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The development of Lisburn

'The Huguenots did more to promote technical education and economic growth by bringing the techniques of early capitalism to Lisburn' by Sam McBratney

In my last article I offered a brief description of how the village of Lisnargarvey became established as an Q economic centre in the Lagan Valley following the conquest of the area - by British forces and a lifetime of effort by a community of settlers guided by Sir George Rawdon.

This week's article describes the coming of another group of settlers to Lisburn, the Huguenots, and the contribution they made to the development of the town.

The story of the dispersal of the Huguenots begins in the later part of the seventeenth century, in France, where Louis XIV surrounded himself with a splendour that well suited his conception of his office as 'le roi soleil." Conscious of what had happened to the kings of England when they pretended that their subjects had no rights, Louis decided that the French Protestants, or Huguenots, were becoming powerful enough to challenge his absolute authority, and, determined to avoid the formation of a "state within the state," he issued a series of laws which attacked the religion of the Huguenots, restricted their personal freedoms, hampered their economic activities and finally placed their lives in danger.

As a result many of them fled to seek safety and freedom within the boundaries of the enemies of France. To Holland, and after 1688 to England and Ireland, countries under the sway of William of Orange, the declared enemy of Louis XIV, the Huguenots brought their capital, their Calvinism, and above all the technological skills they had acquired from long experience in working with textiles.

What these countries gained from the migration of the Huguenots is a measure of the cost, to France, of the French king's absolutism and intolerance.


In Ireland the Huguenots settled in colonies at Portarlinglon, Kilkenny, Cork, Waterford, Carlow, Wicklow, and other locations. They also came to Lisburn, and several historians nave argued that the colony they established here
had more impact on the economic development of Ireland than any other in the country.

About 25 families, 70 people settled in the Lisburn area, and it is certain that further immigration occurred. "Encouraged by the failure of James II to win back the English crown from William III most of the Huguenots arrived between 1693-1695, although we read that Pierre Goyer established the manufacture of silk at Lisburn as early as 1688.

We know therefore, that when Louis Crommelin arrived in Lisburn 10 years later he found there a Huguenot community which had already made the first efforts to come to terms with a new environment in the Lagan Valley.


The French estates of the Crommelin family had been near St. Quentin in Picardy. In the laws of the French king and the religious fanaticism of Bishop Bossuet, Crommelin saw foreshadowed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in - 1685 which doomed the Huguenots to serfdom or worse within France. He sold his land and moved to Holland, where he made the acquaintance of William of Orange, before settling at Lisburn. There can be little doubt that he came here with the intention of using the natural advantages of the Lagan Valley for the manufacture of linen, for with considerable business acumen he immediately proposed in a letter to the Crown that he should establish an industry at Lisburn.

And it is arguable that when William II accepted his proposal - out of gratitude, perhaps, for Huguenot support during the Irish wars - he left as great a mark on the economic history of Ireland as he had already achieved politically through his military campaigns.


Here is the test which affirmed the success of' Crommelin's proposals. It is one of the most important historical documents relating to the history of Lisburn:-

In consequence of a  proposal by Louis Crommelin to establish a linen manufacture in Ireland, and the design and
method in said memorial being approved of by the Commissioners of Treasury and Trade, the following grant was made: that £800 be settled for ten years as  interest an £10,000 advanced by the said Louis Crommelin for the making of a bleaching-yard and building. a pressing-house, and for weaving, cultivating and pressing hemp ad flax, and making provision of both to be sold ready prepared to the spinners at reasonable rate and upon credit; providing all tools and utensils, looms and spinning wheels, to be furnished at the several costs of persons employed, by advances to be repaid by them in small payments its they are able.

Advancing sums of money necessary for the subsistence of such work-men and their families as shall come from abroad,
and of such persons of this our kingdom as shall apply themselves in families to work in the manufacturories; such sums to be advanced without interest and to be repaid by degrees.

That £200 per annum be allowed to the sold Louis Crommelin during pleasure for his pains and care in carrying on said work and that £120 per annum be allowed for two assistants, together with a remium of £60 per annum for the subsistence of a French minister and that letters patent be granted accordingly. Dated 14th, February, 1699.


Louis Crommelin made three important contributions to the development of Lisburn. He provided capital to establish the linen industry. His knowledge and experience of the manufacturing processes helped the industry to survive and flourish; and he a provided leadership for the Huguenot community of Lisburn. Let us briefly examine each of these contributions.
The £10,000 which Louis Crommelin invested in the linen industry was to be used for four main purposes.

(1) to establish buildings in which flax and linen could be worked.

(2)  to encourage the sowing and cultivation of flax.

(3) to provide equipment such as looms and spinning wheels and train people to use it.

(4) and to make loans and credit facilities available to incoming families.

It is important to realise that without this initial outlay of capital the new venture of manufacturing linen could not have been undertaken with the same thoroughness or success, as followed the building of the "first factory at the foot of the wooden bridge over the Lagan," the preparation of a bleaching green at Hilden and the importation of 1,100 looms from Holland.

Capitalism, with all that it implied for the future, had come to Lisburn.

But. capital and equipment do not make an industry and Crommelin saw that if the earlier inhabitants of the Lagan Valley did not, improve their methods the outlook for the manufacture of linen was bleak.

"The people are entirely ignorant of the mysteries relating to the manufacture," he wrote in 1705.

"The flax being managed by women altogether ignorant as to their choice of the ' seed or soil, for which reason their flax is too short.

"And what is yet worse than all, they constantly dry their flax by the fire, which makes it impossible to bleach cloth made of their yarns.

" The spinning wheels then in use "overtwist the thread, the looms "are properly disposed and invented for the making of woollen cloth" and tile reeds are uneven and too thick."

Crommelin's first task, therefore was to correct such mispractices and substitute for them methods which he knew to be successful. With help from other Huguenots such as Mark Dupre, reed-maker, and Louis Perrin he introduced schemes of apprentice ship and technical education in Lisburn by which the experience and knowledge of the Huguenots were passed on to the coming generations

And as Albert Carre remarks in his work of the Huguenots in Ireland, "les eleves ne manqueront point de maitres competents, s'ils les cherchent dans la coloni fracaise de Lisburne."


Enough has been said of  Crommelin to indicate that he gave direction and leadership to the linen industry of the Lagan Valley and indeed to Ireland as whole, for the government appointed him Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufacture of Ireland and the Irish Commons formally voted him thanks for his work in 1707 promoting the export of linen from £12,000 in 1690 to £31,000 in 1706.

It is remarkable to read that during the three years following productivity in the industry increased so rapidly that £114,000 worth of Irish linen found its way to foreign markets.

But Crommelin also gave direction and leadership to the Huguenot community at Lisburn. He was well aware that the Huguenots needed more than a new context for familiar skills. They had been forced to leave France as refugees and inevitably felt the strains of communicating with strangers in a foreign language.

No doubt they had to cope also with the hostility of some of the inhabitants to their religion, for intolerance was by no means the prerogative of French kings or the practice only of Catholics.

Accordingly Crommelin requested and was given a grant to support a French minister at Lisburn. I have, unfortunately, no evidence of the attitudes of the settlers who worked the land in the time of Rawdon to the artisans who worked in their homes or the workshops with linen; but it is, I think, a justifiable assumption that the personality and national importance of Crommelin and the economic prosperity he helped to create were valuable factors in promoting the integration of the two communities.


An assessment of the contribution of the Huguenots to the growth of Lisburn must take account of the dynamic economic development which occurred during the eighteenth century. I shall describe that result of the coming of the Huguenots in my next article. It is sufficient to note here that the Huguenots more to promote technical education and economic growth by bringing the techniques of early capitalism to Lisburn, than any other group of people who preceded them or arrived in later years in he town.

The side effects of, their coming, in terms of new buildings, shopping facilities and education, were considerable, and it was perhaps inevitable that their achievements have been bound up in the work of the outstanding Huguenot, Louis Crommelin.

As Carre writes, "Ulster compte Louise Crommelin au nombre. de ses plus grandes bienfacteurs, car sa richesse industrielle date dur jour de l'arrive a Lisburne du manufacturier hugenot.."


As for the Huguenot community - which included many, interesting personalities about whom I would gladly have written had I had space - they saw their stay in Ireland as a temporary exile. Pierre Goyer returned to France hoping to find that the persecution of his people had stopped. He had to escape in a wine flask. The exile was permanent.

The Huguenots remained to contribute to the growth of Lisburn and to be absorbed by the way of life they found here and did so much to change.

I should imagine that most people in modern Lisburn know someone whose name was originally French, and whose ancestry is either little thought of or unknown.