Big thank you from

Chrome Hill, Lambeg and the Downer family


Hal Downer at his stepmother's house at Chrome Hill, Lambeg. The 'AZ' lettering in the vehicle registration number was issued to vehicles in Belfast City from 1928. 

Hal Downer at his stepmother's house at Chrome Hill, Lambeg. The 'AZ' lettering in the vehicle registration number was issued to vehicles in Belfast City from 1928.

THE orchards of the district were always an attraction and the produce, often "ripe for the picking", lured local children and youths.

There were many successful raids - "prucking" and "progging" were all part of daily life for the more adventurous youngsters.

A serious enough matter, though, if you were caught.

The Downer families who resided at Annandale, Glenavy and Chrome Hill, Lambeg were plagued by the orchard raiders when that season arrived. The two families were known to have used at least two different methodologies when dealing with the culprits.

On 23rd August 1900 a young fellow residing with his grandparents in the Glenavy area fell foul of the law and was charged with stealing apples from the orchard of Mrs Downer's house at Annandale. The theft was to result in a committal to the Malone Reformatory for four years!

The Downer family residing at Chrome Hill, Lambeg, from the mid 1920s to 1967, dealt with things differently however. A few blasts in the air from the "rat-gun" soon scattered the intruders in the orchard and prevented any further damage they could cause to the trees through their thieving activities.

In the late 18th century the Downer surname was to be found in the Roscrea area in Tipperary. A Christopher Downer appears in a Munster Volunteer listing from that era. The name William Henry Downer can be found in a directory listing for that area in 1824.

The Christian names - William Henry and Christopher would be used in the Downer family throughout the centuries and are still being used today.

While Americans were celebrating the 123rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, William Henry Nassau Downer and his wife Margaret Ann were celebrating the birth of their son, also William Henry Nassau on 4th July 1899. later to be affectionately known in the family circle as "Hal".

Hal Downer's mother was a daughter of James Johnston, a well known businessman involved with the linen industry.


Margaret Ann died in 1912 and Hal's father married Margaret Josephine Orr, the daughter of a local clergyman, Robert Orr, in 1919. After the death of her husband in July 1923 Margaret Josephine, known as Josie, purchased Chrome Hill at Lambeg. She was to remain there until her death in 1967. Her daughter Margaret, a step sister of Hal Downer, lived with her mother at Chrome Hill.

Josephine Downer was for many years involved with the Lisburn District Branch of the Ulster Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA). In 1938, when a typical annual flag day collection would raise over �37, Josephine was listed as the organising secretary.

She held the post of Honorary Secretary for 25 years. Annual meetings were held in places such as the Temperance Institute in Lisburn. Over �95 was raised in a similar event in 1942.

The branch was active in the district - always on the look out for live coursing of hares and examining working horses, cows, dogs, cats, donkeys, stables, byres, "knacker's" yards, grading and weighing centres and drinking troughs.

Any wrongdoing by the humans was reported to the authorities, resulting in prosecutions and cautions.

Josephine Downer, in her annual report to the branch in December 1942, made particular reference to the "langling" of cattle, sheep and goats in the district. This was where the fore and hind leg of an animal would be tied with a spancel or fetter to prevent breaking out. She reminded those present that this was forbidden in law.

The Downers of Chrome Hill: William Henry Nassau Downer with his 2nd wife Margaret Josephine (nee Orr) and daughter Margaret about 1921. US3707-DOWNER2

The Downers of Chrome Hill: William Henry Nassau Downer with his 2nd wife Margaret Josephine (nee Orr) and daughter Margaret about 1921. US3707-DOWNER2

She was also actively involved in the education of children in animal welfare and on at least one occasion gave a talk on a slide show prepared for the Children's League of Justice.

An old Ballymena Musical Festival Association Programmes of Competitions dated 1930 lists

"Mrs W H Downer, LRAM, Chrome Hill, Lambeg" as the accompanist. Children and young adults from all corners of the province would compete in folk dancing, verse speaking, vocal and music performance ability testing. Josephine Downer enjoyed entertaining and held musical evenings at Chrome Hill during the war.

The historical house at Chrome Hill also had a cottage in the grounds. At the start of the Second World War Josephine moved into the cottage to accommodate the military officers who had moved into the main house.

She returned to the main house again in 1943 after the military had left and rented out some of the rooms in the main house at Chrome Hill as well as the cottage to provide extra finances.

Both Josephine and her daughter Margaret were active members of Lambeg Parish. Josephine was one of the vice-presidents of The Women's Sewing Guild who helped to raise money for the Lambeg Parochial Hall fund.

The idea of the hall had been first suggested in the mid 1920s. She was one of those who attended the opening ceremony of the hall on Saturday 19th February 1938.

Josephine was very much at home both entertaining guests and being entertained. A report in the Belfast Newsletter dated February 1939 informs us that Josephine, the President of McArthur Hall Old Girl's Association, attended a former Methodist College pupils' dance at the Plaza, Belfast.

She "looked well in deep amethyst velvet with amethyst ornaments." She was accompanied that evening by her daughter, Margaret.

Margaret played the organ and sang in the choir at Lambeg Parish Church. Members of the junior choir attended her home at Chrome Hill.

Margaret died a spinster on 30th June 1995 age 74 years at her residence at Moss Road, Lambeg.

Prior to her death she had laid out specific instructions as to the psalm, hymns and bible reading that were to be incorporated in her funeral service. She was laid to rest in the graveyard at Lambeg Parish Church beside her mother Margaret Josephine who had died on 31st March 1967.

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