Memories of William Street

Vol. 6 No. 1 - 1989

Memories of William Street, Lurgan

by Arnold G. Sleator

d. 30 Nov. 2020

Before and during the Second World War my grandparents owned an hotel in William Street, Lurgan. It was called 'The Star Hotel' at numbers forty eight and fifty William Street.

I think number forty eight, next to the Courthouse, was formerly a public house, but my grandparents, being strictly temperance, incorporated the premises into the main hotel and the former bar became their private dining room.

Not only did my grandmother run the hotel but my grandfather ran a manufacturing business, the office of which was at number fifty six William Street. The factory ran behind the houses and exited on to Charles Street.

Market garden

To complete the picture my uncle had a market garden and kept poultry in an area called Claytown, roughly where the Craigavon Industrial Development Organisation building now stands, and bounded by what is now Rectory Road and Charles Street. I suppose the idea was to supply the family and hotel with produce and eggs.

As I grew up I spent many happy days in the garden chasing the hens, and watching the eggs being packed in baskets for sale to a Mr. Briggs. There was also a big glasshouse with a great vine. My grandfather always took time to prune the grape bunches with little scissors so that the grapes would expand to full size and mature.

There were blackcurrant bushes and prickly gooseberries to be harvested for jam; eggs to be collected; rhubarb to be cut and potatoes to be gathered. There were cats and chickens and perhaps the greatest miracle of all, the 'incubator' where many eggs were inserted and in due time little chicks hatched. Heat was supplied by a small paraffin lamp. It is hard to believe all this took place at the back of Charles Street.

The Shirt factory supplied outlets such as Corbett's of Portadown and Robinson Cleaver, Belfast and the girls worked at Singer Sewing Machines maintained by my uncle. Disaster struck just at the outbreak of the war, when fire swept through the premises. The factory was never re-built. However, my grandfather was not to be deterred and opened a herbalist business.

Requisitioned by the War department

More problems were to follow in the hotel business as the premises were requisitioned by the War department to accommodate Army Officers and evacuees from Belfast. Suddenly there were all sorts of 'comings and goings' with strange families living in the rooms. At night- time more people came off the trains out of Belfast to spend the nights in the relative safety of Lurgan, away from the bombings. To me this was very exciting as I got to know the various people, some of whom had great artistic ability and were able to draw pictures and read stories. Many friendships were formed that lasted years after the war.

Gas lights

The Hotel was lit by gas, as was most of Lurgan at that time. There was great ceremony each night as the mantles were lit and trimmed. These were very fragile things and much thought of in order to get the best light. They were very much 'out of bounds' for small boys.

In one or two rooms there were 'Butterfly' lights which had no mantle but the flame of gas spread out in the shape of a butterfly. The kitchen end of the hotel had many 'Gas Rings' for pots and pans and there was also a huge black range with large rings on top, ovens at each side, and dampers in the wall above, which regulated draught and heat. Each week this 'monster' had to be black-leaded and de-ashed to restore it to shining perfection.

Breadmaking was a feature of work in the kitchen. Buttermilk was taken from the cold pantry, and kneaded with flour, butter and salt into great piles of dough rolled back and forth and then placed in shaped tins in the ovens. The smell of a bread shop still conjures up the image of fresh warm wheaten with a pat of butter and a helping of home-made jam.

The Gas Works

Gas light and its production was a great feature of Lurgan at that time. Early in the morning there was the rattle of the horses and carts delivering coal to the gas works almost opposite the hotel and taking away the coke. When the street lights were lit again after the war, the lamplighter, with his long pole travelled up and down the street at dusk, pulling the little chains inside the street lamps that ignited the gas.

The hotel and factory had a wind-up 'phone... Lurgan 67. No complicated numbers In those days.

In a way William Street was the 'Gateway to Lurgan' because trains then were such an important feature of travel and communication. Many hundreds of people passed up and down the street each morning, on their way to the Shipyard and engineering works in Belfast, and back at night.

Sunday was a much different day. when most of the bustle ceased, but perhaps this only emphasised the fact that Lurgan had a long history of greyhound racing and In those days, after the war, there always seemed to be a procession of 'Grews' going up and down the street on a Sunday, much to the annoyance of those who thought the 'Hounds' were a badge of decadence.

Milk was delivered in bottles. It was most interesting to watch the milk cart with taps and ladles meeting the demands for milk and buttermilk, accompanied by the personal service of farmer or milkman.

Changed beyond recognition

Over fifty years have passed and William Street has changed beyond recognition from a largely residential street to a street of business premises. In those far off dark days of war there were many difficulties, yet happy memories remain of a street which gave many early images to a young boy.