Vol. 9 No. 1 - 2007
I’m sure you recall being told fascinating stories at the knee of a parent; I remember being told by my father of Jackson’s “White House Hotel” at the Bannfoot outside Lurgan. I don’t know whether this evoked childhood memories of holiday shopping in that well known retail outlet in Portrush, or whether I felt I had seen similar establishments in spaghetti westerns, anyway it did exist and it was quite an extraordinary edifice. Alas, like so many stories told, I didn’t get all the facts in time from my late father, so I am indebted to Billy Holywood, Violet Turkington and especially Brendan McCorry for helping me to piece together what I think is a fascinating story.
Mr Eddie Jackson, an eccentric gentleman, and a native of the Bannfoot, had spent some years in the United States of America and had returned home in the 1930’s, the time of the American depression. He was determined to bring a little bit of the States, back to the Montiaghs. Not only did he build his rather unusual wooden residential accommodation, complete with swinging sign, but he also built quite an extraordinary boat, in which he said he wanted to sail back to America. The site of the building was on the right hand side of the road beyond the village of Charlestown.
By the way, nobody ever got to stay in the hotel other than Mr Jackson, and nobody ever sailed in the boat either. The boat project came first, all built with a hammer, chisel and saw. No exact measurements or plans survive, even if there ever were any to start with! I reckon the boat was over sixty feet long and about fourteen feet wide and fourteen feet overall in height.
The keel was laid on the far side of the river Bann, just upstream from the Bannfoot. He must have got permission from the local land owner; it was built in an inlet along the main river bank. As he worked on the project, he lived in a tent which was pitched in a field beside his dream project. I reckon he built the boat with the idea of bringing tourists back from America to stay in his hotel, sadly a dream never fulfilled. One stormy evening when the hull was nearing completion, she took off, without permission of course, and lodged on the opposite bank, so Mr Jackson upped tent and belongings and moved his abode across the river, to be with his ship mate! He sought permission from his friend Victor Turkington, if he could call the boat “Violet” after his sister; he wanted Victor to be captain of the boat on the Trans Atlantic voyages.
Sometime after that I’m told he moved in to lodge with Joe Turkington, a confirmed bachelor who lived in the village of Charlestown. Timber for the project was sourced in Shillington’s in Portadown, he must have been a remarkably good customer, I’m also told when the account was issued, he rode to town by bicycle with a suitcase, in which he carried the money! My informants tell me Mr. Jackson was nearing sixty years of age by the time the boat was built. I’m told the boat was perfectly built, superb craftsmanship, though to walk across the deck, she did feel a tad rickety, perhaps she lacked reinforcement. Ballast in the bottom of the hull was concrete, designed to make the vessel more stable in the water. He obviously cared about safety, he built a number of lifeboats completely enclosed, these were slightly out of proportion as they certainly never would have fitted on the deck, perhaps he intended them to be towed!
The building of the hotel came later, it was built on land belonging to Alec Humphries, he too had crossed the Atlantic in earlier life. I’m reliably informed it too attracted quite a bit of local interest, it had a full length balcony across the front, complete with those relaxing rocking deck chairs no doubt designed for those balmy Bannfoot evenings. It was a single storey flat roofed building, uniquely constructed. He constructed the building in squares, erected one on the outside and one on the inside; filling the cavity with saw dust, I’m sure it wouldn’t comply with fire regulations today! The floors were earthen, no luxury coverings here. He had a stove for heating and cooking in his own back living quarters, though there were fireplaces in some of the rooms. No one seems to remember anything about a kitchen or bathroom; perhaps these didn’t exist in American styled architecture at that time!
All the furnishings were truly bespoke, as each piece of furniture had been made in situ in the individual room, indeed most could not be moved from room to room as room sizes were all quite modest, I estimate about twelve foot by twelve. The balcony ran full length across the front of the building. The building was, as you’d expect, painted white, and when the building was complete, our intrepid builder and designer, moved in and resided in his fulfilled dream. It seems there was always a commercial side to Mr. Jackson, as further down the road towards the ferry he had constructed a small shop where he sold lemonade, chocolate and cigarettes, of course when the hotel was built, business was transferred.
Mr Jackson may have been a man with odd ideas but was regarded locally as a likable soul, always having time to talk with folk, in fact it could be said, he loved to talk, he was a great entertainer. He lived to a ripe old age, being in his mid eighties before being called to his reward. He was a talented and prolific painter, producing numerous works of art on plywood; I haven’t been able to trace any example, who knows one may still survive somewhere. He wore spats over his shoes, quite a dapper, country gentleman. He was a man who cared passionately about his health; he neither smoked nor drank alcohol and never took butter.
Mr. Jackson was described to me as a really nice man but with silly ideas, but was he really? I'd say he was someone who lived before his time, well let's face it, the idea is credible today. Who ever said, the Montiaghs didn't breed characters? We now know of one who a least partially lived out his dream!