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Ireland Gazeteer

County Down in 1837


The linen manufacture is the staple trade of Down, and gives employment to a greater number of operatives, in proportion to the population, than in any other part of Ireland.

In 1831 the number of linen weavers was 6,711; and of weavers of damask, 6: the number of wheelwrights (makers of wheels for spinning linen yarn by hand) was 142: and of those employed in making other machinery for the manufacture of linens, millwrights, reed-makers, shuttle-makers, &c., 2,207; together with 34 engaged in making machinery for drapers, and 32 for damasks; all exclusive of female hand-spinners throughout the county; so that the entire number to whom the trade gives occupation may be safely stated at 10,000.

The linen manufacture has been long carried on in Ireland, but its first great impulse was in consequence of the settlement of French refugees on the revocation of the edict of Nantes, who, by introducing the improved machinery of the continent, and setting an example of more business-like habits, raised the manufacture to a high degree of perfection and importance.

To M. Crommelin, who settled at Lisburn in the reign of William III, Down owes the introduction of the improved manufacture on an extensive scale: before his time no web finer than of the quality called 'a fourteen-hundred' had been made in Ireland. This enterprising individual imported a thousand looms from Holland, and gave the manufacture such importance as secured it the attention and patronage of government.

In the 4th of Queen Anne the export duty on Irish linens was taken off, and from that time the trade has continued to flourish.

The importation of flax-seed employs a considerable capital in Belfast and Newry. It is generally thought necessary to renew the seed from year to year; but a few farmers have latterly wived their own seed, and the practice has so far proved successful.

The dressing of the grown crop gives employment to numerous scutchers and hacklers throughout the county; but the introduction of linen spinning machinery has materially lessened the demand for hand labour in converting the dressed flax into thread.

Manufacturers, however, prefer hand-spun thread for the weft, and the demand is still sufficient to give occupation to numerous females, who, except at the times of harvest, haymaking, and raising the potato crop, can make from 3d. to 4d. per day, besides attending to their ordinary rural concerns.

Weaving is mostly carried on in the houses of small farmers, and there are few weavers who do not give part of their time to agriculture; hence they are generally a healthy and long-lived class of men.

Hand-spinning and weaving are not confined to any particular district. When the webs are ready for the bleacher, they are carried to market.

The following table, drawn up in 1802, exhibits the quality of cloth manufactured in the district surrounding each town. It is difficult to ascertain the quantity made in the county at large, as the markets of Lurgan, Lisburn, and Belfast, are in a great measure supplied from the northern parts of Down, and it not unfrequently happens that what is sold in one market is resold in another.

Linen Markets in Down

Quality of Linens sold in each


From 8 to 14 hundreds*

Newry, a few

Up to 16 hundreds


From 8 to 14 hundreds


From 8 to 10 hundreds


From 8 to 16 hundreds


From 8 to 9 hundreds


From 8 to 18 hundreds


From 8 to 15 hundreds


From 10 to 20 hundreds


From 6 to 20 hundreds

Portaferry and Kirkcubbin

From 10 to 14 hundreds

* The linens being one yard wide, are distinguished by the number of threads contained in that breadth; thus an eight hundred web is one whose warp contains that number of threads of yarn.

The next process, and that which employs nearly an equal number of hands, is the bleaching and preparing for market the green web as purchased from the weaver.

The chief manufacturing district of this county, as of Ireland at large, is along the valley of the Upper Bann. The waters of this river are peculiarly efficacious in bleaching; and its rapid descent affords numerous sites for the machinery employed. From Tanderagie in Armagh, to five miles above Banbridge in Down, the banks of this river present an almost continuous succession of bleaching greens.

On that part of the river which flows through Down there are eighteen of these establishments, each covering a large tract of ground, and giving employment to a numerous rural population.

Besides these establishments, there are upon the Bann several extensive flour mills, a vitriol manufactory, and two factories for spinning linen thread by machinery.

The waste of these bleach greens is found highly valuable as a manure.

The neighbourhood of Guilford and Moyallan, about half way between Banbridge and Tanderagie, is celebrated for its rural beauty. Orchards are attached to all the better class of cottages, and the vicinity of so many bleach greens gives the effect of a continuous tract of rich park scenery on each bank of the river.

The proprietors of the majority of these establishments are Dissenters and members of the Society of Friends, and the population generally is Protestant.

The cotton and muslin manufacture in 1831 gave occupation to 3,278 individuals: of these 307 were muslin weavers, and 13 were weavers of corduroy. The principal market for muslin fabrics is Belfast. This trade is not on the increase.

The leather manufacture is carried on pretty briskly in Newry and in various parts of the county. The number of operatives employed in both in 1831 was 89.

There is an extensive iron foundry near Ballymacarratt, which supplies much of the machinery used in the factories of Belfast.

Here also are salt and vitriol works, with a manufacture of coarse glass.

The manufacture of kelp is carried on to some extent on the shores of Loch Strangford.

The exports and imports of Down are made almost entirely through the ports of Belfast and Newry. The net receipts of customs' duty at Newry in 1836 was £43,867. About 80,000 firkins of butter are exported yearly from Down, and this as well as all other exports is increasing.