Four Northern Ireland towns

Vol. 5 No. 3 - 1987

A glimpse of four Northern Ireland towns

in the mid-nineteenth century

by Francis X McCorry

One of the most decisive economically-motivated changes in nineteenth century Ireland was the emergence of a rapidly adjusting urban function which brought substantial population gains to many towns, north and south, coastal and inland. After the Famine era, the southern provincial towns of Ireland were unable to retain populations augmented by those who had congregated in during the immediate pre-Famine period. By contrast, the inland towns of north-eastern Ireland, after an initial falter, held and consolidated substantial population bases.1

The principal reason for the success of these northern towns, many of which were within thirty miles of Belfast, undoubtedly was the urban involvement with manufacture, the involvement deepening as the nineteenth century progressed. By behaving thus, the north-eastern region of Ireland was reacting to industrialisation in similar manner to English regions one century earlier during the period of industrial revolution. Corfield, outlining the English experience of the eighteenth century, commented that, "many industrial regions fostered a cluster of medium-sized towns.

Fierce rivalry

The big towns led but did not monopolize. There was often a fierce rivalry between close neighbours within these urban constellations. The smaller places were zealous to assert their independent identities - identities which survive to this day." 2

This comment adequately summarises the north-eastern Irish experience of one century later. Belfast was the big town, and an abundant choice is available to fulfil the cluster. Lurgan, Portadown, Lisburn, Banbridge and Gilford, in the one geographical route to Belfast, suffice to indicate the parallel.


The rivalry between Lurgan and Portadown was real, not good-humoured as it might be to-day. Status, capital and convenience were then at stake. Urban autonomy was tenaciously sought after. In 1872, Portadown found it difficult to accept that Lurgan was to be the Quarter-Sessions centre of the district. 3

1 Population growth in northern Irish and southern Irish towns compared.

Year Lurgan Portadown Longford Thurles
1841 4,677 2,505 4,966 7,523
1871 10,632 6,735 4,375 5,008
1901 11,782 10,092 3,747 4,411

2 Corfield, P.J., The Impact of English Towns, 1700-1800. Oxford, 1982. p.24.

3 Full details are provided by the Protestant Watchman and Lurgan Gazette, June 1 st 1872. Lord Lurgan represented his town's interests while the Duke of Manchester presented the case for Portadown. Thus, Portadown would never have a court-house. In 1931-5, Lurgan, with government and county council funds, converted the Union workhouse into a district hospital;4 Portadown residents were thus denied conveniently localised and specialised medical services. While Portadown would never have a hospital, the town's economy was a good deal more vibrant than that of Lurgan, and its rate of population increase was as high and as steady as that apparent in any provincial town in Ireland.


Property-Holders with property of £50 valuation or more in 1862.

  1. BALLYMENA GAS CO gas works, coal store, ho., off., yd., Bridge Street £180
  2. ULSTER BANKING CO ho., off., yd., Wellington Street £ 50
  3. PROVINCIAL BANK OF IRELAND ho., off., yd., gdn., Wellington Street £ 60
  4. ROBERT DILL beetling-mill,bleach works, yd., Railway Street £ 75
  5. WM GIHON, JUN beetling-mill, bleach works, yd., Bridge Street £110
  6. JAMES BEATTY soap + candle manufactory, ho., offs., Wellington Street, Bridge Street £ 56
  7. UNOCCUPIED hotel, off., yd., gdn., Ballymoney Road £ 80
  8. DAVID McFEDRIES hotel, off., yd., Bridge Street £ 65
  9. ANDREW MARTIN soap-manufactory, stores, off., yd., Church Street £ 50
  10. UNOCCUPIED ho., stores, off., yd., Mill Street £ 80
  11. UNOCCUPIED ho., stores, off., yd., Church Street £ 75
  12. ROBERT MORTON flour and corn mills, stores, ho., offs., yd., Portglenone Road, Church Street £519
  13. GEORGE TOMB hos., offs., yds., gdn., Church Street £ 93
  14. JAMES N HARDY hos., offs., yds., gdns., Church Street £140
  15. ABRAHAM & GEORGE SINCLAIR hos., offs., yds., Castle Street, Mill Street £ 94
  16. JOHN ATKINSON & SON ho., off., yd., Mill Street £ 50
  17. ARCHIBALD TAYLOR ho., off., stores, yd., Mill Street £ 60
  18. JAMES & ROBERT YOUNG ho., warehouse, off., yds., Galgorm Street, High Street £ 95
  19. WILLIAM ORR ho., offs., yd., gdn., Henry Street £ 55
  20. WILLIAM McPEAKE hos., offs., saw-mill, slate, coal + timber yds., Railway Street Queen Street £ 60
  21. SIR ROBERT S ADAIR corn, pork + flax market, shambles and market and fair-green. Cullybackey Road, Ballymoney Street £300
  22. JAMES B PATRICK ho., offs., yd., gdn., Bridge Street £ 50
  23. ANDREW GIHON ho., offs., land, Bridge Street £ 68
  24. JOHN STRAHAN hos., offs., stores, yd., stables, coach-entry, Wellington Street, Church Street £ 94
  25. UNOCCUPIED ho., off., yd., gdn., Ballymoney Road £ 50
  26. JOSEPH McAULEY ho., coach factory, work-shops, offs., George's Street £ 50
  27. JAMES & GEORGE GRAHAM hos., stores, offs., yds., gdn., Linen Hall Street, Bridge Street £ 59
  28. Total £2,718

Property-Holders with property of £50 valuation or more in 1859.

  1. BALLYMENA, BALLYMONEY, COLERAINE and PORTRUSH RAILWAY COMPANY, station, station-house, sheds, Highland Road £120
  2. TOWN COMMISSIONERS OF COLERAINE, potato, butter and corn market, New Market Street £300
  3. TOWN COMMISSIONERS OF COLERAINE right and easement over land occupied by gas-mains and pipes; gas-works, yd., gdn., Hanover Place £118
  4. NORTHERN BANK CO ho., off., yd., The Diamond £ 60
  5. SAMUEL LAWRENCE corn stores, yd., steam mill, kiln, ho., offs., yd., land, Upper New-Row, Beresford Place, Blindgate Street £192
  6. ED GRIBBEN & PARTNER ho., weaving factory, off., Waterside + Killowen Street £ 80
  7. ROBERT SHARPE workshop, ho., offs., yd., King's-Gate £ 65
  8. JAMES MOORE distillery, brewery, yd., malt-house, bonding store, sheds, corn-mill, kiln, flax-mill, store, yd., New Markets Street, New Road, Brooke Street, Church Walls £357
  9. JOHN GLENN hos., offs., yds., land, bonding store, Cross Lane, New Markets Street, Shamble Lane, The Diamond, Captain Street Upper £ 87
  10. JOHN McPHILLIP & MARGARET BOYLAN hotel, offs., yd., Waterside £ 75
  11. MARY E McGROTTY hotel, off., yd., The Diamond £ 65
  12. JOHN McCURDY ho., off., yds., stores, Stone-Row Lower, The Diamond £ 54
  13. HENRY KYLE ho., offs., land, Churchland £ 64
  14. CHARLES J KNOW ho., offs., land, Waterside £ 82
  15. BIRCH, WATERSON & COMPANY ho., off., yd., The Diamond £ 50
  16. THOMPSON, SON & COMPANY ho., off., yd., The Diamond £ 90
  17. ROBERT GIVEN ho., off., yd., gdn., timber yards, Stone-Row Lower, Circular Road, The Diamond £ 85
  18. CATHERINE COCHRANE ho., off., yd., gdn., The Diamond £ 55
  19. ROBERT NEVIN ho., offs., yd., stores, Church Street, New Row £ 57
  20. SAMUEL KNOX hos., offs., yds., gdn., New Row, New Row West £ 54
  21. JOSEPH McCARTER ho., offs., tan-yard, New Row £ 50
  22. ARCHIBALD McELWAIN ho., offs., yd., land, Beresford Place £ 50
  23. DANIEL & ROBERT TAYLOR warehouse, offs., yd., Church Street, The Diamond £ 72
  24. WILLIAM WARKE ho., off., yd., cellar, store, timber yard, Beresford Place, Hanover Place, The Diamond £ 62
  25. JOHN IRWIN, corn-mill, kiln, offs., ho., stores, Highland Row, North Brook Street £ 50
  26. JOHN GIVEN ho.; offs., yd., land, store, Hanover Place, Beresford Place £ 50
  27. ALEXANDER CUTHBERT ho., offs., warehouse, tan-yard, Kings Gate, Highland Row £ 55
  28. HUGH & THOMAS BELLAS timber-yard, coal-yard, sheds, cornstore, kiln, yds., ho., offs., Beresford Place, North Rampart, Church Street £101
  29. Total £2,600

Perhaps more than size, the economic infrastructure of a district largely determines whether or not a district could be regarded as a town. Even here, difficulties arise, since nowadays dormitory towns can survive and flourish on a service-orientated economy with little or no manufacture. Newcastle and Downpatrick spring to mind, and nearer at hand, Waringstown, now greatly enlarged yet with few commercial or industrial innovations. In the nineteenth century, however, different factors determined the growth of towns, and any Northern Irish town, worthy of being described as such, displayed certain fundamental economic characteristics and fostered inter-related commercial and manufacturing enterprises which made the area distinct from neighbouring villages and heavily populated rural townlands nearby. Report on the Administration of Local Government Services, 1932-3. p.110.

Details are given of a loan of £40,000, for altering, enlarging and equipping the Workhouse premises. Such characteristics mainly comprise, a variety of churches to cater for different denominations, market and retail facilities servicing an area much larger than the town itself, a road network and transport system which linked the area to at least three districts of comparable size and function, flour and corn mills and a timber/fuel yard, and finally, some form of ongoing manufacture. To accommodate such pretensions of social and economic activity, the post-Famine developing Irish town would have required in excess of one thousand houses, being roughly the equivalent of five thousand people. These would have organised and worked the various urban enterprises, and the figure of one thousand houses would be a realistic number to incorporate into any definition of a town devised for historical comparative analysis of nineteenth century Irish urban areas.

The lists which follow, presented without comment, may help to illustrate the basic economic infrastructure required to foster and sustain population growth in Irish towns after the upheaval of the Famine period. The lists refer to Lurgan, Portadown, Ballymena and Coleraine, four towns of more or less comparable size and function. Only properties meriting a valuation in excess of £50 are listed, although for some individual property-holders, separate and sometimes far-flung businesses/residences are amalgamated to boost overall valuations to £50 or more.

The lists, based on data extracted from the Second Valuation of Tenements, show that the four towns had much in common and that the businesses and personnel detailed comprised the economic core of each area. Churches, being exempt from rates, are not included in the lists of highly-valued properties. It should be noted that railway company property related to Ballymena town is not specified, as the railway, in 1862, lay just outside the then town boundary.


Property-Holders with property of £50 valuation or more in 1864.

  1. ULSTER RAILWAY COMPANY, railway, station buildings, land: £313
  2. LURGAN GAS LIGHT CO LTD, gas-works, manager's ho., off., yd. £182
  3. MECHANICS INSTITUTE, Market Street £ 55
  4. NORTHERN BANKING CO, ho., off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 50
  5. ULSTER BANKING CO, ho., off., yd., gdn., Market Street £ 50
  6. MARY MAGEE weaving factory + ho., Queen Street £ 78
  7. FRANCIS WATSON linen factory + ho., Queen Street £ 54
  8. JAMES MALCOLM weaving factory + stores, Factory Lane £105
  9. JAMES MALCOLM warehouse + factory, off., yd., High Street £ 85
  10. GEORGE DOUGLAS factory + warehouse, William Street £ 50
  11. WM +JAMES MACOUN factory + warehouse, Brownlow Terrace £ 62
  12. LORD LURGAN corn-mill, kiln, stores, offs., fm., yd., North Street £156
  13. JOHN JOHNSTON malt + grain stores, ho., offs., yd., High Street £130
  14. JOHN JOHNSON brewery + offs., yd., gdn., Tannaghmore South £ 97
  15. JOHN JOHNSTON tobacco + snuff manufactory, offs., Union Street £ 57
  16. JAMES JOHNSTON brewery, offs., yd., gdn., Roger's Court £ 67
  17. ALFRED ARMSTRONG saw-mill, timber + coal yard, Market Street £ 75
  18. REPS. ROBERT IRWIN hotel, offs., yd., Market Street £ 70
  19. JOHN HANCOCK house, offs., gdn., land, Edward Street £ 66
  20. JOSEPH MURPHY house, stores, yd., gdn., William Street £ 52
  21. JOHN HAZELTON house, offs., yd., gdn., Market Street £ 55
  22. MATTHEW WELLS house, offs., yd., gdn., Market Street £ 60
  23. ROBERT MATHERS house, offs., yd., gdn., Market Street £110
  24. MESSRS LATIMER, OGLE and BURLEIGH warehouse, Market Street £120
  25. JOHN HAZLETT house, off. yd., gdn., Church Place £ 70
  26. ARTHUR DONNELLY house, off., yd., gdn., Church Place £ 50
  27. JAMES ANDERSON house, off., yd., gdn., Church Place £ 55
  28. SAMUEL McCULLAGH house, warehouse, offs., yd., High Street £ 52
  29. ROBERT MORRIS house, off., gdn., High Street £ 60
  30. JAMES MALCOLM house, off., gdn., High Street £ 52
  31. WM WAUGH McCLURE house, stores, yd., High Street £ 61
  32. JOHN ROSS warehouse + stores, High Street £ 55
  33. JANE HALL house, off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 56
  34. MARY BELL house, off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 55
  35. JOHN HAZLETON, A. P. SHEPPARD w-h, stores, wk-sh., William Street £ 70
  36. CHARLES MAGEE spirit-st., chandlery,, Union Street + High Street £ 51
  37. Total £2,906

Property-Holders with property of £50 valuation or more in 1864.

  1. ULSTER RAILWAY CO railway land, buildings, in Edenderry (Township) £670
  2. ULSTER RAILWAY CO goods-stores, appurtenances, Woodhouse Street £120
  3. DUBLIN & BELFAST JUNCTION CO locomotive houses + sheds Woodhouse Street £ 55
  4. WILLIAM MARTIN (UL. RAIL CO) refreshment rooms, Edenderry £100
  5. PORTADOWN GAS COMPANY gas-works, Bridge Street £ 65
  6. BELFAST BANKING CO ho., off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 77
  7. ULSTER BANKING CO ho., off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 53
  8. WATSON, ARMSTRONG & CO weaving factory, offs. stores, Watson's Street £500
  9. ROBERT MOORE weaving factory, Church Street £120
  10. WILSON, IRWIN & CO spinning mills, off., stores, yd., Castle Street £145
  11. DAVID WILSON IRWIN flour-mill, kiln, stores, Castle Street £ 95
  12. WALTER MITCHELL flour + corn mills, kilns, stores, ho., Castle Street £205
  13. BENJAMIN ROBB cornstores, kiln, ho., off., yd., Thomas Street £ 85
  14. WILLIAM MARTIN hotel, off., yd., Bridge Street £ 50
  15. MARGARET GREW Queen's hotel, off., yd., High Street £ 80
  16. WILLIAM HALL Imperial hotel, off., yd., High Street £ 65
  17. JOHN SHILLINGTON chandlery, ho., off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 80
  18. THOMAS A & THOMAS SHILLINGTON quay, weighbridge, off., Castle Street £110
  19. AVERALL & THOMAS SHILLINGTON ho., off., yd., gdn., High Street £ 85
  20. THOMAS A & THOMAS SHILLINGTON off., stores, yd., Woodhouse Street £ 50
  21. THOMAS ARMSTRONG ho., off., land, Edenderry (Township) £171
  22. HAMILTON ROBB ho., off., land, orchard, Bridge Street £ 78
  23. ANDREW J LUTTON ho., off., store, yd., gdn., Bridge Street £ 55
  24. ALEXANDER BREDON ho., off. yd., Church Street £ 60
  25. JOHN FULTON ho., off., store, yd., gdn., Church Street £ 55
  26. STUART MONRO houses, offs., yd., gdn., High Street £ 74
  27. DAVID THORNTON ho., off., yd., High Street £ 55
  28. WILLIAM JOHN PAUL houses, offs., yds., High Street £110
  29. HARFORD MONTGOMERY ho., off., yd., Woodhouse Street £ 55
  30. CHARLES F WAKEFIELD ho., off., gate-lodge, land, Charles Street £ 50
  31. JOSEPH DRUITT ho., off. store, gate-lodge, land, Charles Street £100
  32. JOHN JAMES MARLAY ho., off., yd., gdn., sts., quay bridge + Castle Sts. £ 86
  33. JAMES O'HANLON ho., warerooms, store, offs., yd., gdn., High Street £ 54
  34. THOMAS CARLETON offs., ho., yd., gdn., brickland, Church Street £ 53
  35. Total £3,866

Curiously, no adequate definition has yet been devised for the term 'town'. The Concise Oxford offering, viz. a collection of houses enclosed by wall or hedge, is somewhat medieval; 'a considerable collection of dwellings, larger than a village' is helpful but indefinite. Nineteenth century censuses regarded towns as sites of twenty or more houses. Charlestown Town (the Bannfoot) was considered a town by the census enumerators in 1841, 1851, 1871 and afterwards, but not in 1861, when the house-numbers declined below twenty. Charles Brownlow had considerable plans for Charlestown, but the advent of the railway system in the 1840s relegated the Lough Neagh ports and the canal network to a very minor role. Charlestown, therefore, could not really be regarded as a town.