History – Small window into Lisburn’s history is opened. Pieces of history return to Lisburn after 150 year absence from the city

by The Digger

The following article by “The Digger” appeared in the Ulster Star dated Friday 2nd August 2013.

Thomas OBrien envelopes

A unique part of our local history – Four mid-19th century envelopes addressed to Thomas O’Brien, Glenmore, Lisburn

I managed to acquire a little piece of Lisburn’s history recently thanks to one of the well-known online auction sites. Four envelopes bearing the Queen Victorian penny red stamps have now “returned home” over 150 years since they were first appeared in the district on the mail coach.

We have no idea what the envelopes contained, but we do know they were once in the possession of the addressee – Mr. Thomas O’Brien at various locations in the Glenmore area of Lisburn including Glenmore Bleachworks, Glenmore Green and Glenmore Cottage. The postmarks range in date from January 1851 to March 1857. One of the envelopes is marked Moyallon Mill. It would most likely be correct to presume that Thomas O’Brien held a position of responsibility at Glenmore Bleachworks. One of his son’s marriage records later show that Thomas was an engineer. Thomas O’Brien was the son of Daniel O’Brien, a linen draper in Carlow. He married Lurgan born Elizabeth Thompson in 1854.

Lisburn in 1854 was a much different place than we find today and for many people times were hard. In January of that year it was reported that a meeting took place in The Assembly Rooms. A number of the local gentry and ministers had met to discuss the most effective means of further assisting the distressed poor in the area. The workhouse returns towards the end of that month showed that there were 332 persons on the books, a comparative figure to the previous twelve months. Of those 332, twenty were in the fever hospital and seventy three in the workhouse hospital. At that time the Board of Guardians were advertising for someone to supply the workhouse with five tons of best oatmeal and the same quantity of yellow Indian meal. They were seeking tenders with enclosed samples. They were also offering a salary of £18 per annum with “apartments and rations” for a competent person fit to be a schoolmistress.

Indian meal was one of the wares on sale in the local market in Lisburn that month. It was being sold alongside barley oats, flour, bran, turnips, upland and lowland hay, straw, beef, mutton, butter, eggs, turkey, geese, hens and ducks. You could also purchase the “Ballygawley Pink” potato and “cruffles” at four to five shillings per hundredweight.

The gentlemen who had gathered at the Assembly Buildings in Lisburn that month were discussing poor relief for the town’s residents. Mr. Richardson from Lambeg was reported to have urged those present that the money was to be spent on people who were actually in distress. He informed them that the people who worked at the bleachfields at Glenmore and Lambeg did not require any assistance and their hands had not been idle, save for two days. Others at the meeting proposed that any idle labourers in the area could shovel snow off the streets and watch over the town’s sewers in order to prevent problems with the town’s drainage.

In January 1854 Lisburn Savings Bank reported an increase in the number of depositors in the previous year. It was announced that of the 526 depositors, less than 71 deposits were less than £1. The bank made reference to the famine year which had occurred almost a decade before and it was stated that there had been a “dearth of food and decrease of employment” at that time which led to a “regular falling off in the deposit accounts.”

In Belfast the committee for the distribution of coal to the poor were also meeting in January 1854 to conduct their much needed business. Despite the hardships, there were numerous advertisements advertised in the local press. Hull, Hart and Co., Falls Road, Belfast were seeking a reeling master. Ewarts in Belfast required a foreman bleacher. You may have had the skills necessary to be a corn miller in a country mill, or if you were more of an entrepreneur then you may have considered renting out James Hutchinson’s spade mill in Derriaghy.

Thomas O’Brien appears to have left Glenmore Cottage in the mid 1860 period. He is listed at High Street, Holywood at this time. His children’s birth records indicate that the family had moved to Holywood in 1860 and remained there until about 1872. The O’Brien family are believed to have relocated to the Liverpool area. In the 1901 English census Thomas and Elizabeth O’Brien are residing in the Toxteth area. Their son John Owen O’Brien, born at Glenmore Cottage in 1856, continued in the family tradition and he made a career in the textile machinery business. He became a fellow of the Institute of Patent agents and he was recognised as an expert in textile machinery.

Thomas and Elizabeth O’Brien died in the Toxteth area of Liverpool in 1914 and 1915 respectively.

The Digger would like to hear from anyone who has similar documents on their possession that require some further research.

The Digger can be contacted via our Contact page or by contacting The Ulster Star.

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