As noted in The Portlaw Cotton Factory the Portlaw that the Malcolmsons arrived at in 1825 consisted of a small cluster of houses, - totalling 72 in all, situated not where the modern Portlaw is today but on green island. Portlaw in effect as a town was non-existent - or even any sort of planned village. However, with the advent of the Malcolmsons the village was to experience a vast growth in size and population. One of the tasks that befell the industrialists on their arrival was to methodically replan the village so as to accommodate their ever-increasing workforce. What they created turned out to be a new colony, because they built a new village - a planned industrial village. It is necessary to discuss then at some length both the Irish and British type village of the time, so as to be able to understand the joint input of the two in the creation of the Malcolmson - Portlaw planned village of 1825.
As is quite obvious, the Malcolmsons were not the originators of the planned industrial village. More than likely they obtained many of their ideas from other villages and towns of the time in Northern Ireland. The impact of industrialisation is expressed quite vividly in the townscapes of many areas in Northern Ireland. In Belfast today the present urban landscape is a consequence of the industrial revolution'. "Belfast is par excellence a product of the industrial revolution, having once shared the worst evils of the factory system and the squalid, overcrowded tenements with similar cities in Britain" (Orme 1970: pg 179). Although conditions at the start of the revolution were bad, by the year 1840, by-laws had been introduced trying to regularise housing, by prohibiting certain types and insisting on others. These by-laws ensured to a certain degree a standardisation of housing. So much so that today many of the industrial cities of the North and of Britain obtained an identity - an identity which they still hold today - row upon row of industrial terraced housing. Over time and space, standards have varied and not all areas of industrialisation at this time period were the same. In considering places such as Belfast in the North and Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham Liverpool etc-, in Britain, their size and density cannot be overlooked as contributory factors in their development. Most likely it was the planned industrial villages that emerged in England and Northern Ireland in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century that influenced the Malcolmsons. Robert Owen, one could say initiated the trend in 1799 with the building of the model textile town of New Lanark. It was here for the first time that proof was shown that "industry could have a humane face" (Galbrawth pg 36). From henceforth the planned village became a landmark of English industrial society. In Ulster "the tradition of housing workers reached back to the eighteenth century" (D.S. MacNiece 1981: pg 173) MacNiece makes reference to the Coulsons of Lisburn housing, their workers in 1764, and many others such as Murlands of Annsborough, and John Barbour of Paisley - to mention but two. He makes, however, particular reference to the village of Gilford, as was developed by Dunbar and McMaster and Company of Dunbarton.
Gilford proves an interesting comparison to Portlaw, as it came into being around the same time as Portlaw, and many aspects regarding the village parallels much about Portlaw. Before it experienced expansion under it's patrons, it had only 100 houses. By 1851, just around twenty years after the development of the mill it had a population of 2,184, and a total of 359 houses. Just as the Malcolmsons built houses to attract the workers so also did Dunbar McMaster and Company.
They also provided many other incentives to their workforce. They built schools, provided heated and lighted reading rooms for adults, they operated their own gas works for the lighting of the village. Pumps were strategically placed in the village in order to provide a fresh water supply. A mill co-operative store was built to serve the community and children working in the factory were required to spend half their time at school, thus they, as the children of Portlaw were also to - become known as half-timers. As shall be seen in The Model Village Of Portlaw, Portlaw was provided with these facilities also and much more.
Gilford is not an isolated example, however, as MacNiece said "this impressive list of paternalistic involvement which could be repeated with minor amendments elsewhere in other villages gives some indication of the degree of the moral and spiritual framework which shaped the character of many of these communities" (MacNiece 1981: pg 177). These other communities most likely refer to towns such as Bessbrook in South Armagh and elsewhere in England at the time, i.e. Portsunlight, Halifax, Saltaire, Bournville etc. Many of these famous towns preceded the building of Portlaw. MacNiece speaks highly of the Richardson Development at Bessbrook. It must be remembered though that it was Portlaw, which influenced Bessbrook and not vice versa, as William Malcolmson was James Richardson's father-in-law. In light of this, the praise that was afforded to Bessbrook can be also given to Portlaw, as it was Bessbrook's predecessor. "Bessbrook provides an excellent example of a model village consciously planned with a blend of Quaker zeal and architectural skill, to provide a garden village community for it's workers. Far from-the evils and squalor of Belfast"- (MacNiece 1981: pg 174). Portlaw was to borrow from the North and England, just as they would later do likewise from Portlaw.
T.W. Freeman, in his book Ireland speaks of the industrial village being utilitarian rather than beautiful, and also that "it is a phenomenon almost unknown to the majority of Irish people outside the Northeast" (Freeman 1972: pg 201) Evidently the Malcolmsons obtained the kernel of the plans from towns and villages in the North, as Ireland at this time did not have many industrial villages. However, it must be remembered that Portlaw was essentially late in its development, and by 1825 the majority of Irish towns were fully developed, and many of these were just as their counterparts in the North were planned. L.M. Cullen writes of the village being one of the hallmarks of Irish society and he maintains that "a very high proportion of them were to a greater or lesser degree Planned" (L.M. Cullen 1981: pg 61).
Orme categorises the smaller Irish towns into three development periods - Medieval, Plantation Georgian (Orme 1970: pg 209). As would be expected each type has its own development characteristics. He attributes narrow, irregular streets to the medieval period, followed by the more orderly compactness of the plantation settlements, proceeded by the broad street grids and formal squares of the Georgian era. It was, however, "during the later eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries that formal town planning reached it's zenith" (Orme 1970: pg 212). It was during this period that many towns came to be known as landlord towns or villages; also many others grew up around the market square. Stokestown in Roscommon is an excellent example of the early nineteenth century estate town, with a wide - 147 foot - Main Street leading to the gates of the demesne owned by the landlord and the Episcopalian Church at the other end. Birr is also a landlord-designed town; so also is Mitchelstown, and here the classical market square is also incorporated. As Cullen points out in his work "hardly any of rural village before the era of factory employment post 1780 were in fact able to survive without the sustained patronage employment and succour offered by a resident landowner" (Cullen 1981: pg 62).
He goes on to outline three types of a planned village -settlement village, functionally planned village and the redeveloped village. If Portlaw was to be categorised into one of the above three categories, the village type attributed to it, would be without doubt, the functionally planned one. This type of village as the name suggests was functionally and consciously planned, Portlaw was indeed planned in this way also, however Portlaw differed from this village and so many others of the time, in one main ingredient, - it did not grow up around the landlords demesne. Portlaw, unlike so many other functionally planned villages grew up around a factory, despite differences in functions, similarities are evident in layout. As already referred to, the landlord's town usually had large wide streets, and a square - central in location. Just as the landlord villages of Castleisland and Tralee County Kerry, Dunmanway, Bantry County Cork, and several others were to exhibit such characteristics, so also was Portlaw, but it grew up under the patronage of an Industrialist rather than a Landlord. As Cullen observed "industrial villages themselves even if modest in standard of housing were frequently ambitious in planning... while the purposes of industrial village and of market village were slightly different, there was no clear difference in planning" (Cullen 1981: pg 76/77).
It is only now with a brief knowledge of the English Industrial village and the Irish planned village as given above that it is possible to look at the development of Portlaw as a fusion of both. Many elements, characteristic of the above can be identified in Portlaw. However, Portlaw was different in the respect that it lies at the gates of Lord Waterford's demesne, yet it never developed as an estate village. It was, and still is today, purely industrial.
As can be seen in The Model Village Of Portlaw, it was a model industrial village, Aalen in his book Man and the Landscape quotes Portlaw as one of the two major examples of a model industrial village, found in Ireland in the nineteenth century. "The first was Portlaw in County Waterford, built by the Quaker cotton-spinning firm of Malcolmson in the 1820's" (Aalen, 1978: pg 284). He cites Bessbrook as the second major example and also notes that it was probably influenced by Portlaw. Portlaw, therefore is not just another village of nineteenth century Ireland, it was a place that was thriving whilst parts of Ireland were economically weak. It reaped the benefits of being late in development, as it served to prosper from the experience of other villages. It became a village typical of the experience of New Lanark and it's like, however, it also was to send ripples out, it was one of the many forces working in the nineteenth century to change the face of industrial society, - it served to give industry a humane face, and to discard the many notions associated with the industrial townscape. Portlaw being an industrial village came to be effected by the ebb and flow of industrial prosperity, the cotton industry and the Malcolmsons were it's life stream, when they prospered, Portlaw prospered, and when they fell Portlaw was to fall, as time has unfolded.
Author: Tina Foran