An Historical Account of Lurgan in 1888
by George Henry Bassett
Part One


Estimated population over 14,000 in 1888.

LURGAN is in the barony of O’Neilland East and parish of Shankill, 20 miles south-west of Belfast, 92½ miles north of Dublin, 5 miles north-east of Portadown, and 15½ miles north-east of Armagh. It is surrounded by a good farming country, and most favourably situated for communication with the centres of commercial activity. The lines of the Great Northern Railway bring it into direct connection with Dublin and Belfast, and at a distance of less than two miles, by means of a cut from Lough Neagh, an opportunity is afforded for participation in the benefits of the Lagan and Newry Canals. With the single exception of Belfast, no town in Ireland has increased in population and wealth so rapidly as Lurgan. The population in 1851 was 4,651. In 1881 it was 10,135, and there is good reason to believe that it is now far on the way to 15,000. This progress is entirely due to the development of the linen industry, initiated by William Waring, M.P., during the reign of Queen Anne, 1702 – 14. The most interesting fact in connection with the progress is that is does not seem to have been retarded by the great wave of depression which swamped so many promising enterprises elsewhere. During the last few years wonderful strides have been made in Lurgan. Several new streets have been added. Indeed it is calculated that within three years over 200 houses have been built for the accommodation of working people alone. Handsome dwellings for well – to – do residents, factories, warehouses, and school-houses are included in the descriptive particulars of the aggregate outlay in bricks and mortar. Some of the churches have been remodelled, and the Great Northern Railway Company, to keep pace with the march of improvement, has erected a large goods store. It is worthy of remark, as a most instructive feature of the building operations, that a considerable number of the smaller houses belong to working men, built for homes, and paid for out of their own savings. At every side of the town expansion has been the order of the day, but to the stranger, there is quite enough in view from the railway station to give an exalted idea of Lurgan enterprise. Brownlow Terrace, Victoria Street, Princess Street and Sunnyside had no existence a very short time ago. Now they form a substantial contribution toward the work of extending the town to the edge of Lough Neagh, about a mile and a quarter. As a market for agricultural produce, Lurgan is improving. Transactions are conducted in the principal thoroughfare, which is broad enough to give room for a large number of people without seriously interfering with the ordinary traffic. The walks and drives in every direction lead to places of interest, and bring into sight much scenery of a charming nature. In summer Lough Neagh invites with a magnetic power that cannot be resisted, and its exhilarating breezes do a great deal to maintain a respectable standard of health and vigor particularly among the working people.

William BrownlowPost-plantation developments

Before the arrival of the English the broad acres forming the present parish of Shankill were used as grazing pastures for cattle. The formation of the country was such that it afforded no desirable point for a great stronghold. The O’Neill’s dominated the territory in which it was included. After Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, had fled to Rome in company with O’Donnell, his principal ally, 1607, Shankill was forfeited to the Crown with the possessions of the O’Hanlon’s, at Tandragee, and those of other Armagh chieftains who had contributed to swell the forces under his command during the Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, 1594 – 1603. In the Plantation of Ulster by James I., 1609, William Brownlow received a “portion” of the forfeited lands containing 2,500 acres. He immediately took steps for the settlement of a number of “well disposed” English families, and founded Lurgan. A census of 1619 shows that 42 houses had been built. For 20 years the town continued to grow in comparative peace. Soon after the Parliament of Kilkenny began to make its power felt in Ulster, 1641, the troops of Sir Phelim O’Neill seized Lurgan and destroyed it. While engaged in this work they used for garrison purposes a small church which had been erected by the settlers, and subsequently burned it also. Two fine mansions, belonging to Mr. Brownlow, were reduced to ashes. During the Cromwellian period the inhabitants had not recovered from the effects of the O’Neill visitation. They made no sustained attempt to rebuild the town until the advent of Charles II. Encouraged by the hope of permanent security under his reign, Mr. Brownlow stimulated his people to exertion, and things had begun to assume a favourable aspect when the war of the Revolution broke out. The then Mr. Brownlow was opposed to James II., and declared an outlaw. About the same time the town was again destroyed. After the Battle of the Boyne, 1690, had decided the war in favour of William, Prince of Orange, the prospects of Lurgan soon became brighter than they had been at any time since the Plantation. King William granted a patent for markets and fairs, and the inhabitants of the town and surrounding country, having devoted themselves earnestly to the cultivation of the land, these rights soon proved valuable. When the Princess Anne, daughter of James II., succeeded to the throne, 1702, William Waring, M.P. introduced the manufacture of diapers, and to the interest aroused by the instruction personally given by him may be attributed the fact that Lurgan has reached the present stage of prosperity.

Town Government, Valuation, Sewerage system and Public Lighting

For many years the town was governed by Commissioners, appointed under the 9th of George IV. Cap. 8. The lighting and cleansing clauses only were taken advantage of. When the Towns Improvement Act came into force in 1854 the people of Lurgan were among the first to petition the Lord Lieutenant to be permitted to participate in its benefits. The old Commissioners, on September 4, 1854, appointed a committee consisting of Messrs. Hancock, Paul, May, Conn and Macoun to consider the propriety of preparing the petition. The Bill had only received the Royal Assent on the 19th of the previous month. On the 2nd of October a report was made in favour of the Act, and a memorial signed by Lord Lurgan, Chairman, on behalf of the Commissioners, was forwarded to Dublin Castle. The next step was an order from the Lord Lieutenant to take the sense of the ratepayers upon the subject. A meeting was accordingly held at the Town Hall, 14th December, 1854. On the motion of Mr. James Malcolm, father of Mr. James Malcolm, D.L., seconded by Mr. Francis Watson, the Act was adopted in its entirety, and by a unanimous vote. The result having been made known to the Government, an election of 15 Commissioners was ordered. It was held January 13th, 1855, and choice made of Lord Lurgan, John Hancock, J.P., Samuel Rogers, John Hazlett, James Armstrong, Arthur Donnelly, William Murray, Charles Magee, Joseph Murphy, John Gilbert, George Lockhart, James Malcolm, John Johnston, W. W. Paul, and John Ross. Of the number, Messrs. Joseph Murphy, J.P., W. W. Paul, and John Ross are the only survivors. Five Commissioners go out of office every third year. The election takes place on the 15th of October. Mr William Sear was appointed Town Clerk. He was succeeded by Mr. Hamilton Rankin, and Mr. Rankin by Mr. Thomas Lutton. Messrs. Sears and Rankin were also Town Surveyors. The office of Town Surveyor is now separate, and is held by Mr. William James O’Neill, C.E. When Mr. Sear was Town Clerk and Surveyor, although the estimated population was 5,650, the work he had to do could not have been regarded as laborious. His salary was only £40 a year, and in consideration of this he was obliged to provide the Commissioners with an office for meetings, etc. In the first year of the Government under the new Act, 1855, names were given to the streets, and recorded on panels at the corners, and arrangements made for connecting the town with the outer world by means of the electric telegraph. The rate for general purposes in 1856 was 8d. in the £. This produced a total of £231 14s. 10d. In 1868 that valuation of the town was £14,467, and the rate for general purposes 10d. Ten years later the valuation was £16,052 15s., and the rate for general purposes 1s. 8d. In 1888 the valuation was £19,770 10s., the rate for general purposes 3s. 0d., and a sanitary assessment of 6d. in the £. The Commissioners began without delay to establish a system of sewage that would keep the town in good sanitary condition. In 1855 the North East sewer was built. This gave accommodation to 397 houses. A flushing apparatus was added in the following year, at a cost of £950, toward which Lord Lurgan subscribed £250, and the necessary water from the lake in his demesne. The town was divided into four drainage districts in 1857, the property-owners in each to be assessed separately, according to the amount of money expended in new works. The Town Commissioners at present are in debt to the extent of nearly £6,000. Most of this was spent on sewers. The discharge is at Lough Neagh. Upward of £4,000 out of the £6,000 was advanced by the Board of Works, at 3½ per cent. repayable, principal and interest, in a given period. The remainder represents loans from private persons, to whom the highest rate of interest paid is 5 per cent. In 1857 the town was lighted by 62 gas lamps. This number was increased to 87 in 1861, to 145 in 1882, and to 177 in 1888. The contract with the Gas Company is in effect that a payment of £1 6s. each is made for lamps used up to midnight, and £2 6s. per annum each for those maintained at full pressure all night. The Commissioners pay a special rate of 3s. 11d. per 1,000 feet for lighting half a dozen or more large lamps and the great church-clock.

Water Supply, Fire Department and Burial Board

Lough NeaghEver since 1854 there has been a “Water Question.” Several eminent engineers have had “schemes” for meeting the difficulty, but the supply continues to be drawn from street-pumps. In 1887, the driest season for many years, the scarcity was so great that the subject began to be more seriously discussed, and during the present year, 1888, a Committee of the Commissioners, consisting of Messrs. R. Mathers, J.P., Claude Brownlow, J.P., Robert Hazelton, and John McCaughey, was appointed to confer with the Town Commissioners of Portadown and other places as to the desirability of adopting a scheme to make a reservoir at Loughislandreavy. An effort was made in 1859 to have the necessary service provided by a private Company. The capital stock was fixed at £10,000 in 1,000 shares at £10 each. Lord Lurgan sent in his name for 200 shares; but notwithstanding the stimulus which his example should have caused, only half the capital was subscribed, and the project fell through. But for the trouble to come to a decision regarding the source, the matter would have been settled long ago. Lough Neagh is only two miles from the centre of the town, and a great many persons believe that it could be utilized for a first-rate service. A great many also believe that the majority of the people could never be induced either to drink, or use for cooking purposes, water which receives the sewage of Lurgan and of several other populous towns. Schemes for utilizing Lough Neagh have been reported as follows :- By Mr. James Thompson, C.E., Edinburgh, 1857, to supply 180,000 gallons per day to a height of 174 feet, at a cost of £8,668. By Mr. Robert Young, C.E., 1871, to supply 347,000 gallons per day at a height of 196 feet at a cost of £10,507. By Mr. Wm J. O’Neill, C.E., 1887, to supply 560,000 gallons per day to a height of 196 feet at a cost of £16,424. Mr. Henry Smyth, C.E., in 1887, proposed to supply by gravitation from Slieve Croob, in conjunction with the service to other towns, 5000,000 gallons per day at a cost of £34,345. The Diamond Rock Boring Company (Artesian scheme) proposed, 1888, to make a 4 inch trial bore to a depth of 300 feet, if necessary, “on the understanding that if they do not, previous to that depth being reached, find sufficient water to warrant going on with the boring, they shall only be paid 7s. per foot; but if they find enough they shall receive 12s. per foot for actual depth bored. If they have to go down say 300 feet or less (total, 600 feet), they will say with regard to this next 300 feet, or less, a price of 10s. per foot if unsuccessful, and 16s. per foot if successful. If the test bore reveals the presence of sufficient water, they shall be pleased to quote for the permanent boring and for pumping, tackle, engine, &c.” Dr. S. Agnew sent a sample of Lough Neagh water for analysis to Prof. Hodges, Belfast. The professor says: – “the water had no remarked smell; color slightly yellowish; microscope showed numerous organisms and water fleas. Total solid matters per Imperial gallon, 16.80 grains, consisting of mineral and saline matters, 6.30 grains, Organic and volatile matters, 10.50 grains; Chlorine in chlorides, 1.40 grains; one million parts yield – free ammonia, 0.080 parts; albuminoid ammonia, 0.140 parts.” – John F. Hodges, M.D., F. Inst. C, &c. “Remarks – The sample of water contains an excessive amount of nitrogenous matter, and unless filtered would be unfit for domestic use. – John F. Hodges.”

A Fire Department is maintained by the Town Commissioners, but its efficiency cannot be brought to a high standard until there are hydrants giving power to send a stream of water over the largest building, as at Armagh. Mr John Long is Superintendent, and Mr. James Dunwoody, who also fills the position of Town Constable, is Deputy Superintendent. He receives a salary for the latter-named office of £2 a-year, and £1 extra for every fire attended. Mr. Long receives £10 a-year. Seven firemen are paid £2 a-year each, and when on active duty 3s. 6d. each for first hour, and 2s. each for every succeeding hour. The engine in use was presented by Mr. James Malcolm, D.L.

The Town Commissioners were created a Burial Board under the 19th & 20th of Victoria. They have jurisdiction over all the cemeteries used by the residents. The old Shankill churchyard, within the town, is still used. It has many interesting monuments, and the Mausoleum of the Brownlow family. The Roman Catholics inter around the site of the old chapel. It was first opened for the purpose in 1824, and became so full that more ground was added by Lord Lurgan in 1857. The burial ground of the Society of Friends is at the back of the Meeting House in High Street. The Presbyterian ground is at the back of the First Church in High Street. A new cemetery, one mile from town, was laid out in 1865, at a cost of £300. It is situated in the townland of Monbrief, and consists of 4 acres, bought from Lord Lurgan.

Markets and Fairs

A Market for the sale of grain, grass-seed – in the season – pork, fowl, butter, eggs, hay, straw, potatoes, turnips, etc., is held every Thursday. Until about 1846 the market was on Friday. It was then considered good policy to make an alteration, so that there might be no clash with Belfast, especially as nearly all the linen manufacturers and merchants in Ulster assemble there on that day. Lord Lurgan owned the patent for markets and fairs, but under his jurisdiction no tolls were charged in either, except for weighing. In 1858 the Town Commissioners, by desire of Lord Lurgan, exercised general supervision over the markets, but made no alteration in the procedure regarding tolls. Negotiations were opened between the Town Commissioners and Lord Lurgan for the purchase of the patent in 1882, and on 17th of November, 1884, he transferred his title in consideration of £2,000. The market-house was included, and the value of this was assessed at £1,000. The Town Commissioners had been making many improvements, and were about to tear down the market-house to widen Market Street. Lord Lurgan had been using the upper story as an office, and prevailed upon the Commissioners to let it stand, and accept him as a tenant at £55 a year. The grass-seed market has become a great feature, and there has been a noticeable improvement in the pork market. Thus far the transactions in every department have been conducted in the open streets, preference for locality only being made for convenience in weighing. On Saturday there is a market for fresh meat, etc., and as the working hours in the factories are short, there is usually almost as much life and motion as Thursday. During the three years ending in 1888, the receipts for weighing have averaged £244 per year, but the expenditure has been in excess. The charges for weighing have not been changed for over 30 years. No bye-laws have yet been drawn to be submitted for approval to the Local Government Board. A movement, initiated some time ago, culminated in a petition to the Local Government Board, December, 1887, by the Town Commissioners, as the Urban Sanitary Authority, for a provisional order under the Public Health Act, 1878, to enable them to put in force the provisions of the Land Clauses’ Acts for the acquisition of houses and lands as the site of a market for butter, eggs, fowl and fish, and an approach by means of a new street, with good buildings on each side. An advance of £6,000 was asked as the probable cost of carrying out the scheme. In addition to providing necessary accommodation for markets, it was expected that a substantial sanitary improvement would be effected by the removal of an inhabited lane from 5 to 6 feet wide, and only 2½ feet at the entrance. It was believed that the ground left, after providing for the approach to the markets, would be worth more than the amount expended upon the entire undertaking. The Local Government Board sent down Mr. Cotton, one of its engineers, who held an inquiry, and reported that the project “appeared to be far more for a new street under Section 38 of the Public Health Act, 1878, than for a market under Section 103 of that Act. And, furthermore, the expenditure out of the proposed loan of £6,000 would be almost three times more for the works connected with the new street than providing the market, which appeared by the advertisement to be the main object of the scheme.” Having taken this view of the matter, the Local Government Board declined to accede to the request, but without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be taken in furtherance of the object in view. In a letter dated 18th May, 1888, on this subject, Mr. Thomas A. Mooney, clerk to the Local Government Board, concludes as follows: “If the Sanitary Authority see fit to publish fresh advertisements and notices in September, or October, or November next, describing fully and accurately the purposes in respect of which the lands are proposed to be taken, and their intention to make a new street, the Board will be willing to give the subject their prompt attention, and re-open the inquiry to receive evidence in the case. A minority of the Town Commissioners have expressed disapproval of the scheme in a resolution from which I make this extract: “Wishes to thank the Local Government Board for having, in the prudent and judicious exercise of its powers, protected the ratepayers of Lurgan from the imposition of an uncalled-for, unpopular, and absurd outlay of £6,000 – an expenditure the direct result of which would be to gratify the designs of an interested few, without conferring any corresponding benefit on the many by whom it would have to be borne – to have deformed our ample market arrangements and to have opened our ethereal enterprise (without regard to physical and scientific defects), the commencement of which would have launched the town into protracted litigation, and the completion of which would inevitably have entailed a remodelling and extension of the original scheme, and an enormous waste of the public rates, against the will of the ratepayers, and without the remotest prospect of any future advantage to the town in general.” A monthly fair for cattle and pigs, on the second Thursday of every month, is held in the streets, also. At an inquiry instituted in June, 1888, by the Royal Commission on Markets and Tolls, Mr. Thomas Reburn, chairman of the Town Commissioners, testified that on market days which are also fair days, a great deal of confusion often occurs in the streets owing to the cattle, pork, butter, and sundry other articles being exposed in one place.

Town Hall, Mechanics Institute, Workhouse and Gas Works

The Town Hall is an extension of the Mechanics’ Institute from the corner of Market Street and Union Street. It was built in 1868, at a cost of about £2,300. The Assembly Room has a seating capacity for 800 people, and a platform, but no scenery. Use is made of it extensively for concerts, dramatic performances, bazaars, etc. The rent is £1 for first night and 15s. for every succeeding night. The site of the Town Hall was leased at £60 a year from the trustees of the Institute, who contributed £1,000 toward the expense. The police barrack adjoining the Town Hall, in Union Street, belongs to the Commissioners, and is rented at £36 a year, which sum deducted from the £60 paid to the Mechanics’ Institute trustees, reduces their liability to £24 a year. The amount realized by letting the Assembly Room should more than cover this, so that the maintenance of the Town Hall is really not much of a tax on the people. In January, 1858, the Mechanics’ Institute was opened, but there was a ceremony of inauguration on the 6th of March, 1859, in which the chief figure was the Lord Justice of Appeal. The Institute was intended to be of a great benefit to the community. It had a good library, reading-room, school of design, and rooms for evening classes. The building, which has a handsome front and clock tower, cost £1,400. A bazaar, held by Lady Lurgan, in conjunction with the ladies of the town and neighbourhood, realized enough to pay for the library. There was a membership of 400 to begin, and things looked well for a long run of prosperity. The School of Design proved to be a little in advance of the time, and was eventually closed, but the other features as still maintained. There are 200 members at present. Mr. James Johnston is chairman of the Committee of Management, Dr. S. Agnew, secretary, and Mr. Courtney Johnston, treasurer. The Library contains about 1,500 books, and the reading-room is supplied with the leading daily and weekly newspapers, reviews, and popular magazines. Five shillings a-year pays for use of the reading-room, and ten shillings for the reading-room and library. A billiard-room is one of the features. Members have to pay so much for each game. Chess, and kindred games, may be played without charge. By a special arrangement, in the event of failure, the Institution becomes the property of the Town Commissioners, and they are required to keep it up in accordance with the ideas promulgated at the time of foundation. The Court-House is situated in William Street. It is well appointed, and has convenient offices for the Petty Sessions Clerk, Mr. Frederick W. Magahan. A hewn-stone building, at the opposite side of the street, used to be the bridewell, but it has not been occupied for some time. Under the system of concentration, all the prisoners are sent to Her Majesty’s Prison at Armagh. Lurgan is the head of a police district, and has barracks in Union Street, Edward Street, Queen Street, and High Street, and will soon have one in North Street. In 1840 the Union Workhouse of Lurgan was built. It stands in handsomely laid out grounds at the corner of Union Street and John Streets, and has a farm of three acres cultivated by the inmates. Notwithstanding the fact that the town is supplied with water from street springs, at the time of my visit, March 20th, 1888, there was not one fever patient in hospital, and I was informed by the clerk, Mr. James Donaldson, that none had been admitted for about 12 weeks. Lurgan received the advantages of gas-light in 1848. The works are in William Street, and seem to be maintained in excellent condition. They are owned by the Lurgan Gas Light and Chemical Company Limited. Although a dividend at the rate of 7½ per cent. was paid in 1887, the rate of the general consumers was only 3s. 11d. per 1000 feet. There are 23 shareholders, Mr. Samuel A. Bell, J.P., is chairman, Mr. Frederick W. Magahan, Secretary, and Mr. Thomas Tallentire, manager and engineer. In addition to the gas, the Company manufactures sulphate of ammonia.


See Bassett's Directory of Lurgan 1888 HERE

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