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John Dougherty Barbour 1824-1901 Portrait: Lisburn Historical Society Collection
John Dougherty Barbour 1824-1901 Portrait: Lisburn Historical Society Collection

This year, 1984, the firm of William Barbour and Son celebrated its Bicentenary in the linen thread business and one member of the Barbour family who brought the firm to a new level of eminence, was John Dougherty Barbour, who in this three-quarter length portrait is wearing the uniform of Her Majesty's Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Antrim, unfortunately the artist and date of the painting is presently unknown.

John Dougherty Barbour was born on 3 March 1824 in Castle Street, Lisburn, the eldest son of William Barbour. He entered at an early age the firm, founded by his grandfather, John Barbour, at the Plantation, Lisburn. With his father, William Barbour, as head, the firm expanded and when, in turn, he became senior partner, by his efforts it extended its operations all over the world.

In his time the works in this country comprised mills at Hilden, Sprucefield and Dunmurry, with offices at Belfast. In addition there was a mill at Ottensen, near Hamburg. The American Branch of the firm was founded in 1852 by Thomas Barbour the fifth son of William Barbour in a loft at Exchange Place in New York City where he began dealing in threads and twines particularly those of his fathers. In 1864 the decision to begin manufacturing in the United States was taken and the town of Patterson in New Jersey was chosen where already much industrial innovation and history had been made at the latter end of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century particularly in the manufacturing of cotton. Though there were many problems in the ensuing years, the manufacturing side increased with the opening of two further mills in Patterson. This together with offices in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Baltimore provided a production and service above and beyond the European scale yet the complete financial control for all this together with the European and other theatres of business was at Hilden. However, all this was largely possible due to the fact that the family of William Barbour was a large closely knit one of seven sons and six daughters of whom nearly all had a highly developed sense of business acumen and John Dougherty Barbour, the eldest, was the dominant figure, whose energy and drive harnessed all their talents for the continuing development of the firm. Perhaps it should be added eleven of this family married, establishing for the next generations a cousinship extensive and, to the outsider, complicated.

John Dougherty Barbour succeeded his father as Chairman and Managing Director of William Barbour & Sons, and in the thirty odd years during which he occupied that onerous position did much to advance not only the prosperity of the business, but the welfare of Lisburn and the surrounding district. In business his ideal was to cultivate the friendship rather than the hostility of his competitors, at the same time maintaining the great works under his control in a state of the utmost efficiency. The crowning achievement of his life was the formation of the Linen Thread Co. Ltd. in 1898.

His absorbing idea was that unity of purpose and elimination of injurious price-curring among the Linen Thread makers would be for the benefit of all concerned. The firms who first combined in the Linen Thread Co. Ltd., were:

Wm. Barbour & Sons Ltd., Hilden 
The Barbour Flax Spinning Co., Patterson, New Jersey 
The Barbour Brothers of New York 
The Marshall Thread Co. of Newark, New Jersey 
Finlayson Bousfield & Co. Ltd., of Johnstone, Scotland and of North Grafton, Massachusetts 
W.J. Knox Ltd. of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire 
Ainsworth & Co. of Closter Moore, Cumberland 
Dunbar McMaster & Co. Ltd., of Gilford and of Greenwich, New York 
Crawford Brothers of Beith, Ayrshire 
F.W. Hayes & Co. Ltd., of Banbridge

In the early years of the century the Linen Thread Co. Ltd. acquired by purchase the firms of Robert Stewart and Sons Ltd., Lisburn and Lindsay Thompson & Co. Ltd. of Belfast. The issued capital of the Company was £3,850,000, and the proprietors of the original amalgamating firms were paid in shares of the new Company. Each firm continued as a separate entity but to prevent competition in buying material or selling the products of the various mills, the buying and selling Departments were unified.

The great combine continues to trade successfully, a living tribute to the acumen and perspicacity of John Dougherty Barbour. Although there are no longer any of the Barbour family in the firm the Barbour name is still to the fore. The firm was bought over in 1979 by the Hanson Trust and is now guided by other men.

John Dougherty Barbour occupied an important position in the commercial world, nevertheless he occupied many important positions in public life. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Antrim for many years, was High Sheriff of County Down in 1892 and County Antrim in 1896. He was elected in 1863 the Parliamentary representative for Lisburn, but was afterwards unseated on petition. The town of Leamington Spa in Warwickshire elected him as Mayor of Royal Leamington Spa in 1891 and he had a residence in the town called "Hilden", at 11 Bertie Road, Milverton. In the Town Hall there is a photographic portrait of Mr. Barbour along with several other photographic portraits of past Mayors.

In Shropshire he had another property at Wrentnall. Wrentnall is a township in the Parish of Church Pulverbatch. It is interesting to note that in the 17th century Wrentnall contained a higher proportion of substantial farmhouses than any other township in the Parish, and this prosperous state has continued to the present time. It was perhaps this attractive prosperous scene that attracted Mr. Barbour, for at this time there appears no other reason why he had a residence there.

In 1864 he married the daughter of Mr. John Milne, Trinity Grove, Edinburgh and they had four sons and two daughters.

The painting which prompted this brief profile was one of several generous gifts by Mrs. J.D. Barbour of Dalboyne, Lisburn to the Lisburn Historical Society in 1972.



Nothing like it had ever characterised a Parliamentary by-election in Lisburn; nor has there been a repeat since. It is unique in Lisburn's troubled history of exercising the franchise.

Described as an orgy where dancing (males only) and drinking dominated, it was staged in Hilden House in the year 1863 when twenty voters were incarcerated for nine days to ensure that they cast their votes for John Dougherty Barbour in the hectic by-election for the Westminster Parliament held in February of that year following the resignation of Jonathan Richardson, who had been the Tory NP since 1857.

A great deal of what took place was faithfully chronicled at the one-day hearing at Westminister when the evidence in support of a Petition by two Lisburn Burgesses to unseat Barbour was given on oath. What an amusing story it is, viewed in retrospect 121 years after the event.

There could have been a bit of family rivalry behind the trouble. The predominant family at that time was the Richardsons, Quaker by religion, linen lords by profession. They were wealthy and well established in the neighbourhood. They were noted for their good works and no worthwhile enterprise in the town was likely to succeed, whether social or political, without their active support. Thus they were in constant demand. They owned the bleach green at Glenmore and two mills in the area - the Island mill and another at Lambeg. Some of the houses they occupied still stand - the Linen Research establishment at Lambeg and the Children's Hospital at Lissue, while another home was The Chains in the centre of Lambeg, destroyed during the present troubles.

Racing fast to catch up were the Barbours who owned the mill at Hilden. There was William, the father, and four sons, the eldest of whom was John Dougherty Barbour. They were ambitious to be leaders in the social and political round like the Richardsons and in some ways they were better placed in that they were larger employers and it was believed they were even wealthier than their rivals. They owned two houses - Hilden House and The Fort (now a girls' secondary school). The evidence given at Westminister revealed that in 1863 the father and four sons were in partnership in the yarn spinning business at Hilden. It seems all their energies were concentrated in the one place. The mill occupied 14 acres of land and they employed between 1500 and 2000 men - quite a formidable undertaking for those days.

The father and two sons lived at Hilden House, John Dougherty and Robert at The Fort. Just before the election contest began in earnest, the father and two sons moved from Hilden to The Fort and John Dougherty and Robert took over Hilden House and prepared it as a sort of armed camp for the reception of voters.

Voting in those days was open unlike today. The voter had publicly to declare his preference so that everyone knew for whom he was voting. Booths for this purpose were set up in Market Square in election time. The franchise was very must restricted. Counsel for the Petitioners at the hearing explained that the franchise was on a valuation of £8.The occupier of a house valued at that sum or greater had a vote. Lisburn's population was between 9000 and 10000 inhabiting 1528 houses, and the constituency had no more than 818 voters of whom 271 voted in 1863. Bribery and corruption under these circumstances were not unknown, and it was customery for both sides in any election to "buy" votes by substantial bribes. One of the Barbour canvassers was alleged to have declared that his side was prepared to give £2 for every £1 offered by the other side. Little wonder than that voters were always to be found prepared to sell to the highest bidder.

When Jonathan Richardson raised his standard in 1857 he described himself as a Conservative but he was not the official candidate of the Tories. Because they did not acknowledge him they sought their own candidate - Lieutenant Colonel Hogg of the Queen's Life Guards, whose father, Sir James Weir Hogg was MP for an English seat. Hogg was no stranger to Lisburn for he had spent his boyhood here in the Hogg family home in Castle Street. The Hoggs were closely associated with the development of the linen industry but were eventually to move back to England. The head of the family today is the Lord Chancellor of England.

That by-election was conspicuous for the attack on Dean Stannus and his son, Walter T. Stannus, who had just succeeded his father as agent for the Hertford Estate. Like the tax gatherers of New Testament times, people of that ilk were not too popular as they were looked on as the tools of landlordism who could apply the screw with a vengeance on the unfortunate tenants. It was while walking down Castle Street to record their vote, the mob spied the Dean and his son. They immediately launched the attack and things were looking very serious for the unfortunate father and son when the military arrived gathered then and unceremoniously bundled them into the Hertford Arms Hotel (the site of which is now occupied by the Northern Bank in Market Square). Safe for the moment, the mob gave vent to its frustration first by attacking the hotel which resulted in a number of windows being broken and then they turned their attention to the Dean's house. It stood opposite the Castle Gardens and only a few years ago was demolished to enable the wider frontage for the enlarged Technical School. They did much damage to the house and its contents.

On the restricted franchise Hogg lost by eight votes and Richardson sat at Westminster from 1857 to 1863 when he resigned. If the 1857 battle was lively and riotous the 1863 was the most sensational, in the end leaving John Dougherty Barbour with a tarnished reputation. If he won by six votes, he also gained the doubtful privilege of being the shortest-lived MP the Borough returned. He managed to get himself sworn at Westminster and then a few days later a Petition was presented against him by William John Knox, plumber, Railway Street and Moses Bullick, painter and decorator, Castle Street. He was forthwith suspended and in June was unseated.

Barbour was first in the field as a Radical. Lisburn was true blue Tory, always had been, so his chances never seemed too bright. The Tories were better prepared at this time than in 1857. They had their man chosen well in advance. He was Edwin Wingfield Verner, the younger son of an Armagh estate owner, commemorated to this day in the village of Vernersbridge.

His father had been MP for the family borough in Armagh and had been succeeded by his son. The Verners were a family well steeped in politics and the Lisburn Tories felt they had done well to secure as their candidate such a promising politician.

The evidence presented to the meeting of Select Committee was interesting and sometimes hilarious. The system seemed to be that electors having pledged their vote to Barbour were carried off to Hilden House to protect them from the blandishments of the Verner faction. Here for nine days they were kept safely under lock and key. The Belfast News Letter was to sum up the situation at Hilden House thus:

"A portion of the premise., of Messrs. Barbour was prepared as a sort of garrison to which voters were carried off by fair means or foul and where, for nine days, they were kept in a state of jovial incarceration eating, drinking, fiddling, dancing and card playing. The windows were nailed down lest any man should escape. A guard of. nine men armed with muskets gently coerced the imprisoned electors. The garrison was supplied with food brought on the carts of Messrs. Barbour and if the voters had only got beds in which to sleep off the effects of drink of the weariness of jigging to the perpetual fiddles they would have had nothing to complain of."

Wives became anxious when their husbands failed to come home. They quickly made their way to Hilden but were repulsed and sent off home. According to the News Letter, "one of these gallant Amazons", by name Mrs. Robert Willis, succeeded in penetrating the defence screen and yanked her husband off home whether he wanted to go or not.

One witness testified that the dancing within Hilden House was without ladies. "It was the porter and whiskey which kept us jigging," he said.

The same witness, Samuel Thomas Corry, Chapel Hill, was worried about his horse which was somewhere around Hilden. The candidate told him: "I will put as good a one in its place and pay your expenses if you will do what I want." What was required of Corry was he was to personate his dead father. He agreed but when he got to the polling booth and was asked to swear on oath that he was the father, he took cold feet and ran off.

One incident nearly raised the roof of the Committee room where the hearing took place. A voter, William John Young, took ill with cramps. A witness testified he made some punch and put pepper in it! The unfortunate drinker of this beverage cursed them all roundly and cried, "Did they bring me here to die?"

James Musson, of Railway Street, was offered £40 for his vote by Robert Kennedy, a brother-in-law of William Barbour, who was tireless on behalf of his nephew. Mussen, it was alleged, "got for his vote and doing their dirty work" stock in Messrs. William Barbour and Sons to the value of £2000.

One who incurred the righteous wrath of the Vernites was Robert Cordney with a residence in Bridge Street. He was described as "this unprincipled creature." Said a statement circulated at the time, "He is better known as 'Chitty the Methodist Hyprocrite," who had promised to vote for Verner. However, he stayed at home until the last hour of the poll, when, after having honestly effected a secret sale of his 'stock-in-trade' at 40 per cent over market price and victimised Barbour and Sons, he was brought up from Bridge Street with his head among his feet, like a half-hung rebel, and while ashamed to lift his eyes less he should be mesmerised by those of a true Vernite, he plodded His way into the Radical camp and voted for Barbour - his net profit for the job for body, soul and vote being £450 17s. 6d.

"This worthy Methodist hurried home to pray over it and was heard pouring forth these beautiful words with a fervour which he with greatest ease could utter - 'I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness.' Wretched hyprocrite! He had to get £75 to lift a bill out of the bank in Lisburn before he would vote for Colonel Hogg at the last election."

The first day's hearing ended with the testimony of James Bannister who lived on the Antrim Road. He was a groom in the employ of Thomas R. Stannus, Castle Street, who incidently did not vote. The Barbours thought it would be a splendid propaganda coup if they could force someone associated with the Stannus family to the Barbours. At the instance of his wife he refused an offer of £50 for his vote. Said his wife: "It would not be right for you to do it and it would be cast up to our children if you took money for your vote".

On one occasion, Robert Barbour put his hand on Bannister's shoulder and said: "James, dam it, I will buy you land" and promised that after the election he would make it all right. He also promised to set Bannister's son to a good trade at either Hilden or at Coombe's of Belfast and he would have his daughter taught any trade she chose. Bannister, however, was suspicious of the Babours' motives and despite that promise of land he preferred the substance for the shadow, elected to remain in his employment with Mr. Stannus and voted for Verner.

What might have been further revealed by the cross-examination of this star witness will never be known now for no cross-examination took place. When the Select Committee resumed its deliberations the following morning there was a sensational development. Acting on counsel's advice, Mr. Barbour withdrew. No reason was advanced for this dramatic decision. It could have been that counsel felt the evidence against Barbour already produced was too strong to refute and there was plenty more to come from the same sources.

After the withdrawal was announced, the Committee deliberated and then in public session the Chairman announced that they had arrived at the following conclusion:

"That the election of Mr. J.D. Barbour to represent the Borough of Lisburn was void; and that Mr. Barbour is guilty of bribery, treating and undue influence by himself and his agents."

Barbour was given an opportunity to give evidence on his own behalf but he declined to tender himself for examination.

Then the question of costs arose for a considerable amount was involved. Naturally the Petitioners claimed their costs of promoting the Petition and the Chairman announced this rather unusual decision:

"The committee, notwithstanding their decision and the fact that Mr. Barbour did not present himself as a witness, refused to give costs against him."

He was lucky for it would have cost him thousands of pounds.

A new writ for Lisburn was issued on Monday, 15 June, 1863, and at the subsequent by-election Verner had a handsome majority of 61. He was to remain MP for Lisburn until 1873, when he was forced out of the seat by the townspeople who wanted and secured Sir Richard Wallace as their MP. Verner shortly afterwards was returned for the family seat in Armagh.

For John Dougherty Barbour worse was to follow. The Select Committee sent the papers to the Attorney-General and John D. Barbour and his brother, Robert Barbour, appeared at Antrim Assizes in 1864, on charges under the Corrupt Practices Act. There were eight counts against John Dougherty and six against Robert. Luckily for the Barbours, the jury threw out all 14 indictments and a triumphant pair of brothers returned to Hilden to the acclaim of the populace.

One would have thought that for the immediate future John Dougherty Barbour would have had his fill of elections. Not at all. He actually allowed his name to go forward for the by-election following his unseating. He received two votes! Even the family must have been against him. There were five other votes there in addition to his own. In the General Election of 1865, he again challenged Verner. Indeed Verner would have had a walk-over but for Barbour's intervention. This time Barbour registered 69 votes against 134 for Verner, a majority for the sitting Member of 65.

It is interesting to compare John D. Barbour's excusions into politics with that of his eldest son, the Rt. Hon. Sir John Milne Barbour. Sir John was elected to the new Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921 as one of the Members for Antrim, the county being one constituency under the PR system. He was returned in like manner at the second General Election and for the 1929 election PR had been abandoned, and it was a case of smaller constituencies and first past the post. Sir Milne was naturally the Unionist candidate for South Antrim which he continued to represent until his death in 1951. He held ministerial office for the greater part of his political career, first as a junior minister, then as Minister of Commerce and for just over two years Minister of Finance. His political life was not without its disappointment. When his brother-in-law, John M. Andrews, fell from power in 1943. he took Sir Milne with him into the political wilderness and though he continued to represent South Antrim, he never held office again.

Let me finish with the 1863 by-election with this stinging extract from the leader columns of the Belfast News Letter:

"so the fiddling and card playing and dancing were on and the sentinels held stern guard at the gates and save for an occasional alarm that 'the enemy was coming to rescue them', the garrison had a splendid time of it. The voters were marched to the polls two by two, a doubtful man always linked with one who was all right and who threatened to 'knock his- eye out' if he did not vote for Hilden where he had been so hospitably entertained."



I would like to add something of interest to the delightful article "In the Gloaming" by the late Fred Kee, which appeared in the First Journal.

I was given an album of old postcards. I looked at two of them which did not appear to have any connection with Lisburn as they were both postcards from the Isle of Man. I then noticed that both had been posted to young ladies at Grand Street, Low Road, Lisburn. Both had the same postmark, namely 9th July 1906 and were posted in Hillsborough.

Each of them had as the message, a verse of a song set out below. Neither of the cards were signed, but one of them said "Ripping Holiday".

When the golden sun is sinking and your mind from care is free
When of others you are thinking will you sometimes think of me. 
Think of me when you are lonely. This request is from my heart 
In the depth of your affection plant the sweet forget me not. 

May I sigh when ere I think on the happy days gone by 
The long long summer evenings, how swiftly they do fly, 
But may I sigh when ere I think how gay we used to be 
I oft times stop and ask myself do you ever think of me

When I read these verses I thought there was something familiar about them. I now believe they are the missing verses from "In the Gloaming".

I attach a photograph of a tablet which is in Hillsborough Parish Church and was erected to Lord Arthur Hill by his second wife Annie. It fills in a number of gaps.



It has been the practice in previous journals to publish abstracts from newspapers. On this occasion, only the following short article is reproduced about SHAWS BRIDGE by Colin Johnston Robb, which appeared in the Belfast Newsletter on 14th June, 1955. Colin Johnston Robb was a contributor for many years of articles on local history to Irish newspapers, many will also remember him for his 'letters to the Editor' which were the epitome of concise, factual writing, usually on a historical subject.



by Colin Johnston Robb

Shaw's Bridge is one of the beauty spots of which Belfast is justly proud. At one time it was a most important structure, for it carried what was then the main road to Dublin.

The story of the Bridge with that of a ford across the Lagan at the point where it stands is of much interest.

The old ford was known as "Ath-magh-luan", in the Irish language, or "the ford of the plain of the lamb", and on a survey map made by Captain Charles Vallancey, of Dublin, Shaw's Bridge is marked as "alias Athmalon". This map was made in connection with the Lagan navigation undertaking of those days, and is dated 1762. Vallancey was an additional engineer on the Irish Establishment.

We can well picture that shallow ford, when the 17th century was young, on the rocky road to Dublin, set in the green fertile plain of Malone, and leading into the dark forest land of Down, the nearest approach to Belfast of lurking highwaymen.

Then came the crimsoned time of Cromwell and the distant trot of horses, and the resounding martial feet of warriors sporting cassocks of Venice-red and grey and yellow breeches. In his Train of Artillery was an artificer, Captain Shaw, who threw a timber bridge across the Lagan at Malone.

In a Cromwellian military record, discovered six years ago, we read: "Att the Lagan neare the Forte of Hilsbowre in Mylone Captt. Shawe of ye Train has layed a bridge of bawk oak timbre and palles. A platform of oak spares over which gun carriages have been the firste to pass this daye." This record was written by Colonel Brown on the 13th June, 1655 from Belfast.

Sir Moyses Hill built the old Fort of Hillsborough on the County Antrim side of the Lagan at Malone in the early days of the Plantation. Within it was a timbered house with brick walls and a slated tower. It was erected on lands he had leased from Sir Arthur Chichester.

When Sir William Petty's surveyors came along and made their map dated 1657 they depicted "Shawes Bridge" by two conventional lines across the river at this point. We have no evidence that this was the first bridge to replace the ford, but it is certain that one was built here 300 years ago by Shaw. Timber bridging was common in Cromwell's regime in Ireland, and we have records of destroyed stone bridges having been replaced by wooden structures. One of the best oak plantations in Co. Down was near the site of the bridge and no doubt it was from this plantation that the timber was obtained.

In 1698 Thomas Burgh, the Third Engineer of Fortifications planned "a stone bridge at Moylone." This was destroyed by a flood in 1709 when Major James Wybault advised the Grand Jury on the rebuilding of the structure. The stones from old Hillsborough fort near at hand were used in these bridging operations.

From the Press of 1745 we glean that one of the arches of Shaw's Bridge collapsed during a severe thunderstorm and was rebuilt, and a Grand Jury return of 1778 speaks of repairs to the bridge.

For many a year this highway bridge was a link between Belfast and Dublin, and other parts of Ireland. The wheels of the romantic stage coaches rumbles over its arches, and colourful soldiery in the peacock times of war laid their heavy tread to rousing martial music. Noblemen and fair ladies often passed that way, and so did the gentleman in his gig, the farmer in his cart or low-backed car, and humbler citizens, who considered a mere 10 miles but a short walk.

I have part of a specification, prepared by Daniel Hanna back in 1856 for repairs to the parapet walls of Shaw's Bridge. Mr. Hanna was an assistant county surveyor, and he proposed to raise the road-way on both sides. So stands to-day this relic of travelling days and travelling ways now passed to the shades of oblivion.