Edited by Adrian Hanna GI0SMU. www.sixgolds.com.
Comber Historical Society
Comber in the 1890s

Comber in the 1890s

Sanitary matters were to the fore at the start of the year, with cases of typhoid fever in the town. Dr Robert Henry reported that 80% of the houses in Comber had neither privies nor ashpit accommodations. The Crescent was in a filthy state, and sewerage was left to take care of itself. Dr Henry laid the blame for this on neglect by the Board of Guardians who, in spite of his previous recommendation, had utterly neglected to lay a main sewer along the street with suitable junctions. Most of the rest of Comber was in a similar condition, the sewers being choked about eight-ninths part full of solid matter. People living beside the gratings had to place logs covered with sods over them in the summer, and where that was not done passers-by had to cover their noses to keep off the offensive smell. Mr De Wind, the engineer, was asked to report, and estimated that it would cost £2,000 to provide proper sewerage in the town, in addition to water for flushing purposes, which Messrs Andrews refused to give. It was agreed that a sewer be put in at the Crescent, where there was none, but that the present drains and sewers in the rest of the town should be fully cleared out to see how they would work. This was done, and it appears that the sewers were in a better state than anticipated. A small financial outlay should render them effectual. And notices warning people against throwing slops and night soil on the streets were posted in the town.

Dr Henry also recommended that the pump in Comber Square be opened and cleaned out, as water was scarce in that neighbourhood. It was found, however, that there was not sufficient water in the old well, and so a new well was sunk in a suitable spot. And there was trouble in connection with a drinking-trough erected by Mr McKee, the relieving officer, beside the pump. It was flooding the Square, as the overflow of water had no escape. One of the Poor Law Guardians, Mr Murdoch, took an axe to it and destroyed it. To be fair to him, he did make arrangements to erect a new one which would be more efficient. It seems that “gross nuisances” were being committed in the neighbourhood of the pumps in Comber, and it was directed that notice-boards be put up warning offenders that the highest possible penalty would be inflicted.

In February Comber Amateur Minstrel Troupe gave their first performance in the Non-Subscribing Schoolroom. And there was also a first for the Point-to-Point Steeplechases at Comber, run by the North Down Harriers in April. A large and fashionable gathering of spectators saw competitions between teams from the North Down Harriers and the County Down Staghounds. The proceedings concluded with a drag hunt.

The Representative Body of the Church of Ireland refused to extend the existing graveyard at St Mary’s. Rather they were of the opinion that the Board of Guardians should provide a new cemetery outside the town. And so this whole subject was opened up again. Mr Murdoch thought that there was no immediate need, with a good deal of ground in the graveyard still unoccupied. However, this was not the general opinion, and Comber Dispensary Committee came to the conclusion that the present graveyard accommodation was totally inadequate for the requirements of the district. They suggested that two fields on the Belfast Road, occupied by William Falloon and William Robb, be considered. There was an objection to this from the Comber Distilleries Company who considered the site too close to the watercourse which supplied their distillery. At the close of the year an alternative was being pursued, a field occupied by Mrs Cairns on the Comber side of the railway crossing on the Newtownards Road.

Still on the subject of Comber graveyard, James Hughes and John Harris were fined for fighting not twenty yards from an open grave, just after the conclusion of the service.

A serious fire occurred in May in Castle Street in the premises of Samuel Woods, a draper, just opposite the police barracks. It was believed to have been struck by lightning. The police under Sergeant Kirley rendered valuable assistance, but to no avail. The premises were gutted. And in another fire in September property to the value of £500 was destroyed at the farm of Robert McDowell of Cherryvalley. The horses and cattle were rescued, but many fowl were destroyed. The fire had been started deliberately.

Ellen Skillen was summoned for assaulting Georgina Neill, a schoolteacher, who had chastised her daughter, one of her pupils. And Margaret Mills from Newtownards went to prison after being found lying drunk in Castle Lane with her child beside her. The child had been greatly neglected, and though three months old, was not 5lbs weight.

Hugh Strickland, a butcher, was summoned by his wife Margaret for refusing to support her. He had walked out on her and their seven children on the grounds that she was intimate with other men and was trying to poison him. He instructed his wife to sell the goods in the house to pay off the grocery account and the rent, but when these were sold she would get no more money. Strickland had left before, about nine years ago, but the matter had been resolved by the Rev Taylor of 2nd Comber, where Strickland was sexton. In the present instance, it was decreed that he should pay his wife 15s a week. There appeared to be no grounds to the accusations.

The behaviour of certain men at Island Hill was causing a scandal. One lady bather gave vent to her feelings about these so-called gentlemen who were intruding on the ladies’ bathing place and without any bathing costume. She did not know what to do except to give up bathing, but as a last resort was appealing to these gentlemen to use the place where gentlemen were supposed to bathe.

North Down Cricket Club once more reached the final of the Senior Challenge Cup, when they were due to play Armagh. However, Armagh lodged a protest and the final was not played on the arranged date. At the meeting of the Northern Cricket Union at which the protest was considered, it was decided that Armagh had acted under a misapprehension, but, according to the Belfast Telegraph, as North Down were unable to arrange another date for the match, the cup was withheld. However, according to NCU official statistics, North Down was awarded the Cup.

Still on a sporting theme, Ards Bicycle Club held a race in September from Newtownards to Comber and back, circling the Gillespie Monument in the process.

Four new elders were ordained in 2nd Comber in November. They were Joseph Cairns, Robert McCullough, William J Blackstock and James Berkeley. And one elder was buried in the same month – William McKee of Cullintra, who had taken an active part in the election campaign of 1878 on behalf of William Drennan Andrews.

There was a fatal accident at Mr Blakely Orr’s mill at Ballystockart when Robert Milligan of McConnell’s Row got entangled in the machinery.

We end the year where we started – with Dr Henry, medical officer for Comber Dispensary District. The Board of Guardians had agreed to increase his salary from £60 to £100. Mr McMaster objected, not because he disagreed with the decision, but because proper notice of the motion had not been given. He was proposing to have the resolution rescinded, and to have proper notice issued for the Board to consider the recommendation.

An outstanding issue from 1890 related to Dr Henry’s salary. The Board of Guardians met to reconsider whether it should be raised from £60 to £100. Dr Henry’s salary should apparently have been increased three years ago, and this would bring him on to a par with the medical officer of Kilmood Dispensary. Against this it was argued that Donaghadee were only paying £80, and there was a move to decrease the salaries being paid. It was agreed by a narrow margin that Dr Henry’s salary should be increased to £100.

The Rev Kimmitt of Clonakilty was the main speaker at a missionary conference held in Comber during February. And at a meeting of Comber Presbytery it was pointed out that between 30 and 40 new subscribers were now on the books of 2nd Comber as the result of visits by elders and members of the church committee. Also in February, 2nd Comber presented prizes to the children of the Sunday School in connection with the recent examinations, while the Guild had an evening of music and readings.

In March there was an election of Poor Law Guardians in the Comber division. The existing representatives, Messrs Alex Murdoch and John Adair, retained their seats, at the expense of a third candidate, Thomas Horner. But it seems that Comber Dispensary Committee were not holding regular meetings, and before the year was out they were being criticised by the Local Government Board who urged on the Guardians to press them into doing so. They were also to pay more attention to the condition of the Dispensary premises.

The matter of Comber graveyard continued as a major issue. It was decided to negotiate for Mr Corbett’s field, which was only a short distance from the town, and Mr Corbett agreed to dispose of his interest in the field for £80, provided he got this year’s crop off it. It was also agreed that the area of taxation should be Comber Dispensary District. A deputation then met with Charles Brownlow, agent for Lord Londonderry, to ascertain on what terms they could get a lease of the field. Terms were agreed, but some of the Board were unhappy, as indeed were the people of Comber who signed a memorial on the subject. They pressed for the field to be given free of rent, such as was the case in Newtownards and Kilmood. If this could not be achieved, opinion was that the Guardians should purchase the field, rather than rent it. At the close of the year negotiations were still ongoing with Mr Brownlow and Lord Londonderry.

As usual, Comber Fair Day in April had a disorderly element to it, with drunkenness and fighting. James Harrison was charged with assault, which took the form of taking a race at people and head-butting them. He received a £3 fine, or six weeks imprisonment.

Also in April, the success of 1890 was repeated by holding the point-to-point steeplechases. Special trains were laid on and large contingents arrived from Belfast, Newtownards and other towns. Rain over the previous couple of days had rendered the course rather heavy with the result that the animals taking part were taxed to the utmost. The Staghounds won both team races against the Harriers, while Mr Alex Murdoch’s Too Small was victorious in the Farmers’ Race.

Work was being carried out at Comber Railway Station. In particular, the down platform to Belfast was almost doubled in length. Comber platforms would become the longest on the entire BCDR system at 832 feet. The work was considered necessary as three trains were frequently in the station at the same time. And there was also building work at the Methodist Church, where a porch was added.

First Comber Sunday School had their annual fete in July. The venue was at a place called Cross Hill, about a mile out of Comber on the road to Killyleagh, and was granted for the occasion by Mr Elliott. Dundonald Flute Band headed the procession to the field where the usual games and refreshments were indulged in. 2nd Comber went to Mr Moore’s field at Island Hill. And the choir had a pleasant excursion in Mr MacDonald’s four-in-hand, driving by way of Mountstewart to Carrowdore and home by Donaghadee. August saw the death of William Smiley, an elder in 2nd Comber congregation, who had been engaged in Sunday-School work for many years. He had also been a Poor Law Guardian for Kilmood District.

About 5,000 people were in Comber for the Twelfth, held in the field of Thomas Horner at Mount Alexander. Lodges present were from the districts of Comber, Newtownards and Saintfield. Orange lilies decorated the houses and street lamps, and an arch of orange lilies adorned the entrance to the road leading to the place of meeting. The weather was glorious. Six extra constabulary were drafted in from County Meath, but no trouble is recorded.

More success for North Down Cricket Club who again won the Senior Challenge Cup, defeating North of Ireland at Ormeau by two wickets.

Two farmers from Ringcreevy, Andrew and James Mawhinney, were summoned for trespassing on the adjoining farm of Samuel Moore and carrying away a quantity of seaweed, sand and gravel. Until recently both parties had been tenants of Lord Londonderry and under these arrangements no-one had any right to take seaweed, sand and gravel without his permission. But now they had purchased their own holdings, and there was dispute as to who had rights to the foreshore. Newtownards Petty Sessions did not feel competent to make a judgement, and the case was left for a higher court.

A serious accident occurred at Comber Station in September when Thomas Collins, a brakesman, fell out of an empty wagon while a train was shunting in the goods yard. The wagon then came into contact with his body and was dislodged from the rails. Mr Collins was removed to hospital where he made good progress.

A robbery took place during the evening service at 2nd Comber on 24th January. Overcoats, shawls and other articles belonging to John Ritchie were stolen from a trap which he had left in the stables. William Rogan subsequently confessed to the crime and was sentenced to a month in jail with hard labour. Meanwhile, David Munn of High Street was found guilty of causing damage to the premises of Robert Abernethy at Ballycreely and of assaulting his wife. And Alexander Murdoch brought his son to court for assault. He had apparently been reproving him for not washing the carts when the son struck him, while on another occasion he lifted him and threw him on the street. James McKeag of Bridge Street was charged with entering the fowl house of Alex Murdoch at Cherryvalley with the intent to steal fowl. He claimed he had only gone in to light his pipe, but changed his plea to guilty.

Dr Henry again reported on the disgraceful state of St Mary’s graveyard. Coffins were being interred within 18 inches of the surface and bones were thrown out repeatedly. Mr Murdoch, one of the Comber Guardians, objected to the proposal to take additional ground at the site because this was too near his dwelling-house. There followed much dithering as the Board considered purchasing a field outright – either that of John McMorran, which was favoured by the committee looking into the matter (but which was too dear), or that of Mr John Corbett. Eventually a deputation was appointed to wait on Lord Londonderry to see if Mr Corbett’s field could be purchased outright rather than rented. One of the deputation, Mr Boyd of Ballywilliam, decided to take matters into his own hands, and went on his own initiative to Lord Londonderry. He asked that the field be given free to Comber, and Lord Londonderry agreed without hesitation. Mr Corbett, the present tenant, was given notice to vacate the field by 1st November. The Board of Guardians gave him £25 compensation, although he wanted more. By the end of the year the field had been taken over by the Guardians.

Dr Henry was still not happy with the state of sanitation in Comber and reported that offensive smells were being emitted from several street gratings. It was recommended that these be replaced with grates of the Banbridge pattern. A new sewer was also recommended for Mill Street, with a main pipe from the Pound Bridge to the Square. Matters were still not much better in September, and a sewer running under William Todd’s house in High Street was causing a health hazard to the inhabitants of eleven other houses. And the water channel from the railway bridge to the spinning mill was filthy because of people throwing slops etc into it. Dr Henry recommended notices to be issued threatening prosecution for any further offences. He also suggested that notices be issued warning householders of the danger of keeping their premises in an unsanitary state in view of the cholera epidemic on the Continent, and that sanitary officers make periodic visits. In November a sewer running past the Methodist Chapel was opened and found to be completely blocked up. But by December things were looking up, and agreement had been reached on a sewerage scheme for Comber. Total expenditure was expected to be around £600-700, and arrangements were being put in motion to secure a loan for the work.

The body of Stewart Bradney, rural postman from Newtownbeda to Carryduff, was found in a field at Ballyaltikilligan. He had been spotted lying there the previous day and, on being awakened, said he was resting. A verdict of death from exposure was reached. A much happier conclusion was reached with the birth of a child to Agnes Connor. Nothing unusual about that you might think, until you read that it took place in a railway carriage between Comber and Newtownards. The girl had been on her way to Newtownards Workhouse for the confinement.

First Comber’s annual congregational meeting in March was very satisfactory, with a report that Sabbath collections were higher than ever before. But 2nd Comber were thrown into turmoil by the resignation of their treasurer, Mr J W Ritchie. At a recent conference of the Belfast Presbytery it had been resolved that no-one connected with the drink trade should hold office in the church. Mr Ritchie felt that he had to take action as a result of this.

Comber Choral Union brought their season to a close with a concert at the Non-Subscribing Church in April. Also in April what was now a well established event in the racing world took place with Comber point-to-point steeplechases over the course at Mount Alexander. The five events included three inter-hunt competitions, a farmers’ race and a military race.

Lord Londonderry entertained his tenantry, including those on the Comber estate, to a dinner at Mountstewart. About 300 sat down to the repast, held in three marquees joined into one large pavilion in front of the house. Among the many speeches was one by Thomas Andrews of Ardara, who replied on behalf of Comber to the toast “The town and trade of Newtownards and Comber”.

Thomas Andrews was also one of the prime movers of the Ulster Unionist Convention called for the 17th June in Belfast. A large meeting was held at Comber Spinning Mill covering the Comber and Moneyrea polling districts to appoint delegates to attend and to protest against any attempt to force Home Rule on the people of Ulster.

An 11-year-old boy called Wm J McMillan was drowned at Island Hill. He and three other boys had been crossing the strand at Castle Espie when they were caught by the tide. The other three were rescued by another boy called John Bowman who had a boat.

North Down Cricket Club held on to the Senior Challenge Cup, defeating Ballymoney at Ormeau by the huge margin of an innings and 179 runs. But perhaps for once North Down were a trifle fortunate to have reached the final, having scraped into the second round over North of Ireland by 3 runs.

2nd Comber Sunday School had their annual outing in August to Mountstewart. They travelled in a procession of brakes and other vehicles supplied by Sam MacDonald. The same conveyances took Comber Flute Band on an excursion via Saintfield and Crossgar to Killyleagh, where tea was served. A vote of thanks was passed to the bandmaster Mr David Thompson.

The Gibson family, owners of the Farmers’ Rest public house, were in mourning at the end of September. Mr Gibson’s son had just died after a long illness, but on top of this a daughter also passed away the following morning.

A fire occurred in the stackyard of Mr H E Andrews of Carnesure. Fortunately help was at hand and about sixty hands from the Spinning Mill were soon on the spot and extinguished the flames. Even so, the greater part of a large stack worth about £30 was destroyed.

2nd Comber Band of Hope held their first meeting of the new session in November. The principal item on the programme was a temperance story entitled “Little Jamie”, illustrated by magic lantern views.

An inquest was held in January on the body of Robert McCleery, who was found dead in his own house, sitting in a chair. And in March a 3-month-old female child was left behind the door of a farmer in Ballymaleddy. The infant was taken to Newtownards Workhouse. In September another inquest was held, this time on the body of a child named Samuel Kelly. It seems that his mother, who was subject to fits, had lain on top of the child and suffocated him.

2nd Comber reported the state of the congregation to be very encouraging at their annual soiree. Dr Taylor, the minister, referred in particular to the work of the Sunday School, the installation of new heating apparatus and the presentation of a silver tea service to Miss Withers on the occasion of her marriage. At a separate children’s soiree Dr Taylor praised the work of the Band of Hope whose monthly meetings were well attended. The congregation were apparently of good standing in the matter of temperance, with the minister, elders, nearly all the teachers and the vast majority of the scholars being total abstainers. One of the meetings of the Band of Hope was a lecture by Professor Johnston on the subject of phrenology, the science of investigating a person’s mental faculties by feeling the bumps on his head. A number of those present allowed themselves to be examined and, perhaps rather surprisingly, agreed with the accuracy of the professor’s analysis.

A sewerage scheme for Comber eventually went ahead, despite opposition from some who didn’t like the idea of having to pay for it. The sum of £1,000 was being borrowed and that would be added on to the rates. But there can be no doubt that the work was badly needed. The stench was apparently dreadful, especially during hot weather, and John Andrews had himself covered over some of the gratings in an attempt to keep the smell down.

Another loan of £1,000 was obtained for work on the new cemetery. All contracts for the work were secured by Newtownards firms. By October the walls had been built and the roof had almost been completed on the caretaker’s house.

In March a protest meeting against the proposed Home Rule Bill was held by Comber Unionists in the roughing room of the Spinning Mill. The attendance of over 1,000 people included a number of ladies. It was agreed to petition Parliament against the Bill.

Some people were prepared to use coercion of a different kind to get their way. A crowd attacked the house of Patrick Morgan, a Catholic living at Cattogs, threatening to kill him if he didn’t give his vote against Home Rule. Volleys of stones were thrown on the roof and the stable doors were kicked, resulting in frightened horses breaking loose and a valuable animal being lamed. The mob returned a few nights later, but following information received, the police were concealed in an outhouse. On this occasion they arrested David Patton of Castle Espie and John Douglas of Lisbarnett who put up a violent resistance.

The point-to-point steeplechases were again held in April. After the last race a presentation was made to James Davidson, known as “Nimrod”, secretary of the County Down Hunts. This was in recognition of his services to the sport over a number of years, including reports in the newspapers and the management of meetings such as the point-to-point.

A meeting was held in the house of Mr T J Andrews in the Square for the purpose of establishing a nursing society in Comber. Lady Londonderry presided. A committee was formed and a subscription list opened. As a result of this meeting Nurse Fenton was appointed later in the year as District Nurse for Comber.

In May the Conservative politician and former Prime Minister, the Marquis of Salisbury, visited Newtownards. A considerable crowd congregated on the platform of Comber Station as the special train passed. The doubling of the railway track had now been completed from Belfast as far as Comber. As a result, trains no longer had to stop at Knock to allow those coming from the opposite direction to pass. Proposals to construct a railway line from Comber through Killinchy to Killyleagh, connecting with a steamer to Portaferry, never got off the ground.

In July John Anderson, a worker in Comber Spinning Mill, died after falling from an aerated water cart belonging to Mr Milling. The incident happened near Killinchy. John Campbell was summoned for maliciously breaking nine panes of glass in the house of James Munn. The allegation could not be proved and the case was dismissed. Robert McDowell was fined for furious driving of a horse and car through the streets of Comber, while the same sentence was also handed out to James McLeod who, although he had drunk his fill, could not keep away from the public house and was rapping on the door at eleven o’clock at night, refusing to leave when directed to do so. John Wright of The Crescent was fined for assaulting James Skillen in his blacksmith’s shop. Wright had caught Skillen by the beard, lifted a wrench and threatened to split his skull. Also fined was James Smyth, who allowed a dangerous dog to be at large, unmuzzled. People had been complaining about it running at horses and pedestrians.

Mr McDermott, proprietor of the Gillespie Arms (formerly the Farmers’ Rest), was charged with fraud. He had been purchasing goods in various shops in Belfast and in payment presenting a cheque for a larger amount, for which the shops gave him change. However, when these cheques were presented at a bank, they were referred to the drawer and there was no money in the account to honour them. The Northern Bank had in fact closed the account, although cheques were still being written after that date. How did Mr McDermott think he could get away with this?

More success for North Down Cricket Club with another victory in the final of the Senior Challenge Cup, this time over Ulster by an innings and 33 runs.

Up until this time, one of the tablets on the Gillespie Monument had remained blank. It was now decided that this should be rectified by inscribing a memorial to another Major-General Robert Rollo Gillespie. This was a grandson of the man on the statue who had also served in India and died in 1890 in command of the Mhow Division of the Bengal Army.

Following on from the proprietor’s conviction on fraud charges in 1893, the Gillespie Arms was up for sale. Also in trouble with the law was Samuel Drake, a partner in the firm of Paisley & Co, who was in breach of the Factory Act in allowing three girls to work outside prescribed hours. The courts were having a busy time. Alex Murdock of Cherryvalley summoned his wife Margaret and two sons for assault. It seems that he called at his wife’s house in the Crescent for some baked bread to take home. (They were presumably separated). She wouldn’t give him any, as she had already sent him some that week. She apparently caught him by the beard and tried to land a punch on his face, also kicking him on the legs till they were black and blue. A crook-holder and shovel also featured in the attack. It all ended with the son Richard throwing his father out on to the street. Richard was also accused of having, on a subsequent day, grabbed his father by the throat and thrown him down violently on a heap of stones. The case was dismissed.

Comber Fair Day brought the usual cases of drunkenness. George Mills was summoned after going through the streets yelling for two hours. He was described as a discharged soldier, who had got sunstroke on his last engagement. Alex Murdock was in trouble again, also for shouting and acting in a disorderly manner in the streets. One of the magistrates was led to comment that a separate court would be required for Comber.

A carman called Alexander Glover was fined for furious driving in Comber, while John Rea was fined for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart. William Clossan of Railway Street had been doing some illegal fishing in the River Enler. He had apparently dammed the river, thereby emptying the mill race, and leaving several fish stranded on dry land.

Jane Cairns of The Crescent summoned Eliza Dougan for striking her little boy and using abusive language, threatening to throw a can of water over her and to tear her to pieces. She also summoned Lily Wright for striking her on the shoulder with a brush. And Wm John McClure was fined for ill-treating a horse seen struggling with an overloaded cart up a hill. He contended that the horse was a stubborn one and was quite able for the work. A fine was imposed.

2nd Comber lost one of their elders in January through the death of John Ritchie of Cullintra. An ardent advocate of total abstinence, he would no doubt have approved of the meeting of the Band of Hope held later in the month when limelight views and music were on the programme. 2nd Comber also held a grand bazaar to raise money to pay for the new heating system in the church. No fewer than 100 ladies were on the organising committee. The amount raised allowed other work to be carried out, including the painting of both the interior and exterior of the church, redecoration of the school and improvement to the church lighting. At the annual meeting and conversazione, one item of the entertainment seems rather strange – shocks from an electric battery lent and worked by Mr James Busby of Belfast! Later in the year the use of fermented wine was discontinued at Communion, being replaced by a non-fermented variety.

In July 1st Comber had a visitation from Comber Presbytery, who were suitably impressed with what they found, although recommending more general attention to family worship and the observance of the Sabbath, and more liberal contributions to missions of the Church. A very successful concert in 1st Comber schoolroom was held in December.

Comber Nursing Society was making good progress, as reported at a meeting held in the house of Mrs T J Andrews in the Square and chaired by Lady Londonderry. During the past five months the district nurse had attended 60 cases and paid 1,070 visits. Her work was much appreciated by the poor of the district. Thanks were conveyed to Dr Henry and Dr Steele for their support.

This was the year when Comber finally got its new cemetery on the Newtownards Road. But the gate and railings had been vandalised even before it opened. And there was trouble with the wall, which was reported to be built of inferior masonry, especially on the side next to Mr Murdock’s land. Nor had the entrance been built according to plan. Nevertheless, in April Comber Burial Committee expressed approval of the manner in which Messrs Alex Dickson & Sons had laid out and planted the grounds. John W Ritchie had been appointed secretary to the Committee at £25 a year. David Parker of Newtownards got the job of caretaker of the cemetery at 14s a week wages with free house and garden. A meeting was held to draw up all the necessary rules and regulations, and fix the prices for burial plots. The first burial was a Mrs Martha McDowell of Troopersfield.

Dr Henry, as Dispensary Medical Officer, reported on the necessity of the Comber Sewerage Scheme being proceeded with as a matter of urgency. He attributed the prevalence of gastric fever in the town to the current defective sewerage. In February tenders were invited for the contract, which was awarded to a Mr Graham of Dromore. But there were problems when the Distillery objected to the sewer passing under their dam. An alternative line had been suggested, but the Distillery refused to pay their portion of the cost. It seemed that a number of houses would have to be omitted from the scheme for the present. Thomas Andrews of Ardara objected to the omission of a long street of houses from 1st Comber to the Spinning Mill. He was indignant that this area, including the Mill, was still being taxed for the Scheme. Dr Henry gave as his opinion that this was in fact the area that needed the sewerage work carried out most urgently. It was filthy in the extreme, and a disgrace to the town. A committee was set up to investigate. Meanwhile the traffic had to be stopped in Mill Street, as there would be holes in places sixteen feet deep. In September we read that work was progressing satisfactorily. However, Comber Gas Company weren’t altogether happy with the new scheme. Their pipes were being damaged by the work. Blame for this was apportioned to the contractor, who had been urged to be as cautious as possible.

At their February meeting in the Orange Hall, Goldsprings LOL 1037 unanimously agreed to secure a new drum for the lodge. And in April the Comber races were favoured with glorious weather. There had been some uncertainty as to whether the races would be sanctioned by the Irish National Hunt Committee, but the necessary approval was given and one of the best meetings yet held was the result. Also in April, Comber Choral Union, conducted by Mr A H De Wind, wound up their third season with a successful concert in the schoolroom of the Non-Subscribing Church. And Francis Munn, the stationmaster, left Comber on promotion to Downpatrick.

The employees of the Andrews Mill held their annual excursion in July to Ardglass. A special train conveyed 1,500 people there, and an enjoyable time was had visiting the various places of interest. Mr Isaac Johnston thanked the firm on behalf of the workers.

North Down won cricket’s Senior Challenge Cup for the fifth year in a row when they defeated Holywood by 22 runs at Ballynafeigh. But the year ended on a sad note when James Shields, one of the oldest and most respected inhabitants of Comber, was found in an outhouse hanging at the end of a rope. He had committed suicide. Mr Shields had held an important position in the Distillery for 25 years, but had been forced to retire two years ago due to ill health. His deteriorating mental faculties were blamed for the suicide.

The year began with an entertainment for around 250 children of 1st Comber Sabbath and day schools. After tea the church choir sang hymns and prizes were distributed. The evening ended with an exhibition of limelight views, many of old Belfast.

In March it was agreed to sink a well in Poorhouse Lane. It was also reported that Comber sewerage works were now completed and in good working order. A recommendation was later made that David Parker, who was caretaker of the cemetery, should be paid £3 a year for looking after these. But the sewerage problem had not quite gone away. A number of ratepayers complained of noxious gases rising from the sewerage and flooding of houses due to the incapacity of the sewers to receive the surface water. There was apparently exceptionally heavy rain at the beginning of July.

The point-to-point steeplechases were now an annual event, and this year they took place on 6th April with four events on the card, including the ever popular farmer’s race, won by Mr Alex Patton’s Never-mind-her. Later in the month Lady Helen Stewart opened a bazaar at St Mary’s to raise funds for making improvements to the church. Meanwhile the improvements at 2nd Comber had been completed and the church building re-opened for worship.

The death took place at Comber on 21st April of Eliza Pirrie, mother-in-law of Thomas Andrews of Ardara. A window at the Non-Subscribing Church was later erected by her daughter Eliza in her memory and also that of her uncle John Miller.

Dr Henry had a serious bout of illness and was given four weeks’ leave of absence from his duties. Dr George Gibson was appointed as substitute by the Board of Guardians. Staying with the Guardians, Alex Murdock appeared before them on behalf of nine old Comber women, asking that their outdoor relief might be increased from 2s to 3s per week. He was informed that they must apply to the relieving officer.

There was a rabies scare in May when an alleged mad dog was shot after worrying sheep and fowl in the area between Ringneal and Comber. It appears that a ram, a lamb and a goat attacked by the dog all died from rabies. The Board of Guardians made an order that all dogs should be muzzled until 1st October.

Alexander Murdock summoned his three sons for assault on the occasion of his taking away two mares for service. They allegedly beat him with their fists and with a stick and knocked him down into a dunghill. It seems that family members frequently took each other to court. Another instance was that of John McKeown, charged by his mother and brother with stealing a coat, a pair of trousers and a mantle. He got three months jail. And Ellen McQuade summoned her husband Thomas, who had come home drunk late at night and threatened her. She fled from the house with her baby and had been living with her mother ever since. McQuade didn’t appear in court and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The Twelfth of July celebrations took place in a field at the end of The Crescent granted for the occasion by Mr James G Allen. And at the end of the month Comber Unionist Club resolved that a subscription of £30 be sent to the United Ulster Unionist Fund. After the meeting a large bonfire was lit on a hill on land belonging to Thomas Andrews of Ardara. The occasion was to celebrate the general election defeat of the Home Rule Liberal Government. Mrs John Andrews, who lit the bonfire, said that she trusted the flame of this bonfire, along with others on the surrounding hills, might dispel the dark cloud of Home Rule which had hung like a pall over Ireland for years.

Comber Presbytery met in November and resolved that each minister hold a missionary meeting in connection with his congregation.

It seems there was a strike over wages in Comber Spinning Mill in the early part of the year. David McQuade of High Street was one of those who continued working. There was a scuffle on the street between McQuade and some of the strikers in which McQuade allegedly assaulted Wm John Thomson with a knife. He was fined, as was his brother in a separate assault case. James Harrison was also fined. He had been found drunk on the platform at Comber Station shouting that he could beat any two men in a fight. Challenges to fight seem to have been a regular occurrence, as in the case of Matthew Dodds on John Allen, and Alex Fisher on Robert Harris. The courts were having a busy time. James Murray summoned James McLeave for assault while James McKeown was charged with stealing a sum of money and a purse from his mother. Samuel Adams was fined for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart at the Glassmoss. Andrew Watt of Mill Street was charged with obtaining goods from several firms by fraud on false pretences.

James Scott of Ballyrickard was found dead in his bed of heart failure, but a young man called James Lamon chose to take his own life. He was a clerk in the Distillery, and he was found on his father’s farm at Lisbarnett with a gash in his throat. Mr E S Barker, manager of the Distillery for the past 17 years, also died in Dublin after a long illness. He had been a leading Methodist in the town. And the body of a woman called Sarah O’Hanlon was found at Carnesure. It seems that she had been a beggar in the period leading up to her death. The cause of death was put down to convulsions brought on by an epileptic fit.

The Comber point-to-point races were switched to Groomsport because the course at Comber had been broken up and cropped. Most people would have preferred a meeting at Comber which was more convenient, but there were also those who thought the event should move about from year to year over the various districts hunted over by the North Down Harriers Hunt.

1st Comber held their annual conversazione in March when about 400 members sat down to an excellent tea in the schoolroom. The report given by Dr Henry showed the church to be in a healthy state. Thanks were expressed for the services of the precentor Mr Hill and the choir, who rendered a number of items during the evening. The main attraction of the entertainment was Mr Bryars, the noted elocutionist from Dungannon.

1st Comber also appeared at Newtownards Petty Sessions when they summoned Colville Dempster for allowing his fowl to trespass on the church grounds and destroying the shrubs. Rev Dr Graham told the court how he had to cut the church service short because of the noise being caused by the cock crowing. And a number of cattle trespassed into the garden of John Caughey of the Crescent, destroying cabbages and potatoes.

Ellen Simpson applied for a transfer of licence for Simpson’s public house from Robert to herself. But another publican, James Forde of High Street, who had taken over Robert Carson’s establishment, was in trouble for having his premises open at illegal hours. He pleaded guilty, but blamed his assistant who had since been dismissed. Later in the year, however, he was back in court again, and this time he was fined with the conviction recorded on his licence. An advertisement sent into the Belfast Telegraph (but not published) cautioned publicans not to serve drink to Hugh Shannon. This was purportedly signed by Shannon’s son. Mrs Shannon accused James O’Prey, who worked on Allen’s steamroller, of writing this. A fracas ensued in which O’Prey struck Hugh Shannon, knocking out one of his teeth. O’Prey in return alleged that Shannon stabbed him with a shoemaker’s awl. The case was dismissed.

In June a serious accident occurred. Two ladies from Belfast were driving through Comber in a trap when the horse bolted and the vehicle overturned. The ladies were thrown to the ground and sustained fractures.

Lloyd’s Mexican Circus appeared in Comber on Saturday 15th August. Acts to be seen included the Busy Irishman, wonderful Chinese, marvellous Japanese, extraordinary Boer experts, riders, gymnasts, contortionists, athletes, clowns and a champion acrobat troupe.

North Down Cricket Club saw yet more success when they shared the Senior League title with Cliftonville in this, the inaugural year of the competition. It was also decided to form a hockey club. At a meeting on 24th August Oscar Andrews was chosen as captain and W T Graham as secretary and treasurer. W T Graham had already been secretary of the cricket club for 18 years. A hockey pitch was marked out at the Castle Lane side of the Green and first practice arranged for 26th September. Two early results were victories of 8-0 and 6-0 over Cliftonville and Ards respectively.

Rev Dr Taylor resigned from 2nd Comber after a ministry of 18 years. This was shortly after the death of his father. Dr Taylor would continue in active service within the Presbyterian Church, doing valuable work as secretary of the Orphan Society and becoming Moderator in 1899. His successor at 2nd Comber was Robert James Semple from Co Tyrone. And staying with church affairs, the chancel was built at St Mary’s.

The year began with an ordination in 2nd Comber, that of Rev R J Semple, who was installed as successor to Rev Taylor. Some work had been carried out to the manse during the vacancy.

Thieves cleared a complete shelf of whiskey from James Forde’s pub in High Street. Three men were charged but not convicted. Samuel Mehaffy assaulted James Murphy in the same establishment and gave Alex Stevenson a black eye. He was sentenced to a month in jail with hard labour.

North Down took on Ards at hockey for a third time and were again victorious, although on this occasion only by 3 goals to nil. The point-to-point races returned to Comber, after being held in Groomsport in 1896. Arrangements were made by the North Down Harriers to distribute some “Old Comber” to the farmers over whose land the hounds hunted. As usual, the races provided a good day’s sport, but unfortunately Mr George Arthur’s horse Starch had to be destroyed after a nasty fall at one of the fences. There was also trouble resulting in James McBride of Glassmoss and James Harrison of Belfast being summonsed for a violent assault on James Arthur Aicken of Bangor. Harrison got two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Fines were handed out at Newtownards Petty Sessions to four men trespassing on the lands of William Boyd JP at Ballywilliam. They had dogs with them and were in pursuit of game. Mr Boyd found one of his lambs lying dead the next day. He gave the opinion that such conduct on Saturday afternoons and Sundays was becoming intolerable. Later in the year, James Murray of Mill Street was fined for disturbing a Salvation Army meeting. He had been disorderly on numerous occasions, but this time, when told he would not be admitted, he rushed past the doorkeeper and sat down. When threatened with the police, he rushed out in the same way.

The fourth annual meeting of Comber District Nursing Society was held in the house of Mr T J Andrews in The Square. A most satisfactory report showed that Nurse Fenton had attended 90 cases since April 1896 and paid 1303 visits. Dr Henry testified that the work of the society was gaining ground every year in the district, and that there was a marked improvement in sanitary matters in Comber, much of which he attributed to the nurse’s influence.

Two inquests were held in May. The first was on a two year old child named David Smith, whose body was found in a ditch at Ringcreevy. A verdict of accidental death was returned. The second was on an old man of 82, William Grieves, found dead in his cottage at Ballywilliam. The cause of death was heart disease.

This was the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and a meeting was held in the Londonderry School to make arrangements. It was resolved that the celebrations should include bonfires and fireworks, and a committee was appointed to collect subscriptions. On the night of the Jubilee in June, the town was brilliantly illuminated, with some of the largest business establishments almost covered with flags, Chinese lanterns and other decorations. Even the taste displayed by the humblest cottagers deserved praise with flowers and candles in their windows. The bonfires were on Maxwell Court Hill, in The Square and near the railway station. A torchlight procession paraded the town accompanied by the Spinning Mill Brass Band and followed by a large crowd. Proceedings concluded in The Square with a short speech by Mr Thomas Andrews and the National Anthem. During the day the Spinning Mill workers had their annual excursion to Newcastle, but were home in time for the celebrations.

George Anderson, a barber who lived in The Square, accidentally drowned in July while bathing in Strangford Lough near the town. It was believed he took an attack of cramp in the water.

Once again North Down won cricket’s Senior Challenge Cup, beating North of Ireland in the final at Ormeau by 174 runs. They also completed a double by holding on to their League title. The hockey team entered a newly formed League. Up until November they had won every match they had played. But in that month they were lucky to scrape a 2-2 draw with the North Staffordshire Regiment, and this was followed by defeats against Antrim and Ards. Any chance of winning the League had disappeared.

In September we had a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary). On their way from Mountstewart to Castlewellan the royal train made a scheduled stop at Comber station where members of the Royal Irish Constabulary formed a guard of honour. The principal residents of the town were assembled on the platform and gave a rousing welcome to the Duke and Duchess. Miss Blizard, daughter of Mr Blizard of the Distillery, presented the Duchess with a bouquet of flowers. John Andrews JP, senior magistrate of the town, presented an address of welcome. On the return journey the train made another short stop at Comber. On this occasion Alice Patton presented a bouquet to the Duchess on behalf of the workers of Comber Spinning Mill. The minutes of 2nd Comber church record that the building was to be decorated for the visit.

Comber Burial Board were advertising for a new caretaker for the cemetery at 14 shillings a week plus free house and garden. Wm John Stevenson from Newtownards was appointed. Some members of the Board thought that too much money was being spent on Comber cemetery. It was asked if the offices of caretaker and secretary could be combined. This not proving possible, the secretary was asked to take a cut in his salary. There were also concerns about a proposed new cemetery at Dundonald. The problem was drainage into the Comber River which could be dangerous in the case of an epidemic.

Second Comber purchased a piano. This had to be paid for, and to raise money a soiree was held in January and a cantata in March. The cantata was presented by the choir, conducted by the precentor, Mr R G Bell.

North Down were back to winning ways at hockey with a 4-0 trouncing of Ards at Comber. The game was marred by the behaviour of a certain element in the large crowd who made personal remarks about members of the visiting team.

In February Dr Henry had to draw attention to the fact that required additional sewerage work had not been carried out. As a result tenders were invited from firms for work in The Crescent and Brownlow Street. That of William Petticrew of Comber was accepted.

Also in February there was an outbreak of sheep scab, with seven affected animals found on the farm of Mr Andrews at Mount Alexander. And in March a dog believed to be infected with rabies was shot on Mr Ferguson’s farm at Ballyrickard. A post-mortem showed that the dog did not have rabies at all, but rather a large bone had got stuck in its throat. Another scare in May, when a dog was shot on the farm of James Corbett, also of Ballyrickard, was again a false alarm.

A meeting of tenant farmers was held at Comber for the purpose of forming a local branch of the Ulster Tenants’ Association, a body working on non-sectarian and non-political lines, which had become firmly established in the North of Ireland. Indignation was expressed against certain landlords who were seeking to deprive their tenants of the benefit of the Ulster Custom, and there was a call for rent reductions and an end to dual ownership of land. Officers were appointed to the new branch, with Wm Boyd JP as chairman and James Cairns as secretary. In August they were supporting an appeal in the case of Adams v Dunseath, and opened a subscription list for an appeal fund.

Two Belfast men were found concealed in the cow house of Mr Robert McDowell of Cherryvalley. They were also charged with wandering and lodging in the open air with no visible means of sustenance. They were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour under the Vagrancy Act.

There was excellent weather in April for the point-to-point races, when it was reported that the racing was much above the average. And during the 1898 season a thorough bred stallion called Massacre was being let out to stud.

The statement of accounts read out at the Easter Vestry meeting at St Mary’s showed a falling off in the weekly offering, although there was an improvement in subscriptions to the Sustentation Fund. A letter was read from Thomas Galway, one of the outgoing churchwardens, who had now left the parish. Mr G P Culverwell was appointed in his place, along with Mr J G Allen, who was re-elected. Mr W J Orr was appointed treasurer.

There were still fears about drainage into the Comber River from a proposed new cemetery for Belfast at Ballymiscaw, Dundonald. It was agreed by the Board of Guardians that the Local Government Board be asked to take whatever steps were necessary to prevent pollution of the river.

Comber District Nursing Society held their annual meeting in April and reports showed another successful year with 1,759 visits made by the nurse to 107 cases. There had been a very large number of cases in January, February and March due to an influenza epidemic. However, infectious diseases were much fewer in those parts of the town where the new sewerage system had been installed. Apparently the Local Government inspector had been in the town that very day, and had reported that he did not know of any town in the North of Ireland with better sewerage arrangements than Comber. During the year Nurse Fenton had given in her resignation, and her replacement was Nurse Fitzsimmons, who started work on 1st January. On the negative side, amounts received from subscriptions had decreased, and Mrs T J Andrews in her role as treasurer laid the blame largely on herself, as she had been otherwise occupied and away from home during the spring. Reference was made to the death of Dr Henry’s young wife in their first year of marriage.

It was reported to Comber Dispensary Committee in May that a number of houses were being built in Comber without foundations, and that the Committee approved the rules and regulations of the Poor Law Guardians for making connections with the main sewers. There was, however, a dispute between John W Ritchie and the Board of Guardians. Mr Ritchie had connected a pipe to the main sewer without the Board’s authority and they wanted him to open up the street again for it to be inspected. Mr Ritchie refused. Eventually the dispute was settled amicably when Mr Ritchie opened up the street and it was seen that the connection had been made in a proper manner. Dr Henry pointed out the lack of sanitary accommodation in many of the houses in Bridge Street. But by July the streets had been considerably raised and improved by the steamroller.

Fine weather in the summer led to a large number of cyclists in the neighbourhood of Comber. Many had joined the Ards Cycling Club, and it was hoped that a club would soon be formed in Comber. And there was a joint excursion to Newcastle of 1st Comber and the Non-Subscribing Churches. Accompanied by Comber Brass Band, between seven and eight hundred people set off by special train. At Newcastle they were able to view the new Slieve Donard Hotel, as well as the boring operation on the tunnel connected with the Belfast water scheme.

North Down Cricket Club repeated their league and cup double performance of the previous year. In the Senior Cup final at Ormeau they defeated Ulster by an innings and 76 runs. As well as cricket and hockey, football was also popular, and Castlefield Rovers were hoping for a good season.

Davies’ Paragon Circus was in town on 28 September, boasting their latest novelty, the Princess Velise, the strongest lady on Earth. At every performance she would lift ten of the heaviest men in the audience. There was more orthodox entertainment at a grand concert in the lecture hall of the Non-Subscribing Church, with quite a number of talented artistes being assisted by local amateurs.

A row broke out in a field belonging to Mrs Heron at Ballyhenry, and this developed into a free fight. Members of the Heron family seem to have accused three other labourers of not doing their work properly and discharged them.

Serious floods occurred in Comber in October, the worst for 15 years, and the waterway underneath the Pound Bridge was found to be defective. Mr John W Ritchie criticised the sewerage system, but there were other causes for the floods. At the Pound Bridge water was being thrown back from the old flour mill dam and the sluices were unable to cope. The problem at Bridge Street was similar, caused by the weir or battery across the river which diverted water to the Lower Distillery dam. He suggested putting in sluices across the battery, and that these could be lifted at times when the water levels got very high.

Dr Henry, in his capacity of medical officer for Comber Dispensary, added weight to the argument against the proposed new cemetery at Dundonald. There were concerns that drainage of the area would be into the Comber River and that this would cause a health hazard. The Local Government Board weren’t a great deal of help, opting out of making any decision as the Bill for the cemetery was before Parliament and so they had no power to intervene. The County Down Grand Jury were more co-operative, however, and gave their backing to the opposition from the Comber ratepayers, which included Comber Distilleries who used the water in the making of their whiskey. This opposition proved successful, as when the Bill came before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, they wanted an assurance that drainage from the cemetery should not flow into any rivers, sewers etc in County Down, but rather should be taken into the main sewer of the city of Belfast.

The health of Comber district was improving, and the Registrar-General commented that the number of deaths had never been lower in his time in the post. He attributed diminished sickness in the town not only to Comber’s new sewers but also to the fact that people were generally stronger and healthier. There had been no epidemics, and cases of consumption were becoming much rarer.

Comber District Nursing Society, which held its sixth annual meeting in May, also made a significant contribution to the health of the district. Nurse Fitzsimmons had now settled in, during the course of 1898/9 attending 104 cases and making 1,977 visits. Dr Henry thought that the decrease in mortality was largely due to her efforts. The ladies of the committee also came in for praise, especially Mrs T J Andrews and Mrs Herbert Andrews. The latter had made fortnightly visits with the nurse and supplied soup on Tuesdays and Fridays to those who had need of it. There were 20 new subscribers to the work of the Society.

Thomas Andrews of Ardara was elected on to Down County Council in March. However, in the same month the Comber solicitor William Shean died. He took an interest in sport, including North Down cricket and hockey clubs, and was a member of Second Comber Church.

At Second Comber the Rev Semple formed a company of the Boys’ Brigade, and they held their first display in May in front of a large crowd. The BB captain James Smyth was assisted by Lieutenants Robert Smyth, Robert McDowell and David Caughey. Miss Glass acted as accompanist. The programme included drill, physical exercises, Indian club and dumbbell exercises. A drill down competition was won by Sergeant John Galbraith. Nor were the ladies left out. Miss Toberson rendered solos on the piano while five young ladies sang. On the same occasion the members of the choir and Sunday School took the opportunity to make a presentation to Mr and Mrs James Berkeley on the occasion of their marriage.

In September Rev Prof Petticrew of Magee College preached at special services when collections were taken up to defray the cost of repairs and improvements at Second Comber. And the following month the Rev Todd Martin brought the 20th Century Thanksgiving Fund to the attention of the congregation.

In June summer was in the air and farmers were encouraged by the improved condition of the crops, which had been suffering badly on account of the recent heavy rain. Robert Beers wasn’t so happy with the sunshine. On his way home from working at the hay he collapsed outside the door of his house and it was thought he was dead. Dr Henry was sent for and found that he was suffering from sunstroke. Not a usual occurrence in Comber.

Davies’ Circus came to town in September, offering a performance that no other circus in Ireland could excel. Acts included mirth-inspiring clowns, beautifully trained horses and amusing monkeys.

Good progress was being made with the new engine house in the course of erection at Comber Spinning Mill. New engines and boilers were installed. And the caretaker of Comber Cemetery, who had charge of the periodical flushing the town’s sewers, was given extra money to include the new sewers in his duties. Robert Hyles of Killinchy Street tried to gain money in a different way. He was up in court in December for stealing 9s 8d out of the till in Ellen Simpson’s shop.

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