Robert Common
B.Sc. Ph.D

Changing Dunmurry


First published December 2003
Robert Common 2003



Four themes are employed in this account of developments in the Dunmurry area between 1900 and 1960.

The contents of each theme are presented chronologically and they are accompanied by additional information to provide further insights and perspectives.

I thank my wife and daughter for their support in the preparation of this work. I am also grateful for the assistance I again received from my publisher.

This publication has been assisted by Lisburn City Council.

I acknowledge permission received from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland to draw upon information among its sources.

My thanks are also made to the Controller of H.M.S.O. at Norwich for the use of population data in the 1901, 1911, 1926, 1937, 1951 & 1961 General Reports.

R. Common November 2003

Typeset by Island Publications
Printed by Regency Press, Belfast

1: People and Place

Just as Lisburn stands at a favourable location between the Middle and Lower Lagan valley, so, too, Dunmurry is situated at the threshold of the easiest routeway to and from Belfast Lough. The site of Dunmurry village on a low interfluve between the Derriaghy and Glen burns also proved to be advantageous, for both transverse as well as longitudinal movements within the lower Lagan valley. Much of Dunmurry and Seymour Hill have been built on ground lying between 40m and 20m in this valley plain. Diversity in local relief does occur, however, because of incised tracts along the Derriaghy and Glen burns between 30.5m and 15.5m. There are also limited swells on the ground that rise above 40m at Rathmore, The Park, Dunmurry motte and Conway.

Surface deposits in the 3 km wide valley plain about Dunmurry are of glacial or fluvial origin. Hill foot slopes to the west begin at c 50m and quickly rise to a dissected scarp of Tertiary basalt at 100m. To the east rolling hillocks, based on Silurian sediments, rise about 50m beyond the undulating ground that flanks the valley plain. (See Figure 1.)

Fig. 1 Some features of the lower Lagan valley

1. R. Lagan. 2. Main railway. 3. Selected railway stations: B. Belfast; D. Dunmurry; L. Lisburn. 4. Important roads: a) Belfast-Lambeg (B102); b) Belfast-Drumbeg (B107); c) Belfast-Lisburn (A1); d) Lisburn-Knock (B205). Longstanding transverse roads: t' Balmoral-Stockman's Lane; t2 Dunmurry Lane-Suffolk; t3 Drumbeg-Lambeg.

Currently the growing season about Dunmurry averages 230 to 250 days in the year, but it soon drops to about 220 days on the higher ground to the west. Relief also affects rainfall totals over the year with ground over 150m recording 1000-1200mm annually, in contrast to the 9001000mm on the valley floor. In the temperate, oceanic climate snowfall is short lived on the low ground between December and March while the highest temperatures there occur between May and August.

The continuity of human occupance hereabouts is a long one and certainly goes back to Neolithic times (c 3000 B.C.). Since then a succession of residents in the district, from Bronze and Iron Age periods as well as Norman and Plantation times, have left scattered reminders of their former presence. The landscape has been gradually modified from woodland to crop and grassland, firstly for subsistence, mixed farming and then for commercial agriculture. In step with these changes came the development of dispersed and then nucleated settlements containing residents with close interdependent relationships at first and then widening contacts elsewhere with the passage of time.

Locally grown flax, available water supplies', market demands and the business acumen of certain families fostered change in the local economy during the 181h century. These entrepreneurs then promoted the 19th century development of industrialized textile enterprises in the district and the transformation of Dunmurry itself into a commercial "linen village'.

The 20th century, by contrast, has seen the decline of local textile businesses and readjustments to the types and places of employment for residents. Fortunately a congenial environment, easy access to places of work in Belfast and Lisburn have offered some compensations. The availability of "green field" sites, for example, have proved to be extremely attractive for "overspill" housing developments and for "footloose" industries in the years following World War II. Inevitably another transformation has been taking place, gradually changing the village and parts of adjacent townland areas into a suburban district increasingly subject to official influences from both Belfast and Lisburn.

In spite of the changes outlined the presence and recognition of townlands has persisted both locally and provincially. Townlands were traditional land units, established in pre Norman times. They designated land which was formerly worked by several families to satisfy their basic needs. Their areas reflected the productivity of the land, as well as the populations involved. In 1911 the local townland areas were as follows: Dunmurry 329 hectares (ha), Derriaghy 236 ha, Killeaton 96 ha, Kilmakee 136 ha and Poleglass 163 ha. By 1951 Dunmurry, Killeaton and Kilmakee covered the same areas but Poleglass and Derriaghy had changed officially.

By 1900 about 75% of the population in Dunmurry townland lived within the village, but 60 years later 90% resided there. In the same period the percentage distribution of houses present in the village also changed from 76% to 90%. Unlike neighbouring townlands Dunmurry experienced considerable and sustained population growth, in spite of economic changes. Over this 60 year period females were more numerous than males in the district. Dwellings to house the growing population increased by four times over these years while the average number of residents in a household declined from 4.8 to 3.6. (See Figure 2.)

The average annual growth of population in Dunmurry was gentle until 1926 when the pace quickened to a moderate rate until the end of World War II. Subsequently the average growth rate became rapid until 1961 when it began to ease off. Back in 1900 the birthplaces of residents indicated that 59% of them were in Co. Antrim and 17% in Co. Down. Belfast and Dunmurry had become the primary birthplaces of residents by 1960, however, together with a much wider spread from other places either within the province or from elsewhere.

Nearby population totals declined slightly in Derriaghy townland between 1900 and 1926 before rising in subsequent years, and especially after 1950. The male to female ratio amongst residents has remained steady and almost evenly balanced. House numbers increased gradually until after 1951 when a rapid growth of dwellings occurred and the average numbers of residents per household declined from 4.8.

In the first three decades of the 20th century population numbers were very low in Killeaton townland but subsequent growth has been noteworthy. Records indicate that male residents consistently outnumbered females and for many years four was the average number of residents per household.

Fig. 2 Population and housing changes in and about Dunmurry 1900-1961

a) Dunmurry townland; b) Dunmurry village; c) Derriaghy townland; d) Killeaton townland; e) Kilmakee townland; f) Poleglass townland. Population and house totals are given in hundreds. Estimates are shown by a dotted line.

Kilmakee townland experienced small changes in population and house numbers until 1937, after which significant increases began to occur. The male to female ratio in this townland swung in favour of males after that date while the average number of persons per household fell below 4.

Poleglass townland showed population and household characteristics similar to those displayed by Derriaghy but on a smaller scale. (See Figure 3.)

The density of population in Dunmurry townland trebled between 1901 and 1961 to levels well above those in nearby townlands. While population densities in Derriaghy and Poleglass did not vary greatly over this period both Killeaton and Kilmakee showed marked density increases after 1951, related to the inward movement of people.

Fig. 3 Selected items of note in the Dunmurry area

  1. R. Lagan (here a county boundary)
  2. Dunmurry townland, with the location of some adjacent townlands named
  3. Railway, with the location of Dunmurry station provided
  4. Steep slopes of 12 and over
  5. Colin Glen
  6. Lagmore Reservoir
  7. Long established churches at: 1. Derriaghy; 2. Lambeg; 3. Drumbeg; 4. Suffolk; 5. Dunmurry
  8. Selected country houses, set in their own grounds: a) Derriaghy; b) Seymour Hill; c) Rathmore; d) Dunmurry; e) Forest park; f) Larkfield; g) Suffolk.

The acquisition of land for housing development at Seymour Hill, by the N. I. Housing Trust, provides a ready example to demonstrate this inflow of people. Land was acquired in 1953 and by 1959 some 494 new homes had been occupied by c 1778 persons. Twelve years later a total of 1 109 houses had been built for 4097 people. At this time females slightly outnumbered male residents and the average number of persons per household was 3.6.

Along with these population changes in the local townlands it is equally noteworthy that there was also an increase in life expectancy, in line with provincial figures for the period, which rose from 47.1 to 67.6 years for males and from 46.7 to 72.4 years for females.

Houses built in the Dunmurry area between 1900 and 1960 reflected well defined changes in both local and provincial affairs. Earlier the Land Law (Ireland) of 1881 gave Authority the power to advance money for the construction of Labourers' Cottages. This was soon followed by other enabling Acts concerned with the needs of agricultural labourers, the rating system and persons working for low wages in rural areas'. And so by 1906 the Labourers (Ireland) Act produced a new financial scheme to promote further cottage and house building through the services of Rural District Councils. These Councils were responsible for some health and sanitary matters as well as for housing in their area. They looked to their County Councils for Education, Health and Welfare services along with decisions on public works and rating.

The next significant innovations stemmed from the Housing Act (N.I.) 1923 which introduced both subsidy and loan schemes to encourage local Authorities and private builders to provide more housing. House subsidies rose between 1923 and 1930, declined in the Depression years but then recovered before the outbreak of World War II. In 1925 the urgent need for housing in Dunmurry townland was officially recognized' so that ground within a 1'/2 mile radius of Dunmurry Post Office was designated as "an industrial area" within the meaning of the 1923 Act. This same year grants and loans for housing of a prescribed type were improved and three years later Lisburn Rural District Council established its own Plans and Improvements committee to regularize new development procedures. Changing circumstances next produced the Planning and Housing Act (N.I.) in 1931 which empowered Local Authorities to prepare planning schemes to develop building land and to deal with any slum problems'. Shortly afterwards the Housing Act (N.I.) of 1933 allowed houses of the "kitchen" or "small parlour" type to be eligible for grants and loans for the erection of labourers' cottages to be increased.

An important Housing Act (N.I.) 1945 was to have far reaching consequences for L.R.D. Council. It was allowed to continue its housing activities, overruled previous distinctions made between urban and rural housing and provided for more generous housing grants. This Act also established the N.I. Housing Trust, a body financed by the Government to cooperate with local authorities to provide housing and business properties, at economical prices. Meanwhile the private building of houses continued to provide a variety of house types, as for example in Dunmurry Lane, but gradually becoming subject to more stringent standards and planning controls. (See Figure 4.)

In 1900 Council records indicate that a firm proposal was made to build 26 labourers cottages in Dunmurry on vacant plots each measuring 119m by 61m (390 ft by 300 ft). As well as providing a dwelling there was also an expectation that some ground on this and similar plots would be cultivated. The estimated cost of these cottages then ranged from 150 to 170, depending on size and type, while the costs for fencing, approaches, drainage and water pumps could add another 80 to this outlay. By 1937 the rising expectations of 54 tenants of these and other similar cottages produced requests for sculleries and back doors to be added to their dwellings, an upgrading that was to affect rents and oblige L.R.D. Council to seek government assistance. Not surprisingly tenders for the construction of these cottages had risen to 282 per dwelling by 1938.

Official grants for erecting small dwellings were taken up at Dunmurry shortly after 1926 but it was not until the mid 1930s that Council records6 show repeated applications for the building of "kitchen houses" and "parlour houses" in the village. Many "two up and two down" houses had already been built there by this time. The small "kitchen house" possessed a living room that was partly shared with a narrow stairway, as well as being backed by a kitchen on the ground floor. The small "parlour house" possessed a ground floor which was divided to accommodate a front parlour and a hall passage leading to stairs. Behind on the ground floor there was a kitchen or living room and a scullery. In both types two bedrooms were provided upstairs'. These dwellings were usually built either in terraced or in semi-detached form. Frequently the backyards that were provided had no rear entrance thereby creating refuse removal problems and health hazards.

With the Housing Trust' came a change in the scale and layout of dwellings, as well as their distribution on the ground of sizeable, planned estates. Hereabouts the Trust first acquired 22 acres at Suffolk in 1950 and 135 acres at Dunmurry in 1953 on green field sites. This was in step with the 1951 resolution of L.R.D. Council to build 1500 houses between Lisburn and Belfast, one third of which would be for people from Belfast.

Fig. 4 General layout of the local, built environment by 1960

  1. Village area added between 1900 and 1960
  2. Village area in 1900
  3. Housing Trust developments underway at SeymourHill and Conway
  4. Important and long-used district roads
  5. Outlying and developed properties
  6. Streams
  7. Early established church
  8. Church established in Housing Trust development
  9. Other cultural features include: b) Ballybog housing; r) Recreation ground; s) School; GC) Golf course; SW) Sewerage works.

  10. Selected localities: A. Conway; B. Seymour Hill; C. Killeaton and Mosside; D. Derriaghy; E. Dunmurry Industrial Estate; F. The Park; G. Rathmore.

By the spring of 1956 233 houses were completed at Suffolk whereas only 13 dwellings had been provided at Seymour Hill (Dunmurry). In March 1959, however, 494 dwellings had been completed at Seymour Hill (and the housing target there had been raised to 790 dwellings). Five shops had been opened there, three churches built and arrangements agreed to provide for the needs of senior citizens. Land adjacent to the Seymour Hill development, on the former Conway estate, had also been acquired by the Trust for building another 850 houses'.

Shortly after 1960 the first multi-storied blocks of flats were completed at Seymour Hill and Conway by the Trust, which had now turned its attention to open fields on the west side of the village.

The local scene
In 1900 buildings in Dunmurry village were loosely grouped together on the north side of the railway track close to a textile mill, corn mill, church and school. A short distance away lay a small cluster of buildings associated with Dunmurry House and a linear strip of housing on what was to become Ashley Park. South of the railway short ribbons of buildings lined the north side of the main Lisburn to Belfast road, as well as on the south side of Upper Dunmurry Lane. Both Seymour Hill and Glenburn Houses were the foci of separate building clusters as was the Barbour mill with its workers cottages. Brick was and has remained the chief building material in domestic property although stone has been employed in some formal structures and large country houses.

Early in the 20th century Milfort Weaving Company was established on the east side of Glenburn Road and stimulated local employment and house building nearby. Labourers' cottages appeared at Ballybog in 191010 and a start was made with housing on Ulster Avenue, Church Avenue and The Green at about this time. After World War I the gently sloped ground at The Green, Ashley Park and Milfort Avenue proved attractive to builders, as did vacant land on the south side of the main street (i.e. Kingsway). On the ground it can be seen that comparatively short blocks of houses were first built alongside roads of increasing importance or near the railway station and the textile factories. Gaps between buildings at these sites were soon to be infilled as the population increased. Associated with this phase of development came the parlour shop or parlour office and hutted work places. Soon they were to be accompanied by ground floor conversions of some appropriately placed houses to provide house based shops many of which are still in use today. (See Figure 5.)

After 1928, however, the scale, types and continuity of housing development were to change in the village11. Between 1928 and 1938, for example, permission to build houses at what became Sunnymede Park and Sunnyhill Park exceeded a total of 130. At The Green and Beechlawn Park permission was given to build 80 houses of a different quality. Meanwhile the Upper Dunmurry Lane, Glenburn Road and Milfort Avenue were each subject to c 20 applications for new housing of diverse appearance. New shops appeared on Kingsway12 and several more dwellings were to be added to Malone Gardens, Church Avenue and Milfort Avenue.

Fig. 5 Village localities by 1960

  1. Locality limit
  2. Converted textile works
  3. Kingsway shopping and commercial strip
  4. Rafts, Floats and Dinghies (R.F.D.)  factory
  5. Railway track
  6. Church and grounds

A. Thornhill; B. Ashley Park; C. Sunnymede and Sunnyhill; D. Dunmurry House and grounds; E. The Green and Grange Park; F. Former textile complex; G. Housing of mixed dates; H.

Properties of mixed ages and uses; J. Beechlawn Park; L. Beechlawn House; M. Rathmore; N. Church Avenue and Dunmurry Lane; O. Milton Avenue; P. Beattie Park; Q. Glenburn Road; R. Ulster Avenue; T. Park House; U. Seymour Hill; W. Glenburn House; Y. Contractors offices and depots; GC. Golf club and course; r. recreation ground; s. School.

During the years between 1946 and 1956 a considerable effort was made to provide housing in Beattie Parkx, Mosside and Killeaton13 where initial applications were for 90, 88 and 70 dwellings respectively properly serviced and planned layouts. Modest rates of building continued at Beechlawn Park, Upper Dunmurry Lane and The Green but the new and rapid housing development at Grange Park was noteworthy.

On the north side of the village house builders turned their attention to Blacks Road, Larkfield and Wm. Alexander Park. On the southern fringes the abandoned Army Nissen huts at Ballybog and Glenburn House attracted attention. Those at the former site were converted to temporary three or two bedroom units in 1947. As this accommodation was prone to problems of dampness and poor sanitation it was soon abandoned. In 1953, however, this site was zoned for a new secondary school, a sound decision as the successful Dunmurry High School has proved.

x 56 houses had been completed and another 14 were almost ready for use at Beattie Park by the spring of 1952.

As previously indicated 1953 was highly significant for the appearance of the N.I. Housing Trust in Seymour Hill, on former demesne land. The Trust provided four-storied maisonettes, three-storied flats and two-storied semi-detached or terraced housing for new residents. Seymour House and associated buildings were converted to flatted accommodation. Antrim County Council soon became involved here with the construction of Seymour House to cater for 60 old persons while the Trust also provided 32 small bungalows nearby for more retired persons.

Clearly the pattern and the scale of house building in and about Dunmurry have changed considerably since 1900. Simple accretion was first replaced by planned neighbourhoods of limited size which then gave way to planned estates of hamlet or village sized proportions14. Obviously all these building developments have influenced rateable values in the district.

Firstly, they indicate how new developments can influence assessments of ground valuations. Secondly, they demonstrate how the value of money has changed over the years. Thirdly, they indicate how administrative changes can also influence valuations. In 1937, for example, rateable valuations were based upon the land, buildings and public utilities available. But because of an appropriate Act in 1929 agricultural land was derated while industrial and transport facilities were partly derated. Financial shortfalls thus created were to be met from Government sources. Again part of Lisburn Rural District was transferred to Lisburn Urban District in 1955 while ground of Belfast Rural District was transferred to Lisburn Rural District in 1958.

Turning to the local scene it is noteworthy that the rateable valuation of Dunmurry townland changed from 6183 in 1901 to 41,549 in 1961 while the population rose from 1426 to 4607. Between 1926 and 1937 the valuation increased by almost 50%, between 1937 and 1951 it then increased by just over 50% whereas between 1951 and 1961 it rose by 60%. And as might be expected the rateable valuations at Killeaton and Kilmakee began to rise significantly once considerable growths of population and property occurred in the 1950-60 decade15.

Agricultural land use
As in other parts of the province agricultural land use in the local district has also changed considerably since 190016. World War I encouraged the small farmers of the province because of increased demands for foodstuffs, flax and linen. After 1922 changed political status, market conditions and growing competition from elsewhere adversely affected employment in Belfast shipyards, linen mills and farming even though wages were relatively low and production methods had slowly improved. Following the Agricultural Act (N.I.) of 1933 increasing numbers of cattle and pigs together with rising prices for potatoes and eggs soon reflected improvements in sections of the farming industry17.

Conditions in World War II again stimulated farming activities so that the ploughed area increased, as did the output of foodstuff and flax. In the aftermath of this war Government showed greater urgency to promote stability and acceptable returns for farming, especially in livestock, potato, egg and cereal production. Financial aid was made available to milk, wheat and fat cattle producers to foster progress.

In the Lagan valley the urban growth of Belfast between 1851 and 1901 was considerable, i.e. from 80,000 to 350,000 residents, but by 1951 this city's population had reached 443,000. Nearby farmland that was formerly given to cereals, potatoes and green crops declined whereas the grassland area, milk production and numbers of dairy cattle, store cattle and pigs had increased by 193918. Dunmurry district lay in a zone of transition by this date, between the dominant grassland zone downvalley to the increasing amount of arable land upvalley. Mixed farming activities with the growing of oats, potatoes and root crops alongside the keeping of livestock still remained noteworthy towards Lisburn and beyond. Another indication of change locally was the closure of the corn and flour mill in Dunmurry village by this time.

At the outbreak of World War II local farm holdings rarely exceeded 40 acres and not infrequently they were less than 20 acres. As in adjacent townlands these farms were reliant upon family labour. The traditional habit of letting small areas for periods of less than one year was still maintained. This practice of conacre originally involved short term rentings for a single crop but a diversity of useage had gradually occurred.

Sheet 7 of the 1" Land Utilisation Series of maps, published by the Ordnance Survey, indicates ground conditions in 1938. This sheet shows that much of the land below 600 ft in Dunmurry district was dominated by pasture. Limited areas of trees lined, the Glen and Derriaghy burns or lay scattered on small estates. Hills to the Northwest were given over to rough grazings and were occasionally scarred by quarry sites. Gardens and allotments were noticeable in or near Dunmurry village.

Vertical Air Photographs taken by the R.A.F. in 195819 are noteworthy for three sets of features in the Dunmurry district. Firstly, the grasslands used for grazing, hay and recreation were important in Dunmurry, Killeaton and Old Forge townlands. Secondly, there had been an extensive spread of new housing upon the former grassland of west Finaghy and southern Suffolk. Thirdly, there was a marked contrast between the results of ambitious housing developments in Kilmakee (at Seymour Hill) and the more localized house building on the northwest, north and east fringes of Dunmurry village.

Thankfully some attempts were to be made early in the 1960-70 decade to protect the natural environment near to the Lagan, Glen and Derriaghy burns and to scale down some of the building proposals for the use of open ground elsewhere in this district.

People and Place Bibliography

  1. Common R. The Glen burn at Dunmurry 1974-75. Geography Dept. Research Papers (1) Queens University Belfast 1977.

  2. Common R. Some Observations on Dunmurry's Past, Regency Press, Belfast 1999.
  3. Reports of the Agricultural Enquiry Committee Cmd. 249. H.M.S.O. Belfast 1947.
  4. LA47/2FA/9 in P.R.O.N.I.
  5. LA47/2FA/12 in P.R.O.N.I.
  6. LA47/2FA/l3 in P.R.O.N.I.
  7. LA47/12C/I P.R.O.N.I. Also HLG6/3/12 P.R.O.N.I.
  8. Brett C.E.B. Housing a divided community. Inst. of Public Administration Dublin 1986.
  9. N. Ireland Housing Trust Annual Reports 1954-62, also Common R. (edit) Northern Ireland from the Air. Q.U.B. 1964 p 94.
  10. LA47/2FA/4 in P.R.O.N.I.
  11. LA47/2FA/10 and I 1 in P.R.O.N.I.
  12. LA47/2FA/12 and 13 in P.R.O.N.I.
  13. LA47/2FA/20, 21, 24 and 26 in P.R.O.N.I.
  14. Common R. Irish Troubles. Town and Country Planning 1970 p 91.
  15. Population and valuation figures were obtained from Census data for 1901, 1911, 1926, 1937. 1951 and 1961.
  16. Symons L. (edit) Land Use in Northern Ireland, University of London Press.
  17. Ulster Yearbook 1935. H.M.S.O. Belfast.
  18. Hill D.A. The Land of Ulster. The Belfast Region. H.M.S.O. Belfast 1948.
  19. R.A.F. Sortie 543/343 Prints 016-019. P.R.O.N.I.


2: Public Utilities

Water supply, sewerage and sanitation
As a result of the 1884 Act parts of the local townlands became involved with pipelines and reservoirs at Stoneyford and Lagmore to supply water to Belfast. A subsequent Act in 1889 resulted in the addition of Leathamstown reservoir and the establishment of the Belfast Water Commissioners (B.W.C.) Six years later B.W.C. sought to widen their supply area with extensions that included Finaghy and Dunmurry. And so by 1899 part of Dunmurry townland had been officially incorporated into Belfast's water responsibilities. At that time the boundary line of this expansion was provided by the Upper Malone Road to the east, parts of Dunmurry Lane and Glenburn Road westwards as far as the present day Ulster Avenue. This line then swung to the nearby course of the Derriaghy burn. This stream was next followed towards Twinbrook farm before the line turned eastwards to cross the Glen burn and then Blacks Road, near Arlington House. Further incorporation of the village area was soon to follow.

Previously both a local Dispensary Committee (established in 1852) and then L.R.D. Council were actively concerned with matters of water supplies. In the late 19th century, for example. the Dispensary Committee expressed concerns over the occurrences of cholera and diarrhoea, as well as the needs for safe water supplies and vaccinations to improve health standards. For some years it was an obligation of the Dispensary's medical officer that he should also act as this committee's sanitary officer. Once Rural District Councils had been established. however, both supply and sanitary obligations became their responsibilities. Nevertheless successive medical officers all engaged in long campaigns1 to lessen the risk of water borne diseases in this district. They were also actively concerned about pollution risks in the Derriaghy and Glen burns from mill sources and refuse dumping by members of the public. The lack of an effective means to collect and dispose of domestic refuse was yet another problem that engaged their attention.

By 1903 the whole village had been included in the B.W.C. supply area2, hut the prospects for a piped supply to Lambeg and Derriaghy were deferred. At this time large houses in their associated estates about Dunmurry usually possessed their own assured supply of ground water. In the village itself pumps and wells were located alongside the main roads but not too distant from existing properties on Glenburn Road, Upper Dunmurry Lane and the west side of Kingsway. (By 1895 they already totalled 20.) Although ground water usually offered a safe supply of water the cost of sinking wells and fitting pumps was not cheap. x Not surprisingly, therefore, by 1910 cash allowances came to be offered for this work in Dunmurry Dispensary District. At this time preferences were for wells and pumps in rural localities but for piped water in the village. Expectations there had multiplied for supplies of drinkable water, water for house toilets, water for planned sewerage facilities and water for industrial purposes3.

x Sinking a well, early in the 20th century, cost from 22p or 4/6d per foot in sandy material to 75p 01 15/- per foot in clay deposits, down to 31 m or 100 ft depth.

Between 1910 and 1920 resources were committed to supply parts of Dunmurry district with piped water for domestic use and sewerage disposal, along with a sewerage treatment plant beside the R. Lagan. Disquiet was publicly expressed by village residents in 1925 about disease stemming from insanitary conditions in some quarters and the lack of proper disposal for domestic refuse4. Two years later both a Ratepayers Committee and the Dispensary Committee reinforced this disquiet with strong views on these particular problems. Not until 1928, however, did the L.R.D. Council agree to provide the proper removal of household refuse.

The 1930-40 decade saw both inertia and change over water utilities. By 1933 there were at least 14 houses in the village still without water closets and after 21 years of service the local sewerage treatment works needed repairs. On the other hand the rising demand for housing in the mid 1930s brought with it a change in building habits, in that basic domestic water facilities were now provided before occupation. Nevertheless in May 19386 there were 25 houses and 6 house based shops in the village which possessed rear yards with no exits, so that refuse had to be carried through the buildings for disposal. (And some still remain today.) In the meantime the collection and disposal of refuse by L.R.D. Council, with the payment of local contractors, had been subject to a series of problems. A series of local sites for dumping refuse were used first, but for short spells only. These were then replaced by other sites with longer expectancies first at Lambeg in 1950 and then at Castlerobin in 1956.

Sewerage problems continued to be troublesome in the 1940-50 decade as demands for new and better services developed in parts of Lambeg, Derriaghy and Dunmurry townlands. In both 1948 and 1949 the Ministry of Health offered financial assistance for suitable schemes in these areas. The capacity of sewerage treatment works at Dunmurry already had been overstretched by 1948 when raw sewerage had been discharged into the R. Lagan.

Work began to improve local sewerage facilities in 19518 and for a new sewerage treatment plant at Dunmurry in 1954. Four years later this plant was completed and it was designed to serve 32,000 persons living in the districts of Dunmurry, Lambeg and Derriaghy. In spite of the Water Supplies and Sewerage Act (N.I.) of 1945 and decisions made to improve water services, shortcomings still persisted between 1950 and 1960 at scattered domestic sites through these areas. This is spite of the fact that since 1945 Joint Boards, acceptable to Local Authorities, had also been promoted to provide adequate sewerage and water supply facilities in rural areas9.

In 1823 a gas supply was first made available to Belfast, with the resident population of c 37,000. Two years later an agreement between Belfast Gas Light Co. and Belfast Police Committee led the way to the provision of street lighting in the city. As the result of a Gas Act in 1874 growth and development soon led to the transfer of gas undertakings to Belfast Corporation. Over the next 75 years the volume of gas produced, the area of its distribution and the number of gas consumers were all to grow significantly10.

In 1856 Lisburn possessed its own gas supply where the growth of demand by 1881 had resulted in there being two competing gas companies. When Lisburn Urban District Council purchased these undertakings in 1910 it sought to satisfy the existing demands of c 1000 customers11. The 1909 enactment that allowed this purchase to take place stimulated L.R.D. Council members to discuss the possibility of a piped gas supply to their residents, but without reaching any firm decisions. In due course, therefore, the felt need for gas to meet Dunmurry's domestic needs and possible commercial outlets was to be met from Belfast sources, by way of Finaghy.

Gas produced in Belfast served c 94,000 consumers in 192912 and by this time Whitehouse, Finaghy, Dunmurry and Cregagh had been added to the Belfast supply system. Although the volume of gas produced in Belfast reached 5,065 million cubic feet in 1959, the demand for a gas supply was now about to decline emphatically because of competition from sales of oil and electricity. Because of production and distribution problems Lisburn Gas Committee had already asked, Belfast Corporation about the provision of bulk supplies for its needs. Not until 1967, however, did Lisburn also become reliant upon gas supplies from Belfast.

Thus in spite of technical innovations after 1960 the gas industry in the province gradually declined in its importance. Only at the end of the 20th century was interest in the use of gas rekindled in the Dunmurry area through the availability and supply of natural gas provided by the Phoenix Company.

Gribben13 has already noted the local installation of water turbines in three bleaching and one textile printing works as well as in one lime works and one electric lighting generating plant during the first quarter of the 20th century. And it was to be the site of a former beetling mill at Dunmurry that was chosen for the short lived Dunmurry Electric and Power Company14. (This author also referred to the earlier use of water power for the corn mill at Dunmurry and the spade mill at Derriaghy, both which were established c 1812.)

Dunmurry Electric and Power Company was officially registered in June 1922 with the intention of supplying local and public properties. Local citizens were quick to press for additional services. Although most of the shares for this company had been purchased by local residents in November 192315, they had next been acquired by Lisburn Electric Supply Company ten years later. This Lisburn company had already settled for an electric supply from Belfast and had also agreed to take over the Dunmurry company before closing down its own plant.

Meanwhile, in 1925, a survey was made on the likely demands for an electricity supply in the Lagan valley16. It was found that Kilwee, Milfort and Crawford's textile plants in the Dunmurry area were reliant upon steam power, but the owners of Milfort and Crawford's were sympathetic to the use of an assured electricity supply. It was also ascertained that Kilwee employed 60 persons while Charley's (at Seymour Hill) had 50 employees and the Barbour factories in Dunmurry and Hilden involved 1,500 workers.

Lisburn Council members were at first undecided about the use of public funds in the generation and distribution of electricity since it already possessed a thriving gas company. After two years debate these matters had been resolved and by December 1928 the main transmission line between Belfast and Lisburn had been erected, tested and become operational, thereby ensuring Dunmurry's supply.

Early in the 1930-40 decade there was a flurry of street light installation first on Kingsway and then on Blacks Road. With the enactment of the Electricity Supply Bill in March 1931 came restructuring of the provincial electricity service. Consequently the next street lighting programme for Dunmurry and Finaghy affected side roads after 1950 under the auspices of the Electricity Board of N.I. Meantime between 1950 and 1960 the sale of electricity in the province was doubled, with the domestic market accounting for one third of this business.

Public transportation
The early provision in 1839 of railway passenger services between Belfast and Lisburn, with an intermediate stop at Dunmurry has already been mentioned elsewhere17. Passenger ticket sales and the frequency of trains before the end of the 19th century were indicative that local people soon realized the benefits offered by the train services.

Early in the 20th century concessionary fares offered at reduced rates and other innovations were introduced to attract more passengers to and from Dunmurry. The Lisburn Standard newspaper listed c 50 weekday trains each way between Belfast and Lisburn in 190818, with 31 of them stopping in Dunmurry en route, both to Belfast and to Lisburn. Even by 1915 there were still c 40 weekday trains available. In 1916, however, an Order in Council placed railways under Government control and it was not until 1921 that tracks were handed back to the Great Northern Railway. Rehabilitation work on the railways began in 1923 but by then the competition from road transportation had become significant. Indeed, this new form of transport obliged G.N.R. to provide its own ancillary services for a short period in 1927.

Overall G.N.R. passenger totals declined between 1922 and 1938 but then almost doubled by 1944 before declining once more. Merchandise carried by rail also declined between 1922 and 1934. During the Second World War years, however, the tonnage carried by rail was twice the amount carried in 1934.

Bradshaw's Railway Guide for July 193819 indicates that the number of weekday trains between Lisburn and Belfast stopping at Dunmurry was still noteworthy, i.e. 43 inbound to and 52 outbound from Belfast, with 10 stopping trains each way on Sundays.

With the return of peace, after World War II, came the 1948 Transport Act (N.I.) and then by 1958 the reestablishment of 50 weekday trains each way between Belfast and Lisburn. When the Benson Report appeared in 196320 there seemed to be very little difference in train and bus journey times between Belfast and Lisburn, but frequency of services and convenience of access favoured the bus services.

Increased personal mobility since then, through the use of cars, is obviously reflected in the reduced number of passenger trains stopping at Dunmurry Halt (rather than station) in August 2002. On weekdays in this month only 29 trains going each way stopped between Belfast and Lisburn (including those coming from or going to Portadown). On Sundays there were only nine trains going each way which called at Dunmurry.

In spite of changes over the years there have always been more passenger services in the afternoon and evening periods. There is also little doubt that passenger services have remained significant to the many commuters who travelled to and from Belfast during the working week.

Late 18th century maps and diagrams indicate that the two main roads between Belfast and Lisburn followed either a hill foot route by way of Suffolk, Derriaghy and Lambeg or used the Malone ridge towards Drumbeg before crossing the R. Lagan and then turning west through Lambeg. A convenient cross valley linkage to these roads passed through Dunmurry and in 1780 this route branched just east of this settlement21. A southern portion crossed the Glen burn and then the Derriaghy burn (near present day McMaster's bridge) to join a road leading to Lisburn. The northern portion passed through Dunmurry and headed for Suffolk, but it was linked to the southern portion by what are now called Glebe Road and part of the present Glenburn Road.

Because of wet ground conditions it was not until the early 19th century that a satisfactory road became available between Balmoral (Belfast), Finaghy and Dunmurry, connecting with a road to Lisburn by way of Lambeg. Management of the main roads in the lower Lagan valley was short lived, however, following the terms of the 1837 Turnpike Act for responsibility for roads and bridges soon passed to County Councils in 1898. At the beginning of the 20th century, therefore, Dunmurry townland and village did possess basic linkages with Belfast and Lisburn by rail, road and water, i.e. the Lagan river and canal. The Local Government (Roads) Act of 1923 finally introduced a new system for the classification and designation of responsibilities over roads in the province.

By 1909 the average annual maintenance costs for 385 km or 232 miles of road in L.R.D. Council's area amounted to 8670, involving a labour force equivalent to 67 men. Dunmurry's share was an average annual amount of 47.59 or 47-11-8. This year was also noteworthy for L.R.D. Council's decisions to use direct labour on road maintenance work and to put in hand work on the main road through Dunmurry in succeeding years. (Local unemployment levels promoting winter relief work on the reconstruction and resurfacing of roads came later.)

After World War I public dissatisfaction in the village was soon expressed about the dangerous railway crossing to Ashley Park23, the speed of motor vehicles through the village, the condition of roads and footpaths in seven different locations (Kingsway, William Street, Hill Street, Station View, Milfort Avenue, Glenburn Road and Upper Dunmurry Lane). Piecemeal improvements followed these complaints about roads and footpaths. Not until the end of 1959, however, was the problem of the dangerous railway crossing settled. Possible solutions to reduce accidents there began in 1912 and included bridging or tunnelling. Eventually Sunnymede Park was extended to join Ashley Park, providing for wheeled vehicles, but a pedestrian crossing only was established over the railway track.

Bus and truck numbers between Belfast and Lisburn had clearly demonstrated the flexibility of their services by the middle of the 1920-30 decade, with reasonable prices on both main and minor district roads. A bus journey between Belfast and Lisburn, for example, involved a 30 minute journey and a single fare was calculated at the rate of 1d per mile24. The increasing use of these roads also demonstrated the usefulness of direct labour to improve and maintain them.

Rationalisation to reduce the rising competition between rival bus owners began seriously in 1927, with the merging of the Spenses, Classic and Violet companies of Lisburn into the Belfast Omnibus Company. Almost all B.O.C. buses went through Dunmurry on services between Belfast and Lisburn, save for the few that travelled either by way of Suffolk or Hillhall. This bus company provided both passenger and parcel services along these routes. Middle distance services between Belfast and Armagh as well as those between Belfast and Newry were also absorbed by this same company. And not to be outdone the Great Northern Railway also instituted a bus service between Belfast and Lisburn between 1929 and 1935. Long distance buses, belonging to Catherwoods, next appeared in Dunmurry on weekdays as the result of their introduction of a Belfast to Dublin service.

Before long both the local and provincial scene was to be drastically affected again with the establishment of the N.I. Road Transport Board, as the result of the Road and Rail Traffic Act (N.I.) of 1935. This new Board sought to coordinate road and rail services across the province and it took over 687 buses and 1600 freight lorries in October 1935.

Subsequent events next produced the Transport Act (N.I.) of 1948 and the establishment of the Ulster Transport Authority. Significant to Dunmurry's labour force was an early decision by the N.I.R.T. Board to establish a production unit in the village. This unit constructed standardized 34 seater, single deck bus bodies and occasional double decked bus bodies for several years. Once vacated, early in the 1950-60 decade, this site next provided a nucleus for the R.F.D. (Rafts, Floats and Dinghies) factory, an enterprise which has successfully thrived there into the 21st century.

Within the village itself the continued rise of through traffic again produced public disquiet in 1950, exacerbating a long-standing problem that has still to be solved. Council consultations and agreement within the Ministry of Commerce between 1957 and 1960 over a fast South Approach Road to and from Belfast presumably resulted in the M1 motorway. Meanwhile both bus and train services have had to cope with rising competition from privately owned vehicles. No doubt the rising costs of weekly bus and train fares from Dunmurry either to Belfast or Lisburn have also affected personal choices since 1960x.

Public Utilities Bibliography

  1. LA47/2FA/2 See Dr. Gaussen's concerns in P.R.O.N.I.
  2. WATI/3H/1/3 Belfast Water Acts 1840-1920 in P.R.O.N.I.
  3. Loudan J. In search of water (A history of Belfast water supply). Mullan. Belfast 1940
  4. LA47/2FA/9 and 10 in P.R.O.N.I.
  5. Lisburn Herald Aug. 27th 1929 carried notice about land for refuse dumping.
  6. LA47/2FA/15 in P.R.O.N.I.
  7. HLG6/3/3 Comments on need to improve water and sewerage facilities in P.R.O.N.I.
  8. LA47/2FA/24 in P.R.O.N.I.
  9. Flannery M. Sanitation, Conservation and Recreation. Inst. Public Administration Dublin 1976.
  10. Cameron T.R. N.I. Gas Industry C. Inst. of Building Services. Inst. of Fuel N.I. Belfast 1979. Also O'Sullivan C.J. The Gas Makers. O'Brien Press. Dublin 1987.
  11. Lisburn Standard Dec. 4th 1931 Lisburn Gas Company.
  12. LA7/19/19/1G/1 Belfast Gas in P.R.O.N.I.
  13. Gribben H.D. The history of water power in Ulster. David & Charles. Newton Abbot 1969.
  14. COM40/2/32 Dunmurry Electric and Power Co. in P.R.O.N.I.
  15. LA47/2FA/8 in P.R.O.N.I.
  16. COM58/1/27 in P.R.O.N.I. See also Belfast Newsletter July 10th 1925 on Electricity Supply.
  17. See for example McCutcheon W.A. The Industrial Archaeology of N. Ireland. H.M.S.O. Belfast 1980.
  18. Lisburn Standard Jan. 415 1908 provides a railway timetable.
  19. David & Charles reprint from Bradshaw's July 1938 timetable S.E.E.L.B. Ballynahinch.
  20. N.1. Railways Report. Benson H. Cmd 458 H.M.S.O. Belfast 1963 in P.R.O.N.I.
  21. Lendrick's 1780 map showing Lagan valley roads at Linenhall Library, Belfast
  22. In both 1957 and 1958 the Lisburn Herald drew attention to the poor state of the Lagan Canal. In March 1958 the Ministry of Commerce abandoned it from Stranmillis to Sprucefield.
  23. LA47/2FA/7 in P.R.O.N.I.
  24. Kennedy M. and McNeill D. Early bus services in Ulster. Inst. of Irish Studies Q.U.B. 1997.

x Lisburn Herald in June 1954 noted that a weekly bus ticket between Lisburn and Dunmurry rose from 29p to 39p or 5/10d to 7/10d while the equivalent train ticket rose from 24p to 29p or 4/10d to 5/7d.