028 3756 9899

Caledon Mill

Caledon flour mills were erected by the 2nd Earl of Caledon, Du Pré Alexander c.1823 as part of his impressive transformation of the socio economic landscape of Caledon.  Prior to 1816, Caledon was described as a mean village with a muddle of tumble down thatched houses.  By 1837, Lewis describes the village as ‘one of the best built towns in the North of Ireland, containing 226 houses, nearly all of which are built of stone’.[1]  Caledon Estate account book entry, dated 1824, records an expenditure of £441 on the ‘new mills’.  Milling seems to have commenced in late 1826. [2]  Although now operational, building work appears to have continued; in 1827 a further £3300 was expended, and £1350 the following year.  Initially the complex was powered by a single waterwheel, 18ft in diameter by 18ft wide, the water being drawn off the River Blackwater at a weir in the vicinity of the road bridge.  By April 1830, a second wheel of identical dimensions had been installed.[3]  The c.1835 Ordnance Survey Memoirs record:

‘The flour mills at Caledon rank among the most extensive of the class in the kingdom ….. Lord Caledon is sparing no expense in improvements here, and the flour mills which he has erected supply the country from Belfast to Lough Erne and nearly equal distances north and south.’[4]   

Lewis in 1837 also makes reference to the

‘extensive flour mills erected by Lord Caledon where above 9000 tons of wheat are ground annually, all of which is grown in the vicinity, where scarcely an acre of wheat was sown at the beginning of the century’.[5]  

Thus the establishment of the mill also offered a very valuable economic opportunity to the families who farmed the fertile lands in the locality.


The availability of waterpower would have been affected by changing levels in the River Blackwater, from whence the Mill Race originated and deficiencies in such most likely prompted the necessity to procure an additional source of power, hence the introduction of the Caledon Beam Engine.   The engine incorporated a massive ‘dog’ clutch at ground level, by which the steam engine in the mill could be separated from the machinery if sufficient water power was available.[6]

The Caledon Beam Engine, an impressive example of Ireland’s industrial archaeology is unique in the sense that it is the last remaining housed Beam Engine in Ireland and thus of immense historical importance. It is one of only eight surviving beam engines in Ireland and is the oldest attested surviving beam engine in Ireland.[7]  The engine is technically known as a beam engine on account of the massive beam which links the piston rod at one end of the engine to the connecting rod and drive shaft at the other end.  The Caledon Beam Engine is an integral part of the building which encloses it since the framework which supports the rocker beam rests on metal girders, the ends of which are built into the side walls.  For this reason, it is known as a ‘house-built’ engine.[8]  

The completion of the Ulster Canal as far as Caledon in 1829 would have greatly facilitated the supply of coal for the engine as well as distribution of the milled grain.  As noted in the 1835 OS Memoir – the Caledon Flour Mills ‘supply the country from Belfast to Lough Erne and nearly equal distances north and south’. The introduction of the Beam Engine would have enabled the mill to benefit from a reliable output irrespective of river levels.


By 1858 the site had been leased to William Browne and James Clow, possibly for the production of animal feed.  A chequered few decades ensued for the Caledon Mill Complex until 1882 when the complex was leased to John Charles Smith who subsequently, in May 1883 formed a partnership with William Oliver Sherrard trading as Sherrard Smith & Co.  John Charles Smith’s assets were valued at £1000 and William Oliver Sherrard invested £2000 cash.[9] John Charles Smith having had experience of twenty years in the woollen and worsted manufacturing business at the Shannon and Burnbrook Woollen Mills, Athlone, began at once to lay the foundation of an industry which promised to rank among the most important in Ireland.  The flour mills had to be entirely re-modelled internally to suit the demands of woollen manufacture.  Forty looms of the best description, sets of carding machines, with self-acting mules to match, and all the requisite machinery for preparing, dyeing and finishing were put into position.[10] The two waterwheels were replaced by turbines at considerable expense to Lord Caledon. A letter from solicitors, Longfield, Kelly and Armstrong dated 15 May 1891 refers to ‘proposed expenditure by Lord Caledon of £1000 in putting up a new turbine wheel at Caledon Mills ….. the present lease to be duly surrendered and a new lease for 21 years to be taken out by all the Partners in the firm at a rent of £200 a year’.[11]  

Sherrard Smith and Co. manufactured an impressive range of tweeds, friezes, serges, blankets, flannels, coatings, costume cloths (ladies’ dress goods) and knitting yarns; exporting to the United States, Europe and the Colonies as well as servicing the lucrative UK wholesale market.   Caledon cloth was considered to be of a very high quality, the tweeds were noted for their beautiful shades with the dyes being absolutely impervious to light.  Sherrard Smith exhibited at the Cork International Exhibition in 1883 and, their exhibit at the Artisans’ Exhibition, Dublin 1885, won a diploma of merit.  In 1886 the company received the appointment of Woollen Manufacturers to her Majesty the Queen.[12]  Other patrons included the Countess of Caledon, the Marchioness of Aberdeen, the Marchioness of Londonderry and the Countess of Mayo.  The finished goods were dispatched from Tynan – the development of the Irish railway network facilitated supply and distribution.

Employment at the mill increased substantially with the establishment of Sherrard Smith and Company.  Apprenticeships were much sought after – on 3 April 1886 an Apprenticeship Debenture records James Browne JP of Donaghmore

paying Sherrard Smith and Company, a sum of £100 in respect of a four year apprenticeship for his son James Jackson Browne.[13]


In the 1890s Sherrard Smith and Company developed a linkage with Foxford, Co. Mayo which remains to this day.  John Charles Smith, one of the partners received a letter from a nun, Mother Agnes Morrogh Bernard of Foxford, Co. Mayo.  Convinced that the great natural force of the River Moy could be harnessed for the benefit of the local community and determined to do something about the abject poverty all around her, Mother Agnes had made contact with Michael Davitt, and through his offices obtained the name of Charles Smith of Caledon Mills. Smith’s response to Mother Morrogh Bernard’s initial correspondence became immortalised in the history of Foxford Woollen Mills: “Madam, are you aware that you have written to a Protestant and a Freemason?” Nevertheless, Charles Smith agreed to visit Foxford on 6 June 1891 to view the site and discuss the cost of the project.  On meeting Mother Morrogh Bernard, the industrialist’s initial doubts were swept away by her dogged determination and her unfailing belief that ‘Providence will Provide’.  Charles Smith plotted the course of the river for the turbine power, drew plans for the new factory sheds and scoured Ireland and England in search of second-hand looms and other necessary equipment.  He also gave Mother Morrogh Bernard his trusted apprentice of six years, Frank Sherry who was to become indispensable as manager of the Providence Woollen Mills when its doors opened in May 1892.

Now known as Foxford Woollen Mills, the complex was modernised in 2007 and Foxford is synonymous throughout the world for high quality tweeds, rugs and blankets. Caledon has maintained on-going linkages with Foxford.  Members of the Caledon community visited Foxford in 1996 to mark the centenary of the death of John Charles Smith, who became known as ‘The most practical man in Ireland’.[14] It is interesting to note that John Charles Smith was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. John’s Church of Ireland in Caledon.  On his headstone appears the following:

“A tribute of respect by the workers of Caledon Mill May 9th 1896.

Our life is swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”.


The assets of the Caledon Woollen Mill were bought by John Fulton & Co. Ltd. in 1902.  The mill became the woollen manufacturing department of the Fulton Company and began trading as Caledon Woollen Mills Co. Ltd.  Sometime before 1914 the steam engine was superseded by a gas engine.[15] During the war boom the mill made very large profits when employment at the mill reached a peak of 700 people, mainly involved in the production of khaki for the armed forces.[16]


An occasion worthy of note in this post-war period was the Caledon Lock Out.  It began on 21 February 1919 when 150 people, three quarters of the workforce walked out of the premises of Messrs. John Fulton and Co. Ltd.  There were different interpretations as to what exactly sparked off this action. According to the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, the cause of the strike was the dismissal of two employees and a grievance against the manager.  The firm’s version was that it was due to the refusal of 54 hands to join the union.  Support for the strike was buoyantly militant.  There were nightly demonstrations with songs, speeches, band accompaniments and the raising of the red flag.  After torchlight processions the strikers would assemble at the ‘Big Tree’ to listen to the fiery oratory of union leaders.[17]   Such inflammatory orations exhorting strikers to adopt more militant action prompted several episodes of civil unrest.  The Armagh Guardian of 4 April 1919 reports crowds of strikers intent on putting a stop to work at the mill and persisting in their efforts to break through police lines, batons were drawn and quite a large number of strikers including girls were struck, receiving injuries and bruising.[18] One week later the Armagh Guardian 11 April 1919 reported that a more peaceful atmosphere seemed to prevail during the demonstrations with the number of supporters in the surrounding country districts greatly diminished.  The same publication reported a crowded Court in Caledon owing to the number of charges for assault and threatening language arising out of the strike.  However it was agreed between all parties that all the cases were to be struck out and the Chairman (Chief Magistrate) hoped that the strike would now be settled.[19]  The dispute finally ended after more than two months and the outcome was that some people were threatened with eviction and many others had to face unemployment or emigration.  Sadly, it caused sectarian divisions to become deeper and more entrenched.[20]


The post war slump did nothing to facilitate the search for new markets to replace the lucrative manufacture of army uniforms and the mill was soon experiencing financial difficulties.    Finances quickly deteriorated with substantial annual losses.  At 30 November 1926 the balance sheet showed the capital as having been entirely wiped out.  The balance sheet of 8 June 1929 showed the company as being hopelessly insolvent.  A minute of 17 January 1930 stated that the Company by reason of its liabilities could not continue its business and accordingly it should be wound up voluntarily and a liquidator appointed.  Arthur Henry Muir was appointed as Official liquidator.

By the end of January 1931 of The Caledon Woollen Mills Company Ltd. and its parent company, the Fulton Company was under investigation in the Northern Ireland Chancery Court before Mr Justice Wilson. 


Caledon Woollen Mills had contributed to WW2 effort with the production of army uniforms.  During WW2 Caledon Mill became an accommodation base for allied troops. The 34th Infantry Division were the first U.S. soldiers to land in the European theatre of operations.  They landed at Belfast docks on 26January 1942 and trained in Caledon for about six months prior to moving over to England to prepare to move to North Africa.  After landing in North Africa as part of Operation Torch, they fought through N. Africa, Sicily, then up into Italy for the long hard slog into Austria.  The 34th Infantry was the longest serving of any U.S. Army Division through WW2 losing over 3000 men. During their time in Caledon the troops were billeted in Caledon Mill, Caledon Castle and Estate top yard.

The 23rd Infantry Regiment came to the Caledon area in October 1943 and were stationed in Caledon  and Tynan Abbey.  Iris L Bradshaw was one of the troops who served in the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.  Local people had been asked by the Commanding Officer of the regiment to take soldiers in to give them a feeling of the family home as they were homesick.  Iris came to the home of the grandmother of local man David Fitzsimmons:    

“He was the reason I started to take an interest in the Allies in the Caledon area, my uncle Jim remembered him well – he said he was half Red Indian and that he came from Hondo Texas, he smoked the pipe and played the fiddle”.  Tragically like many of his comrades, Iris was killed in action.  David has visited his grave on a cliff top overlooking Omaha Beach.[21]

Post war, Caledon Mill, was again unoccupied and continued to fall into disrepair. On occasions it was put to various uses, including a dancehall, featuring top bands of the era, and attracting dancers from as far away as Enniskillen, Monaghan, Ballybay and Cookstown, a cinema and a mushroom growing facility.  Several local people have fond memories of these days and recall seeing the murals of palm trees and sandy beaches which had been painted by the American soldiers during WW2.


By the 1980s the six storey building had fallen into a ruinous state and was considered dangerous.  In 1985 Caledon Mill was demolished, with substantial quantities of stone used to fill in the mill race.  The entire site was flattened with the exception of the Engine House and Beam Engine which were saved for restoration at a future date.

[1] Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland: comprising the several counties; cities; boroughs; corporate, market, and post towns; parishes; and villages; with historical and statistical descriptions: embellished with engravings of the arms of the cities, bishoprics, corporate towns, and boroughs; and of the seals of the several municipal corporations (London, 1837), hereafter Lewis.

[2] PRONI D2433/A/10/17

[3] PRONI D2433/1/10/19

[4] Angélique Day and Patrick McWilliams (Eds) Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland  Vol.20, Parishes of County Tyrone, 1825, 1833 -5, 1840 , pp 1-2, hereafter OSM County Tyrone .

[5] Lewis.

[6] W. A. McCutcheon, The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland (HMSO Belfast, 1980).

[7] Dr Fred Hamond, Caledon Comprehensive Development Plan Commissioned by Caledon Regeneration Partnership with technical assistance by Kirk McClure Morton & Brady Shipman Martin. Appendix 6 – Second Steam: the Restoration of the Caledon Beam Engine (Belfast 1997), p.16, hereafter Caledon Comprehensive Development Plan.

[8] Caledon Comprehensive Development Plan, pp  4-7. 

[9] PRONI D982/50.

[10] George Henry Bassett, Co. Armagh One Hundred Years Ago – A Guide and Directory 1888 (Belfast 1989), p. 153, hereafter Bassett.

[11] PRONI D982/166.

[12] Bassett p. 153.

[13] PRONI T3670/1.

[14] James Laffey,  Foxford – Through the Arches of Time(Westport 2003) pp 17-19.

[15] Caledon Comprehensive Development Plan.-Appendix 6 p3

[16] Belfast News-Letter 27 April 1962 p. 4.

[17] Mary McVeigh, ‘Lock Out ? Caledon’ in Dúiche Néill Vol 9 (1994), hereafter McVeigh.

[18] Armagh Guardian 4 April 1919.

[19] Armagh Guardian 11 April 1919.

[20] McVeigh

[21] www.caledonww2.com