Thursday 7 June 2012

The Huguenot Settlement in Lisburn (pt3)


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By Hugh McCall -- 1870.


For a long period previous to the settlement of the French colony at Lisburn few improvements had been introduced into the cultivation of flax, and the manufacture of linen was carried with little regard to progress. The peculiar construction of looms introduced by Earl Strafford, and which enabled the weaver to produce in a given space of time much more cloth, and that of a better quality, than could be woven on the old machine, had found no favour with the people, and until the advent of the exiled Gauls the working of fine cambrics had rarely been attempted in any part of Ulster. The highest "set" of that variety of fabric woven in Antrim or Down did not-exceed 1400, and even this was not first-class work.

Another formidable difficulty stood in the way of advancement. Reed-making had not then been studied as a distinct art or separate branch of the trade, and the result was that great complaints were made about the inequalities of the cloth brought out for sale at the public markets. Monsieur Dupré, the first high-class reedmaker that settled at Lisburn, did good service to the weavers, as well as to the merchants, by introducing a description of work very superior to any previously known in that department of the trade, and which gave increased facilities to the manufacturers of fine fabrics.

In the course of working out his various projects and experiments Mr. Crommelin found able and expert assistants among the industrial ranks located around the scene of his enterprise. Lisburn and its neighbourhood had, by that time, been largely colonised by men of different lands and of diversity of language. William Edmundson and his family, the first of the followers of the far-famed George Fox that had ever settled in Ulster, resided there from 1676, and had made considerable way as linen manufacturers many years before the French exiles settled down in that quarter. Thus there was the impulsive Celt located side by side with the quiet Quaker; in one house resided the cool-blooded Hollander, and next door lived the light-hearted Frenchman. Across the street were sturdy Germans, hardy Norwegians, Welsh peasants, and Warwickshire farmers; and, as if to give full play to the commingling of new blood, there were also rough-looking Scottish Highlanders, flanked in by divers families originally raised in the shires of Ayr and Lanark; From the admixture of these different races sprung a people remarkable alike for their perseverance and their industry -- a people whose untiring labours gave new value to the soil, and whose enterprise inaugurated a most important era in the history of Ulster.

The erection of a bleaching concern in connection with his manufacturing establishment formed one of the principal objects of Mr. Crommelin soon after his connection with the French settlement. Lambeg --  Leamb Beg (the small hand), supposed to have been so named because five roads diverged from the centre of the village -- had been chosen as a site for the same purpose so far back as 1626, when a bleaching concern was erected by the joint influence of some English and Scotch families who had previously settled there. The exact spot where that establishment stood is said to have been on a tract of land close to the river side, and which, more than a century afterwards, became the property of Mr. Barclay, a very eminent linen merchant and extensive bleacher. Along the borders of the Bann, in the vicinity of Blackwater, and the large streams which ran in the lower parts of Antrim, Down, Tyrone, and Derry, there had also sprung up several minor "bleacheries," as they were called, but the total amount of business done in each of these was comparatively small. Mr. Crommelin's great desire was to erect a place of finish on a large scale, with all the latest improvements; and having applied to the lord of the soil for thai purpose, a grant of land was attained on the banks of the Lagan, and on the site now occupied by the Hilden flax-spinning and thread-manufacturing works. Besides this seat of finish, another plot of ground further down the river was afterwards taken for a like purpose. It was called New Holland, from the circumstance of several Dutch bleachers, who had been brought over by Mr. Crommelin, being the principal hands engaged in it.

After considerable difficulties had been surmounted in getting up the buildings for the indoor department of the process at the Hilden field, and also in the laying out of the lands for grassing the linens, the concern was set to work in the spring of 1701.

When the new concern commenced work the season for bleaching linen lasted only eight months in each year. From the close of October till the beginning of March the works were totally suspended, as it was considered that goods would be seriously injured if spread out on the grass during the prevalence of snow, or frost. The new bleachfield, however, was a great success, and its founder felt no little pride in it. Several years afterwards, and when writing a report of what had been accomplished, he requested these who were disposed "to erect bleacheries" to visit his concern at Hilden, adding, with excitation, that it would "serve them as a model."

After the Battle of the Boyne several Dutchmen who had been engaged in that campaign settled in different parts of Ulster. Two of those people, named respectively Mussen and Munts, selected Lambeg as their resting-place, and as each had been engaged in the finish of linen in Holland, their knowledge of the art of bleaching proved highly advantageous to the staple industry of that district. An interesting incident is related of René Bulmer, one of the French exiles, who had resided there for some time previous to the landing of King William at Carrickfergus. This person was a native of West Flanders, where he had attained much celebrity for his skill as a blacksmith, and also as a professor of the veterinary art. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes the elder Bulmer and his family were obliged to seek refuge in distant lands from the persecution that raged in their own country. When the Prince of Orange and his followers were on their way from Belfast to meet the army of King James, the troops arrived at Lambeg, from the centre of which five roads branched off in different directions. Seeing a person standing at one of the cottage doors, King William, who rode at the head of a troop, inquired, in language largely intermixed with French idiom, which of the roads led to Lisburn and Hillsborough. Mr. Bulmer, to whom the question was addressed, replied in genuine French. Evidently gratified at meeting so unexpectedly a native of Gaul, his Majesty entered into a friendly conversation with him for several minutes relative to his native place, and the circumstances that led to the exile of his family; and after paying a very gallant compliment to the young and handsome wife of this informant, who had come out to see the soldiers, the Royal traveller shook hands with each of them, and passed on with his troops towards their destination.

Throughout his reign, short as it was, William the Third continued to take the utmost interest in Ireland's linen manufacture, and for all those gentlemen who were so zealous in promoting its progress he entertained the highest regard. Two years before his death a patent was issued granting, for a specified period, the sum of eight hundred a year to. Mr. Crommelin as interest for the capital -- ten thousand pounds -- which he had advanced from his own private resources to carry on the different works in which he was engaged. In addition to this "grant" there were also allowed him an annuity of two hundred pounds, besides one hundred and twenty pounds a year for his three assistants. Each of these officials had a particular district under his charge. At one period of the season he watched over the culture of flax, at another he inspected the spinning and weaving departments of the trade, and through the summer his visits were frequent to the bleachfields.

The death of the King, which took place a few days after an accident arising from a falling off his charger, in February, 1702, deprived the Irish linen trade of its Royal patron. No cause was ever assigned for the ungracious act, but also immediately after the accession of Queen Anne the grant settled on Mr. Crommelin was cancelled by the Imperial Treasury. This was at once a most disgraceful proceeding and a flagrant breach of faith. The annuity could not be called a Royal pension, but rather a sum freely awarded as interest on the capital that Mr. Crommelin had invested for a public purpose, and which the late Monarch felt certain was permanently secured to that gentleman for the twelve years mentioned in the Royal patent.

When the Government of Queen Anne refused one portion of the supplies formerly handed over for the encouragement of the linen trade, Mr. Crommelin's ten thousand pounds were scattered throughout the country, in the shape of looms, spinning-wheels, machines for the preparation of flax, and bleaching apparatus, all of which had been lent to weavers, spinners, farmers, and owners of small bleachfields -- not more than one-half the value of which was ever repaid. It must, however, have been highly gratifying to the founder of the new system of linen manufacture to watch the growing success of his projects, and to see the gratifying results which extended profits and higher wages had produced in the circumstances of manufacturers and weavers.

In other quarters, too, there was abundant evidence to prove that his labours had not been in vain. The year after the appointment of the Board of Trustees the following notice was placed on the records of that institution:-- "Louis Crommelin and the Huguenot colony have been greatly instrumental in improving and propagating the flaxen manufacture in the North of this kingdom, and the perfection to which the same is brought in that part of the country has been greatly owing to the skill and industry of the said Crommelin." The dignity which that enterprising man imported to labour, and the halo which his example cast around physical exertion, had the best effect in raising the tone of popular feeling, as well among the patricians as amid the peasants of the North of Ireland. His love of industry did much to break down the national prejudice in favour of idleness, and cast doubt on the social orthodoxy of the idea then so popular with the squirearchy, that those alone who were able to live without employment had any rightful claim to the distinctive title of gentlemen. The industrial reformer, even unknown to himself, battled successfully against such fallacies. A patrician by birth and a merchant by profession, he proved, by his own life, his example, and his enterprise, that an energetic manufacturer may, at the same time, take a high place in the conventional world. This was the solution of an exceedingly knotty problem in the conventional ethics existing a century and a half ago, and on that question the Huguenot leader taught lessons scarcely less valuable than those which his more direct pupils were every day learning at his hands.

In that admirably conducted work, the "Ulster Journal of Archæology," there are to be found some very interesting records of the French exiles and their places of settlement in Ireland. Among the names of many families residing in Belfast and Lisburn there are still some which represent those of the Gallic settlers -- viz., Brethet, Bulmer, Chartres, Drewet, Dubourdieu, Dunville, Dulop, Duprey, Goyer, Jellett, Lascellas, Martine, Nobett, Perrin, Petticrew, Roche, Saurin, St. Clair, Sevigne, and Valentin.

(Next Week: The Huguenots, by Smiles)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 7 June 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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