Craigavon Historical Society

Lurgan

Origins
The Religious Society of Friends and the manufacture of linen
Brownlow House
The Irish Famine
Post - famine economic growth
The development of local amenities

Origins

The name of Lurgan is derived from its former Irish name, spelt variously but usually given as Lurgevallivacken which means 'long low ridge of McCann's townland'. The town had its origins in 1610 when James I granted 1,500 acres of land in the Barony of O'Neilland to John Brownlow and 1,000 acres to his son William. Following the death of John Brownlow, William amalgamated the lands to form the Manor of Brownlow's Derry. A census of 1616 records that some 40 houses had been built and 1,500 acres of land inhabited by English settlers.

In 1641 Lurgan was destroyed by Sir Phelim O'Neill during which time William Brownlow was imprisoned and his house and castle razed. William died in 1661 and was succeeded by his grandson Arthur who, under the terms of accepting his grandfather's estate, changed his name from Chamberlain to Brownlow. He granted many leases in the area, many of which stipulated that tenants should build houses, thus the gradual growth of the town increased to the point where by 1693 the number of houses had grown to 99. Pynners survey of 1619 records the total population of O'Neilland barony as 1741, by 1659 the census records the population at 2635 and by 1696 this had swollen considerably to 13,453 according to the Poll Money Returns.

The Religious Society of Friends and the manufacture of linen

One significant factor, which had lasting consequences for Lurgan, was the arrival of the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends). William Edmundson, a Cromellian soldier from Westmoreland founded the Lurgan Quaker Meeting in 1654, the first of its kind in Ireland. The Quakers brought with them an entrepreneurship, which encouraged an increase in commerce, most notably in the area of linen weaving. The Hoope family in particular were very influential in the linen trade and in 1709 John Hoope formed a partnership with the landlord Arthur Brownlow to purchase the Richmount Estate on the West of the Bann for £13,000. Hoope contributed £3,000 of this sum. The Quakers are creditied with not only bringing economic wealth but also greatly influencing the popular techniques for the production of linen.

Quaker names prominent in the early years of linen manufacture were Thomas Turner - author of 'New Methods for Improving Flax and Flax-seed and Bleaching Cloth' and highly-regarded as an expert in this field; John Nicholson - owner of a bleaching works at Hall's Mill, Gilford and originator of innovative bleaching techniques; Christy family - linen bleachers and later the owner of a vitriol works at Moyallon; Greer Family - originated in Lurgan and one of the most influential of all Ulster weaving families.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Bell family rose to prominence in the production of 'fine end' linens. The Richardson family were perhaps the most well-known Quaker linen family and created the village of Bessbrook to accommodate the employees in their 'Bessbrook Spinning Company'. Such was the reputation for honesty and fair-dealing with which the Quaker linen families were associated, that very often, customers preferred to deal with them over the competition, thus ensuring the on-going prosperity which these Quaker families enjoyed.

Brownlow House

Brownlow House - photo by John Trimble Undoubtedly the most prominent secular building in Lurgan is Brownlow House. This was the county seat of the Brownlow family and was built in 1836 to a design by the Scottish architect William Henry Playfair. The house was built in Scottish sandstone in the Elizabethan style and stood in an estate of some 259 acres which includes a man-made lake of 53 acres.

Brownlow House, which is reputed to have 365 rooms, was built for the Right Honourable Charles Brownlow and, until he was raised to the peerage in 1839, it was called Lurgan House. In 1893 the third Baron Brownlow sold the lake and house to Lurgan Borough Council in 1893 for the sum of £2,000. In 1903 it was sold to the Lurgan District Orange Lodge. During the First World Wars it was used as a training base for the 36 th Ulster Division.

Brownlow House served as headquarters for the 10th Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 16th Royal Irish Rifles. At the commencement of the Second World War the house was again utilised by allied forces and in January 1942 it served as headquarters for the V (US) Army Corp followed in September 1943 by the XV (US) Army Corp under the command of General George Patton. General Dwight D Eisenhower is reputed to have stayed overnight in Brownlow House during this period.

Despite suffering serious fire damage in recent decardes Brownlow House stills stands and its parkland and lake are now available for all to enjoy as Lurgan Park.


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The Irish Famine

A workhouse was built in Lurgan and opened in 1841 under the stipulations of the Poor Law which stated that each Poor Law Union would build a workhouse to give relief to the increasing numbers of destitute poor. In 1821 the population of Lurgan was 2,715, this increased to 4,677 by 1841. There were a couple of reasons for this large growth in population. Firstly the opportunities provided by the booming linen industry led many to abandon their meagre living in rural areas and migrate to Lurgan in the hope of gaining employment. Secondly the ever- expanding town gave tradesmen the opportunity to secure work in the construction of new buildings such as Brownlow House.

The large numbers of poor workers migrating to the town inevitably resulted in over-crowding and a very low standard of living. When the potato crop failed for a second time in 1846 the resulting starvation led to a quickly overcrowded workhouse which by the end of 1846 exceeded its 800 capacity. In an attempt to alleviate the problem a relief committee was established in Lurgan as they were in man other local towns. The relief committees raised money by subscription from local landowners, gentry and members of the clergy and were matched by funds from Dublin. With these monies food was bought and distributed to the ever-increasing numbers of starving people at soup kitchens. In an attempt to provide employment and thereby give the destitute the means to buy food, Lord Lurgan devised a scheme of land- drainage on his estate.

The so-called 'famine roads' were not built in Lurgan to the same extent as the rest of Ireland, although land owners also provided outdoor relief by employing labourers to lower hills and repair existing road. During the period 1846 to 1849 the famine claimed 2,933 lives in the Lurgan Union alone.

Post-famine economic growth

A major factor in the post-famine economic re-growth of Lurgan came with the invention of the power loom. A number of power-loom weaving factories were built in Lurgan including James Malcolm's factory in 1855. Marketing of linen received a huge boost during the "cotton famine" resulting from the blockage of cotton exports from the southern states of America during the Civil War (1861 to 1865). Johnston Allen & Co were founded in 1867 and the Lurgan Weaving Company was founded in 1881.

Linen had traditionally been sold in the market, the patent for which was issued on 22 June 1629 to Sir William Brownlow. In addition to the Friday market (which was changed to Thursday after 1829) the patent allowed for two 3-day markets to be held on 25 July and 11 November. Lord Lurgan sold the rights to the Town Commissioners in 1884 for £2,000. A further market for the sale of meat was later established, as was a monthly fair for the sale of cattle and pigs on the second Thursday of each month.

The development of local amenities

In 1854 the inhabitants of the town petitioned the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Marquis of Anglesea, to bring the provisions of the Towns Improvement Act into force in Lurgan. The Act was ratified for Lurgan and on 13 th January 1855 elections were held for 15 town commissioners. One of the first acts of the commissioners was the creation of street names followed by plans to improve communication by connecting the town to the electric telegraph. In 1856 the rate for general purposes was 8d in the pound, in 1868 this increased to 10d. In 1888 it was 3d in the pound for general purposes with an additional 6d for sanitary assessment.

In 1855 arrangements for the building of a sewerage system were made and in 1857 Lurgan was lit by gas street lamps fed from the Lurgan Gas Light and Chemical Company Ltd on William Street. In 1949 Lurgan was granted Borough Status by Royal Charter granted by King George VI continuing until 1973 when Lurgan was taken under the control of Craigavon Borough Council.


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