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Caledon Village

At the beginning of the 19th Century Caledon was very different to the village we see today.  Lewis’s Topographical Directory described it as “a poor or mean village – a muddle of tumble down thatched houses.”[1]

The 2nd Earl, Du Pre Alexander undertook a major transformation of Caledon.  In 1815 it is recorded in Caledon account book that £46 was paid to Johnston Architects to plan out the village.  During the next few decades several fine terraces were constructed characterising the distinctive late Georgian streetscape of Caledon today.  Important employment opportunities were generated with the construction of Caledon Flour Mills in 1823 and transport of goods was greatly facilitated with the development of the Ulster Canal.

 ‘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.[2]

Caledon Courthouse, the focal point of the village, and the Caledon Arms Hotel was constructed by the 2nd Earl in the early 1820s at a cost of £3,000 to a design by the Dublin architect William Murray who also designed Armagh Courthouse.  By 1837 Caledon was described as “one of the best built towns in the North of Ireland, containing 226 houses, nearly all of which are built of stone”[3]

The following contemporary report appearing in the Dublin Evening Post 23 May 1834 gives and interesting account of a momentous day in the region.

At the early hour of the forenoon a large assemblage of the labouring classes were collected at Carrickaness to ascertain if their long cherished hopes of employment were to be realised, they were not disappointed.  At an early hour the Ulster Canal Company’s flag was hoisted on a promontory that commanded a view of the battery from which the salute was to be fired, the ancient castle, the waterfalls, and romantic scenery around.  Sir James Stronge and others of the gentry of the surrounding country displayed flags from their residences, and on many of the neighbouring hills preparations were being made for bonfires in the evening, and at the appointed hour (12 o’clock) the Royal Standard was hoisted on the old castle of Benburb once the residence of the O’Neills, Kings of Ulster….. a number of blasts having been prepared in the mass of rock on this spot, a Royal Salute of 21 shots was fired which was simultaneously echoed by the shouts of the hundreds assembled on the hills around and answered from the castle by a discharge of cannon and small arms.  After the blasting was finished, a number of men were instantly set to work to mark the boundaries of the line and to commence the off-bearing of the quarry.  During the intervals of blasting, the country people were liberally supplied with ale and everything passed off with the ultimate éclat.  On the ground we observed a great number of the gentry of the surrounding country.  In the evening it was the intention of a number of friends to dine together in the Caledon Arms.[4]

The transformation of the village continued with the 3rd Earl (1839 – 55) who planted trees and improved the approaches to Caledon “so that now Caledon arrests the attention of every visitor by the charm of its surrounding, the excellence of its buildings and the general neatness of its aspects”

The Third Earl also organised the provision of an excellent water supply to the village from the collected springs of the demesne by a novel type of engineering – the hydraulic ram.  This development would have had a very favourable impact on public health in a century where water borne diseases such as cholera were still prevalent.

During the famine the 3rd Earl and his agent Henry Prentice had a most enlightened and humanitarian approach.  Famine relief work was organised including the building of the Estate walls.  Three soup kitchens were set up at the Model Farm, Dyan village and Brantry and sufficient oatmeal was purchased for the needs of the whole area of Caledon Estate, some 10,000 people.  The most up-to-date drainage schemes were introduced to help tenants grow a variety of crops.  Silk weavers were brought over from Paisley in Scotland to teach apprentices fine silk weaving in the Paisley pattern in a building known as the ‘Workhouse’ opposite the former Caledon Modal School at Ramakit.

Finally in 1847, the government acted to set up public soup kitchens throughout Ireland.  It was generally considered that if others had followed the lead of the 3rd Earl and his agent Henry Prentice, the terrible effects of the Famine would have been mitigated.

The following paragraph appeared in the Armagh Guardian in March 1847 – it gives a snapshot of life in Caledon through the eyes of a remarkable lady who lived to an incredible age:-

“There is at present a woman living in Caledon named McClelland who is in her 111th year.  For upwards of seventy-five years she has kept a public house, the duties of which she can still perform with ease ….. what memories she could recall – probably as a little maid, had witnessed the planting of the elm by Lord Orrery that now as a great tree, adorns Caledon Street, and in after years had seen offenders placed in the stocks that were situated at its base.  Had in her mature years watched the Caledon Company of Volunteers as they march gaily past under the command of Captain James Dawson … had witnessed the rejoicings for Trafalgar and for Waterloo and as she drew nigh to the close of life’s journey beheld the saddening sights of the famine of ’47.  During her lifetime the world had progressed from travelling on horseback and by post chaise to railroad train, and Caledon under the improving hand of the second Earl, from a huddle of tumble-down thatched houses gradually became one of the cleanest and prettiest of Northern towns.”[5]

In the early 1880s Caledon Flour Mills were remodelled to suit the demands of Woollen manufacture and began trading as Sherrard Smith and Company who manufactured an impressive range of tweeds, friezes, serges, blankets, flannels, coatings, costume cloths and knitting yarns.  Sherrard Smith exported to the United States, Europe and the Colonies as well as the lucrative UK market.[6]  Employment at the mill increased substantially and apprenticeships were much sought after.  In 1886 An Apprenticeship Debenture records a James  Browne, JP, Donaghmore paying Sherrard Smith and Company a sum of £100 for his son’s apprenticeship training.[7]

The 20th Century

The assets of the Caledon Woollen Mill were bought by John Fulton & Co in 1902 and the mill commenced trading as Caledon Woollen Mills Co Ltd.  During the war boom very large profits were made mainly in the production of khaki for the armed forces and employment at the mill reached 700 people.

The post war slump did not facilitate the search for new markets to replace the lucrative manufacture of khaki and the mill was soon experiencing financial difficulties.  The  closure of Caledon Mill in the early 1930s combined with the subsequent decline in agricultural employment  in the post WW2 period, led to the socio economic decline in the village during the 20th century.  Census figures demonstrate a population decline in the village during the latter part of the 20th century.  Added to this was the impact of Government policy in the 1960s when the MI motorway was routed from Portadown to Dungannon effectively isolating this part of Northern Ireland.  The concept and development of Craigavon has in the long term reduced the status of Armagh as the county town, leading to rural deprivation in the area which has impacted adversely on surrounding towns and villages including Caledon, particularly in respect of reduced opportunities for employment and low wages.  Caledon is a border village, which during the period of conflict was further isolated by border road closures. A high level of isolation and socio economic deprivation caused fear and distrust within the community and were no help in the building of community cohesion. 

Economic decline and resultant lack of development pressure did however have the beneficial effect of a degree of protection for the village’s individual character and architectural heritage.  However several historic terraces did fall victim to Housing Legislation of the 1960s when the policy was clearance and new build. On 24 May 1984 Caledon was designated as one of nine conservation areas within the Omagh Planning division.  Following an assessment of the historic fabric of the village, in 1996 the Department determined that the boundary of the existing designated area should be extended and the design guidance updated.  In the Planning Service designation Caledon was described “as an area of special architectural and historic interest, the character of which it is desirable to preserve and enhance”[8]

[1] Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (London 1837) – hereafter Lewis

[2] Angelique Day and Patrick McWilliams (eds) Ordnanced Survey Memoirs of Ireland Vol.20, Parishes of County Tyrone, 1825, 1833 – 5, 1840 pp 1 – 2 hereafter OSM County Tyrone

[3] Lewis

[4] Dublin Evening Post  c 23 May 1834

[5] J.J. Marshall History of the Territory of Minterburn and the town of Caledon (Dungannon 1923)

[6] George Henry Bassett, Co Armagh One Hundred Years Ago – A Guide and Directory 1888 (Belfast 1989)

[7] PRONI T3670/1

[8] Caledon Conservation Area 1996 page 21