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County Armagh.


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(The Model Village.)

The village of Bessbrook could probably be said with some justification to owe its existence, as of course do many others to its geographical location. In Bessbrook's case it was the Camlough river which flows thorough the village with a constancy which in the past had attracted many entrepreneurial spirits to the site. At the mill there was an available fall of fifty feet in the river which was capable of producing a constant 80 horse power.

Previously it had been used for processing wool, as a bleach works and for the manufacture of thread, a disastrous fire in 1839 left Bessbrook Mill in desolation and no doubt the workers destitute. The mill lay until 1844 when it together with fifty acres of land was advertised for sale.

The advertisement attracted the attention of one John Grubb Richardson (1815-90) a Quaker business man from Lisburn (Co Antrim), he purchased the mill refurbished it and began a flax spinning, weaving and bleaching enterprise on the site. The proximity of the port of Newry and the soon to be opened railway linking Belfast and Dublin contributed to the success of the enterprise, this success manifested itself across the community, with employment for building and ancillary trades and business for local farmers supplying food for the burgeoning population.

By 1878 some thirty-three years after Richardson's acquired the mill it employed 3,000 workers with a further 1,500 out workers engaged mainly in hand loom weaving.

Richardson was far ahead of his time, he built housing for his workers laying the town out in two large squares, he was firmly against alcohol so the village had no pubs, nor did it have a pawn broker, or police station, so it became known as the village without the three P's. A school was built for the workers children, night classes were also run for the factory workers. The Quaker philosophy of tolerance was encouraged, the workforce was drawn from all political divides, many people from the southern counties were employed.

The business continued until 1972 as The Bessbrook Spinning Company with some members of the Richardson family on the board, 1987 saw the closure of the company, the main building was used as an Army Base until 2nd July 2007, the site is now to be developed, hopefully sympathetically.

It is said that Bessbrook was the inspiration for Cadbury Brother's Model Village of Bournville. The Richardson family home was Moyallon House between Gilford and Portadown in County Armagh.

Between the years of 1885 and 1947 a hydro-electric tramway carrying passengers and freight operated between Bessbrook and Newry, it was the first such tramway in the world. One of the locomotives is preserved in The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra Co Down, a brake van is used in a local convent as a summer house.

Tourist Information Office

View images of County Armagh here.

According to The Newry Democrat 4th July 2007 Bessbrook Mill is to be transformed into luxury apartments and townhouses.

See also the Linen Industry.