Bessbrook Mill

Peter Bradley writes of Bessbrook long ago. ‘I was born in Newry in 1917 but when I was very young the family moved to Hill Street (Quarry Road) Bessbrook. These houses together with Flynntown (Rock Row) were built to accommodate the labourers at the local quarry. 

I started school in Bessbrook Convent School in 1921 and in 1923 transferred to St Malachy’s Boys School where I completed my school Leaving Certificate in 1931.

On my fourteenth birthday I was recommemded by Mr Campbell who was the chief cashier of Bessbrook Spinning Company, to take employment as junior clerk in the Mill’s wages department.

At that time there were 2500 people employed by the company and my job was to stamp and date insurance cards and to post any mail. On Wednesday mornings I accompanied the chief clerk in the company’s Rolls Royce to withdraw the wages for the entire workforce. Two policemen, the chief clerk and me went into the Belfast Banking Company in Hill Street, Newry and the amount required would be withdrawn in cash.

In order to make it easier to make up individual wages, it was my job also to have a list of any individual coins or notes needed – shillings, florins, half-crowns, ten-shilling notes, pound notes and five-pound notes. The odd ten-pound note was also withdrawn but only very rarely because nobody ever earned as much as that in those days.

The average earnings then was about one pound ten shillings per week. On returning to the Mill the wages were made up by the chief clerk on Wednesday evenings. They were stored in the main strong-room safe and paid out to the employees on Thursday mornings by Mr Honeyford.

While I was working in the wages office I attended night school in Newry Technical College where I studied shorthand and accountancy up to final balance. I then studied English and Latin in Stapleton’s Academy for two further years.

I had an ambition to go into engineering and I left the Mill to complete my three-year course in ‘precision engineering’ and ‘workshop practice’ at Chester College of Technology. I then was employed by Cammill & Laird in the engine-repair shop and I worked there during the Second World War.

I returned to Bessbrook where I met and married Kathleen Kelly from Dorsey, Cullyhanna. We settled in Flynntown where we reared nine children.

I was employed for a number of years by BICC where I worked as a machine-fitter.

In Bessbrook we always had a number of good neighbours both in Rock Row and Quarry Row but the houses had no bathroom or flush toilets or hot water supply. In the early Seventies the houses were demolished to make room for the present Fr Cullen Park, where we finally settled. 

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