Big thank you from


Curator Arthur Deane, F. R. S. E., M. R. I. A..
Quarterly note

NoLVII ------ June 1938

Coulson's of Lisburn (warrant)

Coulson's of Lisburn (warrant)

Messrs. Hampton & Sons, Ltd., London have recently presented to the Museum, four Linen Damask Napkins which were made in Lisburn by John, William and Walter Coulson early in the 19th Centaury for the Duke of Wellington and the Marquess of Donegall, Lansdowne and Londonderry. [130-133'37] The history of these napkins is largely bound up with the linen trade of Ulster.

According to the family records, a John Coulson, a tenant settler, came to Ireland in1610 and received a grant of land at Killaman, then called O'Carragan, Co. Tyrone.

The first record of a Coulson in Lisburn is the Hearth Money Roll pf 1669, where the name of Richard Coulson appears as taxed for one hearth.

It appears from records that in March,1697, John Coulson of Lisburn, granted to William Swan the lands of Gortonis, Annagher, and Gortmaskea (Co. Tyrone), to be held forever.

A William Coulson was a member of the Select Vestry of Lisburn Cathedral in1768 and his son William was a Churchwarden in 1802.

Probably the family of Coulson's, like many residents of Lisburn, were connected with the linen trade, but it fell to the lot of William, who was born in1739, to found the business.

There are no contemporary records of the founder; his correspondence book unfortunately was destroyed a few years ago.

The late Hugh McCall, a native of Lisburn, in his work, Ireland and her Staple Manufactures (3rd edition, 1870), says "William Coulson, founder of the Lisburn Damask Factory, commenced work with a small number of looms, which he erected in a large building convenient to the County Gown bridge in that town, about the commencement of 1764.

Two years afterwards he raised, on a site granted by the Earl of Hertford, the factory which has since become so celebrated." Lord Hertford, in 1765, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and previously was Master of the Horse, and, in1766, Lord Chamberlain of the Household. While Lord Lieutenant he rendered valuable service to the linen trade and was a liberal patron of the Damask Manufactory, which some time afterwards was established.

When William Coulson commenced the looms the patterns were primitive, but it was not long before he effected an improvement by means of the Draw-loom, so called because the warp threads arranged for forming the pattern were raised by young assistants called draw-boys, and in time further improvements were made. William Coulson enjoyed a large share of Court favour- he was the first manufacturer who had successfully worked into the fabric armorial devices, national emblems, and heraldic designs, and the recognition of his success by British royalty added largely to his fame.

William Coulson died in 1801 and is buried in the graveyard of Lisburn Cathedral.

There is an interesting reference about this date. The Rev. Thomas Rommey Robinson (1)the young poet who became Astronomer Royal at Armagh was born in1792, and spent part of his early life in Lisburn. He was educated by the Rector, Dr. Cupples, and wrote the following lines on Coulson's damask factory before he was seven years of age.

"Four rollers here of polished wood we view;
Two different kinds-the sycamore and yew
Above, the screws, of iron made, are seen,
And many bars of metal come between,
They seem to keep the rollers firm and tight;
Which by continual friction have grown bright;
Beneath a horizontal frame is found,
Turned by a horse. Then the machine goes round."

Young Robinson had been to the Grove, on top of Hill Street, Lisburn where part of the finishing machinery was erected. In those days the motive power was a horse, and sometimes an ox. They were never short of a spare "engine"!

(1)Thomas Rommey Robinson was the son of Thomas Robinson, who studied under Rommey. He migrated to Ireland and lived for a time in Lisburn. Practised in Belfast from 1801-1808. Was a protégé of Bishop Percy of Dromore. Removed to Dublin; was president of the Society of Artists and died in1810. An interesting picture of Lisburn, painted by him in1801, is in the possession of Miss Johnston Smyth, Ingram, Lisburn. Another painting, "The Review of Volunteers," is at the Harbour Office, Belfast, while a portrait of Dr. Crawford, of Roseville, Lisburn, is in the possession of a relative, Lt. Col. F. H. Crawford, Malone Road, Belfast

In 1810 the firm of Coulson was honoured by receiving the following letter on behalf of H. R. H. The Prince of Wales (the Prince Regent).

Carlton House Terrace,

Sept. 10 1810.


I received your letter, and avail myself of the earliest moment to make known to you His Royal Highness's pleasure upon the subject of it.

I have the satisfaction to inform you that the patent which I herein enclose, confirming to you the appointment of Table Linen Manufactures to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, has been conferred on you with every mark of approbation from His Royal highness, who commands me to say how much he admires the beauty and excellence of your manufacture, and how desirous he feels to give every possible encouragement to that branch of trade which forms the staple of Ireland; in the welfare of which His Royal Highness ever takes an earnest and anxious interest. I am further commanded to say that you have His Royal Highness's permission to use his name in any further manner which you may conceive to be conductive to your credit and interest.

I have the honour to be, gentlemen, Your most obedient servant,

To Messrs. Coulsonbsp;

B. Bloomfield

The patent, or Royal Warrant, is dated July 10, 1811. It is in the names of J. W. & W. Coulson-John William, and Walter.

This warrant, in colour, is in the possession of Messrs. Hampton & Sons, Ltd., and is said to be the first issued by the Royal Family (see frontispiece).

Rev. John Dubourdieu. Rector of Annahilt, in his Statistical Survey of the County of Antrim (1812), gives a very interesting account of the manufactory. There has been further progress- "Rich centrepieces are in many of the cloths, ornamented with borders of fruit and flowers: coats of arms, crests and mottoes are interwoven with others. Some of the looms were furnished with five thousand sets of pulleys, and some patterns were so extensive as to require from four to sixteen persons to attend the loom in which they are produced."

A tablecloth ordered for the Prince Regent was fourteen quarters (3½ yards) wide, and there were twelve weavers and four draw-boys engaged on it.

The same author says-"In the manufactory at home about fifty looms are employed for damask and damask-diaper, which require about two hundred hands- but the

establishment alone employs, in and out of the factory, about two hundred and fifty looms, giving employment, one with the other, to two hands each, making the whole number about five hundred."

In the autumn of 1816 the Secretary of the Trustees of the Linen and Hempen Manufactures made a tour of inspection through the Province of Ulster, and reported- " The dimensions of the damask looms which the Messrs. Coulson are about to put up, upon an improved construction, are so much greater than those of the ordinary loom of a suitable size that they have been obliged to erect an entire new building to receive them, which of course, has contributed to delay their erection.

This new structure was made by extending westwards the north side of the original building which was rectangular and thatched, and it was further enlarged by utilising another building that had been erected about a century earlier. At one time Lisburn had been the station for a troop of horse and a company of foot soldiers. Abutting the western end of the factory stood the disused Yeomanry barracks. No details of the interior are extant, but the tradition describes the ground floor as having been the soldier's kitchen and barrack room. In these rooms looms were erected and the art of war gave place to the advancement of industry.

Mr Henry Bayley in his Topographical and Historical Account of Lisburn (1834), says that "Never in any country was this elegant branch of the linen industry carried on with such spirit and brought to the same unrivalled perfection. Upwards of five hundred workmen are daily employed--in addition to many persons who reside at Newtownards and the districts adjoining Lisburn; Drumbo, Trooperfield, Blaris, and Sprucefield; at the latter place the Messrs. Coulson have a bleach green for finishing their own manufactures.

The writer pays tribute to "the kindness and solicitude evinced by the Messrs. Coulson for the welfare and happiness of those in their employ. To those who have grown old in their service, a free house is granted, and a small weekly pension allowed.

By the intervention of Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) a French mechanic, the old system of the draw-boy standing at the side of the loom and reading odd the "designs" was totally superseded. But the Messrs. Coulson were slow to adopt the new machines, lest they would have to dispense with many of their work-people. Eventually they did so.

And even when the power loom was introduced, they still kept to the older method -- weaving by hand. They believed indeed that they alone possessed the art of making fine damask, and that it would die with them too.

In the Commercial Directory of Ireland, Scotland and the four most Northern Counties of England (1820), the firm is described as "John William, Walter and James, Linen Manufacturers and Merchants of real and imitation damask table linen, diaper and sheeting Manufacturers and bleachers (Lisburn Dublin)." But sometime between the years 1834 and 1837 there was 'a rift in the lute.' The factory was divided by the simple expedient - perhaps an Irish one -- of building a wall at an agreed spot. James got as his share the portion of the original building facing north, and including the old Yeomanry Barracks; the sheeting factory and yarn boiling plant on the Co. down side of the Union Bridge (the land is now a Barbour playground, purchased and presented to Lisburn by Mrs. Harold Barbour) a dwelling house and offices in Market Square, and considerable houses and lands. Two firms were thus created -- William Coulson & Sons, and James Coulson & Co. Before following the career of the latter, whose firm is the more familiar, these notes would not be complete without some reference to their chief designer, Hill Crothers, whose work is represented in the Museum.

He had at least one other accomplishment. He played the oboe, one of the instruments that provided the music for the cathedral in Lisburn before the organ was presented by the Marquess of Hertford on1832.

At the Carrickfergus Summer Assizes, 1814, there was heard a trial between John Coulson and others and John Blizard, for enticing John Blain, an indentured apprentice, to quit their employment and to purloin and take copies of the patterns.

In the course of the charge to the Jury, The Hon. Baron McClelland, said that. "The plaintiffs are the first manufacturers for the manufacture of damask table linen, in the art of making which they have inherited from their father, who first established it in this country upwards of 50 years ago, and who by his industry, talents and experience, brought it to the highest possible perfection, a perfection which was alone attained by him, and has since been continued by the plaintiffs by which they have rivalled all the other manufacturers of this article not only in the United Kingdom, but in the whole world ... This design from which is intended to be taken the pattern for damask for that great hero our immortal countryman, the Duke of Wellington.

Several of the earliest designs are still in use. Some in the original form, others have been changed, but the foundation is still retained -- the Vatican scroll, the fruit  design, the Fasces (the signification of an official who attended the Roman magistrate).

One of the social events of the London season a hundred years ago was a Waterloo banquet at Apsley House. The Duke's annual celebration of the anniversary was particularly memorable in 1838, the year of Queen Victoria's Coronation.

In some of the cloths that were made for the Royal Household a centrepiece, bearing the word "Waterloo" was interwoven. The cloths are still in use for the dinner which is held in the Waterloo Chamber, Windsor Castle, on the eve of the anniversary of the battle. The "paint" of the centrepiece has been presented to the Museum by Mr. James English, Belfast.  [79'36]

A few years ago H. M. Queen Mary was graciously pleased to examine a napkin that had been made in the Lisburn looms for George III. He Majesty immediately noticed the resemblance to the pattern of the Waterloo cloths. At the same time, she asked when the fleur-de-lys had been omitted from the Royal Arms.

James Coulson continued to receive a large share of the orders for the Royal Household. He also received appointments to the holders of the Vice-Regal office at Dublin Castle, the Czar Alexander II. of Russia George I., King of the Hellenes, Leopold, Duke of Tuscany, the nobility and gentry at home and abroad, the social clubs, the military messes, and from hotels in London and overseas: these all contributed to make a well-known and established business.

At the Great exhibition in 1851, Mr. Coulson  received a diploma and a gold medal. He died in 1851, aged 76, and left his business and all his property to Mr. James Ward, Strawberry Hill, Lisburn. Mr Ward resided principally in London, but paid occasional visits to the factory. He was largely instrumental in the formation of the London Irish Rifles, and was its first Commanding Officer. For his services to the Territorial Force he received the honour of C. B. from H. M. Queen Victoria.

Colonel Ward, by Deed Poll, added to his name that of Coulson. He was director of several public companies, a patron of the stage, and died in London towards the end of the last century, being succeeded in the business by his remaining son; Captain W. T. Ward, who also held a Commission in the London Irish Rifles.

After a short interval Captain Ward sold the business, including the London premises in Pall Mall, to Messrs. Hampton & Sons, Ltd., London.

They carried on the Lisburn factory until the temporary cessation of trade throughout the world in1931, when it was closed down.(1) The premises in Lisburn were sold in lots, the looms broken up, and the patterns sold for scrap.

(1) James Coulson's closed 1931. William Coulson's carried on until 1968.

"Let connoisseurs in art and science come,
Those goodly amateurs who often roam
To foreign climes, most curious things to see,
And feast their eyes at Coulson's factory
There native manufactures to behold
Far far exceeding all that has been told,
Or said, or sung, about it's well won fame-
The brightest dreams that fancy's self could frame-
In proud reality their forms expand,
Like tiny fabrics of enchanted land.
Genius and art their splendid stores unroll,
And Lisburn's damask's fam'd from pole to pole.

"Lisburn" (a poem in six cantos). Henry Bayley. 1834

A. W.