The Bessbrook you see today dates from 1845 when the mill in Bessbrook was purchased by the Quaker Richardson family. They built the present village in order to provide accommodation for the mill workers. The village was a social experiment based on Quaker ideals of temperance, earning it the title of ‘The Model Village’. It was also often called the village of the ‘three Ps’: no public house, no pawn shop, and consequently no need for police. The streets, terrace houses and squares of Bessbrook are all made from the local hard-wearing Bessbrook granite. Bessbrook was the inspiration for the later model village built by Cadbury at Bourneville near Birmingham.
Bessbrook’s links with the linen industry date back to the 1750s, when John Pollock established a bleaching business here. It’s believed he may even have given Bessbrook its name – Pollock’s wife was called Elizabeth, or Bess, and the Camlough River, or brook, runs through the village.
Bessbrook used to have its own hydro-electric tramway, only the second such tramway in the UK and Ireland! It opened in 1885 and was used to transport workers, as well as raw materials and finished goods, between the mill and Newry. It was cleverly designed, the wheels of the tramway could run on both road and rail, so it wasn’t necessary to build a line through Newry. The tramway remained in operation until 1948.
The Bessbrook Spinning Company flourished for many years, with linen business peaking around 1900. Production rose during the Second World War, but trade ceased in ‘The Brook’ in the early 1970s, from which time the mill became an army base until it was vacated in 2007.
Learn more at www.bessbrook.org.
Points of Interest
1. Muileann an tSrutháin
Bessbrook Mill was the centre of the Richardson enterprise in Bessbrook. By 1878, 33 years after its acquisition, it employed approximately 3,000 workers in the mill and 1,500 outworkers (mainly handloom weavers). Linen production continued under Bessbrook Spinning Company until 1972, when the site was taken over by Ulster Weavers, and production finally ceased in 1987. The site was then used as an army base until 2007. Bessbrook Mill was constructed with granite in stages between 1845 and 1880. The architect was W J Gililand and the Mill is a B1 Listed Building. It is an interesting piece of 19th century industrial architecture in terms of its huge size and in the quality of its construction, for example, the former engine house has fine Arts & Craftsinfluenced detailing. While access to the site is not possible at present visitors can get a good view of the mill from the small business/shop units off Mill Road and see part of the weaving sheds from the Boiler Hill section of Derrymore Road.
2. An Bhunscoil
The Primary School
This two teacher school, built in 1849, originally provided education on an interdenominational basis. Beside the school are the teachers’ semi-detached residences, built in a matching style.
3. Cearnóg an Choláiste
This square was the second of the Bessbrook Squares to be built. House No.6 along College Square East, originally a mill worker’s dwelling, has been acquired by Bessbrook Development Company (a group of local residents) and restored to what it was like when first inhabited in 1881.
4. An Íoclann
This was opened for use in 1876 to replace the former building in Fountain Street. From here a doctor and nurse, employed by The Spinning Company, gave medical advice and dispensed medicines to the employees. With the introduction of national medical insurance in 1912, the company scheme became redundant and the vacant building became a public bath-house. It is now business premises.
5. Radharc an Locha
These four large houses overlooking the pond were traditionally occupied by the members of the upper management of the Bessbrook Spinning Company.
6. Cearnóg Charlemont
This square was the first to be built to realise the Richardson plan of low density housing for his workers. The east side was built with provision for five shops where individuals could set up their own businesses.
7. An Óstán Ólséanta
The Temperance Hotel
Now the Post Office, this large house provided accommodation for commercial travellers, visitors and school teachers until they established more permanent living arrangements.
8. An Ceantar Thiar/Ceantar na n-eaglaisí
The west/church area
The major denominations of the latter half of the nineteenth century all had adherents in Bessbrook. The remains of one of the oldest buildings in the area, the Caulfield Bawn, are in the grounds of the Old Convent. Built about 1625 as a place of safety, at the instigation of Sir Toby Caulfield, only a small piece of wall now remains.
9. An Tirzeá
Tirzah is a Hebrew word which means ‘she is my delight’. The Tirzah in Bessbrook was created as a small park or place of rest and its unusual name refers to it being ‘a pleasant place’ where the villagers could ‘rest a while’.
10. An Institiúid
Constructed from local blue granite in 1885, by local craftsmen. It was erected as a meeting, educational and recreational facility. Soon after its completion, it became known as the Town Hall.
11. Teach Tionóil Chumann na gCarad
Friends Meeting House
Located in the grounds of Derrymore estate this solid granite structure opened for worship in 1864 and was built by John Grubb Richardson. The Woodhouse, his Bessbrook residence, lies a few hundred yards from the Meeting House.