Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society

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Driving - Northern Ireland Industry

Northern Ireland has a rich and often underestimated industrial history. The province's contribution to the industrial revolution began over two hundred and fifty years ago, and although Ireland was on the periphery of industrial development, by 1900 the North was one of Europe's greatest manufacturing regions. It led the world in shipbuilding and linen production, as well as developing a wide variety of small scale industries in rural areas.

This trail encompasses a wide variety of Northern Ireland's industries, from the remains of a 18th century lead mine, to a 19th century pottery that still uses the traditional skills to compete successfully on the international market. The tour also includes the unique engineering project of a landowner from County Londonderry, who provided electricity for a whole town, as well as a water powered mill that demonstrates some of the traditional skills used in the production of Ireland's famous linen.

1. Ballycopeland Mill

One of the best grain growing areas of Ireland is East Down, and consequently it was also the location of many corn grinding windmills. At one time there were over one hundred windmills in the area, and Ballycopeland Mill is the only working windmill left.

The windmill dates from around 1780, although the exact date of construction is not known. It appears on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area and also a valuation list in the 1830s. The McGilton Family worked the mill from 1845 to 1915, and the last miller Samuel McGilton, offered it to the state in 1935 after 20 years of disuse. Although some repair work was done over the following years, it was not until 1978 that the mill was restored to full working order.

Ballycopeland Mill is a tower mill built of local stone and has a boat shaped cap. It is the only surviving mill with sails that incorporate "Captain Hooper's Patent Reefing Gear". This was an early attempt to regulate the area of sails that were exposed to the wind. When the miller closed the blinds, the sails could turn in a very light breeze, and conversely by opening them, they could run in a very strong wind. This was a considerable improvement on the previous method, whereby the canvas was spread over the sails. When the miller wanted to alter the area of the sails exposed to the wind, he would have to stop the sails and unfurl the canvas. "Captain Hooper's Patent" was further improved in 1807 by William Cubbitt. His Patent Reefing System was fully automated and did not require the miller to open or close the blinds.

There is a visitors centre at the miller's house, which includes an electrically operated model of the mill, computers, films and a hands-on milling experience. There is also a restored corn drying kiln. The mill is in the care of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

Ballycopeland Mill Millisle, County Down Tel: 01232 543033 Open: April to September, Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 - 7.00. Sunday, 2.00 - 7.00.

Directions: Car: On B172, one mile west of Millisle. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.

2. Conlig and Whitespots Lead Mines

A few miles to the west of Ballycopeland Mill there are the remains of another corn mill that was converted for use in a lead mining operation. In around 1780, the Bangor and Newtown Mining Company, opened explanatory shafts at Ballyleidy and a horizontal drift mine. Unfortunately, the mines were found to be poor in lead deposits, and combined with the low price of lead at the time the operations closed down after about seven years.

In 1827, the Manx based Newtown Ards Mining Company began operations at the site of the earlier drift mine. Although the same problems were encountered as before, by the early 1830s, richer veins had been discovered in the area. The windmill was probably constructed in the 18th century for grinding corn, but around this time it was renovated to haul trucks of ore to the crushing rollers prior to dressing.

The first steam engine was used in 1836 to the drain water from what became known as North Engine Shaft. The shaft was 720 feet deep and although this cannot be traced, the chimney stack of the engine house still survives. Despite the difficulty of transporting coal to such a remote area, the engine's installation seems to have been well justified, as the ore output doubled almost immediately.

Work was carried out under the "Bargain" system, whereby small groups of men undertook to mine a certain area over a stated period of time for a fixed price. During their work they were lent money to purchase candles and for repairs to their tools, the costs of which were deducted from the price they received for the ore. The ore would then be transported to Bangor, from where it would be shipped over to North East Wales for smelting.

Around 1836/7, the Ulster Mining Company, began operations in Conlig townland, in the expectation of also finding rich ore deposits. Two shafts were opened, one to the north of North Engine Shaft and one to the west. These ventures however, were unsuccessful and they were closed in 1854.

In the 1840s the Gin Shaft came into operation which was situated to the west of the windmill. It was 240 feet deep and revealed more rich veins of ore. The shaft was so called because of the horse-powered hoisting apparatus, a "gin", which was used to haul up the loads of ore. However, drainage problems plagued this operation and flooding was a constant problem.

A new shaft was opened, South Engine Shaft, just 60 yards south of the Gin Shaft, and by 1847, over 100 miners were working in the vicinity of North and South Shafts. In the 1850s, with the increased working of the veins around the South Engine Shaft, the output increased substantially and between 1852 and 1854 over 1000 tonnes of ore were extracted each year.

With the prospect of increasing profits another shaft was opened, some 350 yards south of South Engine Shaft, which was known as Bog Shaft. However, the operations of this shaft were unsuccessful as no ore could be found despite digging to 600 feet. The complex was abandoned soon after and the capped shaft can still be traced and the impressive engine house and square stack still remain.

From the 1850s onwards, the output of the mines fell progressively from 590 tons in 1855, to a mere 23 tons in 1865. In 1865, the mines were auctioned off and operations were brought to a close.

Today the remains of the lead mines give the opportunity to explore some real industrial archaeology. The remains lie to the south of Conlig, about ½ mile to the west of the A21 Newtonards to Conlig road.

3. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

About one quarter of Northern Ireland's population live in Belfast, and one of its most famous and successful industries is shipbuilding. The best known of the shipyards is also one of the oldest, Harland and Wolff is situated on Queen's Island and was established in the second half of the 19th century by Edward James Harland and Gustav Wilhem Wolff.

Edward James Harland was born in Scarborough in 1831, and although he attended grammar school as a child, he preferred to spend his time watching and helping out the workmen of the town. At the age of 12 he was sent to Edinburgh Academy to join his elder brother William, who studying to become a doctor. As well as attending lessons Edward was also taught by his brother in the art of making models of engines and buildings.

At the age of 15, he returned to Scarborough determined to become an engineer and was lucky enough to gain a five year apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle (See the North East Railway Trail).

Harland made good progress at the company and by the time he was 18 he was put in charge of constructing part of a locomotive. He spent the final year of his apprenticeship in the drawing office and developed the designs of a number engines.

His interest in marine engineering was apparent when he entered a contest to design a new type of lifeboat. The contest was organised by the Duke of Northumberland who offered 100 guineas as the first prize. Harland spent all of his free time working on an idea for a cylindrical metal lifeboat, and built a 32 inch model of the design, but he did not win the competition. Undeterred he continued with this interest in marine construction and when Robert Stephenson and Company was commissioned to build three vessels for Keyham Dock, he was appointed assistant to the project.

He finished his apprenticeship with the company aged 20, and was immediately taken on full-time on a wage of 20 shillings a week. However, times were hard for the company and the order book was very sparse. Harland decided he would be better off elsewhere, and after brief spell in London he moved up to Glasgow. He started work at a marine engine builders owned by J and G Thomson and when the company started to build their own vessels, Harland was appointed as head draughtsman. However, before long Harland was on the move again when he was offered the position of manager at a shipyard on the Tyne owned by Thomas Toward. Harland increased the productivity of the shipyard and won orders from the Russian Government, China, and the Continent.

When Thomas Toward's health took a turn for the worse, Harland was left in command, but he was concerned that with the owner incapacitated, further development of the business would be slow. At this time, an advertisement for a manager of a Belfast shipyard was published and Harland applied for the job. In the winter of 1854 he was appointed to the position and began working there.

The yard was situated at Queen's Island and was owned by Robert Hickson and Company. Unfortunately, Harland did not have an easy start to his career in Belfast because the previous manager of the yard, who had been sacked, was a favourite with the workers. Harland did not endear himself any further to the workers when he decreased their pay and demanded an increase in the quality of work. Not surprisingly the workers went on strike !

Harland was undeterred and brought workers over from the Clyde. He was determined that the yard would produce work of the highest quality, and steadily with this ethos he began to turn around the fortunes of the yard. They won orders for large ships and were commissioned to carry out repair work on a number of ships that had been wrecked.

Three years after being appointed manager of the yard, Harland took over financial control of it. He appointed Mr Gustav Wilhelm Wolff as head draughtsman, who was the nephew of one of his backers, Mr Schwabe of Liverpool. Business was good for the new company and they completed orders for both vessels and steamers. In 1862 Mr Wolff became a partner in the company and the name of "Harland and Wolff" was established in Belfast.

They went on to become one of Ireland's best known companys, and also constructed some of the world's most famous ships and ocean going liners included the ill-fated Titanic, built for the White Star Company.

With the decline in traditional shipbuilding, Harland and Wolff now focusses on the offshore oil and gas industry, and recently completed the largest floating production, storage and off-loading vessel in the world.

The archives of Harland and Wolff are kept at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and were used to help create the Titanic Exhibition, which is a tribute to Belfast's shipbuilding heyday. The exhibition tells the whole story of the Titanic, from its construction, sinking, and subsequent legend to the exciting discovery of her rusted empty hull on the Atlantic seabed in 1985.

The exhibition combines vintage photographs, records, newsreel footage, newspaper front pages and music to create a sense of the era, as well as the catastrophe. The exhibit is just one of the attractions at the museum, which preserves the traditional skills of the region and celebrates its transport history.

The open air museum includes the Irish Railway Collection, Road Transport Galleries, as well as rural areas and a Ulster town which has been created by the painstaking removal of various buildings from their original sites in Ireland, and their re-erection at the museum.

The importance of the country's linen industry is represented by Bullydugan Weaver's House, Bleach Green Tower and Gorticashel Flax Mill, while the Coalisland Spade Mill illustrates the skills of one of Ireland's traditional metal working crafts.

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Cultra, Hollywood, County Down BT18 )EU Tel: 01232 428 428 http://www.nidex.com/uftm/index.html Open: April to June and September, Monday to Friday, 9.30 - 5.00. Saturday, 10.30 - 6.00. Sunday, noon - 6.00. July and August, Monday to Saturday, 10.30-6.00. Sunday, noon-6.00. October to March, Monday to Friday, 9.30-4.00. Weekends, 12.30-4.30.

Directions: Car: On the A2 at Cultra, 7 miles east of Belfast. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.

4. Patterson's Spade Mill

A few miles north of Belfast is the last surviving water-driven spade mill in Ireland. Spades were made here up until 1990 and now the mill has been completely restored by the National Trust, and is back in production employing two spade makers.

The Patterson family handed down the art of spade-making from generation to generation. John Patterson was the fourth successive oldest son to be engaged in spade making when he moved to Antrim from Tyrone. He moved here just after the First World War and was attracted by the good supply of water for powering the turbines.

Guided tours are given while complete process of spade making is demonstrated. There is also an exhibition in the reception area which explains the traditional processes and reveals some of the history and culture of the humble spade.

Patterson's Spade Mill Antrim Road, Templepatrick, County Antrim Tel: 01849 433619 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ Open: April, May and September, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 2.00-6.00. June to August, daily, except Tuesday, 2.00-6.00.

Direction: Car: Exit Junction 4 of the M2. The mill is near Templepatrick, off the A6 to Antrim. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.

5. Wellbrook Beetling Mill

Irish linen is acknowledged to be the finest in the world. The fineness of the yarn, the skill of the spinners and weavers, and the softness of the water from Irish streams used in the process, all contribute to producing the highest quality cloth. Ireland still produces 8% of the European Union's linen yarn and new technology has been introduced to keep the industry competitive. However, the traditional skills are still practiced and can be seen demonstrated in many locations across the country, including Wellbrook Beetling Mill.

This is the last working mill of its kind in Northern Ireland. Beetling was the last stage in the production of linen manufacture, and gave the damask cloth its characteristic smoothness and shine. An overshot waterwheel powers seven beetling engines and demonstrations are given regularly.

Linen is the oldest fabric known to man and it is made from the fibres of the flax plant. The people of ancient Egypt, Assyria and Mesopotamia all used flax to make cloth and Egyptian pharaohs would be wrapped in over 1000 metres of linen as part of the mummification process.

Linen was probably introduced to Ireland in early Christian times, and St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, is said to be in a shroud of Irish Linen. The production of Irish Linen continued through the Middle Ages, but it was not until the 17th century that the industry started to develop.

In the late 17th century, the Huguenots, who had fled France to Ireland, added their expert textile skills to the already well established Irish Linen industry, and the fame and reputation of the industry flourished.

The manufacture of linen was vital to the development of industry in Ireland. The linen industry also played an important part in both World Wars with a wide variety of products being manufactured to help the war effort, these included blackout sheets, tents, nets and aeroplane wings.

For further information on Irish Linen contact the Irish Linen Guild http: irishlinen.co.uk/

Wellbrook Beetling Mill is in the care of the National Trust.

Wellbrook Beetling Mill Cookstown, County Tyrone Tel: 016287 51735/51715 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ Open: April, May, June and September: Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 2.00-6.00. July and August, daily, except Tuesday, 2.00-6.00

Directions: Car: Three miles from Cookstown on the Omagh road (A505). From Cookstown, turn right at Kildress Parish Church. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.

6. Roe Valley Country Park

The fast flowing waters of the River Roe once powered the machines of the linen manufacturing process. The remains of this industry can be found scattered around the valley, which is now a country park.

The area is of particular interest however, because of the way a local landowner , John Edward Ritter, developed a water powered generating station which provided cheap electricity to Limavady and the surrounding area in the early 20th century.

John Ritter and his wife Elizabeth, lived at Roe Park House and their estate stretched along the west side of the river from the Roe Bridge at Limavady to the Carrick Rocks, and included a working watermill.

At sometime in the early 1890s John Ritter purchased and installed a Hornsby-Ackroyd oil engine, which he used to drive a chaff cutter, a turnip cutter and a saw bench. In 1893 Ritter decided to install electric lighting at Roe Park House and some of the outbuildings, which was still a novelty at the time. To achieve this he bought an electric generator which was driven by the oil engine.

The ordinary estate staff would have carried out the electric wiring of the building and the insulated wires would have been fixed straight to the walls. In the outside buildings the wiring would have run on porcelain cleats, and in the main house the wiring would have been enclosed in wooden casing.

Having provided lighting at Roe Park using the oil engine, Ritter then set about the possible use of hydraulic power from the Roe River at the old Largy Green watermill, one mile from the house. In 1895 Ritter purchased a second electric generator which was installed at the watermill and was driven by the existing waterwheel. The main problem however, was getting the electricity back to the house over a mile away. After a number of unsuccessful attempts he developed an overhead wire system and even installed a telephone system so he could communicate with the hydro plant operator from the house.

He soon realised that the waterwheel was not entirely suitable for this purpose, so he replaced it with an American made water turbine. Ritter then had the plan of building a new power station at Largy Green, that would be able to supply electricity to the town of Limavady.

At the same time as work was going on to build this power station, Ritter was constructing new power lines to carry the electricity to the town. Ritter had intended to erect low-voltage overhead lines on wooden poles, in the four main streets of the town, but the Town Council would not grant him permission. Limavady Gas Company also opposed the plans, because they saw the introduction of electricity as direct competition.

Ritter however, was not one to be put off lightly, and he managed to persuade various land owners and property owners to erect distribution lines, so that they only had to cross the main street in two places. The first customers for the new electric lighting were Miss Lancy, the occupant of The Lodge, and Tom Moore, a confectioner and greengrocer.

Despite the fact that the Town Council and Gas Company were allied against him, by the turn of the century he had 75 consumers in the four main streets of the town. John Ritter died, aged 41, in 1901 and his wife took over the running of the operation.

The Gas Company was taken over by the Town Council in 1902, but during the First World War they encountered serious problems because of difficulty in obtaining coal. After this the Council contemplated closing down the gas works and invited Mrs Ritter to discuss the extension and improvement of the electricity supply to replace the gas supply. The plans were agreed on and the work went ahead in 1918, and John Ritters aim to supply electricity to the whole town had been realised.

In 1946, the Limavady Electric Supply Company as it was now known, was taken over by the Electricity Board for Northern Ireland. Therefore, just short of 50 years, this unique private and independent electricity supply operation came to an end. When it was taken over it had 1095 consumers, and the Electricity Board continued to operate the Largy Green station for a number of years but it was closed down in 1965.

Roe Valley Country Park 41 Dogleap Road, Limavady BT49 9NN Tel: 015047 22074 Open: Visitors Centre open June to August, daily 10.00 - 8.00. September to May, most days, 10.00-5.00.

Directions: Car: Off B192, a mile south of Limavady. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.

7. Belleek Vistitors Centre

Belleek is Ireland's oldest and most historic pottery. It was established over 140 years ago and the methods and techniques developed by the first Belleek craftsmen are still followed today.

When John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited Castlecaldwell Estate from his father in 1849, he ordered a geological survey of the land. Knowing as he did, his tenants sense of desperation in the aftermath of the potato famine, he wanted to provide them with worthwhile employment. He was therefore delighted when it was revealed that his land contained feldspar, flint, clay and shale, all of the necessary raw materials needed to make pottery.

He decided that his pottery business would be located at a part of Belleek Village called Rose Isle. This provided the best chance of leashing the power of the wild River Erne to drive a mill wheel, that would be strong enough to grind components into liquid potters clay or 'slip'.

Bloomfield enlisted people to partner him in the venture, Robert William Armstrong, an architect from London who had an enduring interest in ceramics, and David Birney, a wealthy merchant from Dublin. By every means possible, Bloomfield paved the way for the rail service to come to Belleek. This meant that coal could be transported in to fire the kilns and the finished Belleek products could easily be transported to market and sold.

On Thursday 18th November 1858, Bloomfield's wife laid the foundation stone. Although there were apprentices and able workmen based locally, Bloomfield realised that the success of his business rested on talented craftsmen and experienced potters. Offering high wages and a better standard of living, Bloomfield managed to tempt fourteen craftsmen from Stoke-on-Trent in England to come and work for him in Ireland.

The mainstay of early Belleek production was high quality domestic ware, pestles, mortars, wash stands, floor tiles and tableware. Bloomfield's partners Armstrong and Birney, wanted to expand the production into making more stylish pieces, which would not just use the available mineral wealth, but also gave full scope to the craftsmanship quickly developing in the pottery. However, this failed, and it wasn't until 1863 that a small amount of Parian china was produced. Yet, even with this increased skill and knowledge, earthenware remained the main product until 1920.

A growing market throughout England and Ireland had been established as early as 1865. There were also exports to the United States, Canada and Australia. Prestigious orders were received from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the other nobility.

In 1872 at the Dublin Exposition, Belleek exhibited porcelain for the first time. Their display was the largest in the Ireland and England industrial areas, and included Parian China statues and busts, ice buckets and centre pieces.

In 1882 Birney died, followed by Armstrong in 1884. From this time the company started dealing as 'Belleek Pottery Works Company Ltd.' as it was acquired by a group of local investors. In 1893 Belleek acquired one of its first master craftsmen, Frederick Slater, who had moved to Belleek from England. The much honoured 'International Centre Piece' that won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, is said to be one of his works.

Throughout the First World War due to restrictions on exports it was a struggle for the company. In 1920 it was bought by a prominent mill owner called Bernard O'Rourke for £10,000. Again during the Second World War, Belleek faced another struggle, and this put the pottery under pressure. However, it was due to skillful management that Belleek continued to operate, producing basic utility ware, even though coal had been rationed and export markets dried up.

Two new kilns were installed after the Second World War, and Belleek concentrated all of its energies on the production of Parian for the first time. Orders came in from all around and they could barely keep up. Its first electric kiln was installed by 1952 and it was the start of a new era for Belleek.

The next forty years had its peaks and troughs but a highpoint occurred in 1988 when the Belleek Visitors Centre was opened with the help of the International Fund for Ireland and the Irish Tourist Board. The centre offers such attractions as a Museum and a guided pottery tour.

The museum charts the journey through the life of the pottery from the early earthenware days to the present day's fine translucent Parian China. Exhibits include The Shamrock Tea Set, which was designed in the late 1870's, the success of which led to many further developments such as a coffee set and later in the 1920's a whole dinner service. Part of a replica of the tea set presented to President Kennedy and his wife when they visited Ireland in 1961, is on display in the museum.

The Pottery Tour starts with the sound of the 'Belleek bell' which is over 100 years old and used to announce the start and finish for staff tea breaks. It is now used to call together tour groups and rests in the foyer. Along the pottery tour you can stop and talk to the craftspeople as they work. You can see the complete production process of the pottery and marvel as the creations unfold.

Belleek Visitors Centre 3 Main Street, Belleek, County Fermanagh BT93 3FY Tel: 01356 59300 http://www.belleek.ie Open: April to June and September, Monday to Friday: 9-6. Saturday, 10-6. Sunday, 2-6. July and August, Monday to Friday, 9-8. Saturday, 10-6. Sunday, 11-8. October, Monday to Friday, 9-5.30. Saturday, 10-5.30. Sunday, 2-6. November to March, Monday to Friday, 9-5.30. Closed weekends. Pottery tours every 20 minutes, Monday to Friday, last tour 3.30.

Directions: Car: Belleek is on the A46 from Enniskillen to Ballyshannon. Bus: Ulsterbus 01232 333000 Train: Northern Ireland Railways 01232 899411.10 to 4.30.

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