Michael Andrews – Champion of the Poor and the Disabled
Michael Andrews was born in 1788 at Annsborough in County Down. Annsborough is a small village near the town of Castlewellan. The region has long been linked to the linen industry. The village is situated on the Ardnabannon Road near the junction with the Ballylough Road, 30 miles south of Belfast.
Michael was one of three boys and three girls. His father Michael was a linen bleacher and his mother Elizabeth Meek, originally came from Scotland. Michael’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Andrews, was a founder of the Isaac Andrews grain mill on Divis Street, Belfast.
As a young man Michael was apprenticed to his uncle who was a linen trader in the city. Thomas J Andrews had a business in Thompson Court off Donegall Street. He resided in the prestigious Donegall Square South. After his uncle died in 1809, Michael set up his own textile firm in York Lane.
It is said that while enjoying a stroll in the lush countryside to the north of the town, Michael Andrews saw the industrial and business potential of the townland of Edenderry (see: The Story of Ardoyne Village). Having leased the land he established a factory and built workers accommodation around the area of the existing Ardoyne Village.
The names of some of the streets such as Jamaica Street, Antigua Street and Manila Street are thought to be a reference to Michael’s older brother George, who had gone to the Caribbean.
New Textile Technology Brings Success
Andrews was very forward-thinking and was keen to implement all the latest technologies. In 1823 Michael imported two new Jacquard looms directly from France. The Jacquard was a device fitted to looms that both simplified and speeded up the textile manufacturing process. It had been invented in 1804 by Joseph Marie Jacquard from Lyons. Andrews was the first manufacturer in Ireland to use the Jacquard loom.
The new looms worked with a series of cards with punched holes which created patterns in the material. This enabled the automatic production of intricately detailed designs on materials such as damask and brocade.
Ardoyne linen was very popular and its reputation spread internationally. The company supplied textiles to royal families throughout the world. In 1835 the Andrews firm won a gold medal from the Royal Dublin Society.
“The celebrated Ardoyne damask manufactory was established in 1825; and the elegance of the fabric soon extended its reputation, and obtained royal patronage, an extensive order for his Majesty being at present under execution.
Linens and sheetings of the stoutest fabric, for the London market, are likewise manufactured in this establishment, the proprietor of which, Michael Andrews Esq., obtained the gold medal of the Royal Dublin Society for specimens of his productions, shewn at their exhibition of national manufactures, held in Dublin in May 1835”Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837
The order from the English monarchy led to Andrews renaming his factory the Royal Ardoyne Damask Weaving Factory. Damask from Ardoyne was also supplied to the American White House and to the Vatican.
Linen Mill Employees
Michael Andrews was a Unitarian and strongly believed it was the duty of the well-off to help those less fortunate. He was an active member of the Unitarian Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge.
Andrews paid the highest rate of wages to his employees and was concerned with the workers welfare. He permitted much more flexibility in his mill than in other Belfast mills which were commonly called ‘lock-ups’.
Belfast Savings Bank
In 1815 Michael Andrews was one of the founding members of the Belfast Savings Bank. It opened in January 1816 and he remained secretary to the bank for 45 years. The Bank was located in King Street. This society was to encourage folk to save money by putting away a little each week. It also supplied loans at reasonable rates. Previously banks were regarded as only for the rich.
“…his careful management during forty-five years as it secretary ensured its success as an institution that greatly benefitted working people”Linde Lunney Dictionary of Irish Biography
Andrews served on the committee of the Belfast Fever Hospital and Dispensary for many years. He was also a committee member of the Lancastrian School in Frederick Street.
Belfast House of Industry
Andrews was one of the managers of the Belfast House of Industry. This organisation had been founded in 1809 and was based in Smithfield. This area was one of the most poverty-stricken districts in Belfast (see: O’Hanlons Walks with the Poor).
Its aim was to provide training and work for the poor, enabling them to earn money to feed their families. The people were taught weaving, knitting, spinning and net-making. In addition to their wages free food, clothing and coal was supplied.
In 1833 the House of Industry supplied 794 women with flax, wheels and reels to earn a livelihood and provided for the needs of over 200 beggars living on the streets of Belfast.
The House of Industry worked solely on the basis of donations.
“[The House of Industry] assists poor housekeepers, relieves strangers and forwards them to their destination, supplies deserving mendicants with food….accommodates industrious families with small loans or occasional grants, and has diffused great benefit over this populous town, in which it has entirely abolished mendacity”Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837
Support for History & Culture
Michael Andrews also served as secretary to the Irish Harp Society.
This body, established in 1808, was to preserve and revive the fortunes of the Irish harp. It also aimed to provide tuition to young musicians, especially blind boys and girls, as a means of earning a living. In conjunction to music, the pupils were instructed in the Irish language, history and culture.
The first meeting of the Irish Harp Society took place on 17th March 1808 at Linn’s Hotel, the White Cross, 1 Castle Street. It later moved to Cromac Street. Again this Society relied on the generosity of subscribers such as the Marquis of Donegall, Dr Drennan, Edward Bunting, Henry Joy, Dr MacDonnell and Mary Ann McCracken.
“There is likewise a Harp Society here, by which blind children, in contributing their efforts to preserve from disuse the ancient and delightful instrument of our country, are enabled to procure their subsistence in a manner equally gratifying to the ear and to the heart”George Benn, History of the Town of Belfast 1823
In June 1810, after receiving a deputation of Irish Harp Society members, Mr Montagu Talbot of the Belfast Theatre agreed to present a performance, all proceeds going to the Society
Money was also raised by the holding of winter balls in the Exchange Rooms at the Four Corners. Tickets for the season (that is 6 events) were one and a half guineas for gentlemen and one guinea for ladies. Dancing was from 9pm till 2am.
The Northern Whig Newspaper
In the 1820’s Andrews was finically involved with the setting up of the Northern Whig newspaper. He was a friend of the founder Francis Dalzell Finlay who was from Newtownards in County Down.
The paper while still Presbyterian and Unionist in stance, supported Catholic Emancipation.
Michael Andrews’s liberal views led to him becoming a prominent supporter of the Reform Act introduced by the British Prime Minister Lord Grey in 1832. This resulted in an increase in the number of people permitted voting rights. However, it only applied to England and Wales.
Michael Andrews married Sarah McWilliam on 17th September 1810. Unfortunately Sarah died in childbirth in 1813, aged only 21. The couple had two sons, Michael and Thomas.
Andrews remarried on 28th January 1817. His second wife was Margaret McCammon from Belfast. The family lived in Ardoyne House and had three children- 2 boys and a girl. Margaret died on 20th March 1844 and is buried in the family plot in the Clifton Street New Burying Ground.
The following year Michael married for the third time. His new wife was Eliza Ormiston of London. Together they had four sons and one daughter.
Michael seems to have taken a great interest in gardening and was secretary of the Belfast Horticultural Society and a member of the Royal Dublin Society. He regularly exhibited plants and flowers from his walled garden and greenhouses at Ardoyne.
He is recorded as having won several prizes. For example in June 1840 he achieved awards for pelargoniums, stove plants [plants grown in a greenhouse], seedlings, tender heaths and calceolarias [slipper flowers].
Michael Andrews died on Tuesday 20th December 1870 at his residence, Ardoyne House. He was 82.
“…and this day we have to note the demise of another distinguished leader in our manufacturing progress. Michael Andrews has passed away, and since the death of Andrew Mulholland, founder of the machine flax-spinning in Belfast, no man has left the scene of his earthly toil whose enterprise did more to give new life to the trade than the late proprietor of the Ardoyne Damask Factory”Belfast Newsletter 20th December 1870
Michael Andrews Legacy
For all his entrepreneurial skill and innovation Andrews should also be remembered for his philanthropy and concern for the inhabitants of Belfast.
He gave unstintingly in terms of money, time and energy and many charities and people benefitted from his generosity. Of course Michael Andrews will always be associated with the village of Ardoyne. In his will he did not forget his faithful employees.
To his valued assistants he left David Barr £200, John Currie £100, Edward McCormick £50 and William Currie £50. To those “long in my service” Thomas Farrell, Samuel Bailie, John Bailie, and Hugh McCrory he left £19.19. To Anne Magee £10 and those female domestic servants in his employ £5 each. Of course his gardener Alexander Frew was not forgotten he was left £10.
“But while progressing in manufactures, and enjoying in no slight degree the reward of well-directed enterprise, he did not forget that the people connected with him had other claims on his consideration besides those which are thought to end with the payment of wages and regular employment.
He felt that his duties towards them extended still further, and he consequently took the utmost interest in their moral and social welfare. He loved to see them in clean, comfortable dwellings, where there was an abundance of light and air, as well as the more material requirements of healthy existence.
Mr Andrews found Ardoyne a very small village; he left it with many of the characteristics and most of the appliances of a town.
And it may be that the best monument that could be raised to his memory is to be found in the numerous abodes of contented industry which now rear their heads in the neighbourhood of that factory over which the eyes that are closed for ever had so long delighted to wander”Belfast Newsletter 20th December 1870
Today Ardoyne is a busy working-class district in north Belfast. However it was once a village in beautiful countryside. This is it’s story.
O’Hanlon’s Letters, collected in “Walks Among the Poor of Belfast”, is a fascinating insight into the lives of Belfast’s poor in 1852
Clifton Street Cemetery – a historic burying ground with tales of the great and the good, of cholera and famine, poverty and rebellion.
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