Childhood memories

Vol. 6 No. 3 - 1993

Childhood memories of Portadown

in the mid 1920s

by S.C. Lutton

In the mid 1920s the County of Armagh was still living under the shadow of the First World War of 1914-1918 and the effect of the partition of Ireland in 1922. In this study I wish to concentrate on the County Armagh town of Portadown as I remember it.

The main part of the town was on the west bank of the river Bann and was joined to the east side of the river by a substantial granite -constructed bridge to the lesser parts known as Edenderry, which had only a small number of shops. It did however contain two public houses and a cafe (The Anchor). There were also two large linen weaving factories, Hamilton Robb Ltd and Watson Armstrong & Co Ltd. There had been two handkerchief manufacturing units, Andrew Lutton & Co Ltd and John Malcomson, but they had closed about the turn of the century.

Edenderry had the passenger railway station with postal sorting facilities attached. The railway station was at the end of Watson Street (sometimes known as Railway Street). The main station building with its multi-arched facade was designed by the eminent, Belfast Architect, Sir John McNeill. It was opened in 1863. As a main railway junction, it was possible to get direct to many destinations in Ireland, to name a few, Belfast, Dublin, Londonderry and Enniskillen. The population in the earlier part of the decade was 12,000, but in a few years rose to 14,000.

Linen weaving

The linen trade was the chief manufacturing industry. There were seven linen weaving factories which with ancillary industries would have employed 2,000 - 3,000 workers. The weaving factories produced Cambrics and Sheers for Gents and Ladies handkerchiefs, some with borders woven in and others usually Ladies handkerchiefs with shire and spoked ornamentation. Other linen fabrics were Embroidery linen, Artists' Linen Canvas, Typed Glass Cloths, Checked, plain Drying Cloths, Linen Sheeting and Pillowing, Huck-a-back Towels, Tailors' Interlining, etc. The queen of all the linen fabrics produced in Portadown, was Linen Double Damask Tablecloths and Napkins. It was a speciality of Tavanagh Weaving Co Ltd, though Achesons Ltd and Castleisland also produced medium quality goods.

The linen workers lived mainly within the town but some also came in from the country in fair numbers on bicycles. It was quite a sight to see the droves of cyclists heading for their place of work from 7.30am on for 8.00am start and returning home after 6.00pm. The hours worked per week were 48, based on 5 days of 9 hours and 3 hours on Saturday morning.

In the country districts around Portadown there were still a few handloom weavers producing very fine linen, often bordered for handkerchiefs and a super gossamer cloth Shamrock Lawn with a mixture of cotton and linen, both in the warp and weft. The weaving of Damask on the handloom was confined to the Waringstown and Lurgan areas.

Other manufacturing industries in Portadown included Iron foundries for iron castings. The raw material was cast-iron, scrap. The cast-iron products were machine parts for the factories, agricultural machine parts, ornamental cast-iron etc.

Grain mills and bakery

There were three grain mills, Clows, Calvin's and Green's supplying mainly animal feeding stuff and rolled oats for porridge and wheaten meal. The bakery that supplied bread and pastry in the 1920s was Davison Brothers on the Obins street/Park Road corner. In the 1920s it had used the traditional, horse-drawn bread cart but by the 1930s it was changing to motor vans with protection for the driver in all weathers.

By the 1920s the larger Belfast bakeries had started to move in. I remember Inglis's, McWatters and Bernard Hughes. W D Irwin had started a home bakery in the premises behind his Woodhouse Street grocery shop about 1925. It has since prospered and expanded. Its present premises are the former William Clow Mill, off Castle Street (Mill Avenue).

There were two large nurseries beyond the town boundary - Samuel McGredy & Son and James Walsh & Sons. They supplied a wide range of fruit trees, gooseberry bushes and raspberry cones as well as ornamental and flowering bushes and trees. Samuel McGredy & Sons were world famous for their own named varieties of roses. The stiff, clayey soil of the Bann valley suited the production of roses to perfection.

Other Portadown industries were woodworking, bacon and ham curing. Clay bricks were produced by Devon and Collen Brothers at Seagoe.

The car for personal transport had come in, especially after the War, but although effective, involved heavy capital expenditure and was in the main confined at this time to Doctors, the larger industrialists, the landed gentry and progressive farmers.

Before the War and immediately afterwards, cars for personal transport were mainly Continental and American. To name a few -Renault, Peugeot, Delage Darrocq of France; Fiat and Lancia of Italy; Ford, Buick, Chrysler of USA.

The British make; were Ford, Austin, Alvis, Daimler, Morris, Standard, Rover, A C Morgan, Crossley, Armstrong-Siddley, Sunbeam Vauxhall and Swift, also the Chambers car built in Belfast.

The steam traction engine with coal-fired boiler was used for transporting very heavy loads on a low-load, trailer. The Sentinel steam wagon was also in use for heavy loads. Lorries, vans and trucks with petrol engines were used for loads up to 4 ton. The makers I remember were Leyland, Bedford, Albion, Thornycroft and Dennis, with Ford, Austin and Morris at the lighter end.

The Great Northern railway goods station was situated off Woodhouse Street (now the site of the passenger station). It transported all manner of goods to a wide range of destinations.

Newry Navigation canal in decline

In the mid 1920s, water transport was still in use, but rapidly losing ground to rail and road transport. The Newry Navigation canal, the river Bann, Lough Neagh and the Lagan Navigation were all linked into the system. There were two quays in Portadown, namely the Town quay and Shillington's quay. Some of the linen factories and Portadown Foundry Co, had their own private quays. The cargoes carried by the barges (lighters) were coal, timber, metal goods, grain and turf. The barges were built of pitch pine, but a small number were constructed of steel plate, built by Portadown Foundry Co. T A Shillington & Son Ltd had an inclined slipway which enabled them to winch the barges out of the water for dry-dock repair.

There were several other industries in Portadown in the mid 1920s - Cider making in Portmore Street by James Grew. In this street there was always an aroma of alcohol and over mature apples in the air. Jam making was carried out in a small factory on a short street, off Castle Street. Furniture making had for long been manufactured in Portadown and in the village of Richhill, T W McDonagh & Sons were well known for quality furniture. Their factory is in Obins Street and still in business.

Street traders

In the 1920s a certain amount of street trading was carried out in High Street, Market Street and Woodhouse Street. I can still remember farm-carts heeled up in Market Street and pigs in pens in Woodhouse Street. This street had also a Stringer's Eating House, much frequented by farmers and dealers. On Saturdays, stalls were set up on either side of High Street leaving only a narrow thoroughfare up the centre. The stall holders sold, tinware, crockery, clothes, confectionery, tools, delphware, flowers and fish.

This open market was moved in the late 1920s to a new built market house, erected in the old shambles area between Market Street and William Street where it remains to this day.

There was an Egg and Butter market off Mandeville Street also a Pork market off West Street. The Fair Green off Church Street was in use for the sale and purchase of cattle, sheep and pigs.

Portadown's shops in the 1920s

To finalise, I have attempted to give a list of the shops in the main shopping thoroughfares, starting from the Bann Bridge and working up the town towards St Mark's Church. On the left side after the bridge there was a most unsightly open space used as a town dump. It occupied the site of the present Pleasure Gardens. There is now a row of shops which were built in the late 1920s. At one stage, one was a garage car repair business run by Sinton Reid; McGowan's - greengrocer and Bacci's - Italian ice-cream and fish suppers.

On the other side of the entrance to Bridge Street south we had the Post Office with telephone exchange behind, then J & M Reid - draper, then The Picture House (Summerson's) silent cinema; Richard Hoy - butcher; Uprichard's Café, Sandford's -grocery, wine and spirits; Turner's - fruit and vegetables; The Ulster Bank; The Meadow Lane arched gateway; Cordner's - footwear; Mcllveen's - grocers and tobacconist; Richardson's -chemist, specialising in veterinary products. The door with arched fan-light was the entrance to the dwelling above; Walsh's - nursery shop (tools and seeds); The Imperial Hotel; Eakins - footwear; opening to Edward Street, Paul's drapery and clothing store; McCabe's - wines and spirits; Davison's bakery shop; Canavan's -chemist also photographer; Grew's - seed end meal shop; Queen's Hotel (owned by James Grew); opening to Thomas Street; Totten's - butcher, later Maypoles Dairy; Thom's Cafe and bakery; Allen's bookshop; Edgar's - hardware and furniture; Uprichard's -butcher; Rowantree and Hewitt - grocer; Jeffer's -newsagent and toys; entrance to shambles; Northern Bank; entrance to William Street; Reynold's - butcher and J Grant - Gent's outfitter; Sidney Bright - Solicitor; Rowlinson, Allen & White -Accountants; George Liddell -dentist.

Starting from the Bann Bridge on the north side or right side facing up the town. We start with Roger Marley's dwelling houses which continued to High Street and the Cross Row at right angles. The only shops I can remember were Greenaway's footwear; Tom Best's - grocer and confectioner; Twyble's - grocery and Singer Sewing Machine shop; the Classic Bar on the corner. Along the Cross Row was Dawson's - greengrocer; Twyble's - grocer. On the other side of Castle Street was McGredy's Nursery - shop; John Waugh - newsagent. and bookseller; Hutchinson - Gents outfitter; McNeilIs - greengrocer; McBroom's light groceries and seeds; John Montgomery - Funeral Undertaker; Anderson & Co later F W Woolworth; Belfast Banking Co; Rowantree and Loughead - china end glassware; Shepherds Dairy; A J Burnett - Ladies outfitter; Trimble - Gents outfitter; Tom Burnett - Gents outfitter; Bank of Ireland; Isaac Davison - chemist; Robert Mason - wholesale end retail grocer and meal; Hipps - ready-made suits and Tailors; Hugh Wallace - jeweller, hardware and clock and watch maker; entrance to Woodhouse Street; Gibson's - groceries and provisions; Hosey's footwear; The Provincial Bank; Troughton - toys; Ross's - Gents outfitter; Corbett's - Ladies and Gents outfitter also footwear; a Coffee House; James Todd - hardware and furniture; Pedlows - Chemist.

The list of shops in High Street and Market Street are not guaranteed to be 100% correct. They are based on old photographs and childhood memories of over 65 years ago. I do mention several public houses, but there were three or four more, the names of which I cannot recollect. It could well be that some of the shops listed, are not in the correct order.

Education in Portadown

Education in Portadown was divided between (1) National later Public Elementary, (Edenderry, Thomas Street, Church Street, The Academy, Park Road). (2) Technical - this one school was on the Armagh Road. It had originally been built as a Cholera Hospital, but fortunately had never been required for this purpose. (3) Secondary (Private) school.

There was a Miss Marshall's school in Carleton Street, it later developed and became the Carleton Collegiate School under the Headmaster, W J Warren, MA. In the mid-1920s it became Portadown College under a Board of Governors and was housed in Edenderry House, the former residence of Hamilton Robb where it was most successfully carried on by the Headmaster, W J Warren, MA. Portadown College remained at Edenderry House, until 1958 when it was moved to purpose-built buildings on Killicomaine Road, with the status of a Grammar School.

In the early 1920s Portadown had its own electricity supply plant. The generators were housed in a building behind A & D Thornton's premises in Thomas Street. The dynamos, driven by oil engines, produced electricity of 110 Volts, Direct Current. This enterprise was owned and run by a Mr Dan Chapman.

At some stage in the late 1920s the electricity generation station was destroyed by fire. I can well remember seeing the fire blazing away with A & D Thornton's store silhouetted against the wall of flame. The fire meant that Portadown was without electricity for almost a year. During this time it was a case of going back to candles, paraffin lamps, or the new-fangled, petrol pressure lamps which were always tricky to handle, or gas-light for those who had an installation.

Gas was supplied for street lighting and domestic purposes by the Portadown Gas Light and Electricity Co. Despite their title, I do not remember them ever having generated electricity. The gas was produced by heating coal in retorts. It was then cleaned and piped to a large storage gasometer which rose and fell according to the volume. From thence it was piped throughout the town in underground metal pipes.

Coke and Creosote were the by-products. Coke was in great demand for firing solid fuel central heating plants in public buildings. Under its old name, Gas Light Co; gas was produced since 1846.

The Fire Brigade

Portadown has had a Fire Brigade for a long number of years. Its equipment consisted of a hand-operated, double action pump, drawn by horses Prior to 1909 there was no piped water supply and in the case of a fire, water had to be hand-pumped from the Bann or one of the tributary streams. When the piped water supply came into operation in 1909, water was drawn from the mains through hydrants which were spaced at intervals throughout the town. Up to a point this method was satisfactory, but the jets of water were not very powerful. To remedy this, an ancient second-hand fire-engine was purchased about 1926. It was bought by Portadown District Council from Salford (Manchester) local authority and was in use up to 1939. Mr Ned Barr, the local authority foreman acted as Captain of the Fire Brigade.

There is a number of other aspects of life in Portadown in the mid-1920s, such as sport and recreation, but I feel that this article is already over-long, so here I end.

Source References
  • Booklet produced for the Unveiling and Dedication of the town War Memorial on 13th November, 1925. It contains a list of those who lost their lives, under the headings of the street in which they had lived, or under the Townland heading, outside the town.
  • An Introduction to Ulster Architecture by Hugh Dixon.
  • Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, Lurgan and Portadown.
  • Portadown's Pictorial Past by the Rotary Club of Portadown.