by “The Digger” – 13 April 2013
A discovery of a card in a bible addressed to a James Billingsley dating from the Victorian era aroused the interest of his great great grandson. Andrew Chapman made contact with me to see if I could provide him with any clues as to the origin of the card. The card is inscribed in calligraphic font “Presented to Bro. James Billingsley by members of L.O.L. 1602 on the occasion of his leaving for England. Belfast 24 May 1881.”
The inscription is of course a reference to an Orangeman who was leaving his Belfast lodge and moving to England.
Early County Antrim records held by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland show that in 1852 the lodge warrant was in the Glenavy district area under the name Edward Scott from “Ballypitmore”. This is believed to be Edward Scott who resided at “The Prog” in the townland of Ballypitmave, Glenavy. In the 1860 period the warrant was transferred to the Belfast district and in 1861 it was held under the name of Robert Barr from Charles Street South, Belfast. The lodge is no longer in existence.
James Billingsley’s great grandson was unsure as to where his ancestor had been born, but he believed it was in the County Down area. Subsequently it was recently discovered that there was a baptism record for James Billingsley on the 27th April 1861 in Drumgooland Parish Church. He was the son of Robert Billingsley and Margaret Dalzel who were married in 1847 and resided in the townland of Legananny. Other records show that the family resided in the vicinity of the flax mill at Legananny and they owned just over seven acres of land in the vicinity which is located off Legananny Hall Road, Ballyward. The Billingsley name can be traced back to at least the early 19th century in that area.
The Billingsley name is not to be found in the Legananny area in the mid 1860 period and it is believed that Robert and Margaret Billingsley and their family – John, Alexander, Margaret, Elizabeth, Robert, William and James relocated to the Belfast area. Members of the family who remained in the Belfast area married into the Wylie, Nesbitt, Black and Kirkwood families.
The surname appears in the 1901 and 1911 census in the Belfast area and many of those names can be directly linked to the Billingsley family who had originated from Legananny townland. Several members of the family were involved in the flax industry as flax dressers. The burial records held by Belfast City Council indicate that there are dozens of burials associated with the Billingsley surname in Belfast City Cemetery. The majority of these burials can also be directly linked to this family. They lived in a number of addresses in the Belfast area including the following streets -Bann, Bellevue, Bray, Carlow, Dunmoyle, Kendal, Langford, Louisa, Raleigh and Snugville.
James Billingsley on leaving Ireland in 1861, settled in the district of Hanley, Stoke on Trent. He became a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army in 1862. James married Mary Ann Handley in 1886 and the best man at their wedding was Rodney “Gipsy” Smith a well-known British evangelist. James Billingsley, known as “Big Jim”, attained the position of Police Court Missioner for North Staffordshire which he held for thirteen years. He passed away on the 22nd March 1931 which was the 13th anniversary of the death of his son John Alexander who had been killed in action during military service in WW1. He had another son Robert Bertram who was killed as a result of an explosion on HMS Bulwark in 1914.
James Billingsley’s great great grandson, Andrew Chapman, is interested to learn more about the Billingsley family who originated from the townland of Legananny, County Down and settled in the Greater Belfast area.
Anyone who may be able to assist is invited to make contact with “The Digger”.