Comber in the 1900s
Comber in the 1900s
Samuel Stone of Barnhill was up in arms at the extension of the area being charged rates for the Comber sewerage. This had originally been set at Comber town and townparks, but the Local Government Board had now, without any consultation, made the whole of Comber Dispensary District liable to pay. Some of the people now having to pay lived over five miles from Comber. This matter would rumble on throughout the next few months, and was brought before the House of Commons at Westminster. Newtownards Rural District Council opposed the change, and eventually justice and common sense prevailed with only the town and townparks of Comber being charged.
As usual the annual point-to-point meeting was run at Comber under the auspices of the North Down Harriers Hunt Club. Over 70 horses took part in four races, which included the ever-popular Farmers’ Race, won by Mr T McRoberts on Ballat.
Comber District Nursing Society held its annual meeting in the house of Mrs T J Andrews in the Square. Over the past year Nurse Fitzsimmons had paid 2,223 visits to 130 cases, the increase being attributed not to more illness but to more attention being given to the patients. Special attention was drawn to a case where a man’s wife had learnt from the nurse’s visits how to dress her husband’s wound in a most skilful manner so that she was able to dispense altogether with the services of the nurse. It was hoped during the following winter to organise a “Nourishment Guild” through which regular supplies of invalid’s food would always be at the nurse’s disposal.
At long last North Down had success on the hockey field. And they won not just one competition but two. Firstly in February they defeated Antrim 3-2 in the final of a new competition – the Keightly Cup – played at the Green in Comber. This was the only year when this was played for on a knock-out basis, in future years being presented to the winners of the Senior League. The second trophy won by North Down was the Kirk Cup in April when they defeated Cliftonville 4-2 in the final.
Second Comber Boys’ Brigade gave an exhibition of drill and physical exercise in the Smyth schoolroom in May. The evening also included a programme of musical entertainment.
The capture of Pretoria in the South African war was celebrated in some style in June. Houses were decorated with flags and bunting, and a procession was organised. This was headed by James Dugan on horseback carrying a Union Jack, and Comber Flute Band. 36 members of the Gillespie Cycling Club paraded the streets in fancy costumes, causing great amusement, and when the bonfire was lit at 9.30 pm they cycled round it. There were great cheers for the burning of the effigy of Paul Kruger, the Boer leader.
The death occurred in June of Thomas Horner of Ballyaltikilligan. Mr Horner had topped the poll for Comber Electoral Division at the District Council elections in 1899.
The Comber Will Case made big news. This related to the will of the late James Withers who had died in December 1899. He had destroyed his first will shortly before he died. By the revised will he left £600 to be invested in Government stock, and bequeathed the interest on that, together with the rent of three houses, to go towards increasing the salary of the minister of Second Comber Presbyterian Church, at that time Rev Robert Semple. The will was contested by Mary Logan of Trooperslane, Carrickfergus, who alleged that the deceased had not been of sound mind at the time the will was made and that he had been unduly influenced by others, including Rev Semple. The jury found in favour of the three plaintiffs in the action, who claimed to be executors of the will – Rev Semple, William James McCartan and Mary McMillan.
At the Lurgan cycling races in August Bobbie Kerr broke his collarbone in two places. This was a brother of Alexander, one of the soldiers who had been given the enthusiastic send-off to South Africa earlier in the year. There had been no news since June of Alexander, whose Company had been captured by the Boers. Also on a cycling theme, George Frame of Bridge Street was captured by Constables Lynch and Wilkins after a 31 mile bicycle run. He was to be brought to trial for assault.
Evangelistic meetings were being held in September and a tent had been erected. It was commented that the number of young ladies attending was a good inducement for the young men to go also. But joking aside, religion was taken seriously, and at Second Comber Miss Mary Alexander was awarded a Diploma for reciting correctly the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism. The local barber, William Brown, had recovered from the ‘flu, only to find that his assistant had set up a rival business. And Superintendent Bailie of the Comber Fire Brigade was being kept busy, on one occasion mistaking a lighted lamp left at the door of the police barracks for a conflagration. Alarm was caused when a man from the plague-stricken city of Glasgow arrived in Comber. However, assurances were forthcoming that he was under the strict supervision of Dr Henry, the Medical Officer of Health.
Election fever was in the air in the autumn, with North Down being contested by Colonel Sharman-Crawford and Mr T L Corbett, a Scotsman standing for the working classes against the landlord interest. Mr Corbett addressed a large meeting in Comber Orange Hall where he outlined his aims, which included better housing for the workers and a scheme for old-age pensions. In October he held a monster meeting in the Square, to which he was accompanied by Comber Flute Band and a large crowd from the railway lines on the Newtownards Road, about half a mile out of the town. Comber was undoubtedly a stronghold for Mr Corbett, and when the poll results were announced later that month there were great rejoicings at the news of his victory. Mr Corbett again visited the town on the afternoon of the announcement, thanking the local agent Mr F J Orr and all his supporters for the splendid victory. In the evening tar barrels were lit in the Square, and fires could be seen on all the prominent hills in the district. Another celebration in November took the form of a conversazione and meeting in a field lent for the occasion by James Cairns of Cherryvalley. Two large marquees were erected, one for teas, the other for the meeting. This had seating for 2,000 people and standing room for as many more. Each speaker was wildly applauded, and at intervals throughout the evening thunderous cheers were raised for Mr and Mrs Corbett.
A young lady had a severe fall from her bicycle when the pedal of her companion’s machine caught in her long dress. The police were quickly on the scene and rendered first aid, but there was no serious injury. More serious was the injury to a young man called Kelly who got his hand and arm caught in the machinery at the Mill. His limbs were badly smashed, but he was said to be progressing favourably. News at last in October from Alexander Kerr in South Africa who had now been released by the Boers. He described his week in a rest camp at Pretoria, and says he never did so much work in his life than he did at that rest camp. Food supplied by the Boers doesn’t appear to have been a culinary delight with breakfast consisting of boiled yellow meal with a spoonful of sugar and dinner of peas and rice boiled together. In December he was writing again about how he had been involved in the relief of three towns from the Boers.
There were complaints about the darkness of Comber’s streets at night, and criticism of the Gas Company for not lighting up on moonlit nights. But congratulations were due to James Andrews who had been called to the Irish Bar, having been awarded a prize in Civil Law at Trinty College, Dublin. Comber was well represented at the Ulster Horticultural Society’s show, with prizes won by Dr Henry, Miss Lowry of Lisbarnett and Thomas McBurney of Ballyrickard. James Garrett of Belfast came down to Comber to attend to the engine at the Andrews Mill. He was to come in contact with another type of engine however, because when trying to take a short cut over the railway line he was struck by a train and injured.
A lecture was given in November in Comber Methodist Church by Rev Bovenizer from Belfast. His subject – the “New Woman”. The lecturer discussed the New Woman as an athlete, a college don, a lawyer, a preacher and a matchmaker. But there was dissatisfaction expressed by farmers at the arrangements for weighing and delivery of grain at the local depots. They were described as antiquated, involving unloading and loading again at the weighbridge, before again unloading at the buyer’s store, besides paying for the weighing.
The boys of Lord Londonderry’s Own Brigade commenced a series of route marches, and the first of these was from Newtownards to Comber. Headed by their own band, they made their way to Comber railway station and took the train home.
John W Ritchie opened the Paragon pub in High Street. The counter was described as being of American style, while the floor tiles resembled large blue stars. There were compartments for those who wanted privacy and also a quaint fireplace on each side of which were two figures carved from Scrabo sandstone. Another publican, Thomas Patton, was fined for supplying Margaret McGreehan with whiskey on a Sunday. She had said it was for a sick cow. And Henry Edison was fined for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart.
The Andrews firm had built sixteen new houses for their workers and fitted new engines in the Mill, spending over £5,000 on improvements. In December a carpenter named Gunion working on scaffolding at the Mill missed his footing and fell 17 feet, suffering severe injuries. And there was also an accident at the Distillery to a young man named Bennett who suffered severe fracture of the arm while oiling machinery.
The annual soiree at the Non-Subscribing Church included a special programme arranged by the teachers and children of the Sunday School. During the evening prizes were distributed for attendance and distinguished answering. Meanwhile at Second Comber schoolroom the Ards Minstrel Troupe were performing before a crowded house. One of the features of the evening involved the Corner Men (Tambo, Sambo, Bones and Ribs), and Tambo’s stump speech on the land question comes in for special mention.
North Down’s new MP, Mr T L Corbett, also had his views on the land question and other matters. During his recent election campaign Dr Henry had played an important part, and this was recognised by Mr Corbett’s supporters who presented an Illuminated Address and handsome clock to Dr Henry for his efforts. It was also through Dr Henry that a reading room was founded in Comber at this time. Initially there were 40 members and it had to move to a larger building. The game of draughts seems to have been one of the pastimes of the members, but they were no match for the challenger who appeared from Newtownards. His success was attributed to him reading a book on the subject. It seems there was also a shooting gallery in Comber.
On 27 January appropriate sermons in the various churches marked the occasion of Queen Victoria’s death. The churches were suitably draped for this solemn event. A special memorial service was held in February in St Mary’s.
Sam Davidson was holding dancing classes in the Station Hall under the name of the North Down Quadrille Club. A badly injured foot sustained while playing hockey would certainly not have helped his agility. But dances were back in full swing in April in Mr Patton’s barn with music provided by James Donnan and John McKeown. Meanwhile a nasty accident occurred at the Spinning Mill when a man called Gracey got his arm entangled in the machinery and had to have it amputated.
At Second Comber trees and shrubs were planted at the schoolmaster’s residence and a new entrance to the school was completed. A sale of work realised £400 and the money was used to build a Ladies Room, which opened out of the Schoolroom. The choir meanwhile travelled to Ballykeigle to assist in a concert. A programme of songs, recitations and cinematograph exhibits was held in the schoolroom by Comber Coal Fund. First Comber held a successful soiree in March.
Comber Football Club were going well, defeating Glentoran Rovers 4-1 in February. But in May there were disgraceful scenes in the local derby at Ards. It all started when one of the Ards players resorted to fisticuffs after a bad challenge. Several Comber players refused to play on and left the pitch, only to be persuaded to return. In the second half, with Ards winning 4-1, the Comber goalie Harrison intentionally struck down an opponent who was about to score. Spectators rushed on to the pitch to take their revenge on Harrison who scarpered and was eventually escorted to safety in the pavilion. It was thought that Mr White, the Comber referee, should have been much firmer.
Hugh McCullough was summoned to Newtownards Petty Sessions for neglecting his three children who lived with their mother in Castle Street. McCullough had not lived with his wife for seven years and the case was therefore dismissed. Ellen Murdoch of the Crescent and John Gourley of Ballystockart were also summoned for not sending their children to school.
A Mr Megaw gave a lecture in Comber Orange Hall in connection with a scheme being run by Down County Council. The subject was “Seeds and Pastures” and was all about the cultivation of grass seed. He asked for co-operation in experiments which were going to be conducted in the laying down of pastures and in the manuring of potatoes, oats, mangold etc. The Orange Hall was also the venue where members of the Reading Club held a smoking concert to bid farewell to some members who were off to the front in South Africa to join Baden-Powell’s Constabulary. A large crowd assembled to see them off at the railway station, while many also travelled with them to the Liverpool boat in Belfast. A dance was also held at the Station Hall on the occasion of Mr D McCracken leaving for South Africa.
Mr Longridge came in for praise in the episode of Mr McCann’s runaway horse and cart. It seems that he had captured no less than four runaway horses in the past few months at great personal risk. Mr Kenmuir of Castle Espie, a carter working for Cowan & Co, Belfast, was not so fortunate. In the course of his duties a log of wood fell on him and he was killed. And an inquest was held on the body of a four-month-old child which had been accidentally suffocated.
Edward Collins opened up a new grocery shop in the town which was described as being fitted in the most up-to-date manner with the stock fresh and well assorted. He had also established a splendid laundry with all the latest machinery, and his prices were 20% cheaper than those of the Belfast laundries.
Catering facilities at the Comber Races came in for some criticism with too many being allowed into the marquee and then lingering too long over their food, presumably not wishing to venture out into the rain. Many still remained, even after Mr James Davidson had rang a bell and asked those who had finished to leave.
St Mary’s held their Easter vestry meeting chaired by Canon Smith. Churchwardens and vestry were appointed for the ensuing year, and thanks were expressed to several people including the treasurer Mr Wm J Orr and the organist Mr A H De Wind and the church choir. Second Comber Boys’ Brigade held a competition for drill and a 9-year-old boy named John Coulter won the first prize of a splendid gold challenge medal. Indeed the Coulter family won all the medals with Hamilton Coulter and Dick Coulter successful in the senior and junior age groups respectively. Much credit was due to Captain Smyth and his assistants.
Comber District Nursing Society held their annual meeting in April, chaired by Lady Londonderry, when another successful year was reported on, the nurse having made 1,927 visits to 94 cases. Visits would have been even higher had one of the cards kept by the nurse for recording visits not been lost, and there was also a period of 10 days when the nurse was unable to attend her patients due to illness. Mrs Herbert Andrews had established a Nourishment Guild, providing food to some of the poorer patients.
A Sunday School Conference took place at the Non-Subscribing Church in May for all connected with the Association of Irish Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and other Free Christians. Fancy dress cycle parades were very popular at this time, and one was held at the Cricket Ground on a Thursday evening in May organised by Second Comber. This was a fundraising venture for forthcoming building work at the church. There were four competitions, including one for comic costume which caused great amusement, but the decision of the judges was not universally accepted. The illuminated parade was much admired, the lighted Chinese Lanterns presenting a fairy-like scene. The flute bands of Comber and Dundonald Boys’ Brigades played a selection of popular music. At the conclusion of the parade Mrs T J Andrews presented the prizes. A two-day Grand Sale of Work was also held by Second Comber at the schoolroom where stalls were laid out with choice and rich goods to suit all tastes.
The trains were not running punctually and it was thought this should be brought to the attention of Thomas Andrews of Ardara, chairman of the railway company. The BCDR were the butt of jokes by Ards Minstrel Troupe who asked where they were first mentioned in the Bible. The answer – “When the Lord created all creeping things”.
A public meeting was held in First Comber in June in connection with the Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act when Mr Nasmyth Miller, a poultry expert, delivered a lecture on poultry rearing in County Down. July saw the annual excursion of the Spinning Mill workers to the seaside at Newcastle. Mr Morrow’s cow at Ringneal also went in search of the sea. It wandered off into the water and had to be rescued by some willing hands who procured a boat. Boats were certainly in evidence at the Island Hill Regatta held in August, now an annual event in the sporting calendar.
The North Down Cricket Club Sports were held on Saturday 10th August, an effort to raise funds for the club. Unfortunately the weather was poor and this affected the attendance. The 5-mile cycle race was held in a downpour. North Down meanwhile had managed to reach the final of the Senior Challenge Cup against North of Ireland. But what a fiasco! The Northern Cricket Union arranged the date for the same day as the Cricket Club Sports. Unfortunately they would not agree to change this date and so the cup was awarded to North. Judging by the weather, it is doubtful that the final would have taken place on that date in any case. A cycling gymkhana the following Wednesday at the Cricket Green turned out to be much more successful. All was in fancy dress with Spanish maidens, flowergirls and milkmaids, as well as a wonderful array of strange characters in the gentleman’s comic competition – tramps, stage Irishmen, even the old woman who lived in the shoe and reproductions of a couple of adverts for Pear’s soap featuring a naughty boy. Other features included a musical ride, a replica of the cavalry musical rides seen at military tournaments, and a sack race. An illuminated parade with Chinese lanterns brought the event to a close. It was decided to hold a smoking concert in the Pavilion in September for the purpose of thanking those responsible for arranging the recent sports – James Niblock, Thomas J MacDonald and Samuel Gracey. Each of the gentlemen was presented with a gold scarf-pin in recognition of their services.
One of these gentlemen, James Niblock, was an agent for the sale of bicycles. When a German named Hoffmann made off with one of these in July, Mr Niblock followed him to Newcastle to recover his property. Hoffmann received two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.
Jim Milling was winning prizes with success at the North East Show, and a horse sold by him gained first prize at Cork and the champion cup and first prize at Dublin. Dr Henry meanwhile carried off a fair number of prizes at Belfast Chrysanthemum Show. It was Dr Henry who was largely responsible for the opening of Comber Reading Room, and a concert in connection with that organisation was held in October in the Non-Subscribing Church schoolroom. A large and appreciative audience included items by, among others, Mr William Gibson, known as “Ju-Jah”. Also in October, the Reading Room held a social evening at which their secretary, George Spence, was presented with a token of appreciation for his efforts during the past year. This was a time for concerts, with the formal opening of Comber Unitarian Young Peoples’ Society and that held by Comber Athletic and Football Club in the Orange Hall. Robert James (Mickey) White, secretary of the club, was largely responsible for organisation of the latter.
An old woman called Jane Grainger of the Square was charged with having stolen a gold watch, gold chain and gold medal, along with a sovereign, from Matthew Kerr’s public house. She was sent to the Quarter Sessions for trial. Brother J S Woods, Worshipful Master, was in the chair at Comber White Flag’s monthly meeting when reports were received for five new members seeking admission and four more for affiliation to the lodge. Owing to the serious illness of Brother D Caughey, worshipful master elect for the ensuing year, all other business was suspended.
Finally, there were complaints about postal arrangements for the English mail. The mail left at 5 o’clock in the evening, and it was thought that 6.35 pm would be time enough and would give the people of Comber more time to transact their business.
The recently formed Comber District Ploughing Society held an inaugural competition on the farm of Mrs Shaw, Cattogs, and this proved an unqualified success. Interest was shown by the large number of entries, as well as by the crowds of spectators. Ploughs of both Irish and English makes were well to the fore in the competitions.
Table tennis (known as ping-pong) was the craze of the day, and in February Willie Andrews won the gents singles at a tournament in 1st Comber schoolhouse. Miss Edith McRoberts won the ladies’ competition. Later in the month six tables were in constant use at 2nd Comber in a competition organised by North Down Cricket and Hockey Club. Play continued until well after midnight.
The death occurred of Mrs John Andrews at the advanced age of 95. She was the widow of John Andrews who had built Comber Flax Spinning Mill, and the daughter of Dr William Drennan, one of the founders of the United Irishmen, and a noted poet who first described Ireland as the “Emerald Isle”.
The 4½ year old daughter of John Whitla, Ballyaltikilligan, was accidentally burned to death. She had gone too close to the fire and her dress caught alight.
A rousing “welcome home” was given in the schoolhouse at 2nd Comber to Rev Semple and his new wife on their return from honeymoon. After a sumptuous tea, the happy couple were presented with a silver salver, with silver tea and coffee service, as well as a drawing-room clock and ornaments. A programme of entertainment followed.
Mr T L Corbett MP addressed a meeting of his constituents in the Orange Hall on 4th April. Before the meeting Comber Flute Band paraded the streets, and received Mr Corbett on his arrival by train from Belfast. In the hall the enthusiastic proceedings were chaired by Dr Robert Henry, who described Mr Corbett as a man not afraid to speak his mind. Mr Corbett spoke on a range of issues, including land law reform. The following proposal by Mr John Whitla was passed – “that the meeting recognise Mr Corbett’s earnest efforts on behalf of the farmers, labourers, and artisans, and feel that since his return he has consistently carried out his election pledges, and we hereby express our unabated confidence in him as our representative in the Imperial Parliament”.
The question of amalgamating Down and Comber Presbyteries was brought up. The ministers of Comber town were not in favour, although the majority of Comber Presbytery approved. No action was taken.
Success for North Down Hockey team, winners of the Kirk Cup for the second time in their short history. The final against Cliftonville took place at Sydenham before a large crowd. At full time the score was 1-1 so it was agreed to play an extra ten minutes each way. No further score meant that another period of extra time was needed, and North Down came out winners by 2 goals to 1.
On an evening in June Mr Thomas Andrews of Ardara was entertained to a banquet in the Unitarian Lecture Hall, Comber, hosted by his friends in Comber. This marked two distinguished honours he had recently received - in being made a deputy-lieutenant for County Down, and in being elected chairman of the County Council of Down.
Comber White Flag LOL 244 unfurled a new banner at the Orange Hall on 12th July before leaving for the demonstration at Ballynahinch. The number of members in the lodge was the largest of any lodge in the field, and all wore new white silk sashes, making a splendid sight.
Comber, in common with other towns, had planned to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII on June 26th. However, the king was ill and it had to be postponed, although the deserving poor still got 1lb of tea and a quarter stone of sugar each, as planned. Almost a thousand children turned up at Ardara in July for a fete, organised by Mrs Andrews. However, it turned out wet and so Mrs Andrews made alternative arrangements. The children marched in procession for a special performance of the circus, which happened to be in town.
The Coronation finally went ahead on 9th August. Comber was decorated for the occasion, with Gillespie’s statue artistically clad in flags, laurels etc. The children’s fete eventually took place, with games being indulged in. In the evening the houses were illuminated, and a bonfire was burned in the Square, after which Comber Flute Band led the way to the high hill overlooking the railway station, where another huge bonfire soon lit up the entire neighbourhood. Hearty cheers were given for the King and Queen, and it was proposed that the following telegram be sent to the Home Secretary – “The inhabitants of Comber, County Down, at the close of Coronation rejoicings, send most loyal, sincere, and respectful congratulations to their most gracious Majesties the King and Queen on their Coronation, and pray for a reign of continued and increasing prosperity”.
The workmen of Comber, along with their neighbours in Newtownards, petitioned for an early morning train to arrive in Belfast before 6 AM. The petition was successful, with a train being provided from 1st November, so long as a guarantee was given that at least 40 men would travel from Newtownards and 10 from Comber each week-day.
The marriage took place on 10th September at the Unitarian Church of Rivington near Bolton of John Miller Andrews, son of Thomas of Ardara, to Miss Jessie Ormrod. On their return to Comber after a honeymoon in the Lake District and Scotland, they had an enthusiastic welcome. The approach of their train was announced by the explosion of a number of detonators. They were met at the station by all the members of the family and escorted by them to Ardara along a route decorated with flags and bunting. After sunset rockets were launched and a large bonfire lit near Ardara which burned for over three hours. Comber Flute Band was present, and there were speeches from John Miller Andrews and his father.
James Milling, one of the leading merchants in Comber, died in November after a short illness.
A young girl named Anderson was severely burned after going too near the fire in her house. Her clothes caught, and she ran down the garden and into a neighbour’s for assistance to extinguish the flames. Dr Henry attended to the injuries.
Dr Henry was up in arms about the merits of vaccination. The Poor Law Guardians had voted against making it compulsory to have one’s children vaccinated, even though this went against public opinion. They were unhappy with Dr Henry’s outspoken criticism, and claimed they voted as they had done simply to maintain par with the situation in England, where a loophole in the law allowed conscientious objectors to opt out of vaccination.
The employees of Comber Spinning Mill were entertained by Mr and Mrs John Miller Andrews in a large store which had been decorated for the occasion. A programme performed by artistes from Belfast was followed by tea and dancing.
One gentleman was aggrieved by the arrangements at Comber railway station. He was directed by an official to the platform where he would get a train to Newtownards. But he ended up in Ballygowan where he had to spend the night in a hotel and then pay his fare back to Comber. What had gone wrong? Apparently, after arriving in Comber, the train was divided, one part for Newtownards, the other for Ballygowan. Our friend had not been told this and ended up in the wrong section.
In March a tramp named John Gordon was charged with attempting to commit suicide by hanging himself.
The death occurred of Mr John Andrews JP, one of the partners in the firm of John Andrews & Co, flax spinners. For many years he served on the County Down Grand Jury and the Newtownards Board of Guardians.
The road from Belfast to Comber was described as a disgrace at a meeting of the Roads Improvement Association. A resolution was passed that no road metal should be laid down unless a proper and systematic use of the steam roller was in operation.
Comber Nursing Society held its tenth annual meeting in April. Mrs T J Andrews spoke of continued success and prosperity. However, the number of visits was down, due to the serious illness of Nurse Fitzsimmons who was off duty for a whole month.
Comber shopkeepers had to take their weights to Newtownards to get them adjusted. This had once been done in Comber. Arrangements were put in hand to revert to the former procedure.
In May Sergeant-Major Blakely of the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry was in Comber to recruit. “Young men wishing to join must be able to ride well, and must own a horse, or be able to obtain one for the annual training. Intending candidates will require to be at least 5ft 3in in height, and chest measurement is regulated as follows – Under 18 years of age, 34 inches; under 20 years of age, 35 inches; and over 20 years of age, 36 inches”.
Arrangements were made to send the mail to England by the 6.35 train to Belfast, rather than delivering it by bicycle or on foot.
Ballybeen House was gutted in a fire on 3rd July. The house was owned by George Birch, who was abroad at the time.
The Twelfth was in Comber, and the Comber lodges paraded the town at 9.30, accompanied by Comber Flute Band and Comber Boys’ Brigade Band and some bagpipes. On their return to the Orange Hall, they awaited the visiting lodges arriving by train. All was most efficiently organised under the direction of George Spence, the district master, but the railway company had not provided sufficient carriages, and this caused a long delay. The procession eventually got under way, and took an hour and ten minutes to pass. Some 20,000 people visited Comber that day, in what was one of the biggest demonstrations outside Belfast. The main speaker at the field on the Crescent Hill on the road to Newtownards was Mr T L Corbett MP. Some fine Orange arches had been erected the previous Friday night.
Thomas Andrews of Ardara was appointed a member of his Majesty’s Privy Council in Ireland.
In August over 100 members of the Black Knights of Comber held an excursion to Portaferry in brakes and cars. On arrival they marched through the town to the music of their band. Afterwards they had a substantial dinner.
Rev G Crolly was appointed Roman Catholic priest of Newtownards and Comber.
The death occurred in November of Mr Blakely Orr, owner of the Knocknasham Mills at Ballystockart.
An outbreak of diphtheria in Comber in December led to closure of the National and Sabbath schools. Posters were put up urging on people to keep their yards clean, and to boil all water or milk before using.
The Cricket Club held a concert in the Unitarian Schoolhouse in February. And later in the month, following their annual general meeting there was a smoking concert, during which a compliment was paid to Mr T J Macdonald for his services to the Club. No success for the 1st XI, but the 2nd XI won the Junior Cup in August when they defeated North of Ireland 2nd XI in Belfast.
In September the annual carnival and sports was held when the programme included football, an obstacle race, schoolboys’ under 14 race, 200 yards scratch, three-legged race, blindfold walk, wheelbarrow race, dart gun competitions, Aunt Sally and ring-throwing. The clay pigeon shooting featured the Ulster Championships.
There was controversy at the Comber point-to-point races in April. An objection was raised against the winner of the Farmers’ Race, a horse called “Nigger”. The allegation was that it was really a horse called “Le Marquis” which had competed in other races. This was against the rules and the objection was upheld.
Oscar Andrews, the well-known Comber cricketer, married Miss Amy Winifred Lytle in Bloomfield Presbyterian church.
At the annual meeting of Comber Nursing Society in April, chaired by Lady Londonderry, Mrs T J Andrews reported on a record number of visits by the nurse. An epidemic of diphtheria during the winter had given extra work, and although the nurse was not allowed to undertake entire charge of these cases owing to the danger of infection, she proved useful in providing disinfectants and explaining the use of them.
Mr James G Allen brought a new industry to Comber Square with the manufacture of oil road rollers, a vast improvement on the steam roller. In July the first of these had a successful trial round the Square.
Attacks on the trains around Comber were rare, but stones smashed through the windows of one as it crossed the Comber River on its way to Newtownards. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. It was thought that some boys had thrown the stones.
The death occurred of Mr J McCance Blizard. Mr Blizard was for years the managing director of Comber Distilleries.
In August Thomas Andrews of Ardara entertained to dinner a number of friends in the Unitarian Lecture Hall. The function was a return dinner to those who had honoured Mr Andrews on a previous occasion. Mr Andrews, along with his brother William Drennan (Justice) Andrews, received the guests in a large marquee erected on the lawn, before proceeding to the hall for the meal. The hall was decorated with streamers, bannerettes and flowers, the walls being draped with flags, shields, and trophies, interspersed with pictures, the latter including a portrait of the late Queen Victoria. Music was provided by Mr Wright’s Bijou Orchestra, almost completely concealed from view by tall shrubs. There were the usual toasts and speeches, including an appeal by John W Ritchie for some gentleman to provide a much-needed lecture hall for the town.
That hall was opened in October in Mill Street, built by Mr John Thompson for public gatherings. It was known as the Thompson Hall. 180 people gathered on the opening night when a varied programme included “the well-known cake-walk, which can be danced to perfection in Cummer”.
The Roman Catholic School was also opened in October with Miss Susan Meehan as principal.
Ardara House was much extended by Thomas of Ardara.
A labourer named Joseph Morrow was found dead at Comber. He had just returned from Belfast where he had gone for a load of gas-lime and it seems he lay down on top of this in the cart and was suffocated.
Delegates from the Home Missionary College, Manchester, attended a meeting at the Unitarian Church. They gave an account of the scheme in motion to acquire a suitable building for the college and of the extension of its educational work. It was agreed to give them financial support.
A bundle found in the yard at Comber Distillery turned out to be a female child who had been abandoned. The child was a few months old and in exceedingly poor condition. She was poorly clad, but had been supplied with a feeding bottle. She was taken to Newtownards Workhouse.
Mr T L Corbett MP addressed a meeting of his constituents in the Orange Hall in February. The following month Comber branch of the North Down Unionist Association was formed, with Thomas Andrews of Ardara as chairman, Dr Henry as secretary and Matthew Kerr as treasurer.
Sergeant Edward Finnegan had been in charge of the Comber police since 1895. Now in March he decided to call it a day.
William Hayes of Ballyaltikilligan was killed at Dundonald in May after his horse became startled and he was thrown out of a cart, the wheel passing over his head.
A Grand Masonic Bazaar was held over three days in the grounds of the Non-Subscribing Church, under the auspices of Temple of Fame Lodge No 46, Comber. The Lodge had purchased property in Castle Street for a meeting place and was now raising funds to pay off the debt. Large marquees had been erected in the grounds to accommodate the various stalls and in the evening lighting enhanced the scene. Lady Londonderry arrived in her motor car to perform the opening ceremony at 3 o’clock, by which time a large number of people had gathered. A procession of freemasons made its way from the lecture hall to the marquee where the ceremony took place. Attractions included concerts, competitions of various kinds, and a host of amusements, Mr McCormick’s XL orchestral band supplying excellent music.
In August a social meeting was held in the Methodist Church on the occasion of Rev Charles Clayton’s move to Enniskillen. Mr Clayton was presented with a handsome illuminated address and “Special Rudge-Whitworth Cycle” with lamp and all complete.
The new air-gun club held a concert in Thompson’s Hall in September. Mr John Miller Andrews hoped a friendly rivalry would spring up with the club attached to the Spinning Mill.
Another new club was North Down Coursing Club, formed in the Brownlow Arms. An inaugural meeting was held on 17th October on the Barnhill meadows, kindly lent by Mr Samuel Stone JP.
An epidemic of scarlet fever broke out in November. It was recommended that posters be put up throughout the district, requesting people not to mingle with the patients or the attendants on patients, until certified free from infection.
A young man named David Dodds was arrested in Comber, charged with being a deserter from his Majesty’s navy.
Temple of Fame Masonic Lodge ran a dance on 2nd March in the Unitarian Lecture Hall as a get together for those who had helped at the recent bazaar. The new Masonic Hall in Castle Street was dedicated in April.
“The exterior of the building presents a fine, substantial appearance, with its newly done-up, stone-finished frontage. Over the door, “Masonic Hall 1906” is deeply cut, and on the fanlight, on a five-pointed star, is the No 46. The floor of the hallway is neatly laid out with Mosaic work, a finely-wrought six-pointed star facing the entrance....... The mystic lodge room has been done up and furnished in an elaborate yet tasteful manner...... The W.M.’s chair sits in a beautifully formed archway, and over it is suspended the mystic letter “G”, hanging from the keystone of the arch, on which is appropriately inscribed “Silentia, virtute et amore”. ..... On the walls hang many examples of knowledge of the Craft, produced by Br John Robinson, The Flow, Comber, who is recognised as an authority on all matters Masonic”.
John Patton sustained a badly fractured collarbone at the Comber Races when his horse King Hal fell coming down the hill for home. Both horse and rider lay for some time on the ground, and it was initially thought they were dead.
Eliza Montgomery Andrews (Nina), daughter of Thomas Andrews of Ardara, married an Englishman, Lawrence Arthur Hind, on April 26th in Comber Non-Subscribing Church. The ceremony was performed by Rev Thomas Dunkerley, and most of the leading families of Down and Antrim were represented. Comber was decorated for the occasion with flags and streamers, while “across the roof of the church festoons of evergreens, relieved by sweet-scented roses and other flowers, were suspended, and along each of the aisles there had been erected three floral arches, under which the bridal party passed”. Mill workers showered rice and confetti indiscriminately on the guests as they arrived. Afterwards, at Ardara, a reception was held in a large marquee. A programme was provided by the band of the Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Comber’s District Nurse, Nurse Fitzsimmons, left for America and was replaced by Nurse Gray. This was another record year for the number of visits carried out. There was also a lengthy outbreak of Scarlatina fever in Comber with no fewer than seven cases from a family called Nolan being admitted to hospital in one day.
Comber Mill team were champions in the Newtownards and District Air-Gun League. They never lost a match in the entire competition.
James Dickson, night watchman in the Distillery, was arrested in May, charged with committing an offence on a nine-year-old girl. He was sent for trial at Downpatrick.
Two members of North Down Hockey Club were suspended for life following unacceptable behaviour at recent matches.
George Howard, a ticket clerk at Comber Station, was arrested for embezzlement. On his return for 9th April he claimed to have sold 24 tickets, whereas he had sold 42. He pocketed the difference.
North Down Cricket Club were Senior League Champions for the first time since 1898.
The Council discussed the duties of the caretaker of Comber cemetery, it being alleged that he did not do his work properly. It was proposed that he be asked to resign, but it was eventually decided to interview him with a view to improving his performance.
The Council also debated the inadequate lighting of Comber. A petition for improvement had been drawn up signed by 300 of the townspeople. It was commented that “the only light they had in some parts was the moon, and sometimes it forgot to come out”.
There was however a reduction from November in the price of gas supplied by Comber Gas Light Company. It was hoped this would encourage more widespread use of gas for lighting as opposed to inflammable oil which was dangerous.
A serious fire occurred in Bridge Street in September at the premises of Edward Collins. As Comber had no fire brigade, the police under Sergeant Flannigan and Constable Lockhart organised a band of workers to carry water in buckets from the pumps in the vicinity. After three hours the fire was under control. It was feared that, had the fire spread to Mr Collins’s shop and dwelling-house, the whole street could have gone up in flames.
A sensation was caused in October when a dead body was found lying in a stream on Comber Racecourse. It had lain there since the April race meeting. Constable Walsh, aided by a number of men, removed the body. The rats had eaten away much of the flesh. The body was later identified as that of a missing pensioner named Thomas Watson of Brownlow Street. He was a former soldier, a hero of the Afghan War.
Many salmon and trout were killed by pollution of the Comber River in October.
Steps were initiated to improve the lighting of Comber. A committee was set up by the Council to decide on the number and position of extra lamps. Eventually, in October, the Local Government Board vested the Council with the necessary powers to get the work done. Fifteen additional lamps were erected, on top of the 29 old ones leased from the Gas Company.
At a meeting of the Island Hill Regatta Club, it was agreed to place buoys in dangerous spots in the northern portion of Strangford Lough. There seems to have been some question, however, over the continuance of the annual regatta.
In May a boy named McFadden fell into a dam and was drowned.
Another fire occurred at the premises of Edward Collins in Bridge Street in the recently-erected offices and stores adjoining his shop. Mrs Collins was frightened by a cat and dropped a lighted candle on the hay which caught fire. She fainted, and when Mr Collins arrived he had to extinguish the fire on her clothes. She was badly burned. Neighbours did what they could to keep the fire from catching hold of the shop itself. This was achieved with considerable risk by Mr R F Kerr who got on the roof and poured water on the flames, assisted by Constable Lockhart who handed up the water in buckets brought by a willing band of workers. After two hours the fire was under control.
George James Bruce and his bride moved into a new house called ‘Cuan’. Today it is called ‘Eusemere’.
Comber Rising Star Lodge of the International Order of Good Templars was formed at a meeting in the Orange Hall. The Templars were a body devoted to temperance and enlightening people about the evils of alcohol. The Rev Thomas Dunkerley said it was a matter of fact that intemperance filled our jails, lunatic asylums, and workhouses, which institutions had to be supported by men like himself who would not allow strong drink to cross their lips. After the meeting 45 new members enrolled.
One of Mr J G Allen’s oil motor rollers collided with a two-horsed bread cart of Messrs McWatters. The driver of the bread van sustained a broken leg and one of the horses was slightly injured.
Alex Baxter, a farmer from Ballyaltikilligan, was drowned in July while bathing in the “long hole” near Comber. That same month saw the sudden death of Samuel Farquhar, cashier in the Comber branch of the Northern Bank, at his home in Bridge Street.
North Down Cricket Club celebrated their Golden Jubilee. A concert was held in March in the schoolroom of the Unitarian Church. But the main event was in September - a bazaar, also in the church grounds, officially opened by the Countess of Annesley. Over £200 was raised towards the erection of a new pavilion. An early form of marathon, known as a “Go-as-you-please”, was held in connection with the bazaar. This began at the Variety Market in Chichester Street, Belfast, with over 140 top-class local and overseas athletes. The runners made their way to Comber via Newtownards with the last two miles being run at the Cricket Green. The winner was Lee of Ulsterville Harriers, ahead of Weatherall, his fellow club-mate. Kennedy McArthur of the South African Constabulary (originally from Dervock) who finished third went on to win the gold medal for the marathon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics!
Special services were held at Second Comber to raise money for repairs to the church. The Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr Davidson, was invited to preach at these services. Also in 1907 the Young Peoples’ Guild was founded.
R Coey of Castle Espie was the victim of a vicious assault in September. James Minnis and Alex Shields were subsequently arrested.
Another assault took place in Comber, this time on John Cairns, a travelling showman who had a shooting gallery. Thomas McQuade arrived under the influence of drink, turning a gun towards the crowd. Mr Cairns managed to get the gun from McQuade, who then assaulted him during a struggle. McQuade arrived at Cairns’ door the following morning with a stone in his hand, threatening to knock Cairns’ brains out. Cairns was able to retrieve the stone and McQuade ran off before the police arrived.
James Chambers, principal of First Comber National School, retired in November due to ill health. He was presented with a purse of sovereigns subscribed by members of the church and a few other friends.
Mary Quinn, aged five years, daughter of Isaac Quinn, Cattogs, was accidentally burned to death in December. It appears that Mrs Quinn had left the house, and on returning met the girl running out with her clothes on fire. She died that night.
Sacrilege was committed on the night of 31st January with the burglary of several of Comber’s churches. The first discovery was made at 2nd Comber when the sexton opened up. The interior was in a state of disorder, and it was found that a window had been forced open and the locks of several presses tampered with. Word then arrived that the Parish Church, the Methodist Chapel and the Roman Catholic Church had also been broken into. The object seems to have been the procurement of money, although the thieves did not find much of value. The only clue found by the police were footprints at St Mary’s, but it seems the burglars were familiar with the layout of the churches.
A serious accident occurred in March at the Glass Moss railway crossing when Thomas Anderson, the gatekeeper, was hit by an engine on its way to Newtownards to bring the workmen’s train to Belfast. He suffered a badly fractured skull, and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he made a recovery.
The pupils of Smyth’s School at Second Comber put on a grand exhibition in April, consisting of a concert and display of physical drill. The school got rave reviews, with the inspector’s report for the past year being one of the best ever. Numbers were growing, and an addition had to be made to the teaching staff. All Comber’s schools got top marks when it came to sanitation with good water closets in 1st and 2nd Comber and the Mill Schools, while the others had earth closets “which only required keeping clean to be right”.
Thomas Andrews Junior was married to Miss Helen Reilly Barbour, youngest daughter of the late John D Barbour of Conway, Dunmurry. The happy event took place on 24th June at Lambeg Parish Church.
The Council were discussing the state of Comber Square. Mr Kerr said the clay was showing up on the roadway. He had spoken about this to the surveyor, who said he had not sufficient road metal.
The death occurred of Mr Thomas James Andrews of the Square. He had not been in the best of health for some time. He was one of those who initiated the Point-to-Point Races at Comber, and owned the land on which the cricket grounds are situated. He was a son of Isaac Andrews and brother of John, present owner of the Andrews flour mills in Belfast. He was a director of the Comber Distillery Company.
A pensioner of the Royal Irish Constabulary named Cantwell was badly burned when his bed caught fire, supposedly caused by the smouldering of a piece of cloth wrapped round a hot water bottle. He died of his injuries.
Once again it was Comber’s turn to host the Twelfth, and, although rain fell in torrents, it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the brethren. The procession formed up at the Railway Station and made its way to a field on the Newtownards Road owned by the Milling family. The main speaker was Captain James Craig MP, who fulminated against the spectre of Home Rule.
The first meeting of a committee took place to consider claims in connection with the new Old Age Pensions Act. Of a total of 19 claims submitted, 14 were allowed.
North Down Hockey Club shared the Kirk Cup with Malone. The final was never played, following a series of protests and postponements in the earlier rounds.
North Down won cricket’s Senior Challenge Cup when they defeated Cliftonville by eight wickets at Ormeau. This was the tenth time the club had lifted the trophy, although the previous time had been back in 1898.
Lord Londonderry made himself popular with his Comber tenants. In response to a petition, he granted a 15 per cent reduction in rents, owing to the prolonged agricultural depression.
In March a 19-year-old Comber girl died following a factory accident in Belfast. Minnie Frame sustained a fracture of the skull after falling down a hoist at the Glengall Stitching Co.
The County Down Rifle Association held its inaugural meeting in the Mill School. It was believed that the establishment of such clubs would lead to a number of good marksmen being produced, a useful asset in the event of war. Lord Londonderry said he would subscribe a Challenge Cup to be competed for annually. The Craig family provided a shooting range at Castle Espie which was declared open in June.
Several hundred people witnessed the opening of the new pavilion of North Down Cricket Club on 22nd May by Mrs T J Andrews. This replaced the old wooden structure and cost £300. Mrs Andrews unlocked the door with a silver key presented to her by the committee, and said she was sure that the present members of North Down would do all in their power to maintain the reputation the club had built up. She also presented an enlarged photograph of her late husband to the club.
This was what one Comber ratepayer thought of the town’s streets: “...They are a disgrace to our civilised state. I am sure the like of them are not to be found in Europe. Every few yards the dirt is heaped up, and lying that way for months. When heavy rain comes, of course it washes it into the grates and chokes them, and the consequence is some of the houses are flooded. Persons crossing the street in the dark walk into these mud heaps almost up to the knees. It is not only unpleasant, but not conducive to the health of the town. The doors and windows in the houses of the inhabitants are in a constant state of dirt; motor cars and other vehicles send the mud flying in all directions.....”
An inquest was held in June on the death of a Belfast man called William Humphries, killed when run over by a train near Ballyrickard Bridge. He had deliberately placed his body across the railway line in the face of an oncoming train.
Sergeant Thomas Flanagan of the Comber police was transferred to Banbridge and replaced by Patrick Dinsmore from Annalong.
Housing was a major issue, and on 19th June Henry O’Neill addressed a large meeting in the Square. He explained that the object was to organise the farmers and labourers of the district so as to promote their welfare and secure for them the benefits to which they were entitled by the Labourers’ Acts. Although many good cottages had been built in Comber, many more were required and he urged the people to impress this need upon the Newtownards Council.
Comber was the venue for a demonstration in August organised by the International Order of Good Templars. It was held in Mr Munn’s field at Cattogs, and organised by the Newtownards District Lodge, in conjunction with the Rising Star Lodge, Comber. Several thousand Templars attended from Ballygowan, Belfast, Comber, Donaghadee, Glastry, Greyabbey, Kircubbin and Newtownards. A reduction in the number of licences for the sale of alcohol was called for, along with total Sunday closure of public houses and a ban on the use of alcohol in wine used for Holy Communion.
Hamilton Glover, a car driver, of Castle Street, died in Dundonald Police Station in September after falling off a car.
The Methodist Church showed “a display of living pictures” in the Orange Hall in October. This was a great novelty and the hall was packed long before the show began. Pictures shown included “The Would-be Acrobats”, “How Percy won the Beauty Show”, and one of the Wright Brothers aeroplane.
An interesting situation occurred when the pub at the top of High Street came up for sale. It was purchased by the spinning mill, 1st Comber and the Non-Subscribing Churches so that it could be put to some other use “promotive of temperance and tranquillity”.
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