Castle Espie Pottery
Castle Espie Lime, Brick and Pottery Works
Records show that this property, which was owned by Mr Samuel Murland of Castlewellan, was sold in 1885, but had ceased to function about 1878/79. Production had gone on for about 29 years. Advertisements (Northern Whig) at the time of the sale suggest that this was quite a thriving concern capable of producing 12,000 tons of Lime yearly and 24,000 bricks per day. These must also have been a considerable output of pottery. It is not quite clear why the works closed down. Three reasons are given around the district:-
1) Raising the Lime became too expensive
2) Owing to the death of Mr. Murland’s son
3) A High Tide broke through the sea wall and salt water filled one of the large pits (called plumbs) engulfing machinery and with altogether disasterous results.
The “Plumb” is now a salt lake and is said to be as deep in parts as the highest chimney on the property – 173 feet.
The Works were situated on the shores of Strangford Lough about 3 miles from Comber. Much of the land – about 40 acres – was reclaimed from the Lough. There were 12 houses on the site for workers known as the Red Row. Bricks used for building these came from Glastry in Co. Down. There was also an office now used as a dwelling and stables for horses.
Besides the workers who lived on the site, many came from the neighbouring districts:- Comber, Killinchy, Ballygowan etc. Work commenced at 6 am so that many of the men had a long walk each morning. Recognised paths through farms were used as “short cuts”.
One man, who lived at the Red Row responsible for opening the gates each morning, told the following story about a worker called Cruikshank who lived near Ballygowan. “When the “local” men arrived – usually at the last minute – Crookie was always sitting on a large stone outside the gate, having arrived in good time to fill his pipe and have a smoke before commencing work at 6 am. He must have walked 4-5 miles already”.
There was a pier at the works, stretching 400 yards into Strangford. On this there was a narrow gauge railway. Quite large vessels loaded and discharged at this pier. Plans, which did not materialise, were laid to construct another railway line which was to connect with the old Belfast and County Down railway at a point between Newtownards and Comber. The foundations were actually made along the bank on the Lough side.
Deliveries were made by boat of Lime to towns situated on the Lough – Greyabbey, Kircubbin, Portaferry and Strangford. The men usually spent a night in one of the towns returning next day. Clay for the pottery was obtained at Castle Espie, but that used for “Glazing” was imported from Cornwall, arriving at the pier of course.
Some of the articles produced at Castle Espie can still be found in the district – table-tops, crocks, bricks and pieces of pottery such as tea-pots, kettles, fruit dishes etc. Some specimens are in the Ulster Museum at Belfast and in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra. A short time ago a few mantel-pieces existed and it is doubtful if any exist now. These looked like marble and were a pinkish colour.
When the works closed down the land was let for “Grazing” and a caretaker lived in Castle Espie House, which was originally built for the Works Manager.
The entire property was bought in 1885 by the Craig family. Mr James Craig later became Lord Craigavon and first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. There was no industrial activity at this time nor even after but a man named Pettigrew from Comber worked one of the small pits until about 1910 using the two small Kilns for burning the Lime. He travelled each day from Comber by Pony and trap.
The Caretaker who occupied Castle Espie House had a verbal agreement with Mr. Murland to the effect that he should have the house until such time as he (Mr Murland) asked him to vacate it. This led to a legal dispute, which was decided in the High Court in Dublin. The Caretaker had to leave and ended his days in one of the houses in the red Row. The Managers house was then let.
In 1912 the Craig family sold the entire property. The land was bought by Mr William Dickson who owned the adjoining farm, known as Quarry Farm. Shortly after acquiring the land Mr Dickson had the chimney brought down as it was considered unsafe. This chimney was said to be the second tallest in Ireland at that time. The land was grazed and the buildings used for housing animals and machinery.
In 1966 the property was bought by Mr Tony McCleery who demolished the main Kilns and the Red Row in order to make a landing strip for his aeroplane. Fortunately he took a number of photographs of the Kilns before the demolition.
Incidentally the timber from the Red Row houses was found to be in perfect order after 100 years.
Compiled by Mrs Alice Dickson, Carnesure, Killinchy Road, Comber in 1971. She is the widow of Mr William Dickson’s son and formerly owned Quarry Farm.
This article was supplied by Irish & Local Studies Section of SEELB Library Headquarters at Ballynahinch.