Mrs. Wilson's recollections of life in Lisburn nearly 150 years ago
It is difficult to visualise what living in Lisburn would have been like nearly 150 years ago, but these reminiscences of Lisburn in 1853 recalled by Mrs. George Wilson (nee Geary) in 1900 vividly portray the conditions and the characters of that era.
Mrs. Wilson recalled that nearly everyone lived over their shops in those days.
The street she knew best was Bridge Street, with the old worn bridge over the Lagan, and at the foot of it two great holes which a child could easily creep through.
"The green fields came close to Mercer Street with Mrs. Mussen's public house at the corner," she wrote, "the Sloan's 1 row of weaver's houses adjoined and Magee's weaving factory.
"Then there was the bridge with Watson's Inn and Miller's coal yard, and Brownlee's mill at the other side.
"On the Ballynahinch Road there was only one dwelling with an orchard. The owner's name was Brady, but afterwards the Rev: Mr. Powell lived in it and kept a select Boys' School".
"Chief trade in 1853 was muslin weaving, with tambouring and flowering done by the women. Muslin agents lived in every street in the town, and Bridge End Hill (now called Gregg Street) was full of weavers - the Crosseys, Slavins, Crockards, D'ermins, Denvers etc.
"Eggs were cheap and plentiful at fourpence a dozen, and oysters could be had for 1/9 (9p) a quarter, which counted the shells. These were laid outside the door to let the neighbors know how many were eaten for supper."
Space does not permit the full recollections of Mrs. Wilson but she told of the great number of public houses in Bridge Street and the big trade they did on market and fair days.
Old Sam Johnston, the white-smith, lived beside the gas works and there was also big Jemmy Lauderdale, a tinker, "a terror at election times".
Looking at the Cross Row of those days Mrs. Wilson mentioned the first house was Sands' bacon shop "where they used to set their chimney on fire every week boiling pigs' feet." There were family grocers, a cloth and drapery shop and a delf shop just before the large gate to the Cathedral, with Phillips' Railway Tavern on the other side, and at the corner of Castle Street was Mrs. Johnstone's millinery and drapery shop.
The old-fashioned barber's shop of Mr. Richard Murray was next in Castle Street, and it was here the residents heard all the news.
Newspapers were fourpence each at that time and a great number of Lisburn men were fighting in the Crimea. In the evening Mr. Murray sat on his window sill and read the latest war news to a circle of listeners.
At this time old blind John Reid, the Lisburn bell-man, used to charge a penny an hour for the loan of a paper. He wore a coat with a crimson collar and was a most important man.
A few doors further on was a subscription bakery, and then a large tenement house let out in rooms.
Mr. Thompson's school for boys was two doors above the small gate of the Cathedral; then there was McCloy the painter and the .Rev. Dr. Cupples -"a stout gentleman who went about chewing figs all the time."
The Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald lived next to the Castle Gardens but this house is now gone. Mr. John Birney, one of the town's leading lawyers, occupied a house which is now part of the Convent.
A Dr. Cupples lived in No.44, with Mrs. Nicholson, mother of the Indian campaign hero, next door. There followed a few small houses and then there was Miss Hunter's school for young, ladies.
After briefly mentioning the Low Road which had only a few small houses, Mrs. Wilson recalls the other side of Castle Street with its large houses and influential residents.
The difference in the postal service then is worth recording. One man, Hugh Conn, delivered all the letters once or twice a day and at the same time attended to his business in the damask factory.
Turning the corner into Railway Street, the passerby in 1853 could not have failed to be impressed by the shop of Dr. Musgrave.
It had two windows with black glass in the lower half and coloured bottles above. Next was John Kelly's carpenter's yard and then a Methodist Church at No.10.
The Orange Hall now stands in what was Mr. Hugh Kelly's garden. Only one good house was built beyond the railway station and that was Mr. John Pennington's.
Where the North Circular Road is, was a railway bank, and a lane led from Dean's Walk to the Antrim Road.
With. the exception of two little cottages, there was not a house between the Belfast Road and the Dog Kennel on the Antrim Road, and the Pond in the Park was the sole town reservoir.
"Bachelor's Walk had only one building on it", Mrs. Wilson wrote, "and that was the old tower, with a garden door opening into it. The tower was used as a tool house.
"The walk wad dark and lonely, bordered with two rows of trees, and a river ran alongside. There were few who cared to walk there after dark."
Armstrong's Hotel was at the corner of Railway Street and three or four whitewashed houses were on the ground now occupied by the Presbyterian Church and the old Post Office.
Wardsborough St. held the fountain where all the people out of the entries and small houses had to send for water. Between hard frosts and dry summers there were frequent water famines, and then cans of water had to be bought from carriers who brought it from "Fairy Well" to the "Boiling Well".
Milk carts with their bright cans were a new institution in 1853, and many of the town shopkeepers kept their own cows.
They sold the milk but customers had to send for it.
Paraffin oil was almost unknown,, and very few had lamps. Mound and wax candles were burned, unless where there was gas, and common "dips" were generally used in the kitchens.
Continuing up Railway Street there was Mrs. Handcock's sewing school, the Friends' Meeting House and at the upper corner the "Hertford Arms" kept by Mr. and Mrs. Lennon. There was lots of posting in those days and the hotel was a lively place.
Mrs. Wilson, in her reminiscences, remembered people in Market Square best of all, as they all kept shops.
"Mr. John McIntyre, a clever little man full of fun, had his cabinet maker's shop next to the Hertford Arms, and Miss McIntyre, his sister - a well-known draper - lived next to him. She had a very nice shop and kept everything of the very best quality.
"Mr. Hugh Seeds had his office and dwelling house next door and Adam McClure his bakery and spirit store adjoining.
"The best known establishment in the town came next", continued Mrs. Wilson.
"That was Miss Eliza . Chapman's book and toy shop. The shop did duty with the young people as a newsroom or club, and Miss Chapman knew everyone and everyone knew her.
"Next door was Mr. Thomas Mussen's spirit store called 'The Pillars', then two chandlers' shops, and John Miller's bakery and dwelling house"
Unfortunately Mrs. Wilson's reminiscences concluded at this point, but they certainly provide a very descriptive insight into the past. They are certainly likely to make present day residents of Lisburn even more appreciative of the town's development in the last century and a half.