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Newry Gasworks were built adjacent to the Old Customs House which became Newry Bridewell in 1820. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
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The opening of the Newry Canal had a major effect on the development of the town.  By 1777 Newry was positioned as the fourth largest trading town in Ireland, supplying the majority of Ulster.  The town was also growing in production and names like Buttercrane Quay, Sugar Island, Corn Market and Merchants Quay were a direct result of its success. 

The need for proper improved facilities like sewage and drainage, pavements and cleanliness and street lighting became apparent as the town developed.  Muggings at night were becoming more common and the development of new factories, warehouses and dwellings demanded better lighting.

In 1822, the Newry Gas Light Company was established following on from the development of a new method of street lighting in London.  This was one of the first of its kind in Ireland.  A lease was agreed with the Earl of Kilmorey who owned land flanking the quays on present-day Kilmorey Street, where coal could be shipped to manufacture gas. In the early years the number of people served by the new Gasworks was very small.

residents in Dromalane, including Hill Irvine who lived in Dromalane House, requesting that gas light be extended to that area after the oil lamps had been removed. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
residents in Dromalane, including Hill Irvine who lived in Dromalane House, requesting that gas light be extended to that area after the oil lamps had been removed. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In 1828 “An Act for the lighting, watching, and cleansing of cities, towns corporate, and market towns in Ireland” was established. This Act originated in Newry, where it was first implemented, and Newry became a model for municipal administration throughout Ireland.  Twenty-One Commissioners of Police were elected.  The Commissioners employed eleven officers called the Town Watch and paid their salaries from local taxes.  The duties of the Town Watch included patrolling the town, lighting street lamps and keeping streets clean and free from obstruction.  They also dealt with minor crimes and disorderly behaviour.

In 1830, the recorded number of gas lights in Newry totalled seventy-eight.  The first light obviously was at the gate outside the Gasworks.  The rest were located on the main streets, bridges and businesses around the town and we not lit in the Summer months.  The Commissioners also entered into contracts with numerous suppliers of oil lamps as an accompaniment to gaslight. 

Under the 1828 Act, the Commissioners were responsible for any outside lights and their upkeep.  The Gas Company was contracted by the Commissioners to light the gas lamps.  To increase profit, the Gas Company focused on supplying homes of the wealthy and businesses, located in close proximity to the Gasworks.  They also traded in the by-products of gas manufacture, such as tar and coke, which was very profitable and in high demand.

The gasometers at the Gasworks shown in the 1862 Ordnance Survey Map of Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The gasometers at the Gasworks shown in the 1862 Ordnance Survey Map of Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

There was much discord between the Commissioners and the Gas Company over the years due to costs and the condition of the gas lights.  In 1857, after various Acts had passed into law, the Newry Gas Light Company was dissolved and the Newry Gas Consumers Company Limited was formed.  There were two hundred gas lamps at this stage in the town and the lighting of oil lamps had since been terminated due to the continued advancement of the gas burners.

Next week’s article will look at the Gasworks from when it passed into the ownership of the Newry Town Commissioners in the later 19th century up to eventual closure in the 1980s.

The Museum is currently offering free tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11.00 am. These must be booked in advance by calling our Education Officer at 0330 137 4422. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.30 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 or email museum@nmandd.org for further information.

by Dympna Tumilty

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