THE ANDREWS FAMILY OF COMBER
SYDNEY ANDREWS (1877-1966)
was a man with a story to tell. He was a director in the Belfast flour-milling firm of Isaac Andrews & Sons, and a grandson of Isaac, who had lived in the Big House in Comber Square. His story was that of his family, the Andrews family of Comber, a story he researched during the years 1932-41. The finished product did not appear until 1958 – Nine Generations, A History of the Andrews Family of Comber, Co Down. It traces the family story right back to its roots in Ulster in the early 17th century. They appear to have come over from Scotland at this time, and probably settled on Mahee Island. They were originally called Andrew.
This was a period of frequent warfare and the principal landlords had to draw up lists of the names of Protestant tenants they could assemble in an emergency. These had to be inspected by the Muster Master General, who recorded the names, ages and types of arms borne. And so among the men of Viscount Claneboye (James Hamilton) in a muster roll of 1630 for Mahee are “No. 1251 Thomas Andrew – Sword and Musket; No. 1329 Robert Andrew – Sword and Snaphance”. A snaphance was a superior type of musket with a spring hammer. At the time of the 1641 Rebellion, Robert Andrew, trooper, and James Andrew, soldier, mustered at Comber. These were probably the sons of Robert of Mahee.
On the 1684 Rent Roll of the manor of Mount Alexander, Robert Andrew is shown as holding the lease, from All Saints 1677, for 31 years, of a tenement and one rood of land for the yearly rental of £1-3s-6d. This was probably the son of the Robert mustered at Comber in 1641. Robert Junior in turn had two sons, John and James, both living in Comber. James was a merchant who died around 1727, his only son, also James, preceding him in 1712. It was John’s son Thomas who was the founder of the Andrews’ interest in milling. He was born in 1698, and it was he who changed the family name to Andrews in 1735, possibly to distinguish himself from another Thomas Andrew.
In the 1684 Rent Roll the mills of Comber are mentioned as being held on lease by John McMurry. He was probably not the actual miller, but rather sub-let to the miller. There were two mills – the Old Mill and the Upper Mill. The Old Mill was beside the River Enler, and I believe it to have been a building which lasted until fairly recent times. These were corn mills, and tenants had to go there to have their corn ground, paying a toll to the miller of the sixteenth grain. If a tenant went elsewhere, he had to pay two shillings to the Lord of the Manor for each barrel ground.
THE OLD MILL (1877-1966)
The site of the Upper Mill was at the bottom of Laureldale, close to Comber Christian Centre. In 1722 at the age of 24 Thomas Andrew was working the Upper Mill. By 1733 he was a man of considerable property, having secured a lease on 83 acres of land adjacent to the Old Mill. His house was in Castle Street (then called Mill Street), directly behind a smaller one also owned by him. He probably made soap and candles here.
Thomas was Presbyterian by religion, but he was also a churchwarden at St Mary’s from 1733-5. It was customary in parishes where Dissenters were numerous to include at least one among the churchwardens. Episcopalianism (the rule by bishops) was the state religion, so everybody was at least nominally a member. And the Parish had more than religious responsibilities, being the unit of local government responsible for collecting the cess (a local tax) and for the upkeep of the roads among other things.
Thomas died in 1743 at the early age of 45. He left behind a widow (Agnes nee Reid, probably the daughter of a linen draper and bleacher from Ballygowan), a daughter Elizabeth and three sons, John, Thomas and Aaron. Aaron was about 13 at the time of his father’s death and presumably died shortly afterwards as there is no further mention of him. In 1762 Elizabeth married Robert Greenlaw, a ship chandler who had a house on Hanover Quay, Belfast. There were at least three children – a son Robert and two daughters Ann and Mary. Elizabeth died in 1773.
When his father died John was living in Belfast where he had been apprenticed to the linen trade. He had also joined a company of Belfast Volunteers, formed for defence against a possible invasion by Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, and helped defend Carrickfergus Castle. On his return to Comber he pulled down the two houses in Mill Street and built what would later become known as the Old House. This was demolished in 1956 to make way for the cinema, and the site is now occupied by Supervalu. Extensive gardens to the rear covered what are now the car park, tennis courts and hockey pitch. Into the Old House John brought his wife Mary Corbitt, whom he married in 1746. Her father had been agent for the estates of Robert Colville, who sold Comber in 1744 to Alexander Stewart, father of the first Lord Londonderry.
1744 was also the year when Walter Harris published his “Antient and Present State of the County of Down”. In it he called Comber “a mean village, which has no trade”. John Andrews was to change all that, and has earned the title of “the great” for his achievements in Comber’s industrial history. At this time there was a growing demand for linen due to England’s suppression of the Irish wool trade. As some compensation, England was encouraging the manufacture of linen in Ireland by subsidising farmers to grow flax, advancing money to weavers for looms etc. One of the first things John Andrews did was to build a wash mill for bleaching linen. This was a low thatched building opposite the Old Corn Mill, which he also took over in 1768.
JOHN ANDREWS "THE GREAT"
1721 - 1808
NORTH DOWN CRICKET CLUB -
FORMERLY THE BLEACH GREEN
COMBER FLOUR MILL
Beside it was the Bleach Green. This is now North Down cricket ground. In 1763 2,000 pieces of linen were bleached here, a piece being about 25 yards long by 1 yard wide.These would have been woven by people in their own homes in the days before factories opened for the purpose. Robbing bleach greens by professional gangs was a common offence, even though the penalty was death by hanging, and that of John Andrews was robbed at least twice, in 1767 and 1778. Another green belonging to James Riddle suffered the same fate in 1764. A beetling mill was also in existence by 1762. Beetling was a process whereby heavy pieces of timber rose and fell on the linen, putting a finish on its surface and thus adding value. This building was demolished when the Four Seasons Home was built. Linen cloth and yarn were sold in the monthly market at Comber by the linen drapers, and John Andrews himself was also one of these.
The workers would have walked down Mill Lane, opposite Rosie Scott’s public house, and through the gates at the bottom. Wheat was collected in all the little ports on Strangford Lough and shipped in small vessels to the mouth of the Comber River, where it was unloaded at Ringcreevy and carted to the mill. Cargoes also arrived from Dublin and Drogheda, and sometimes even the American Colonies.
John’s brother Thomas was a partner in the flour mill. But he left Comber in 1774 and rented a bleach green near Ballymena. You can see his name today, along with that of James Lemont of Gransha, carved on one of the entrance pillars to the grounds of St Mary’s Parish Church, along with the date 1774. Both men were churchwardens and paid for the erection of the pillars. Thomas was back at Comber in 1779, but the last record of him is in 1783. It is said he went to Jamaica, where he ended his days a wealthy man. John didn’t do too badly either. For in 1783 he won £10,000 on the Irish State Lottery, and with part of the money bought the townland of Carnesure.
With all the building going on, John Andrews engaged a man to make bricks from clay obtained on his premises. What he didn’t use himself he sold to neighbours. The price in 1763 was 12s 6d per thousand. Stone was quarried from what is now the site of the Baptist Church. This was also used for building, and on the roads. In June and July 1787 up to 1,200 loads were quarried and sold. Two of the buyers were the Parish Church and the Presbyterian Meeting House. At that time every man was required to give his own labour and the work of a horse for six days in the year, making and repairing roads. Some people naturally paid others to do the work for them, and John Andrews on various occasions was the contractor. Among other projects he remade the road over Mill Street and built the Pound Bridge. The Pound was an enclosure for stray animals, redeemable by their owners on payment of a fee to the authorities. The Thompson Hall was later built on the site, which is now occupied by apartments.
For a while John Andrews was also involved in whiskey distilling. James Patterson, who died in 1761, owned a malt kiln and distillery in what is now Killinchy Street. This would later become the Upper Distillery. Alexander Riddel then ran the business until 1767, after which John Andrews rented the buildings. He employed William Murdock to run the business for him. In 1788 John Andrews severed his connection with Old Comber whiskey, but distilling apparently continued here. Murdock died in 1805, and on his headstone in St Mary’s graveyard he is described as the “eminent distiller of Comber”.
It was also in 1788 that soap boiling ceased, manufacture of candles (known as “Watchlights”) already having been abandoned in 1785. It was probably the case that John had enough on his plate without these enterprises. Because there was also the flour mill. In 1769 machinery for manufacturing fine flour had been installed in the Old Mill, the Upper Mill being confined to grinding oats and barley. From this time it is known as the Corn Mill. The profits to be made in flour manufacture were huge, and the Old Mill just wasn’t big enough. Besides, the Government was paying out bounties to develop flour milling. And so it was decided to build a new mill in 1771. This was an impressive 5-storey building and cost £1,400.
INSCRIPTION ON ENTRANCE PILLAR TO ST MARY'S
Ten children of John the Great survived infancy, although most died before their father. Thomas, born in 1747, opened a linen business in Belfast in 1781, also selling Comber flour. He was an original member of Belfast Chamber of Commerce in 1783, a magistrate of County Antrim in 1796 and Deputy Governor of Belfast in 1804. He died in 1809. Michael had a bleach green at Annsborough near Castlewellan. Unfortunately he suffered brain damage following a fall from his horse in 1785 and spent a time in jail in 1786 after forging his father’s signature in order to obtain money. He died in 1805, leaving three sons and three daughters. Mary’s husband David Wilson, whom she married in 1795, was a Belfast merchant and belonged to the family who built Maxwell Court and the neighbouring corn mill at the Clattering Ford. They had at least two daughters, Martha and Mary.
The other girls died young. Agnes or Nancy and Elizabeth (Betty) were probably victims of consumption, while Margaret (Peggy), who had married John Gaussen of Newry in 1780, may have died shortly afterwards in childbirth. Of the remaining brothers, John died in 1770 aged 19, having just been made a partner in his father’s first flour mill. William, traditionally the favourite, was another victim of consumption in 1785, being no older than 24. He had become involved in the linen trade on his own account. Robert is believed to have gone to London some time after 1784. In 1772 a starch factory had been started for his benefit, but it was abandoned after a short period. We will come back to James, the youngest son, born in 1762.
In 1778 Britain was at war with the American colonies and their ally France. Much alarm was caused by the presence of American and French privateers off the coast of Ulster. If you are ever in Grace Neill’s pub in Donaghadee, you will see a painting of an engagement fought in Belfast Lough in 1778 between the American privateer Ranger, commanded by Paul Jones, and the Royal Navy sloop Drake. The privateer was victorious. The country was short of troops because of the war and, if a landing had taken place, defence would have been impossible. Something had to be done, and it was decided to form companies of Volunteers, supplied with arms by the Government. At first the Volunteers were confined to Protestants, but later Catholics were enrolled. There were two Companies in Comber with a combined total of 100 men. John Andrews commanded one of the Companies and the other, together with the Newtownards Company of 115 men, was under Robert Stewart, afterwards the first Lord Londonderry. About a year later Hugh Gillespie was appointed captain of this second Comber Company, after Stewart was promoted to Colonel of the First Independent County of Down Regiment.
John Andrews’ Company was known as the Comber Rangers. His sons were lieutenants in it, including James who was 6’ 4” tall. It was said that an ordinary man with his shoes on could put his feet into James’ shoes. Yet in 1786, when returning home in a chaise from Belfast with a Mr Hall of Cherryvalley, they were stopped and robbed by highwaymen. James was 24 at the time. John Andrews raised his Volunteer Company entirely by himself and paid all expenses including the cost of the men’s uniforms and equipment. It was formed on 28th July 1779, and numbered 54. Many of the men were employees of John Andrews. The Belfast Newsletter of 1779 tells how a party of the Comber Rangers under John’s eldest son Thomas escorted three prisoners to Belfast. In that same year, on the anniversary of King William’s birth, they paraded through the streets of Comber and fired three volleys.
JAMES ANDREWS 1762 - 1841
The Rangers were also present at a Review held near Belfast in 1780, during which there was a mock engagement. And in 1788, at the centenary of the landing of King William, they marched to Comber Square in which was a great bonfire and fireworks. Numerous toasts were given, accompanied by a general fire from the Volunteers, and beer was distributed to the populace.
But there was a row at the time of the 1783 election when John Andrews and most of the Volunteers supported Robert Stewart. Hugh Gillespie, however, took the part of Lord Kilwarlin, a member of the Hill family of Hillsborough, and his Company in Comber rejected him, appointing Robert Rollo Reid as Captain in his place, with Arthur Meredyth White as Lieutenant. They called themselves the Comber True Blues. It seems that Gillespie had tried to force people to vote for Kilwarlin against their will. John Andrews actually fought a duel with Gillespie over the matter. Both men exchanged shots but missed, and were preparing to fire again when their seconds intervened and settled the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties. The Volunteers were disbanded in 1793 after the Government became alarmed at their growing political power. Many of them, including John Andrews, joined the United Irishmen, who sought constitutional change, but John soon left when revolution along the lines of that in France was advocated.
It was James Andrews who was eventually to take over the firm in Comber. He was given a partnership in the business in 1792 on the occasion of his marriage. The bride was Frances Glenny from Newry, who was descended from Gilbert Kennedy, a 17th century Presbyterian clergyman. James built a new house for his bride just across the street from the Old House, which takes its name from this date. James’ house is still there. It was named “Uraghamore” – the place of the big yew trees. This name came from ancient yew trees in the garden, believed to be at least 400 years old. The garden of Uraghamore was on a steep incline, which went up in three stages, and was fenced off from the street by a wall surmounted by an iron railing. This was known locally as the “Palace Stages”. At each end of the wall was a large holly bush. A number of years ago shops were built here and the trees were cut down. The site of the garden is now occupied by a block of apartments.
John Andrews died in 1808. The firm was now run by James, in conjunction with his sons as they came of age, and became known as James Andrews & Sons. During the 1830s a major re-organisation and modernisation of the entire works took place. For instance, a steam engine now pumped water to either the flour mill or bleach green, as the occasion demanded. New water wheels were erected, and in 1837 the spring dam was completed beside the bleach works. This was described as “a pool of beautiful, pure soft water, superior to any we have seen, which will be of infinite value in finishing the nicer articles”.
It was James who donated land on Windmill Hill to the Non-Subscribers on which to build a church. This was opened in 1840, although the opening had been postponed for a year following damage caused on the Night of the Big Wind in January 1839. James was one of those who had broken away from the Presbyterian Church at this time and joined what was then a Unitarian congregation. In 1841 he was taken ill while chairing a meeting of Unitarians at Rosemary Street in Belfast, and died a few weeks later.
JOHN ANDREWS 1792 - 1864
James’ eldest son was John, born in 1792. In 1826 he married Sarah Drennan, the only daughter of the late Dr William Drennan, a leading United Irishman and a recognised poet, who had coined the phrase “Emerald Isle” for Ireland. John took an active part in public affairs, eventually serving as High Sheriff of County Down in 1857. He was also agent of the Londonderry Estate from 1830. The tenants seem to have respected him, seeing him as a fair liberal man with a well-developed social conscience. He also knew about farming and wrote a pamphlet on scientific farming, which was distributed to the tenants. Indeed farming seems to have been in the blood, and, in addition to their other enterprises, the Andrews family farmed several hundred acres of land. James regularly won prizes for livestock at the show of the North East Society, while William Glenny, the second son, wrote an important treatise on the cultivation of flax.
William Glenny was born in 1793, and remained a bachelor. He was involved in all aspects of the family business. He had the Mausoleum erected at St Mary’s in 1867. One of his nephews wrote a poem about the Mausoleum, which goes something like this.
ANDREWS FAMILY MAUSOLEUM
St Mary's Churchyard
Beneath this Pond’rous monument are laid|
Some generations of the Andrews dead;
Heav’n rest their souls! Their bodies must
Here rot, and mix with Kindred dust.
Their joys, their cares, their sorrows ended,
In one sad lot here all are blended.
But William thought us scarce of room,
So he enlarged the household tomb,
And built a massive second story,
That all who pass “Memento Mori”.
Now it stands thus – Most goodly men,
Are buried underneath and when
We now alive shall break our fetters,
They’ll set us up above our betters.
When the last trumpet o’er the town,
Turns this old world right upside down,
When graves and tombs asunder burst,
Perchance we’ll find the case reversed.
So let those living mind their prayers,
And hope they’ll not be left upstairs.
Thomas, born 1798, and Isaac, born 1799, were also partners in James Andrews & Sons, but the rest of the sons entered the legal profession and dropped out of Comber’s history. The death of Thomas in 1838 was a huge blow to the firm. The story of Isaac’s marriage is interesting. His father left him land at Carnesure and money to build a house there, but only on condition that he married. He did marry in 1844, to Mary Ann Drew, the daughter of a Glasgow merchant who was over 20 years his junior. But Isaac elected to live, not at Carnesure, but at the Big House in Comber Square. He bought this from the Stitt family, and it was around this time that he had the Gillespie house demolished to enlarge his garden.
There were two major projects in the 1860s. The first was the grain store. Owing to the increasing flour trade, storage had become a problem. Stores rented in Belfast were too costly, so it was decided to build one in Comber. William Glenny supervised the building work. This building was close to the present Leisure Centre, and was a plain brick structure, six floors high. It was completed in 1863 and remained until 1978 when it was set on fire by vandals and had to be demolished. It is sometimes referred to as the “old starch mill” as it was used at one time by a Dutchman named Stem for the manufacture of rice starch, a venture which was not a success and ceased before the First World War. It was also used by the Distillery to store barley. During the Second World War the building was fixed up as a billet for American soldiers. This was when iron steps were erected at the gable end and doors cut into each floor as a fire precaution. After the war it was taken over by two retired Indian Army colonels as a piggery. One of the colonels was the father of Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, and it was in Comber that Paddy spent part of his boyhood. The family lived at Eusemere on the Killinchy Road. After the piggery closed, the building was taken over for deep litter hens in the 1960s. At the time of the fire it was being used for storage of refrigerators and racing yachts.
FLAX SPINNING MILL
The second project was a direct result of the cotton shortage due to the American Civil War. This was the flax-spinning mill on the Ballygowan Road, built by John, or more accurately by his son Thomas, who supervised the work. Two other sons, James and John, were also partners in the firm of John Andrews & Co. But John himself never saw the opening in 1864. Because just a few weeks before he had died. A magnificent Illuminated Address, presented to his widow by the tenants of the Londonderry Estate, is still in existence, and this shows beautifully painted pictures of Comber of the time.
The records of the Andrews Mill are in the Public Records Office (PRONI). The first week’s wages were paid from 6-11 June 1864. A machine boy received 5d per week, a doffer 4d, and a spinning master 4s 2d. A doffer was the person who removed full bobbins of yarn from the machines. Amongst the very first workers were William Hatton, Robert Jellie, Jane McClure, Samuel Smyth, John Herron and William Thompson. A high standard of personal behaviour was expected. When Robert Forsythe applied for position as spinning master he was warned that “unless you are strictly sober you need not think of coming to us”. Most of the workers were women, and some gained a reputation as outstanding workers, such as Grace Ritchie who left in 1871 to go to America. There were accidents, such as in 1865 when “a doffer in the mill lost a finger in the fencing of a spinning frame which was properly fenced. By her own neglect and through forgetfulness she allowed her hand to get too close to the fencing”. Four years later Eliza Gabbey had her hand amputated after it was caught in the draft gearing of a spinning frame.
We have a very interesting insight into the Andrews family during the period 1860-76, seen through the eyes of Molly Drennan, the young niece of John’s wife Sarah, who spent her holidays in Comber. She stayed with Auntmama and her Uncle John in Uraghamore, which she describes as ugly, and never did she see a house with so many doors. Her memories are of a kind, silent old gentleman, of whom she was in awe. He seemed always to be pruning the peach trees or winding the clocks. Auntmama was a small wrinkled lady with blue eyes and auburn hair. After John’s death she always wore black. She lived until 1902, when she died aged 95. The Old House was occupied by William Glenny and his sisters, Margaret and Mary. William Glenny was a fine old gentleman with very white hair and shabby old-fashioned clothes. He was kind, but could sometimes be seen in a dreadful passion, shaking his fist at men in the yard. Margaret was crippled with rheumatism, while Mary is remembered for doling out gingerbread cakes and grapes.
Molly describes the Place, as she calls it, where she was so happy. There were extensive gardens, but to reach them you had to cross a yard where an old turkey cock gobbled among the hens and geese. Molly was terrified of it. A broad avenue led though flowerbeds to the centre of the garden, while down by the river were rhododendrons and a sumach tree. There was also a circular pond, full of weeds, lilies, sticklebacks and tiny frogs. There were also the various buildings connected with the flour mill and bleach green.
SITE OF GARDENS OF THE OLD HOUSE
Jacob Gibson sat mending the harness in the stables and coach houses, while at Henry Morrison the smith’s you could quench your thirst from a rusty tin mug and admire his dahlia planted in a big iron pot in the middle of a little stream. Behind William Lindsey the carpenter’s shop was a row of pigsties facing the river. And you could be weighed in the mill scales by George Jervis, the big miller.
Molly describes her cousins, the children of John and Auntmama. But first she mentions a daughter they had lost at the age of 12. This must be Sarah, whose dates are given as 1834-45 on the Mausoleum. Interestingly there is another Sarah listed with the dates 1827-9. Could this have been an elder sister? Molly’s great companion was Fanny, the youngest of the family. She made little wreaths of holly, and decorated the house at Christmas time. Molly worshipped her.
Of the sons, James was the eldest, born in 1829. He is known as James of Carnesure, because he built Carnesure House in 1863. Molly describes him as having projecting, short-sighted eyes and his mother’s curly hair. He was fond of literature, and a bit of a philosopher. Financial matters seem to have been his forte. In addition to being a partner in the spinning and flour mills, he was treasurer of the Non-Subscribing Church, a magistrate and a director of the Belfast and County Down Railway. He died in 1882.
1829 - 1882
1843 - 1916
JOHN MILLER ANDREWS
1871 - 1956
William Drennan Andrews was the second son, born in 1832. He became a judge and in 1878 stood as a Liberal candidate in the County Down election against Lord Castlereagh. He lost. Molly says he was small and dark-haired, with his mother’s blue eyes. He died in 1924. John or Johnnie was born in 1838. He was a keen sportsman, with a love of horses and dogs. He was also a bit of a prankster, chasing the children around tables and grabbing at their ankles. He had the kindest heart in the world, but also the most feather-brained head, and wore old loose clothes, often in rags. After marrying his cousin Annie, he lived at New Comber. John also took an interest in public affairs, and was a Justice of the Peace, a member of the County Down Grand Jury and of the Newtownards Board of Guardians. He died in 1903.
Thomas was born in 1843. He is known as Thomas of Ardara, because he lived at Ardara House, which he built in 1871 and extended in 1904. He was tall, plodding and persevering. As well as running the spinning mill, Thomas became President of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association in 1892. This organisation formed in 1886 was composed of Liberals opposed to Home Rule, and Thomas was heavily involved in organising the Ulster Convention of 1892. Among other things, he was Chairman of the Belfast & County Down Railway, Chairman of Down County Council and in 1912 High Sheriff of County Down. He died in 1916 and is buried, along with his family, in the graveyard of the Non-Subscribing Church.
Let’s return to the 1870s. The spinning mill was doing well under Thomas, but other sections of the business were in trouble. William Glenny and Isaac had grown old without training anyone to succeed them, and the bleach works closed in 1872, the year after William Glenny’s death. Isaac had two sons, Thomas James born in 1847 and John (known as John Junior) born in 1849. John had been working in Liverpool, and he was brought back in 1875 in an attempt to save the firm. There was an immediate turn in fortune. But John didn’t see his future in Comber. In 1879 he bought out the shares of his cousins in the flour and corn mills, and the firm of James Andrews & Sons was dissolved. Then he opened mills in Belfast, closing the Comber flour mill in 1883. The Belfast Mills became the firm of Isaac Andrews & Sons, although Isaac himself had died in 1883. The Comber Flour Mill and Upper Corn Mill were demolished around 1900. McBurney’s Row in Castle Lane was built using stones from the Flour Mill.
The family of Thomas of Ardara was a remarkable one. In 1870 Thomas married Eliza Pirrie. She was a niece of Agnes Pirrie, who married John Miller, owner of the Distillery, and died in 1863. Her brother was William, Lord Pirrie, the chairman of Harland & Wolff shipyard. There were four sons and a daughter, although another son died in 1884 as an infant. John Miller Andrews was the eldest, born in 1871. He was a prominent politician, becoming Minister of Labour in the first Northern Ireland cabinet of 1921. Among other things he was involved in discussions with Treasury regarding welfare provisions for the Province.
He is often attributed with ensuring that after the Second World War Northern Ireland was included in the Welfare State with parity with the rest of the UK. In 1937 he moved to Finance where he was involved in negotiations on trade arrangements with the Republic of Ireland, and in November 1940 succeeded Lord Craigavon as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, having often deputised for him in his latter years.
John Miller Andrews led the Northern Ireland Government in discussions in London regarding the war effort, as well as an eventual long term accommodation between North and South. He welcomed to the Province an increasing number of US military personnel whose presence was crucial to winning the Battle of the Atlantic and keeping vital trade routes open.
Northern Ireland's contribution to the war effort was recognised by Churchill. But there was increasing disquiet over Andrews' leadership resulting from criticism with regards to the Province not being in a greater state of readiness for the blitz. There were not enough anti-aircraft guns to defend Belfast, but in Andrews' favour it has been argued that priority for such guns was given to London. But John Miller Andrews was now into his seventies and held on to an ageing Cabinet, refusing to give the younger men a chance. He also had a tendency to go direct to the civil servants when he wanted action rather than consult his cabinet. He was eventually ousted from his position in 1943 by Basil Brooke and was awarded a Companion of Honour (CH). He continued to give good service as MP for mid-Down and Father of the House until his retirement in 1953. He remained as leader of the Ulster Unionist Council until 1946 and campaigned vigorously to keep the County Down Railway open, Comber being an important junction. He died in 1956.
The second son of Thomas of Ardara was Thomas Junior of Titanic fame, born in 1873. He always had an ambition to build ships, and when he left school in 1889 joined Harland & Wolff where his uncle was Managing Director. He was a very conscientious worker and learnt thoroughly all aspects of work in the shipyard. By 1905 he was Chief of Design and in
1907 Managing Director. He helped build many ocean liners for the White Star Line, including the Celtic, Baltic, Adriatic, Oceanic, Olympic and, of course, Titanic.
Everybody knows the story of the Titanic, the largest ship in the world, and how she was supposed to be unsinkable. Yet on her maiden voyage, on the night of 14-15th April 1912, she sank off the coast of Newfoundland after hitting an iceberg. Over 1,500 people lost their lives, including Thomas Andrews who went down with the ship. There are many stories of his bravery and concern for others as the ship foundered. Comber was in a state of shock. It was decided that some form of memorial would be appropriate. And so the Andrews Memorial Hall was built. Thomas’ young daughter Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews (known as Elba) cut the first sod, and in 1914 his mother laid the foundation stone. The hall opened in 1915 as a community hall for the town and served this purpose until it was taken over by the South Eastern Education and Library Board in the 1970s.
James Andrews was the third brother, born in 1877. He was one of Ireland’s most eminent lawyers and went on to become Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland in 1937. He died in 1951. Interestingly, his wife Jeannie was the sister of Jessie, who married John Miller Andrews. So we have two brothers who married two sisters.
Willie Andrews was born in 1886. Like many of the Andrews family, he played cricket for North Down, one of the oldest clubs in Ireland (formed 1857), also representing Ulster on a number of occasions and Ireland once. Willie died in 1966. There is an interesting window in the Non-Subscribing Church erected by Willie in memory of his mother. It is entitled “Love” and was dedicated in 1963. It depicts his mother at Ardara with all six of her children, holding the young infant who died in her arms. Somehow, and rather typical of Willie, a cricket bat and ball have managed to find their way onto the window. Other windows at the Non-Subscribing commemorate Thomas of Ardara (erected by members of the congregation) and Eliza Pirrie and John Miller (erected by Mrs Thomas Andrews in memory of her mother and uncle).
The only daughter of Thomas of Ardara was Eliza Montgomery Andrews, known as Nina, born in 1874. In 1906 she married Lawrence Arthur Hind from Nottinghamshire. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the army and was killed at the Somme on 1st July 1916. Nina died in 1930.
The son of John Miller Andrews was also a prominent politician. This was John Lawson Ormrod (JLO) Andrews, born in 1903. He succeeded his father as Unionist MP for mid-Down in 1953 and held the seat until 1964 when he was elected to the Senate. He held office as Minister of Health, Commerce and Finance. He was also Leader of the Senate and Deputy Prime Minister. He died in 1986.
Over recent years the flax-spinning mill has been a witness to the involvement of the Andrews family in the life of Comber, with various extensions being added on over the years. Over 500 people were employed there in 1925. However, by the 1990s it was no longer feasible to carry on, and so the mill closed in 1997. It was a huge blow to Comber.
Fortunately a use has been found for the building, which has been converted into luxury apartments at the centre of a mill village. And the Andrews family still have an involvement in the linen industry with Johnny carrying on a retail outlet at the Clattering Ford. And he maintains his interest in Comber via the Regeneration Group. The story of this remarkable family is not finished yet.
Sir John Lawson Ormrod Andrews (known as JLO or Jack) was born on 15th July 1903, the son of Northern Ireland's second Prime Minister John Miller Andrews and his wife Jessie (nee Ormrod). He had two younger sisters, Morie and Josephine. Jack was educated at Mourne Grange Preparatory School, Kilkeel, Co Down, and Shrewsbury School in England.
In 1928 he married Elaine Maynard James from Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales, whose family had a rubber business. They had four children - John, Heather, Tom and James.
In 1927 Jack became Managing Director of the flax spinning mill of John Andrews & Co Ltd in his home town of Comber, Co Down. During the late 1920s/early 1930s he was a member of the very successful North Down Hockey team which won the Kirk Cup and the League Championship on several occasions.
In 1953 John Miller Andrews retired as Unionist MP for Mid-Down in the Stormont Parliament, and Jack took his father's place. He retained this seat until 1964 when he resigned after being elected to the Northern Ireland Senate. Here he remained until 1972 when the Parliament was prorogued. Jack was Minister of Health and Local Government between 1957 and 1961, when he took on the Commerce portfolio. Then he was Minister of Finance from 1963-64. On his elevation to the Senate he became Leader of the Upper House, and in 1969 took on the role of Deputy Prime Minister. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1957, a Deputy Lieutenant in 1961, and was invested as a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1974 New Year's Honours List.
When Lord Brookeborough retired as Prime Minister in 1963, Jack was a contender to replace him. However, it became clear that Terence O'Neill had a comfortable lead in the parliamentary party over both Jack and Brian Faulkner, so no contest was held. Again, in 1969 Jack was approached by O'Neill to succeed him but he refused and James Chichester-Clark was elected.
During the 1970 by-elections in Bannside and South Antrim, Jack was at the centre of the Ulster Unionist campaign against the Protestant Unionist Party of Ian Paisley. He was a member of the Unionist delegation which went to Downing Street in 1972 immediately before the imposition of direct rule from Westminster. In 1974 he resigned from his position as President of the Unionist Council following that body's decision to reject the Sunningdale Agreement - a move which led to the resignation of Brian Faulkner as Unionist leader. With Brian Faulkner he helped found the pro power sharing Unionist Party of Northern Ireland
(UPNI) which was wound up in 1981. Jack retired from politics in the late 1970s. He died peacefully at Maxwell Court on 12 January 1986. His two sons Tom and John and grandson Johnny continued to manage the flax spinning mill until its closure.
Johnny Andrews & Co Ltd and Clattering Ford The Andrews' Flax Spinning Mill closed down in 1997, but today the family business is continued into the sixth generation by Jack's grandson, Johnny (son of John Andrews 1929-2014). He operates from Clatteringford, just outside Comber, selling natural fibre products online at www.clatteringford.com
Clattering Ford, he maintains his interest in Comber via the Regeneration Group.
The story of this remarkable family is not finished yet.
As experts in Irish linen since 1863 the firm now use e-commerce to promote and sell linen worldwide. Among other things they produce and sell original designs of Titanic table linen as designed for Titanic. Other natural fibres have been added to the collection - merino, alpaca, cashmere and many other innovative blends using silk, linen, wool, recently adding pashmina, and a collection of merino/possum blend hats, mitts, gloves and socks. With his passion for Irish linen Johnny is keen to continue the family tradition of exporting to bring ‘value added’ to the business which now employs seven people in Comber. He also maintains an interest in farming and in the restoration of mill village properties to traditional style.
These are situated round the mill and are now designated as areas of townscape character - you can still spot Johnny's great grandmother Jessie's passion for bay windows in the little mill houses around the mill village area.
Since the closure of the mill Johnny has been involved in the local Comber Regeneration Group and wider afield in Killinchy Rural Preservation Group which is promoting the protection of the rural character of Killinchy and its environs around Strangford Lough. He was active in promotion and delivery of a new waste water treatment works in Killinchy. Having qualified as a chartered accountant in 1986, and with an MA from Cambridge in economics, Johnny has a passion for real and normalized politics and following in the family's great liberal unionist tradition he campaigned as a candidate for NI Conservatives in the 2015 general election, securing 2,167 votes, the top scoring Conservative in Northern Ireland.
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