reporter Marie McStay invited Sam Hanna, a local historian
and John Feehan, an ex-mill worker on a trip back in
time at Bessbrook Spinning Mill. Here Marie chats with
Sam Hanna about a restored mill workers house in the
Marie took John and Sam the short
distance across from the mill / barracks to College
Square to have a look inside No. 6 which has been restored
to its former glory as an 19th century mill workers
former mil - now army barracks - is seen here
circled in a photo taken from College Square
The media tends to use a "one stroke
fits all" brush when it covers parts of Northern
Ireland made infamous by the dark days of the troubles.
Bessbrook, to those who have never travelled through
the village - which sits quietly up the road from Newry
- might be thought of as a border backwater which is
probably best known for the kind of headlines associated
with the South Armagh region in general, over the course
of the Northern Ireland conflict.
But as you can clearly see from these
photos this is far from the truth. As you turn into
college square the three sides are bordered by quaint
former mill workers' homes. The middle of the square
has a bowling green and children's play area, while
standing proudly on each corner of the entrance to the
square are the town hall and primary school.
Sam tells us that the 20-30 houses which
make up college square is a great example of a "model
village", purpose built for the mill workers. Although
some houses were remodeled which already stood here,
the majority of the area was planned specifically by
the Richardson's family for the benefit of its employees.
motto of the this Quaker family was - " In essentials,
unity....in non-essentials liberty and in all things
neat row of mill workers' houses in College
Sam explains to Marie that the monument
in the photo below, until recently, stood in the grounds
of the mill. The Bessbrook Development Company campaigned
for it to stand in the square for all to see the history
of its main employer for so many years. The monument
lists the owners of the mill from 1760 to the end of
the 19th century.
neat rows of mill workers' houses in College
College square, was named after the primary
school - built in 1849 - which was, for its time, an
upmarket school. The boys and girls were taught separately
and the teachers resided on either side of the school
primary school in College Square, Bessbrook
Sam then takes us to No.6 College Square
which has been restored by the Bessbrook Development
Company to resemble a mill workers house of about 1881.
With the mill still in the background and the view of
the rows of small terraces, even before we enter the
house, there is a strong sense of history.
Once inside the picture is complete. Each
room exudes a feeling of pure history. From the table
set in the front room to the stone bed warmer in the
bedroom, the house, which would have housed up to 12
people, is a fascinating glimpse into the 1880's.
table set for a hungry family
this what a family in the 1880's might have
Sam is keen for any help in finding the
families who once lived here. The Bessbrook Development
Company has searched far and wide to add the authentic
items for No.6, but if you think you have something
suitable which you'd like to donate please contact us
here at YPAM.
you know anyone who may have looked out of this
window at no.6 ?
You can fill out the form below if you
have anything to add to this article.
Breda Bollard - Feb '08
I am the 'leader' of a social history group based
here in the library in Ballyboden, now a part of South
Dublin, this area has long associations with mills
and mill-workers, the group would love to visit Bessbrook,
and we have Saturday 29th March as a date, there are
approx 25 in the group. could a guide be organised,
we will have bus organised
Leeanne Ferguson - Dec '07
I was wondering if any one could help me that has lived
in the Bessbrook area for the last 50 years. I am trying
to trace family relatives, my mother is Kathleen Ferguson
(nee Turley) and my father John Ferguson, my father
passed away last year. My parents lived in Bessbrook
until the 1970s, my fathers parents where Wilbur & Gwen
Ferguson. If any one could give me any information I
would be very grateful.
Eimear Mc Parland Oct 07
I've lived in Bessbrook all my life and no
6 would be; as I have heard,a good glimpse of what a
child of a house of say 11-14 children would see if
it was lucky enough to get to look out the window. Of
course I'm not one of those children!. We are doing
the history of Bessbrook in school so I am very interested
in what Bessbrook would have looked like in the old
days so this was very enjoyable to be able to look at
all these photo's.
Mary Lou Fleming Dewar - Apr
Are any of the school records for Bessbrook
still in existence? How would I go about finding them?
I believe my grandmother, Eleanor Thomas, would have
been a student there around 1856 - 1865.
Michelle Bailey - Mar
I don't know if my family were actually mill workers,
or even lived at number 6, but they were from College
Square in the early 1900's as far as up to WW2, there
were 13 children and the two parents. Looking at your
pictures, a bit of a squeeze!! if anyone knows anything
about the Clulows, let me know, I'd be very interested!!
Patricia Byers (Hobart,
Tasmania) - Feb
All I know about my great great grandfather John Wallace
is that when his daughter Martha married John Wright
Somerville in Armagh in January 1872, he was described
as a tenter from Bessbrook. A distant cousin from Armagh
tells me the Wallace family came to Ireland from Scotland.
I visited Bessbrook about fifteen years ago and was
overwhelmed by the military presence. Is it so today?
Recently I came across reference to an article by Roisin
Lafferty "19th Century in-migration to the South
East Ulster village of Bessbrook" in the JGSI
in 2000. Is this the same person quoted in the story?
I would dearly like to get a copy of that article,
and to find out more about Bessbrook when John Wallace
lived and worked there.
As my father once told me "It's the people that
make places." Series such as these are invaluable
in recording stuff that rarely gets into books.
How do I get in touch with Anne Wallace?
Michael King - Nov '06
My great grandfather Michael King and great grandmother
Margaret King nee Edgar worked at the mill and lived
in Bessbrook. He came from Whitehaven.
Anybody have any information?
Mary Marshall - Oct '06
"Workers At The Bessbrook Mill 1940/53"
I am doing research for my Son in Law Kenneth Barr,
he was born in BESSBROOK in 1952.
His family all worked in the mill, I do not know all
their christain names but there would have been, EILEEN,
NORA, KATE, and ALICE, There were probly more, all their
surnames would have been BARR, probley their menfolk
also worked there, their father was JAMES BARR, they
all left BESSBROOK in about 1954 to live in BIRMINGHAM
UK and the family have multiplied many times, they still
speak of the mill. I wonder if there is any record of
the BARRS who worked there.
Jim Stinson - Oct '06
No. 6 College Square East - the house where I was born
My mother's maiden name was McKee and No.6 was her
family home, where she lived, with five brothers and
sisters, until she married my father, and I was born
there. My grandfather, James McKee, was a mill worker
up until the mid 1960's, if I remember correctly.
My mother, my sister and I returned to Bessbrook every
summer during the 1960's, for 2 weeks holiday staying
with "granny and granda" McKee. I can hardly
tell you how much Jennifer (my sister) and I loved staying
in that little house and being in Bessbrook. In the
sixties, it was such a quiet place, but for us it was
a place of never-ending delight for that 2 weeks. I
can still remember every detail of the house - the rooms,
the large collection of brass and china ornaments and
decorations, lovingly polished by my grandfather, the
tiny kitchen, the stairs that creaked at the turn just
before the top - even the back yard with outside loo!
All kept immaculately clean and tidy.
Of course, it was a house with a typical 1960's interior
that I am describing, not like the traditional mill-worker's
house it has been restored to. No doubt an excellent
job has been done to make the house what it is now,
yet I cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness, knowing
that I can never again see it the way my sister and
I remember it from those happy days of our childhood
and the summers we spent there.
The window at the back - yes, I looked out of it many
times, often to see a pair of goats grazing in the field!
Barbara Mccormick- Aug
My grandad and granmother lived in 6 College Square
East, Bessbrook and my father was born there. I frequently
stayed with my grandparents and looked out of the little
window shown above.
K.Woods, USA - March
I grew up in Bessbrook or the Brook as we knew it, in
the 1950s It was a great place to grow up in at that
particular period of time. I remember the mill horn
going off at 12pm and all the workers streaming out
the mill gates into the center of the village. Those
who lived in the village would go home for a hot dinner
and the people who travelled to the mill from the outlaying
districts would eat their lunch around the big tree
or sit on the benches in the park at Charlemont sq.
The Co or Ferguson's would be very busy
cutting ham for sandwiches and selling pop and candy
to the workers. There weren't any fast food restaurants
or coffee shops in those days and most of the workers
would eat their"piece" another name for a
sandwich,and drink their hot tea out of flasks or thermos.
I went to the convent of mercy and would come into the
center of the village every day to my house for lunch,
so all this was apart of my every day life. All of my
mothers family worked at the weaving at least some part
of their lives......
Doreen Moran - March '06
My great-grandfather, Samuel McComb, was born in Bessbrook
in the 1860s and left at the age of 22. He traveled
to Liverpool and then onto the port at Philadelphia
aboard the ship "Lord Goff" . He ended up
in Chicopee, MA and was listed as a Mill Operative.
That's all I know.
Roisin Lafferty - Jan '06
My greatgrandmother Margaret Hamill worked here in the
1870 to 1890 era. She travelled from Lurgangreen co.
Monaghan by ass and cart to be picked up by Richardsons
coach on a Sunday evening. She went hack home on Sat
being collected again by Ass and cart. She died 1902.
Ray McCaughey - Oct 05
Wonderful article. I too am trying to trace a relative
of mine who worked as a watchman at the Mill. His name
was Joseph Milligan and he worked there in
or around1880/1900. Hia wife's name was Eliza
and they had 3 children Joseph, Maggie Emma and
Florence. If anyone can help or point me in some
direction that would be great. Many thanks.
I would also be grateful if i could get
hold of the employee records of the Mill or given a
contact who might have them.
Mary Lou DEWAR - July
My great grandfather, James THOMAS, was living in Bessbrook
in 1864. According to Griffith's Valuation, he was leasing
a house (No. 57) from James Richardson for L 2 10s 0d
per year. James Thomas's occupation is listed as "gardener".
Are there any records from Richardson's still surviving
for that period of time? Would the Quakers in Bessbrook
Raymond O'Regan - July
An excellent article on this model village ; built by
the Richardson family. The Richardson family also had
business interests in Belfast . The large red brick
building ; nowadays part of Marks and Spencer and before
that the Water Office in Donegall Square North, was
one of their warehouses.
Their model village in Bessbrook was copied
by English Quakers e.g. Cadburys Bournville Model Village.
A Baroncy was offered to Richardson but he turned it
down. As is typical of the peaceful stance shown by
Quakers, Bessbrook village did not have a police station
and they also made provision for all the main religions.
The Quakers were also the first charity
to open up soup kitchens during the 1845/50 Great Irish
Famine. The Quakers entry into Northern Ireland was
brought about when a soldier of Cromwells army c.1650's,
stayed on in the Lurgan area. In the early 1800's they
opened up a Quaker Meeting House in Belfast in Frederick
Street (then known as Brewery Lane). This building is
still in use; by Concern Worldwide and the more modern
Quaker Meeting house is to be found behind the original
Anne Wallace - July '05
My mum and dad were born and bred in Bessbrook and both
worked in the mill. My dad is no longer with us but
mum is 82 now and has wonderful memories if anyone is
interested. I would certainly pass on any information
she would give me.
the mill article