Edited by Adrian Hanna GI0SMU. www.sixgolds.com.
Comber Historical Society
Comber in the 1880s

Comber in the 1880s

The evils of alcoholic drink continued to make the news, and in January a Total Abstinence Society was formed at a public meeting held in Second Comber Church. Rev Robert Knox of Belfast delivered a stirring address and about sixty members were enrolled. There was also discussion on the establishment of reading and coffee rooms in Comber.

Comber got two new ministers. The Rev Thomas Dunkerley from London was installed at the Non-Subscribing Church in January, while in March John McKeown, a licentiate of the Belfast Presbytery, was ordained as minister of First Comber. The new schoolhouse at the Non-Subscribing Church had now been completed, as had the gallery in the church. Renovations had also been carried out to the manse, vestry rooms and vestibule. The total cost of all the work was approximately £1,500, of which John Miller generously contributed £400.

In March an inquest was held into the death of a 70-year-old woman called Jane Browne, better known by her nickname of Herrin’ Sally. Her body had been found at Carnesure in a small stream. It was supposed she was gathering sticks when she fell into the water and was drowned.

Mary McIlwrath and her grandson James summoned Hugh McCullough and Hugh Henderson of the Glassmoss for assault. Mrs McIlwrath was taking her cow to graze on what she claimed to be common ground, but found her passage blocked by a ditch erected by the defendants. She attempted to pull this down, and that was when the assault occurred. The defendants claimed that the ditch was on their own property, and was to prevent cattle from trespassing. They were fined for the assault.

An entertainment was held in the Orange Hall in aid of a fund for the erection of an ornamental iron railing in front of the building. As part of the evening, the Rev Coote of Donaghadee gave a talk on his travels through Switzerland, France and Italy. There was also singing by the choir of St Mary’s Church, and some humorous readings. Unfortunately, the hall was only half full, owing to a Conservative demonstration in Newtownards on the same evening, although many of the absentees turned up before the end of the evening. Another successful concert took place in the Non-Subscribing Schoolroom in April, when a large and respectable audience were entertained by a programme of high-class character.

The cricket season opened in May, with North Down easily defeating Working Men’s Institute. The ground, which had been re-laid during the winter, was in excellent condition.

In June the ladies of First Comber met in the Manse, where they presented the Rev John McKeown with a new pulpit gown. And in July the Sabbath School had their annual outing. After devotions, they set out in procession for their destination at Ballyloughan, with St Mary’s Flute Band at their head. On arrival, they were hospitably entertained by Mrs William Bennett and her family. Tea was followed by games and other amusements. The weather was fine.

Second Comber went to Rademon at Crossgar, accompanied by the band of the Gibraltar Training Ship. On this occasion the subscriptions failed to cover expenses, and so a special collection had to be taken up to defray the expenses.

July was not all fun and frolics. A fatal accident occurred at the Distillery, when James Dunn, known as “Steeple-Jack”, fell seventy or eighty feet when carrying out repairs to the one of the chimneys. And in August the Distillery was complaining to the Poor Law Guardians about a sewer at Camp Hill, which was polluting a stream supplying water to the Distillery.

Lord and Lady Castlereagh attended a lecture in the Orange Hall given by Rev T S Woods of Ballygowan to a packed house. His subject was “The Life and Times of Arthur, Duke of Wellington”. Proceeds went towards clearing the debt due on the hall.

There was always consternation when the rates increased. This happened at the end of September, and Mr Ritchie asked the Poor Law Guardians why Comber rates had gone up from 11d in the £ to 1s 2d. It was explained that there was a charge of 2d for water and sewerage on the town and townparks of Comber, the people who would be using these facilities. There’s nothing new under the sun.

The firm of Isaac Andrews & Sons had found it necessary to spend large sums of money on reorganisation of the flour mill. This included making a railway siding, and work had actually started on this with the demolition of some old buildings to make way for the track, when the project was abandoned. Instead, in October, the firm purchased the Meadow Street Mills in Belfast, showing that their future lay in the city.

A “lover of law and order” was up in arms about the bailiffs, who had caused quite a commotion in Comber. They were obviously drunk as they executed “the dread sentence of the law”, one of them threatening to shoot a woman and the other seizing a decent woman in an exceedingly improper manner. Wanton destruction appeared to be their aim with furniture and delpht being smashed to satisfy their cravings. It was just as well that the police sergeant appeared when he did.

November saw the inaugural meeting of Comber Young Men’s Christian Association in First Comber schoolroom. Rev Taylor of Second Comber delivered an address entitled “Associations”, and this was followed by a lecture by Mr W S Cairns, the MP for Scarborough, on “Does the House of Commons represent the people”.

A massive demonstration (nearly 1,000 people) of tenant farmers and their friends was held on 28th December in a large room at Comber Spinning Mill. The object was to whip up support for a new Land Bill, with resolutions being passed in favour of Farmer Proprietary, and of fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale. It was agreed that copies of the resolutions be forwarded to Mr Gladstone, the prime minister.

Comber Young Men’s Christian Association built on their fine beginnings of 1880, including in their programme debates on whether the ratepayers should have control of the publicans’ licenses, and whether marriage with a deceased wife’s sister should be legalised. Free lectures were given monthly for the general public, but it was felt these were not as well attended as they might be. One such was entitled “Intellectual blunders in the way of young men”.

Other societies were also going strong. For instance, Comber Musical Society gave a concert in the schoolroom of the Non-Subscribing Church on 25th January. And Comber Temperance Society continued to gain new members at their meetings in St Mary’s schoolrooms. There was also a Comber Branch of the Belfast & Co Down Railway Total Abstinence Society, which was organised by John Bell the station master, and held its meetings in a room at the station.

Rugby football continued to be played, and the season got under way in February with victory for North Down over York Road FC.

Robert Simpson was summoned to court for the sale of intoxicating liquor at his public house after opening hours. The magistrates, especially John Miller, appear to have taken the side of Mr Simpson, who had a good record, and tried to get the police to withdraw the prosecution. The constable refused to do so. However, Mr Simpson got off with a small fine, and the conviction was not recorded on his licence.

On the last Saturday in May the Castlereagh True Blue Flute Band from Newtownards got the train to Comber, where they paraded through the streets accompanied by the Comber Flute Band. Later in the year the Comber band held a very successful concert in the Orange Hall in November.

A correspondent complained about the dilapidated appearance of house property in Comber, and suggested that some of the leading owners such as Messrs Andrews, Allen, McConnell and McCance should be addressing the matter with regard to their own premises.

Hugh Shannon of Mill Street was described as a little man of seemingly excitable nature. Probably no surprise, therefore, that he was summoned for an assault that took place on the 18th June against a Robert Robinson. The allegation was that Shannon had insulted Robinson’s wife, following which he attacked Robinson, catching him by the throat and tearing his cravat. A Good Samaritan passing by came to Robinson’s rescue. Shannon was fined.

New Comber House, the property of Henry D Ritchie, was up for auction on 9th August at Mr Jeffrey’s Hotel. And on the 15th of the same month a seven-year-old child was killed at the Pound Bridge by a runaway pony and trap. The driver, an old man of 75 called John McMooran, was brought up on a charge of causing the death, but a verdict of accidental death was returned. In October another car driver was in trouble. Hugh Murray was summoned by the Belfast & Co Down Railway Co for being drunk and using obscene language on their premises. He had since, apparently, joined the Salvation Army.

First Comber had a debt to pay off, and special sermons were preached on 4th September by the Moderator, Rev W Fleming Stevenson, to try to reduce this. Meanwhile, at Second Comber, the manse and schoolhouse were enlarged. And in the Erasmus Smith School in the Square a bazaar and fancy fair was held in October, the proceeds of which were devoted to the establishment of a coffee room in Comber. The room, with a reading room attached, opened in December in Mill Street.

The Distillery put up the price of grain sold by them to farmers by a penny per bushel. This led to a meeting in the Newsroom towards the end of November of all those interested in “distillery grains”. There seems to be some dispute as to whether a boycott was called for.

The year ended on a sad note when a man called Robert Blair of High Street was found drowned in the dam of the Lower Distillery. A verdict of accidental death was recorded, and the Distillery came in for some criticism because the dam was not properly fenced off.

James Andrews of Carnesure died on 7th February at Hyeres in the South of France, at the early age of 52. Mr Andrews was a principal partner in the firm of John Andrews & Sons, and up until about two years ago was also a partner in the firm of James Andrews & Sons. His forte was in the realms of finance, and he was never happier than when engrossed in books and ledgers. Among other things, he was a director of the Belfast & Co Down Railway, a magistrate, and treasurer of the Non-Subscribing Church in Comber. The funeral took place the following week, when the coffin was carried by employees of the Spinning Mill from his mother’s residence in Mill Street to the family vault at St Mary’s. The service was conducted by the Rev Dunkerley. As a mark of respect, most shops in the town closed.

There was a contest in the Comber division for election of the Poor Law Guardians. For many years Comber had been represented by Henry D Ritchie and Joseph Dugan. Mr Ritchie did not seek re-election, and Mr Dugan was re-elected along with Mr William Barkley.

William John Heron of Ballyhenry received a little neighbourly help when it was found that he had taken fifty acres of Mrs Whitla’s farm for cropping. His friends got together and gave him a good day’s ploughing. But matters were not always so cordial between neighbours, and perhaps it was the same Mrs Whitla who summoned William McKee for destroying a fruit tree in her garden and threatening to destroy her entire premises. And William John Scott of Trooperfield summoned William Hewitt and James Breach for shooting and maiming three of his ducks. However, even when a case went to Court, an amicable arrangement could sometimes be made, as when a farm servant called John Drain of Ballycreely summoned his employer Leonard Calvert for wrongful dismissal. It seems that Drain was actually a very good worker, but drink seems to have been the problem, along with the use of abusive language. Drain returned to work for Mr Calvert and was paid wages from the date of his dismissal, on the understanding that he would behave properly in future.

The courts were busy, and Robert Stewart was summoned for throwing a coping stone from a bridge in Comber into the river. Apparently the bridge was due to be rebuilt. And both Robert Carson and Thomas Patton were in trouble for selling alcoholic liquor at their respective pubs after hours. Both gentlemen were also fined for irregularities under the Weights and Measures Act. More serious was the assault on New Year’s Eve by James Minnis on Thomas Hiles, who was on his way to the Watchnight service.

Comber was becoming notorious for fights, for example that in May between a “local contractor and a loquacious celebrity”. A little man in a white jacket tried to intervene, but he in turn was attacked, and only the arrival of the police prevented any serious injuries. A couple of weeks later a man “well-known for his love of Bacchus and pugilistic tendencies” assailed a man at his door on the Newtownards Road, but came off the worst. Almost at the same time, “a penurious old gent and a dairyman came into collision, and in the heat of passion a steel graip figured very prominently”.

The Twelfth was in Newtownards. However, Comber was also well decorated. Several arches were erected in Mill Street and the Orange Hall was ornamented with flags. The Comber Flute Band accompanied the Ballykeigle Lodge, and all who heard it were suitably impressed. The same band, attired in handsome artillery uniform, also headed a procession of 200 children and friends from the Non-Subscribing Church Sabbath School on their annual outing, which on this occasion was to Newcastle. Second Comber’s trip was closer to home. They went to a field at New Comber belonging to Mr Hamilton Coulter. The band on this occasion was brass, that of the Gibraltar Training Ship. First Comber returned to the premises of Mrs Bennett at Ballyloughan, while the children of St Mary’s accepted an invitation to a large field at Unicarval, put at their disposal by Mr George Allen.

An accident occurred in October at Heaney’s Corner, when Margaret Hutton was knocked down by a car being driven by a man named Bennett at a rapid rate. Fortunately, no serious injury occurred, but comment was made on speeding when driving through the streets at a furious rate, especially with such bad light due to the lamps not being lit when needed.

On 13th October a large black dog was found at Island Hill. If not claimed within a week it would be sold.

Church life continued as usual, and at Second Comber a new marble fireplace was installed in the manse dining room, while at a congregational annual meeting the Rev Taylor was presented with a gown and Bible. First Comber formed a Total Abstinence Society, and towards the end of the year both churches combined to hold a mission in connection with the Gospel Temperance Union. Attendance at the meetings in First and Second Comber schoolrooms was large, and altogether 340 pledges were registered.

One of Comber’s most distinguished citizens passed away in January at the age of 87. John Miller had been born in Downpatrick and held a position in connection with the Customs before settling in Comber in 1826. At that time he became a partner in Comber Upper Distillery, later becoming sole owner of both Distilleries, before selling them to Samuel Bruce in 1871. John Miller was also instrumental in establishing the Non-Subscribing Church in Comber, procuring the use of a loft for early meetings before the church was built on Windmill Hill. The church benefited greatly from his generosity. He was also a magistrate, an ex-officio member of the Newtownards Board of Guardians, and one of the directors of the Belfast & Co Down Railway. (Later in the year Thomas Andrews of Ardara was appointed to Mr Miller’s vacant post as director of the BCDR). The funeral was to the graveyard of the Non-Subscribing Church.

If John Miller was known for Old Comber Whiskey, James Milling of the Square was equally renowned for the manufacture of aerated waters, which began at this date. The label on each bottle bore the trademark of Robert Rollo Gillespie. There is a story that Mr Milling discovered his mineral spring as the result of a persistent dream.

Second Comber was making good use of its enlarged schoolroom, capable of seating 500 people. It could be divided into two by a movable partition. In early January a magic lantern show was given by Mr Morrow, while later in the month there was a congregational social, complete with supper, speeches and a programme of music. It is also worth noting that both the interior and exterior of the church had been painted through the generosity of a member. Meanwhile, at the Easter Vestry at St Mary’s, there was a small credit balance after paying for repairs to the church. Thomas Galway and John George Noble were appointed as churchwardens.

An old woman called Adair of Ballymaleddy died in April at the remarkable age of 110. She was unmarried and had for many years been employed by the Wilson family of Maxwell Court.

The North Down cricket team continued to flourish. The opening match of the season was against Queen’s College, Belfast, resulting in victory by 109 runs. A couple of weeks later Civil Service lost by an even greater margin – 138 runs.

As usual, the Courts were busy. Robert Carson of High Street was again brought up for selling alcoholic drink after closing hours. And Andrew Scott of Mill Street was charged by the police with picking the pocket of William Wightman, and making away with a purse containing 17s 6d. Not much need, however, for the extra police drafted in for the Hiring Fair in April, with few cases of drunkenness. Generally speaking, wages were higher and servants harder to treat with.

A fatal shooting accident occurred at Ballyrickard. The victim was a lad named William McCullough, a farm servant in the employment of James McCracken. McCullough was shot by a fellow employee, Alexander Moore, with a gun he had procured to scare away crows. Unfortunately, Moore did not know the gun was loaded and pulled the trigger, discharging its contents into McCullough’s head. Another fatality was a man called Macauley, who lost his life on the Ballywilliam Road while taking swine into Comber. It seems that the horse bolted, throwing Macauley out of the cart, which ran over his body. It all makes the squabble in Brownlow Street between the Browns and McTiers seem very trivial. This incident consisted of abusive language and maltreatment of a dog on the one hand, and stone throwing at a couple of children and the trespass of seven ducks on the other.

Furious car driving (with horses and carts) was a problem in Comber. Thomas Marshall of Killinchy was summoned for an incident on 6th August in Mill Street while carrying six passengers, while John Glover was involved in a similar case. The constable commented that you would have thought it was a steeplechase he was running. Both men were fined, as was James Dunbar who, while drunk, was roaring and shouting like a maniac and cursing the Pope.

John McCullough, a 13-year old boy, brought his employer, a Ringcreevy farmer called James McMillan, to Court for wages alleged due to him. He also summoned a fellow servant named Jane Caughey for assault. The assault allegation was upheld, and Jane Caughey was fined. The employer was not, however, required to pay the wages, as it was deemed McCullough had left without his permission. Other problems before the Courts included a dispute over right of way at the Glassmoss, an assault at Ringcreevy and the burning of a whin hedge at Ballyhenry.

On 7th July First Comber Sabbath School held their annual trip, which was to the home of Mr John Adair, an elder of the church, at Ballygraffan. Comber Flute Band headed the procession.

August 22nd saw the finest sale ever of Shorthorn cattle in Ireland when George Allen of Unicarval sold the greater part of his fine herd, realising over £4,000.

Isaac Andrews died in September. He was 84 years old, and one of the principal partners in Comber Flour Mill. His funeral was to the family vault at St Mary’s. Not long afterwards, Comber Flour Mill closed down with business transferring to Belfast. However, clerical work remained at Comber until August 1885 and an experimental telephone line was run from Comber to the Meadow Street Mill, at an annual rental of £44. John Andrews & Sons took over the Upper Corn Mill to preserve the water rights for the Spinning Mill.

The annual harvest thanksgiving service at St Mary’s in October was well attended. The preacher was the Rev Moore of St Jude’s, Ballynafeigh. And in December culture came to Comber in the form of Mr Robert Forsyth’s dramatic company, who gave performances of “Othello”, “She Stoops to Conquer” and “Hamlet” on successive evenings. Mr Forsyth was from the Britannic Theatre, London.

There was a proposal to link Comber to Killyleagh via a tramway system. This met with much opposition due to the cost to the Comber ratepayers, and a large meeting held in the Spinning Mill Schoolroom endorsed this viewpoint. Nothing came of the proposal.

2nd Comber received much praise following a Visitation by Comber Presbytery. The diligence and faithfulness of the minister, Dr Taylor, was pointed out, as was the co-operation of the office-bearers and the excellent order of the manse and church. A great effort was being made to discharge the debt caused by enlargement of the manse and school, while there had been an increase in the number of communicants and support was generous both for the minister and church missions. The only cloud on the horizon was the unsatisfactory attendance at evening worship.

First Comber were also in debt, and a congregational soiree was held on the occasion of the opening of the collection boxes in connection with this debt. Rev McKeown declared that the boxes had done even better than anticipated, and he hoped the amount raised would clear the debt.

A correspondent complained to the Newtownards Chronicle regarding the number of dogs roaming the streets. These were a danger to pedestrians, cattle and horses alike, and were encouraged by “corner idlers” to fight, so that a farmer from the country couldn’t pass through the streets without being set upon. Maybe his complaint had some effect, because later in the year we read of John Murdoch being summoned and fined for allowing his dog to be at large on the public street without a muzzle. The correspondent also complained about the large number of corner boys, who deliberately blocked the pavement, so that females in particular couldn’t pass without being subjected to abuse. He asked that the law be enforced which made swearing in public an offence.

The abuse of the corner boys was as nothing, however, compared with the so-called riot at Comber Station on Easter Monday. The disturbance was caused by a group of bandsmen who were trying to get into the guard’s brake van of the train. John Medley, manager of the railway, and James Pinion, traffic superintendent, attempted to stop them, whereupon they were attacked by the mob. Mr Medley received a blow on the head, before managing to escape on to the buffers, where he was hit on the head by a lemonade bottle. Mr John Andrews of Knock tried to go to the assistance of Mr Pinion, but was attacked by the crowd, whose favourite weapon appears to have been leather belts. He managed to fight his way through to the booking office. Mr Pinion was later led in half fainting.

One of Comber’s well-known citizens died in May. Dr James Frame was in his 74th year and had been ill for some time. He had been a surgeon in the town for about 50 years, holding the position of medical officer to Comber Dispensary District. He was also an elder in the congregation of Comber Non-Subscribing Church.

There was much discussion regarding Dr Frame’s successor as medical officer. Firstly there was the matter of salary to be sorted out, and there was disagreement between the Local Government Board and the Newtownards Guardians as to what this should be. Eventually Dr Robert Henry was appointed, but not without a protest from Dr Withers, the unsuccessful candidate.

The Twelfth of July demonstration was held in Comber, in a field on the Newtownards Road, granted for the occasion by George Allen of Unicarval. Arches had been erected in Mill Street, Bridge Street, High Street and Crescent Row, with a beautiful floral arch at the entrance to the field. An estimated 6,000 people attended, with lodges from Comber being joined by those from Newtownards, Bangor and the Ards Peninsula. The number of new flags carried by the lodges was remarked upon. There was not the slightest hint of any disturbance, although the day was marred by the death of an Orangeman as some of the lodges made their way home out the Killinchy Road. A quarrel arose between Alex Houston of Ardmillan and Thomas Buckley of Ravarnett, during which Houston was knocked down by a blow from his adversary and never recovered. Buckley was said to be under the influence of drink.

A Neolithic discovery was made at Ballyloughan in the field of John Glover. An urn was found containing human remains, which had been partially cremated, together with four worked flint flakes. Later two more urns were found. Close to the position of the urns was a small chamber, which appeared to be the oven where the cremation took place.

Second Comber Sunday School had their annual excursion, this year to Crawfordsburn, where Mr Sharman Crawford had put a field at their disposal. A special train ran from Comber to Clandeboye in about 40 minutes. The Comber fife and drum band accompanied the scholars, who totalled about 300.

Island Hill seems a rather surprising place for a regatta to be held, but one took place in September. A large crowd gathered on the Hill and the immediate vicinity, being entertained by the Comber Flute Band. There were two races, one for sailing boats of 22 feet keel and under, the other for two-oar punts. Afterwards a duck hunt was held, in which Mr Thomas Hiles performed the part of the duck.

Powell & Clarke’s circus came to town in October. A crowd mainly of juveniles gathered outside, but could not be admitted because they were “scant o’ cash”. This mob became rather demonstrative, and the circus mounted a guard to keep them at bay. Some of the youths threw stones, and James Rogan, in the employment of the circus, retaliated. He threw a missile which ricocheted from a tent pole and struck a lad called Richard Hanna between the eyes, injuring him severely. Rogan was arrested.

The Conservative candidate, Captain Ker, won the County Down election, and Comber celebrated with the burning of tar barrels and the parading through the streets of Comber Flute Band playing appropriate airs.

Second Comber started the year with a soiree in order to eat into the Congregational debt. The concert was presumably quite a harmonious affair, unlike other incidents in the town. One such involved William Galbraith, fined for being drunk and disorderly on the public street. At the time of his arrest, a crowd of about one hundred persons had gathered, and it was only with difficulty that he was escorted to the barracks. William McMillan of Ballyrush was also in trouble with the law after allowing his dog to run loose without a muzzle. It was particularly unfortunate that the poor animal chose to sink its teeth into Constable Willis’s coat and tear it. McMillan was fined and ordered to have the coat repaired. Constable Willis also summoned Ann Maxwell for leaving a horse and cart on the public street without anyone in charge. I wonder is this the famous Cummer Ann, later to gain some notoriety for her uncouth manners.

A thirteen year old boy called Alex Thompson was sentenced to fourteen days in prison, followed by five years in a reformatory. His crime – stealing two shillings and threepence from the premises of George Anderson, grocer, in Castle Street. John Glover was fined for furiously driving a horse and car through the streets, and Samuel Steele received the same penalty for shouting and knocking in a door at ten o’clock at night. An old man called William McClelland was continually making a nuisance of himself by annoying the residents in Mrs Andrews’ house. He was arrested in July for knocking on her door and ringing the bell, obstructing passage on the footpath and assaulting a policeman.

Comber Fair Day fell on Easter Monday. When the police tried to arrest David Patton for being drunk and disorderly, he resisted and a mob of 300-400 rescued him. Several hours later, he was still acting in an outrageous manner with his coat and vest off, and this time the police did succeed in getting him into the barracks. The police complained that it was becoming general practice in Comber to obstruct the police when they tried to make an arrest.

There were also complaints about the water supply and the sanitary state of Comber. Dr Henry stated that the water from the pump opposite the Spinning Mill was contaminated and not fit to be used for any domestic purpose. There were also problems with pumps in Lower Crescent and Castle Lane, and he thought this latter should be closed altogether as people had stopped using it. Dr Henry also recommended that the pump in The Square be re-opened, and the well thoroughly cleaned out. James Milling objected, citing the impression in the town that The Square was once a graveyard, bones having been found some time ago when a drain was being made through it.

Gratings were urgently needed for the sewers. John Andrews JP commented that it was hardly creditable that a town such as Comber should have no main sewer. There was apparently a sewer running through the town to carry off surface water, but nobody was allowed to empty sewage into it. Even so, if this channel was opened up, it would be completely choked with filth at certain points. Without a proper sewerage scheme, in the case of a cholera epidemic, Comber would be a pest hole and all the mills would have to be closed. Something needed to be done about this urgently, and during the course of the year some progress was made. Towards the end of the year a deputation were in talks with Mr Bruce of the Distillery and the firm of Isaac Andrews & Sons for the provision of water to flush the sewers. But, whereas the Andrews firm approved of the scheme, they were not in a position to provide any help as the flour mill property had been advertised for sale with all rights of water, and they didn’t want to jeopardise the sale. The latest recommendation was an artificial supply of water from the surrounding high lands of Comber, or the pumping of water into a reservoir at high elevation to be let out at intervals as required.

Comber Burial Ground, at St Mary’s Parish Church, needed extending. The graveyard was pretty full, and some recent interments had only a few inches of soil over the coffins. The general opinion was that a new cemetery was required, and during the year there was much discussion on the site of this. Initial thoughts were that an area at the Glassmoss would be suitable, between the road to Newtownards and the railway. However, there was opposition to this and a deputation from Comber appeared before the Newtownards Board of Guardians. The Glassmoss idea was abandoned, and some thought was now given to “Mr Corbitt’s field” on the Newtownards Road within the townparks. Another question concerned the area of taxation for the new cemetery. Should it be Comber town only, or should a wider area come into consideration? At the end of the year these issues were still being debated.

At Maxwell Court Major Bailie was auctioning his cattle, vehicles, household furniture and other effects. And William Murphy’s property on the corner of The Square and Bridge Street was up for sale. This included a shop where a lucrative spirit business had been carried on for over 30 years. Meanwhile at Island Hill, First Comber Sunday School arrived at a field belonging to Mr Moore for their annual excursion. First Comber would shortly lose their minister, the Rev John McKeown, who accepted a call to a congregation in Birmingham in November.

In September, in the Orange Hall,, there was an installation service in connection with Comber Orange District, and at this the Rev George Smith of St Mary’s was admitted to the Institution. Following the service, a meeting was held of the Conservatives of Comber, chaired by Colonel Waring.

The question of a new burial ground for Comber rumbled on. The main bones of contention were still (a) where should it be and (b) who should pay for it – Comber town and townparks only or a wider area. By the end of the year these issues still had not been resolved, and once again the Glassmoss was being considered, as was extension of the current graveyard at St Mary’s. The latter could only be done with agreement of the Church governing body. The Newtownards Board of Guardians were in disagreement as to whether Mr De Wind, the engineer, should be paid for taking levels and making out a report as to the suitability of the Glassmoss, some arguing that they had never employed him for that purpose. The question was whether Comber Dispensary Committee had exceeded their authority in asking him to do this work, which they deemed necessary as they needed to know if the place could be properly drained. It was finally agreed that the engineer should be paid.

The sewerage of Comber was also being looked at, and Comber Dispensary Committee recommended that a main sewer be constructed running from the centre of Crescent Row towards the river.

There was an election for the Board of Guardians, and in the Comber division James Milling failed to retain his seat. Elected were Alex Murdoch and John W Ritchie.

First Comber were looking for a new minister at the start of the year, and in January a call was made out to the Rev Robert Smythe of Castleblayney. He was promised £100 stipend, a free manse and garden, and the full annual dividend from the Sustentation Fund. However, the Rev Smythe declined this generous offer. A further meeting took place in March, at which it was intended to issue a second call to Rev Smythe if the congregation would make the call unanimous. However, they voted to withdraw his name as a candidate. Eventually the Rev Robert Hanna was installed in August. He had been minister in Croydon, although coming originally from Ireland. His call had been unanimous.

In September the church was closed for repairs, and a special closing service took place on the 26th, when the preacher was Rev Dr Magill of Cork, an ex-moderator. It had been discovered that the timbers in the roof and body of the church were unsound, and it was decided to take the opportunity to make extensive alterations in the shape and appearance of the church. It was at this time that the upstairs gallery was removed. Inside the renovated building were to be four pairs of arches supported on granite columns, while all the woodwork would be of pine. The seats would be sloping benches without doors, and the aisles would be tiled in red and black. There were to be five large double windows, with three smaller single ones over the doors. It was also planned to improve the heating and lighting.

Second Comber congregation meanwhile presented the Rev and Mrs Taylor with their portrait, painted by Sir Thomas Jones, while Comber Mutual Improvement Society held a soiree and concert at the Non Subscribing Church.

A large loyalist demonstration took place in the Orange Hall in February, the main purpose of which was to protest against the proposed Home Rule Bill of Mr Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister. When the Bill was defeated in June, Comber celebrated, Liberals and Conservatives alike, including the Andrews family, and bonfires were lit around the town.

Robert Carson was summoned to Newtownards Petty Sessions for allowing gambling to take place on his licensed premises. It seems that six youths were playing at cards for hens. However, the case was dismissed, as the Bench considered that the defendant and his wife had had no knowledge of what was going on, a decision with which Sergeant Kirley completely disagreed. Sergeant Kirley also had no joy in his summons of Annie Jamison, accused of stealing articles from her employer, Ellen Kennedy of Mill Street, who was a dressmaker. This case was dismissed. No such luck for Francis Clauson, who was fined for being drunk on the public street and assaulting the police.

Members of the tramping fraternity were charged with stealing a large quantity of wool from the premises of Alex Murdock at Cherryvalley. It seems that Sergeant Shanley arrested one of the thieves following an exciting chase out the Belfast Road.

At Ballyrickard a farmer called William John Orr, who had extensive lands, committed suicide by hanging himself. He was said to have been in low spirits for some time. Another death came from more natural causes, that of the Rev John Rogers, former minister of Second Comber, who passed away at Portrush after an illness of some years’ duration. And George Allen of Unicarval died in November. He was well known in agricultural circles, especially for the breeding of high-class cattle.

The Twelfth of July took place at Scrabo, although it was suggested that no drumming parties should go near Killynether House, where the family of James Brownlow was in mourning for the loss of a son. Mr Brownlow was agent for Lord Londonderry. Another procession also took place in July when the scholars, teachers and friends of 1st Comber Sabbath-School marched out to Ballyloughan behind the Comber Flute Band, and had an enjoyable day in a field belonging to Samuel Stone of Barnhill.

Prizes were awarded to the best kept stations on the BCDR, and very tasteful horticultural and gardening ornamentation was to be found on all the stations along the line. Comber received one of the 1st prizes.

Grace Hiles was forced into a public apology for wrongfully accusing Samuel Barr, a butcher, of purchasing a dead cow at Ballyhenry and selling the meat in his shop in Comber. The October Hiring Fair was rather boisterous, and when the police arrested a man for riotous conduct, they were stoned. A large crowd gathered, but matters were brought under control by Major George Rowan Hamilton, who was on recruiting duty for the army. It seems that his friendly warnings had the desired effect of quieting what could have turned out to be a rather nasty situation.

Much of the problem at the Fair had been caused by drink, and Comber Temperance Society continued to flourish, holding fortnightly meetings in 2nd Comber schoolroom. Still on matters relating to drink, Mary Niblock took over the licensed premises in Bridge Street from James Niblock.

Two Comber carters were fined for cruelty to animals. They were driving horses heavily laden with barley from the Railway Station to the Distillery, and beat and raced them along Mill Street.

Once again the disgraceful state of the streets was a topic of conversation, and the accumulated dirt and slush on the main street was described as “astonishing”. It appears that one man had the unenviable task of cleaning and scraping the entire road from the Railway Station to a couple of miles out the Killinchy Road.

Due to ill health, James Brownlow resigned as agent for the Marquis of Londonderry, a position that he had held for over 22 years. He was succeeded by his son Charles Brownlow. He decided to move to England, and at the close of the year a presentation was made to him on behalf of the tenantry.

Tragedy struck in February when a 72-year old woman called Jane McKee of Bridge Street died from burns received after a fire at her house. She had got out of bed to light a candle when her nightdress caught fire and she was engulfed in flames.

First Comber Church opened again for worship on 20th March following the extensive renovations recently carried out. The opening services were conducted by the Rev John MacDermott of Belmont. The roof, galleries, flooring and pews had all been removed, and the interior completely reconstructed. The exterior also had a different look, with additional gables and a new arrangement of windows. The grounds had been tastefully laid out in terrace fashion and planted with shrubs, while the boundary walls had been ornamented with battlements and entrance gates with railings were erected at the immediate front next to the street, as well as an upper gate leading to the school. Comment was made on the good fellowship existing between the ministers of the town, and Dr Taylor of 2nd Comber was present at the re-opening services.

There was also building work going on at 2nd Comber, with the erection of a teacher’s residence in connection with the school. Unfortunately, 2nd Comber lost one of its most influential members in June with the death of John McConnell. He was head of the Belfast firm of Messrs J & J McConnell & Co Ltd. There was a large attendance of mourners at his funeral, at which employees of his firm carried the coffin from his home in Castle Street to Comber Burying Ground. As the procession passed, shutters were put up in the windows of the shops and blinds were drawn in those of the houses.

Discussions on expansion of the burial ground seem to have petered out by this stage. However, the state of the sewers remained an issue, and it was recommended that they should be regularly cleaned out once a week. The Registrar of Comber Dispensary District reported that the health of the town and district was remarkably good, notwithstanding the extremely unsatisfactory state of what ought to be sewers.

The usual types of cases were occurring in the courts. Robert Hamilton was fined for being drunk and disorderly, resisting arrest and striking Constable Birne. And Richard Watson of Ballyaltikilligan summoned his half-sister Agnes Galbraith, along with Anna Maria Munn and Jane Watson, for assault and stealing from him the sum of £1 10s. But the police themselves were sometimes in bother, and in August the District Inspector held an investigation at Comber Police Station into the conduct of Constable Corr, who had been charged by the sergeant with being drunk on duty. Constable Corr was acquitted.

This was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and Comber celebrated. Flags flew from the Andrews Mill and many of the houses. One Union Jack flying from 1st Comber had a profile of the Queen in the centre, and this could be seen for miles around. First Comber Sabbath School made the day their annual excursion, the venue being the home of Mr and Mrs John Adair at Ballygraffin.

Further celebrations took place at North Down Cricket Club, who won the very first Senior Challenge Cup when they beat North of Ireland at Ormeau by an innings and 5 runs. The team was captained by John Andrews Junior.

The year ended with a social reunion in First Comber Schoolroom in connection with the Mutual Improvement Society, whose president was Dr Robert Henry. Dr Henry commented that, although the society was still in its infancy, it was flourishing, with numbers rapidly increasing and debates conducted with ability, pleasantness and good feeling.

First Comber Young Men’s Association had a lecture on “Co-operation in Ulster farming”, a talk deemed as very appropriate in the present agricultural depression. Meanwhile one of 1st Comber’s former ministers died. The Rev Isaac Nelson had occupied the pulpit from 1838-42, when he had moved to Donegall Street in Belfast. Rev Nelson had always been rather a controversial character and it was his appointment which led to the establishment of 2nd Comber in 1838. Later in life he entered politics, taking part in meetings in support of Home Rule, and was elected a Nationalist MP for County Mayo. Not something that would have endeared him to the members of his former congregation in Comber.

First Comber in fact lost another minister in June when the Rev Robert Hanna was deposed by the General Assembly. I have been unable to ascertain the cause. His successor was the Rev Dr T S Graham, formerly minister of Lisbellaw, who was installed in October.

The schoolmaster’s residence at 2nd Comber was completed at a cost of £250. Mr Macrory, the schoolmaster, agreed to pay an annual rent of £6 5s, and also to take the adjoining field at a rent of £1 plus cess and taxes.

The children of St Mary’s Sunday School and the pupils of the Londonderry School combined for the annual fete held in July at the Green, kindly lent to them for the occasion by the Andrews family. Many of the townspeople visited the Green and joined in the sports. A party of about 550 from 2nd Comber set off by special train for Newcastle in August and spent a pleasant day at Donard Lodge. Also at 2nd Comber a conference was held by the Presbytery on the Sustentation Fund for ministers, and afterwards Dr Whigham, convenor of the Sustentation Committee, gave a lecture in the church on the subject of Spain.

Comber Fair in April saw the usual number of cases for assault and drunkenness. And the sewers were still making news. Mr De Wind drew up plans for the improved drainage of part of Comber, at an estimated cost of £65. This work was subsequently carried out, but there were complaints. For instance, Comber Distilleries, who had promised to make a contribution towards the work, threatened to withdraw their aid due to delays in getting it done. And a ratepayer called Samuel Smith appeared before the Newtownards Guardians regarding the state of drainage near his premises. It was claimed that the pipes were not far enough below the surface in places. Hopefully, however, the Registrar General would be able to improve on his previous report when he stated that sanitary arrangements could not easily be worse. He also reported on a widespread epidemic of measles in the town.

At least conditions at the Railway Station were looking up, and once again Comber won 1st prize for the best adorned station on the line. It was also another good year for North Down Cricket Club, who retained the Senior Challenge Cup, defeating the Ulster club at Ormeau by 5 wickets. The football team did not do so well, Comber Athletics going down by 4 goals to 1 at home to Kiltonga.

Alex Stewart, the highly respected head teacher at the Mill School, attempted to commit suicide at his lodgings in High Street. This rather bizarre incident occurred at the breakfast table when he lifted a table knife and inflicted a gash in his throat. It was said that he had been in a despondent state for some time. Mr Stewart recovered. Not so lucky was John McKeag, an 82-year-old man whose body was found in the mill dam. It was probable that he had taken a weak turn and fallen into the water.

But let’s end the year on a happier note with a very successful concert of vocal and instrumental music held in the Non-Subscribing Church.

A select choir from Belfast gave a concert in Smyth’s schoolhouse at 2nd Comber. And in February the congregation decided to build new stables. However, the major event of the year at 2nd Comber was a social meeting held in March to mark the golden jubilee of the laying of the foundation stone of the church in 1839. At that meeting the Rev Taylor outlined the history of the congregation. Addresses were also given by the Moderator of the General Assembly and other dignitaries, while Dr Taylor was presented with a handsome cassock and gown.

Comber Dispensary Committee recommended that the Square and Spinning Mill pumps should be put in proper working order, and that two sewers should be joined, property owners having agreed to pay half the cost. And Dr Henry was complaining about lack of proper sewerage from Mrs Boyd’s premises. This was creating an “offensive nuisance” at Mr Auld’s premises, as indeed was the lack of sewers from his own house. His sewerage matter was running over Mr Ritchie’s pump.

James Gibson applied for a licence to sell alcoholic drink at his premises in the Square, which had previously been licensed in the name of Sarah Elizabeth McWilliams. And there was an application from David Drennan of Mill Street to open a public house. Meanwhile, Robert Carson of High Street got off with a caution for illegally selling drink at prohibited hours on Good Friday.

The North Down Harriers season came to an end in April with a drag hunt over the lands of Messrs Andrews of Comber and Mr Allen of Unicarval. Over fifty horses took part in this contest, which combined all the pleasures of a race meeting with that of a picnic. Later in the year a meeting is recorded at Killynether Castle, the residence of Mr A. P. Richardson.

Also in April, someone set fire to a large stack of oats, the property of Mary Scott at Ballystockart. A manservant was arrested on suspicion but later discharged through lack of evidence. Malcolm Chambers was sentenced to 14 days in prison with hard labour for a fifth occasion of drunkenness within twelve months. He pleaded with the Bench to be allowed to pay a fine instead, as his mother would not survive his being sent to jail. The Bench agreed to hold back the warrant for imprisonment till next court day, when Chambers would have to produce a temperance pledge.

Wedding festivities at Ballyrickard in May ended in a series of summonses. Mr Hugh Cairns’ daughter had earlier been married at her father’s residence, and while festivities were going on in the evening a number of boys and men gathered and set fire to the fences. Among them were Thomas and John McBurney, and Thomas was also charged with assaulting the bride’s sister. Most of those summoned received fines, although in the case of Thomas McBurney it seems that a fine of 20s was not sufficient – for Mr McBurney! He wanted it increased to 21s to give him the right of appeal. This was refused.

Another case of violent assault was that of James Baxter on his wife Margaret. Mrs Baxter apparently now completely exonerated her husband, and said he had been a loving husband to her for 17 years. She loved him and he loved her, and he always gave her his wages! The case was adjourned to await developments. This seems to have been a year of assaults, with George and James Donaldson going to prison for attacking Robert Smith of Ringcreevy at the Glassmoss.

July was the occasion for Sunday School excursions. 2nd Comber, accompanied by Comber Flute Band, marched to Mount Alexander House, the residence of David McAlpin, where the usual food and games were the order of the day. The ascent of Montgolfier balloons and the descent of those engaged in the sack races caused much amusement. This was also the silver wedding anniversary of Mr and Mrs McAlpin. First Comber enjoyed a similar day at Cattogs, when over 200 children, with their teachers and friends, had their day out in a field set at their disposal by Mr Petticrew. A nice gesture was the distribution of oranges to the children before their departure.

A complaint was made by the Misses Long in October against David McKee, relieving officer for Comber Dispensary District. It seems that Mr McKee and his son William had broken the lock on the gate and forcibly taken possession of the Long’s yard and stable to accommodate their horse and trap. McKee was also alleged to have been rather violent, knocking one of the ladies to the ground. The trouble appears to have started when the Long sisters disposed of Mr McKee’s services as their rent agent. Prior to that, they had allowed him the use of the yard and stables, which were next door to the dispensary. The matter was eventually resolved, but it raised other questions, principally as to whether a relieving officer could also be a rent agent.

Bostock & Wombwell’s Grand Star Menagerie exhibited at Comber on September. The attractions included over 400 beasts, birds and reptiles, which were driven in 16 spacious carriages from town to town by 30 draught horses, assisted by elephants and camels. Highlight of the show was Captain Cardono, the great American lion hunter, who performed with “the monster full-grown lions, ravenous wolves, bears, and hyenas”.

Comber Bicycle Club was thriving, according to the report given at the annual meeting in November. An alternative means of propulsion was still the horse, and a trotting match took place between Newtownards and Comber between two mares, owned by Mr Bailie of Newtownards and Mr Morrow of Belfast. The latter won.

Towards the end of the year the question of lack of graveyard accommodation, dormant for a couple of years, again reared its head. The recommended line of action was to request the Church Temporalities Commissioners to extend the present burying-ground in connection with St Mary’s Parish Church. Also in connection with St Mary’s, the Rev George Smith was elevated to the position of canon when he was installed in Downpatrick Cathedral as rector of St Andrews, a ruin in the parish of Killyleagh.

William John Johnston was admitted to Newtownards Workhouse when run over by a cart out of which he had just fallen near Ballyhenry. At least he survived. But in a similar accident near Newtownards a Comber man named James Hamilton was killed. And one final fatality in 1889 - a man named McMeekin from Scrabo was found dead in his seat at a scutchmill in the neighbourhood of Comber. A heart attack was suspected.

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