BALLYCASTLE'S l8th CENTURY INDUSTRIES
by Cahal Dallat
In 1973 the Local Enterprise Development Unit of the Ministry of Commerce erected a small factory or workshop at Ballycastle but as yet the factory is without a permanent tenant. Contrast this with the 18th century when Ballycastle could boast about its collieries, brewery, four tanneries, ironworks, saltworks, soapworks, chandlery, bleachgreen and glassworks. This industrial explosion was due to a great extent to the efforts of Hugh Boyd, the landlord of Ballycastle, who had purchased the village from the Earl of Antrim in 1727.
Hugh Boyd was born in 1690, son of Rev. William Boyd, Vicar of Ramoan and Rose McNeill, daughter of Daniel McNeill, the constable of Dunaneanine Castle. Danie1 McNeill had a son and a daughter. The son died before coming of age and Rose became heiress to the McNeill estate which included a fair proportion of the area around Ballycastle.
In 1728 Boyd entered into partnership in the Ballycastle colleries with Richard Stewart, who had been working there for many years previously. On 9th March 1736 he took a lease from the Earl of Antrim of "all the collieries and mines already opened and discovered, or should thereafter be opened or discovered, in the lands extending from the Church of Bonamargy to the hill called Fair Head and from the sea coast three miles southward.... at a yearly rent of £5.15.0 and also one twelfth part of all coal gotten from and after the first day of November 1751…." 1
Boyd opened new mines at the Pans, the Whitemine and Turnaroan. At the Pans mine the workings were underneath sea level and so were liable to flooding. At that time, the use of steam for pumping water from the mines was unknown, but he overcame the difficulty by taking a flow of water from the Carey River along the cliff, almost like an aquaduct and using it to drive a waterwheel to pump out the mine. Dr. Pococke writing in 1752 describes it: "There is a fine boxwheel for raising water out of the coalpits. It is turned by a stream brought from the River Carey by a channel cut along the side of a hill and through some high ground, above a mile".2 Traces of this mill-race or layde can still be seen along the hill at the eleventh fairway on Ballycastle Golf Course and also at the eleventh green where the stream passed through to the mine.
Having become owner of the coal mines, Hugh Boyd pressed the Irish Parliament for assistance to build a harbour at Ballycastle. However Parliament was already in agreement for on 6th December 1731 it was resolved "That the making of a place of safety for shipping at Ballycastle would be an advantage to this kingdom" 3 and on 15th of November 1737 it was resolved "That it is the opinion of this committee that the granting of the said sum £10,000 for the making of the said (Ballycastle) harbour will be of great benefit to this Kingdom, as it will enable the said Hugh Boyd to import (sic) coal to Dublin at 11s. per ton or under. The said Hugh Boyd undertaking to make such labour in four years, for the sum of £10,000 (one moiety to be granted this session, the other the next) on pain of forfeiting his whole interest in the said collieries, to be disposed of as this house shall direct and giving security faithfully to account for the said sums."4 It should be noted that at this time there was a great demand for coal in the city of Dublin, then the second largest city in the British Isles.
Boyd commenced work on the harbour in 1737 and employed one of the greatest engineers of the time - a Mr. Speers from Liverpool - to supervise the project. Speers was the architect of the Liverpool Docks and of the Newry Ship Canal.5 He also served for a time as Lord Mayor of the City of Liverpool. As much of the pier work was wooden, Boyd soon ex-hausted the timber supplies in the north Antrim area and he refers in his account of the progress of the harbour to the great difficulty he had in obtaining suitable timber. He sent a clerk to buy timber in the highlands of Scotland but it proved of very little use.6
Since Mr. Steers was employed simply in a supervisory capacity it was necessary for Boyd to employ a resident Engineer - William Needham from Dublin. In 1738 he sent Needham and a carpenter and one of his own sons to view several harbours in England. Subsequently timber was purchased in Co. Cork, Co. Armagh and also a parcel of ash from the Earl of Antrim's Woods in Glenarm.7
It was about this time that Boyd came to the conclusion that the Margy River which flowed through his inner dock and harbour was creating a silting problem. He decided to divert the Tow and Margy Rivers and in his accounts is recorded "the turning of the small river £78.15. 4 and the turning of the large river £103.19. 6." 8 This proved a lot more expensive than he had estimated, as much of the channel was through loose sandy ground and the riverbanks required piling and stone-wall building.
In Spring 1738 he moved his "family to a small house situated at the harbour, in order to give the more close attendance upon the works and left an agreeable residence about a mile and a half distant, where I and my family had been settled for many years". This agreeable residence was at Drumawillan (now owned by the Black Family). 9
Quarries were opened and forges, workshops and stores were erected in the vicinity of the harbour. In 1740 Boyd constructed what is considered to be one of the first tramways in Ireland. The Journal of the House of Commons refers to it, "This was a short tramway built by Hugh Boyd of Ballycastle to convey stores from a quarry for the construction of the harbour. The tramway was 310 yards long and the rails were of oak and fir scantling placed three feet apart. There were four waggons but it is not known whether they were pushed by hand or drawn by a donkey or other suitable animal".10 However it is known that each waggon was drawn by a horse. Boyd in his history of the harbour writes, "I made timber wag-gon ways in the year 1740 to the several parts of our pilework. I straight-ened and levelled from the quarry by cutting a passage through the rocks, that intervened, by means whereof one horse draws more now than five did before" 11The quarry referred to occupied the general area of the present harbour car park. Boyd gives the distance as 518 yards and remarks that although the quarry is conveniently situated, it is very difficult to work, being of such a kind as cannot otherwise be wrought than by boring and gunpowder.
There was the continuing problem of obtaining sufficient suitable timber. Journeys to Wexford, and Northwest Scotland proved fruitless but subsequently suitable oak and elm were purchased in Wales. However, there was a problem of transport. Boyd tells how he solved it. "In winter 1740 I built a ship at Swansea in Wales, fit for the carriage of timber; but afterwards finding her too short for the long piles, which the pier then required, I added ten feet to her length which brought her to about one hundred and twenty tons burthen. She is now so well fitted for the purpose that she can receive and deliver at her hatches, pieces of timber fifty feet long." 12
The fir timber for the waggon ways was supplied from Dublin and Belfast for the first three years but was proving rather expensive. In 1741 two cargoes were imported in Danish vessels.
Boyd solved his labour problem by providing subsidised bread for his workers. "In the years 1740 and 1741 when the price of bread was ex-cessively high, I bought quantities of wheat and caused good household bread to be baked for my labourers, which I sold them at twelve pounds for twelve pence, when the price of bread in neighbouring towns was six or seven pounds for twelve pence. I also bought barley and oatmeal which I sold them about a third cheaper than the common prices." 13
In 1736 Boyd was also concerned in the setting up of ironworks. It is recorded that "Three several societies of the Iron trade in England desire to settle at Ballycastle and it is proposed to give them encourage-ment by allowing coals at a reasonable price, reserving a rent for the water-courses, which nature affords such plenty of there, so as to exceed any situation in England. It being a great difficulty to obtain coals, water-courses, land for building on and an open navigation, for the importation and exportation of metals and the manufactory thereof, all contiguous and in a cheap country." 14
Another industry that was flourishing in Ballycastle was the manufacture of salt. The saltworks dated from 1692 and on Petty's map of 1657 two salt pans are marked east of Ballycastle. One of the vats or pans can still be seen near the Pans Rocks. Hugh Boyd in an account dated 1757 remarks on the increased number of saltworks around the coast "Since I engaged the colliery, for there was but one from Dublin to Sligo, which was at Ballycastle and now there are near forty". But Boyd was not com-plaining, as many of these salt works were using Ballycastle coal.15
Robert Hutchinson, merchant, of Newry owned a saltworks at Rostrevor and transported coal from Ballycastle in small vessels of about twenty tons called wherries. The coal cost four and sixpence per ton at Ballycastle and he considered Ballycastle coals better for the saltworks than English, and much cheaper in proportion to their use. "Severa1 salt-works have been erected since the harbour at Ballycastle was begun, especially two at Dundalk and one at Drogheda; the harbour and coals of Ballycastle encouraged the erection of those saltworks, which has reduced the price of salt to 2/- per ton." 16
Boyd was also successful in selling coal to another group of industrialists. In his account to the House of Commons in 1757 he writes "The linen manufacturers, who keep bleaching greens and make use of great quantities of firing were at great expense in supplying themselves with turf, especially towards Belfast and even they that had turf most convenient, were often distressed in wet seasons, for they conceived that the smoke of coals would discolour their linens; but this objection I have removed, by an experiment I made at a bleaching work I erected at a good deal of expense; and now Ballycastle coals are used in most of the greens along the coast to Belfast. I am assured some about Newry and Antrim use them, though they carry them to the latter about ten miles, by land carriage from the lough of Belfast" 17 When we realise that coals going from Ballycastle to Antrim had to be shipped to Belfast we appreciate the importance of a good harbour for Ballycastle. It also emphasises the difficulty of land transport out of the Antrim Glens.
The bleach-green referred to above was erected on flat ground to the south of Quay Road, and quite convenient to the Tow River. But despite the fact that a river flowed close by, the water for the bleach works was brought from the Glenshesk river by an underground culvert for a distance of about one and a half miles. The mouth of the culvert can still be seen on the farm of Mr. Andrew Sharpe of Drumahitt. But why did Boyd go to so much trouble to pipe water from Glenshesk? No doubt the Tow River was polluted for there were several mills along it. The Milltown mill had been in operation since before 1632 when Bryce Dunlop of Gortconny received a lease of it. 18 And of course the river had got its name from the tow or flax waste, which was dumped into it from the mills along its banks. In addition there were two tanneries convenient to the Tow River in Tanyard Brae and Milltown and it is likely that waste from these flowed down the river.
According to Dr Pococke the bleach works and bleach green were rented out. 19 In old records we find the names of Archibald McNeal, bleacher, Hector McNeal, bleacher, Laughlin McNeal, bleacher and Alex McNeal, watchman at the bleachgreen. It is possible that these were all members of the same family who had rented the bleachworks. W.H. Crawford, an authority on the Ulster linen industry, suggests that the term bleacher on old records generally refers to the owner of the bleachgreen and not simply to a person who bleachs.20 In any case the linen industry must have been thriving at this time as Andrew Moreton of Narrow-water, a sea captain, refers to the chief exports from Ballycastle as linen and tanned leather (apart from coals). 21
There was a tanyard at the back of the Manor house which Hugh Boyd had built in 1739. There was also a tanyard and bark-mill at the Tanyard Brae now known as Fairhill street. Boyd does not mention that he required oak trees to provide bark for the mill but no doubt he was far-seeing enough to have put his imported oak trees to dual use - the main stem for piles and the bark for tanning. Another requirement of the tanning process was lime and this was in plentiful supply at the Whiterocks near the harbour. In his report of 1757 Boyd refers to the increase in lime Kilns along the coast for lime for building and liming the land, due to the Ballycastle Colliery. The only name recorded in connection with the tanning industry is James Moor, Tanner.
Many related industries were established at Ballycastle. A soap boiling works was set up, using animal fats and kelp from the sea-weed. The soap waste was used in the glassworks which were erected in 1755. (See The Glynns No.2 1974) Sand and lime were also used in the manufacture of glass. A chandlery was set up for the making of candles, using available tallow. A brewery was erected beside the Manor House and possibly the glassworks was built to provide bottles for the beer.
For some time the village prospered and we are told of 50 or 60 ships lying in the harbour, many of them loading with coals for Dublin. By this time several Dublin industries were dependent on Ballycastle Coal, "brewers, dyers, the glasshouse on George's Hill and others who take large quantities, besides some merchants and private families engaged ships on their own account" .22 The merchants of Bailycastle now owned between twenty ships from 30 to 100 tons. Among these vessels were the "William and George", "The Trader", (William Fullerton, master) "Friend-ship", (Alex Robb, master), "Hawk", (Alex Whiteford, master) "Priscilla" (Robert Driman, master) "Betty", (Neal McNeal, master).
1752 Dr. Pococke wrote "This gentleman in the colliery and all the manufactures he supports, has about 300 people employed every day, and in the years of scarcity he took care to buy corn and have it sold at a reasonable price. All these things undertaken and carried on by one man, are a very uncommon and extraordinary instance, in a practical way, of human understanding and prudence." 23
In 1758 Hugh Boyd built a church beside the old castle in the Diamond. He planted elms on both sides of the avenue leading from the Manor House to the church and some of these trees are still standing on Quay Road. I think thi avenue was to be in the nature of a 'processiona1 drive' which was very fashionable for the big house in those days. But why did he build a tannery at the rear of the Manor House? James Quinn recalls the "awful smell" of a tannery near Mullaghmore. 24 And why did he build a glass kiln ninety feet high between his house and the sea-shore? Present-day planning would not approve of this.
He built an inn beside the Customs House and the present Marine Hotel stands on the same site. The coat of arms of George II which was on the Customs House is on the wall of the hotel.
Beside his church he built twenty houses for the reception of twenty superannuable or disabled men employed for seven years in the colliers or glasshouse or their widows, or miners or merchants of Ballycastle.25 In addition he left two acres of land to be divided into plots as gardens for these houses. These plots, known as 'the lots", can still be seen near the old railway station.
But the thriving industry described was to be short lived. After the death of Hugh Boyd in 1785 the harbour was neglected, and began to silt up although he had bequeathed money in his will for dredging. In 1780 the glasshouse was thrown idle in consequence of the cheap supply of coals attached to it being withheld by the successors of Hugh Boyd. 26
On the 4th October 1802 the merchants of Ballycastle submitted a petition to the House of Commons complaining that the successors of Hugh Boyd had not carried out the requirements of his will in relation to the harbour and glassworks. It was argued that, since £23,000 had been granted to Hugh Boyd, by Parliament, for the building of the harbour, his successors should be made to dredge and repair the harbour or else provide the money which had been allocated in Hugh Boyd's will. 27 However nothing seems to have come of this petition and Ballycastle's industrial era was at an end.
1. Lease of Ballycastle Colliery to Hugh Boyd 10th March, 1736 PRO/NI
2. Pococke, Dr. - Tour in Ireland 1752
3. Journal of the House of Commons, 6th December, 1731 PRO/NI
4. Journal of the House of Commons, 15th November, 1737 PRO/NI
5. Green, E.R.R. - Industrial Archaeology of Co. Down H.M.S.O. (1968)
6. Boyd, Hugh - An Account of the progress of Ballycastle Harbour, Faulkner (Dublin 1743)
7. Boyd ibid
8. House of Commons Committeee report 31st January, 1743 PRO/NI
9. Boyd op. cit.
10. Journal of the House of Commons 1743 VO/IV
11. Boyd op. cit.
14. Methods proposed for expending £13,500 on Ballycastle Works PRO/NI
15. Boyd, Hugh - An account of the colleries and harbour at Ballycastle presented to the House of Commons 1757
16. House of Commons Committeee report 31st January, 1743 PRO/NI
17. Boyd - op. cit. 1757
18. Lease of the Milltown and Carneatly Mills to Bryce Dunlop 17th November, 1632
19. Pococke, op. cit.
20. Crawford, W.H. - The origins of the Linen Industry. Ulster Folklife 1971
21. House of Commons Committeee report 3rd February, 1758
22. House of Commons Committeee report 31st January, 1743 PRO/NI
23. Pococke, op. cit.
24. Quinn, James Omagh Remembered (1962)
25. O.S. Memoirs Parish of Ramoan R.I.A., Dublin
26. O.S. Memoirs Parish of Ramoan R.I.A., Dublin
27. Petition of the Merchants of Ballycastle to Philip, Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 4th November, 1802