The Huguenot Colony at Lisburn.
Having now traced the history of the Lisburn colony, and the causes which led to its foundation, and given the biography of its founders, it may not be uninteresting to glance at the state of the town itself, at the time when L. Crommelin chose it for the seat of his operations, as well as at the condition of the Linen Manufacture at that period.
Lisnegarvey [Lisburn] had, at this time, recovered from the siege of the Irish rebels, under Sir Phelim O'Neill,* and was almost in the same condition in which an English traveller described it about 45 years previously: "Linsley Garven, about 7 miles from Belfast, is well seated, but neither the town or the country thereabouts well planted, [inhabited,] being almost all woods and moorish, until you come to Dromore; the town belongs to Lord Conway, who hath a good handsome house there." There were not more than 100 tenements, besides the Castle, then remaining perfect:-- the town returned two members to the Irish Parliament; and was the residence of the Bishop of the United Diocese of Down and Connor, its church being the Cathedral of the Diocese.
A wooden bridge here crossed the river Lagan, and it was at the foot of this bridge, at the western side of Bridge-street, that Louis Crommelin built the first linen-factory; the old water course of which remained until the beginning of the present century. He also established a bleach-green at a place in the vicinity, now called Hilden; and, having obtained a Patenta from King William, he commenced operations for the improvement of the Linen trade. This manufacture had made little progress in Ireland from the time of Lord Strafford, (in the reign of Charles I,) who was the first to adopt any measures for its encouragement, and who may therefore be considered its founder.
It is known that Linen was manufactured In Ireland from the earliest ages, and it is said by some to have been introduced, (with the spindle and loom,) by the Phoenicians; but, of course, in a comparatively imperfect state. Yet it was extensively used, and formed even, a considerable article of commerce, as is proved from an act of Henry VIII, and another restricting the higher orders from wearing an extravagant quantity of linen in their shirts. It was exported as early as the reign of Henry III: as we find mention made in Maddox's History of the Exchequer, of two thieves, who stole some Irish linen, amongst other goods, at Winchester, and fought about it. The Irish themselves used it largely in their garments, the long "Cota" being made of it: as Camden mentions that O'Neill and his followers were so clad when they visited Queen Elizabeth.
Nevertheless, Louis Crommelin was justified in the expressions he used in his publication,b "that the people were entirely ignorant of the misteries relating to its manufacture." This he attributed "to the prejudices that prevail in the minds of the people, that the spinner's, the weaver's, and the bleacher's trades are such poor abject trades, all the world over, and particularly in Ireland, that it is impossible for men of a free, generous spirit, (such as the people of this kingdom must be allowed to be,) to conform themselves thereunto; they having no prospect of sufficient benefit or reward." The way in which the flax was prepared was very pernicious; "being managed by women altogether ignorant as to their choice of their seed or soil, for which reason their flax was and is too short, and unfit for making good yarn; they do not know when or how to pull their flax, whereby their seed degenerates, and their flax wants strength and substance. They have no judgement when or how to water or grass their flax, so as to give it a natural colour; and what is yet worse than all is, they constantly dry their flax by the fire, which makes it impossible to bleach cloth made of their yarns; for let all the skill and judgement of the world be used to bleach cloth made of different sorts of flax, you shall never bring it to a good colour: for, till such a time as it is woven, and so bleached, the best artist in nature cannot discover the mischief. They also use, in cleaning their flax, things which they call "breaks," which I can in no way approve of. They spin their long and short flax athwart, which is extremely preposterous, as the flax cannot be spun fine; so the linen is cottony. The wheels used in spinning are turned by the foot, and have two cords, one going round the wheel and the whirl of the spindle, the other going round the wheel and whirl of the spool, which overtwists the thread. Their manner of reeling yarn is one of the greatest grievances, as many honest, industrious men are undone by the deceitful methods now used by the crafty and unfair people in this particular; as, for instance, there is no standard for the measure of reels, and every body uses such reels as they think fit; for which reason a stranger to the markets is imposed upon to his ruin. The cuts and hanks are reeled by several threads, through laziness or wickedness to the utter ruin of the poor dealers, who think they buy yarn, and that they have good and marketable goods for their money; but, on the contrary, find that the whole hank ravels altogether, and becomes entirely unserviceable, or, at the best so troublesome to wind, that it is as eligible to lose it, as to spend so much time and pains as to wind it. They ought to mark each cut, or six score threads as they reel them, and not afterwards, as they now do; which they might do without difficulty. They do likewise intermix, in one and the same hank, yarn of several degrees of fineness, which is a cheat intolerable to the buyer. The looms generally employed in this kingdom for the making of all sorts of linen cloth, (excepting diaper and damask,) are looms properly disposed and invented for the making of woollen cloth, (save only that they changed the gear, and wrought, promiscuously, linen and woollen therein,) therefore it is impossible to use one and the same loom to both material, with good success."
Another obstacle he found in the reeds, which were uneven, and too thick. To improve this branch a reed-maker, called Dupré, who had escaped from France, was induced to settle in Lisburn. -- Also in the gears, which were too coarse for the fine yarn. -- Likewise in dressing the yarn in the loom, he says "they make a stuff of water and meal, without judgement, wherewith they stiffen their warp; and the cloth is made too thin and sleazy, and woven where the weather could affect it. (The finest woven at this time was what is technically called 14 hundreds.)
With respect to the mode of bleaching, Mr. Crommelin objected that, "The manner of mixing their ashes and yarn together in the keeve, at the same time that they buck their yarn, and purely through ignorance, or laziness, makes their yarn fret and cotton for ever. -- After having detailed his improvement, he says, "They who are disposed to erect one of these bleacheries, may with much greater satisfaction come and view one small bleachery at Lisburn, which may serve as a model, than bestow the time in reading an intricate description of what a bleachery consists."
Such was the state in which Louis Crommelin found the Linen Manufacture of Ireland, as these extracts from his Essay on the subject show, and that he succeeded in improving it may be seen from the extract below.c In order to carry out his improvements, a Linen Board, was established by the Duke of Ormond, in October, 1711. In a petition to this Board L. Crommelin recounted all he had done, and requested a renewal of the Patent. The Board reported favourably.d
To be continued...
* For an account of this siege by an eye witness see the present number of this Journal -- page 242. -- [EDIT]
[a] The following is the substance of the Patent. -- "In consequence of a proposal by Louis Crommelin to establish a Linen Manufacture in Ireland, and the design and method in said memorial being approved of by the Commissioners of Treasury and trade: the following grant was made. That £800 per annum be settled for ten years as interest on £10,000 advanced by said Louis Crommelin, for the making a bleaching yard, and holding a pressing house, and for weaving, cultivating, and pressing hemp and flax, and making provision of both to be sold ready prepared to the spinners at reasonable rate, and upon credit; providing all tools and utensils, looms, and spinning wheels, to be furnished at the several costs of persons employed by advances, to be paid by them in small payments as they are able; advancing sums of money necessary for the subsistence of such workmen and their families as shall come from abroad, and of such persons of that our kingdom, as shall apply themselves in families, to work in the manufactories: such sums to be advanced without interest, and to be repaid by degrees. That £200 per annum to be allowed to said Crommelin, during pleasure, for his pains and care in carrying on said work, and that £120 per annum be allowed for three assistants, together with a premium of £60 per annum, for the subsistence of a French Minister, and that letters patent be granted accordingly. -- Dated 14th February, 1699.
[b] An Essay towards the Improving of the Hempen andFlaxen Manufactures in the Kingdom of Ireland. By Louis Crommelin, Overseer of the Royal Linnen Manufacture of that kingdom. Dublin, 1705.
[c] Extract from the "Patriot" Newspaper, January, 1818. -- "History and Chronology more frequently record those events that tend to the glory, rather than to the prosperity, of nations. Thus in the various tables of remarkable occurrences the establishment of our great staple, the Linen Manufacture, is omitted. It was on the 13th of October, 1711, that his Grace the Duke of Ormond, having appointed trustees for the Linen Manufacture of Ireland, they were, by his grace's direction summoned to the Castle of Dublin, where the deed of their appointment was read to them. The individual who, in establishing the Linen Manufacture in Ireland, contributed so much to its prosperity, deserves to be memorized amongst our most illustrious countrymen, whether statesmen, legislators, or warriors. The name of this person, now so little known, was Louis Crommelin, who in a space of 14 years, with a colony of about 70 persons, brought from Holland to Lisburn, overcame many disabilities and obstacles, and settled the Linen Manufacture in the Northern Counties, by a vote of the Irish Parliament, on the 30th of October, 1707."
[d] The humble petition of Louis Crommelin, Overseer of the Linen Manufacture.
That your petitioner was sent into this Kingdom by the late King William, therein to establish a Linen Manufacture, with his Royal word and promise, that he should receive a recompense, proportionable to the services he should render, which promise was a powerful motive for your petitioner to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles he has since met with, in the prosecution of his designs. That within these 14 years your petitioner hath (together with the colony of about 70 persons he brought into this country from France and Holland, now increased to the number of 120) applied himself with all possible care and diligence to the forming of a settlement, having spared neither his person, nor his and his friends' substance, to make it succeed; which, (by the Grace of God) he has accomplished, to the great satisfaction of this nation: insomuch, that the Parliament, being sensible thereof, did, by their vote of the 20th of November, 1703, recommend him to your Grace, as a person very fit and useful for establishing manufactures in this kingdom: and by a second vote of the 20th of October, 1707, that Louis Crommelin has been eminently useful to this Kingdom in promoting the Linen Manufacture thereof; that though the said manufacture be settled in the province of the North only, nay, but in three or four counties of the same, yet the kingdom reaps a great benefit by the quantities of linen and yarn which are every year exported out of it, as appears by the annexed abstract: and considering it was not possible for your petitioner to impart unto the whole nation the knowledge God has given him in the said manufactures, he did print and publish a compleat treatise of the said manufactures from their first origin to their perfection, dedicated to your Grace, which has proved of great use to the public and it is since the publication of the said treatise that the said manufactures have increased both in quantity and perfection.
That the Parliament having appropriated a fund for the encouragement of the said manufacture, and the improvement of the same throughout the Kingdom, there are several sorts of linen cloths, of which few or none have yet been made, such as sail-cloth, cordage of the growth of the country, dowlas cloths for sheeting, and diapers made of hemp, which would prove of great advantage not only for the maintenance of the poor, who by their labour would get an honest livelihood, but also by the great exportation thereof out of the kingdom;-- as also the making of threads for sewing and bone lace, tape, &c., which the kingdom might be furnished with, and export abroad: and for the performing those things, your petitioner doth offer his services, and to take care of the several establishments which shall be erected here, if he may have, and it be thought necessary to join with him, four other persons of skill and experience, to go every circuit with the judges and to inspect all the settlements that now are, or shall hereafter be made, and give the necessary directions for carrying on the same with success, and also take an inspection of the persons established in every county, by Act of Parliament, for the culture and preparation, or dressing of Hemp and Flax, and the spinning schools, and to oblige them to do their duty: for although it has already cost £960 the first year, and will every year after cost £516, yet the same will not be of any use to the Kingdom for want of care in the execution of what they were obliged to do; and of the whole matter to give their Report to the Honourable the Trustees that are appointed for the purpose; to the end they may, being fully informed of all things twice a year, give their order and directions accordingly. Your petitioner does hope your Grace will honour him with your protection, and take into serious consideration the many services he has done to this Kingdom, the Royal promise given him of a recompense, and the recommendation of the Parliament, by granting him a pension of £500 per annum during pleasure, that he may subsist himself and family with honour, and continue his care in promoting the good of the Kingdom: for, having lost his only son who managed all his affairs, he will be under a necessity of either laying or continuing the same, and in such case it will be impossible for him to mind the public. That by the first Patent granted by the late King William, the whole sum of £800 was allowed your petitioner, for the settlement of himself and Colony, for ten years, over and above £380 per annum, for pension for your petitioner and his three assistants, and the Minister, during pleasure; which said Patent was not put in execution, but, instead thereof, after the said King William's death, the Honourable Trustees obtained a second from our Most Gracious Queen Anne, authorising them to dispose of the said sums of £800, and £380, both to your petitioner and his Colony, and the natives of the country; both which sums were limited for ten years, whereas, by the first, the pensions were granted during pleasure. So that your petitioner was reduced to £400, which was a great discouragement, and produced not three per cent interest, instead of eight per cent, they were to have, by the first Patent; but this, however, has done much good to the Kingdom by the several establishments made therein. And in regard the present Patent will determine the 24 day of June next, and that unless the same be renewed for a certain term of years, your petitioner and his Colony will be reduced to great extremities, and rendered incapable of continuing a settlement begun with so much difficulty, and brought to such perfection by the indefatigable endeavours of your petitioner and his said Colony, and that your petitioner is still ready to do all that in him lies for the benefit of this kingdom;
May it therefore please your Grace, in tender consideration of the premises, to grant unto your Petitioner and his said Colony, a renewal of the said Patent, for ten years to come, or such other term as your Grace shall think reasonable, and unto your Petitioner in particular, a pension of £500 per annum, as above mentioned, or as to your Grace shall seem meet, and your Petitioner shall ever pray.
The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 1, 1853.