy region would have presented if it had been blessed with such a government and such a religion as had made his native Holland the wonder of the world; how endless a succession of pleasure houses, tulip gardens, and dairy farms would have lined the road from Lisburn to Belfast; how many hundreds of barges would have been constantly passing up and down the Lagan." If Macaulay could see Lisburn at the present day perhaps he would think that it does not fall far short, if it does not exceed, the picturesque and prosperous condition which his fertile imagination had conjured up. The Union of England and Ireland was consummated, in 1800, and since that period the prosperity of Ireland has increased exceedingly.

The following is a description of Lisburn written about that time:-- "At present it contains about eight hundred houses neatly built of brick, forming three good streets, at the junction of which stands a good market house, with a ballroom over it, where an assembly is held every fortnight. The Church is large, with a good spire and set of bells, the gift of the present Marquis of Hertford. There is likewise a respectable body of Quakers, a large body of Presbyterians and Methodists, who have each an elegant Meeting-house, and some Roman Catholics, who have also a good Chapel. The trade of the town is very considerable, both in the manufacturing of linen and cotton and also in the shop-keeping line. The following gentlemen have elegant houses, viz.:-- Messrs. Hunter, Rogers, Crommelin, Delacherois, Roger Johnson-Smyth, Handcock, etc. Samuel Heron. Esq., has a good villa in the Castle Garden, from which there is fine view of the river and part of the County Down. The Linen Hall, erected at the expense of the Marquis of Hertford, is a large square court surrounded by a piazza of brick. There is a great market for linen, etc., held here every Tuesday. The present Marquis of Hertford, in 1796, built a very good shambles on a small rivulet in Smithfield. where a great number of black cattle are exposed for sale every Tuesday. The principal inns are kept by Mr. Samuel Waring and Mr. Shaw. Vitriol is made here at present (on the site of the Island Spinning Company) by Dr. Alexander Crawford, a physician of eminence. The works were erected first about thirty years ago by Messrs. Thomas Gregg and Waddell Cunningham, of Belfast. The town is supplied with water by pipes from a basin above it, where it is conveyed from the fountains in Castle Robin and the other mountains.

The streets are wide and well paved, and lighted with globe lamps at proper distances. The river Lagan is now navigable from Belfast to Lough Neagh by a new canal lately finished by Mr. Richard Owens, at the expense of the late Marquis of Donegal!.

Lisburn now returns one member to the Imperial Parliament since the Union. The officers of the Lisburn Cavalry are the Marquis of Hertford, William Smyth, S. Delacherois, James Fulton, and 64 men. The infantry officers are N. Delacherois, Wm. Coulson, and 150 men."

In the famine year of 1800, when the price of wheat in Mark Lane was 130s the quarter, and the retail price of oatmeal 10s the sieve of 20 lbs., John Handcock imported from Philadelphia 200 tons of Indian meal, the first sample of that article ever seen in Ulster. He also brought over 500 barrels of American flour, and both were sold at cost price to the more distressed families in Lisburn. Penal laws were then savage and merciless. The theft of goods to the value of 5s from any dwelling-house was punished with death. In 1811 Mr. Handcock's bleach greens in Lambeg had been broken into and three webs stolen. Knowing the penalty, he refused to prosecute the accused, and, with the aid of Mr. John M'Cance, of Suffolk, and other linen merchants, Sir Samuel Romilly, M.P., was induced to bring a Bill to the House of Commons for the milder punishment of bleach-green robbers. The measure passed, and from that time the crime gradually lessened in Ulster and is now unknown.

Mr. H. Betty, of Chapel Hill, Lisburn, was a linen merchant and bleacher. He was the father of W. Henry West Betty, born in 1791, and known in theatrical circles.

"The Young Roscius."

He became an adept in reciting Shakespeare in his ninth year, and in 1804 created the greatest sensation ever known in the theatrical world in London. Not far from Chapel Hill, in a small house in Bow Street, dwelt another celebrity, Sydney Owenson, who became Lady Morgan, the authoress of "The Novice of St. Dominick," "The Wild Irish Girl," and "St. Clair." Lisburn from time to time has been fortunate in having for its inhabitants men who, having ao abundance of this world's goods, were not forgetful of their poorer brethren, among whom were the Rev. Mr. Carleton, the interest of whose bequest is divided annually among poor householders of the town. An almshouse for eight poor widows was founded by the will of Mr. Williams in 1826, and six almshouses for as many poor widows were also founded by a member of the Traill family. In 1828 the town first elected Commissioners to look after the watching, lighting, and cleansing of the town, and four night watchmen were also appointed.

In 1845 an indignation meeting was held, the Marquis of Downshire in the chair; on one of the hills that rise above the station of the Great Northern Railway. Mr. James Watson, of Brookhill, had been deprived of the Commission of the Peace, as well as the Deputy-Lieutenancy of the County, on account of having attended a meeting of the Orange leaders early in July.

"The Old Commodore,"

as Mr. Watson was called, had been a steady friend of law and order for half a century. As a captain of a local corps of yeomanry he had led one section of the loyal troops at the battle of Antrim, in June, 1798, where his horse was shot under him, and he himself narrowly escaped death. Residing as he did at Brookhill and heaping up the fame of a country gentleman, a worthy magistrate, and an enthusiastic lover of turf and field sports, he enjoyed universal popularity with peer and peasant, and the action of the Irish Government in depriving him of his magisterial honours caused widespread indignation. In that feeling the Conservative was heartily joined by many Liberals, all of whom held the Chief of Brookhill in the highest respect. When arrangements had been made by Mr. Watson's friends for the purpose of getting up a meeting of sympathisers in Lisburn, great difficulty was experienced in obtaining a field to hold it in. At last Mr. David Beatty was applied to, and at once gave the committee leave to hold the meeting in his field, a spot since famed as "Watson's Hill." The meeting was one of the most enthusiastic ever seen in the North of Ireland. It was estimated that fifty thousand, including all creeds and classes, attended the great convention. In the years 1847-48, through the failure of the potato crop, the famine was sore in the land, and a committee was formed to look after and help the starving poor of the town, when the manufacturers and others subscribed liberally towards that deserving object.

In 1863

the disastrous civil war in America, by destroying the cotton crop, produced widespread misery in the North of Ireland, and particularly in those districts where the cotton trade was the staple manufacture. A committee of gentlemen resident in Lisburn was formed to supply the waste of those who were suffering, and that committee appealed, and appealed successfully, to wealthy men in Ireland, England, and Scotland, and received large contributions from the charitable in all districts, and particularly from many successful men in our colonies -- Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. One of the most generous was Mr. A. T. Stewart, of New York, who chartered a ship at his own expense, filled her with provisions to the value of £6,000, and despatched her across the Atlantic to relieve the starving poor of his native town of Lisburn. On her return she took out about 120 emigrants, whom he provided for until they found employment in their adopted land. Full particulars of these time's and of Mr. A. T. Stewart will be found in Mr. Hugh M'Call's book, "The Cotton Famine."

In 1878, Sir Richard Wallace

succeeded to the estate, after a long and costly litigation with Sir Hamilton Seymour, and his coming marked a new era in the history of Lisburn. The early lords of the soil from Sir Fulke Conway to Francis second Marquis of Hertford paid annual visits to the estate, but the third and fourth holders of the title and property were absentees. With the exception of a three weeks' visit by Richard fourth Marquis, paid in October, 1845, neither father nor son set foot on the estate from 1822 till 1870; nor did either of these landlords grant a building lease in fee simple. Very little increase was made in the population during the interval, but owing to the munificent and gentlemanly treatment by Sir Richard of the rural tenantry, and the granting of building sites on leases in fee simple, together with the promptitude and business-like arrangements of his estate agent, F. L. Capron, Esq., in having these leases perfected, a new era dawned on Lisburn, and its progress during the following years has been almost phenomenal. The gross valuation of the town in 1874 was £15,339; 1884, £19,392; 1894, £25,459; 1905, £30,753 -- double the amount in 30 years. During Sir Richard's ownership many new buildings were erected at his expense, one of which is the splendid residence opposite the Castle Gardens, of which all the work in connection with it was done by residents of the County Antrim. The old Market House was renovated, the dome re-coppered and adorned by a handsome illuminated clock. In 1874 the Towns' Improvement Act, 1854-55 was adopted, and on the 9th July the election of Town Commissioners took place, when out of thirty candidates the following fifteen were elected -- viz., William Graham, David Beatty, William Savage, Robert Alister, Redmond Jefferson, Samuel A. Johnson, James A. Mack, Samuel Musgrave, John Ruddy, John D. Barbour, George Bell, John Ritchie, George StGeorge, James S. Dawson, Lucas Waring. In 1893, Bills were promoted in Parliament for the purchase of water and market rights from Lady Wallace, which passed, and since they became the property of the town have bean improved and enlarged. Since then the Courthouse, Assembly Rooms, and Estate Office (the latter now used as the Town Hall) have been purchased from Sir John Murray Scott.

In 1884, Sir Richard Wallace, Bart., presented to the town the handsome public park called by his name. It contains 25 acres, in which are some fine oaks, elms, and limes; there is a beautiful lime-tree walk along the side of the railway, which is familiarly known as the "Dean's Walk" from having been planted by Dean Stannus, who was for many years rector of the Cathedral, and at same time acted as agent for the Marquis of Hertford.

Some years after,

Sir John Murray Scott

presented the Castle Gardens to the town this is one of the most interesting places in it owing to its historical associations. It has an entrance from Castle Street, and a beautiful lime-tree walk leading almost through the centre, at the end of which there is a monument to Sir Richard Wallace, erected by public subscription, and beyond this is placed one of the guns captured at Sebastopol, and presented by Admiral Meynell, R.N., in 1858. From the bowling green there is a charming view of the County Down, a portion of which is known as Largymore forms part of the town of Lisburn. There is also a beautiful fountain situated in the centre of the gardens. Thus very few towns of the same size of Lisburn are so well provided with public parks.

(To be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 25 July 1919 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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