Craigavon Historical Society

Portadown

Origins
Economic development and the 'Hub of the North'
Linen Production
A change of ownership
The development of local amenities

Origins

Portadown derives its name fro the Irish 'Port an Dunain' which means 'landing place of the ferry'. The town has its beginnings in 1610 when James I granted 2,000 acres of land at Ballyworran (Ballyoran) to William Powell of Staffordshire. In 1611 Powell sold the land to the Reverend Richard Rolleston who then sold it to Richard Cope of Loughgall. Cope divided the land with Michael Obins who secured the land, which runs down to the west bank of the Bann. By 1619 Obins had built a house of brick and lime along with a bawn or fortress and by 1622 had settled 30 scattered English families'. He died in 1629 and was succeeded by his son John who with his mother Prudence, secured a patent for fairs and markets in the town in 1632. Markets were then held every Saturday with a fair held on All Saints' Day and another at Pentecost, later another fair was held on Easter Monday. The opportunity for trade offered by these together with the building of the first bridge over the River Bann opened the way for commerce and prosperity in the town.

During the civil war in 1641 Portadown was pillaged by Captain Toole McCann under the command of Sir Phelim O'Neill. O'Neill was later tried and sentenced to death for the massacre of 196 settlers who drowned when thrown off the Bann bridge into the river below, those who didn't drown were killed as they reached the shore. Civil disturbances continued for several years until a garrison of Cromwellian soldiers arrived to take control of the town in October 1646.

Economic development and the ' Hub of the North'

John Obins died in 1635 leaving a son, Hamlet who fled Ireland when the civil war started in 1641. He returned to Portadown in 1652 and was succeeded by his son Anthony. A new bridge was built over the Bann in 1682, allowing for the further economic development of the town. Anthony Obins was instrumental in the construction of the Newry Canal and carried out a survey for its construction in 1703. Work on the canal started in 1729 and opened in 1742. Anthony Obins died 12 years later in 1754 and was succeeded by his grandson Michael.

The Newry Canal encouraged the development of trade with Portadown as a centre point linking Belfast and Newry via the Lagan Canal. Routes were established with Scotland and Dublin firmly positioning Portadown as a booming trade centre. Manufacturers used the waterways for the transportation of bricks, coal, timber, turf, animal feeds, oats, wheat and flour, the establishment of a relatively fast means of postal communication and the transportation of passengers. Commerce developed in the 19 th century to such a point that many of the major manufacturers in Portadown built quays on the Bann for the loading and off-loading of goods and supplies from the lighters. Such companies included Shillington's (iron goods), Hamilton Robb, Spence Bryson, Castleisland Weaving Company (linen manufacture), and Devon's Brickworks.

Portadown Railway Station Portadown continued to thrive as a result of the linen industry and prospered further with the coming of the railway which came to Portadown in 1842 and reached as far as Seagoe. It extended to Armagh in 1848 when a new bridge was built over the Bann. Portadown became an important junction on the Dublin to Belfast line when it formed the intersection with the Dungannon-Omagh line.

The third and finest Ulster Railway station (pictured left) was built at Watson Street, Portadown in 1861-62, to a design by Sir John Macneill and incorporated four platforms. It was officially opened in July 1863 and survived until 1970 when, sadly, it was demolished to make way for a major road (Northway).


The prosperity which Portadown enjoyed as a result of industry and transportation, was not lost on one noted nineteenth century traveller, who visited Portadown in 1842 and paints an image of a thriving town: 'The brisk little town of Portadown, with its comfortable unpretending houses, its squares and market-place, its pretty quay, with craft along the river, a steamer building on the dock, close to mills and warehouses that look in a full state of prosperity, was a pleasant conclusion to this ten miles' drive, that ended at the newly opened railway station' .


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Linen Production

The manufacture of linen played a major part in the economic prosperity of Portadown. In 1762 Michael Obins petitioned the House of Commons in Dublin to establish a linen market. This market laid the foundation for Portadown's reputation as a major linen manufacturing and trade centre. Factories such as Watson Armstrong and Co, J & J Acheson and Co and Castleisland Linen Company provided employment for many local people in the weaving industry. The hemstitching industry in such factories as Hamilton Robb, Spence Bryson & Co, Moneypenny and Watson, Thomas Dawson, John Gilbert, Samuel Wilson and Andrew J Lutton & Son, increased greatly and provided further employment for the area.

Portadown especially made its name in the area of fine linen or Cambric and factories such as those of Hamilton Robb, Spence Bryson & Co and the Portadown Weaving Company flourished. At the top end of the linen trade was damask manufacture and again Portadown had its share of the market with goods produced by Castelisland Weaving Co, Achesons Ltd, Tavanagh Weaving Factory and Watson Armstrong.

A change of ownership

Michael Obins died in 1798, leaving his estate to his son, Michael Eyre Obins who lived in Portadown until 1814. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, taking Holy Orders and finally settling in England where he died in 1868. Possession of Portadown then changed after nearly 200 years of Obins ownership when Michael sold his estate to Colonel Sparrow of Tandragee in 1820. In 1822 Sparrow's daughter, Millicent, married Viscount Mandeville who was to become the 6 th Duke of Manchester. The Mandeville family retained ownership of the estate until 1822 when it was leased to Portadown Urban District Council for a period of 39 years. On the expiration of this lease the Duke sold the rights to the estate to Portadown District Council for £2,000.

The development of local amenities

Portadown Urban District Council was created when an Act was passed in 1828 providing for 'lighting, cleansing and watching of Irish cities and towns, and the election of town commissioners for these purposes'. Portadown inhabitants petitioned the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Marquis of Anglesea, to bring the provisions of this Act into force in Portadown. There followed a meeting on October 1828, at which 21 commissioners were appointed to administer the Act. At the first meeting of the Town Commissioners on 13th October 1828, Thomas Shillington was elected Chairman, and a number of town officials appointed. Plans were made to carry out a valuation of the houses in order to impose taxes to pay for lighting and cleansing.

In 1855 Portadown came under the provisions of the Towns Improvement Act, and later in 1874 the Sanitary Act. The Commissioners continued to provide improved services and facilities in Portadown under the auspices of the Urban District Council, until 1947 when Portadown became a Borough under Royal Charter. This status continued until 1973 when Portadown Borough Council was subsumed into Craigavon Borough Council.


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