Lamb Bros. the jam manufacturers of Richhill, were so successful that in 1900 the company could invest in a new horizontal boiler that required a large chimney. This edifice still towers over the main Portadown to Armagh road at Fruitfield . At around the same time they also bought one of the first traction engines in Ireland .
The firm employed 60-80 staff in the factory but during the summer this number could swell to 150. Another 50 worked on the family’s farms. Business was so good that the railway company was unable to keep up with demand for space on the trains taking their produce to Dublin and Belfast.
The Covenant, an expression of Unionism’s rejection of Home Rule, was signed on 28th September 1912 by 237,368 men. The accompanying Declaration was signed by 230,046 women.
In Richhill, 1,444 men and women signed at tables draped with union flags set up at Ahory Orange Hall, Richhill Temperance Hall, Woodview House and at an unrecorded location in Kilmore.
Note for Smartphone & Tablet Users:
You can see a list of Richhill signatories to the Covenant if you view this site from a tablet, PC or laptop. (Tablets need to be used in landscape mode).
On 8th September, M Company UVF met in the Temperance Hall where they were addressed by the Revd. A Wade Johnston, Captain Allen and Surgeon-Major Sterling-Berry. Allen advised his men to “answer their country’s call”. In response, fifty men stepped forward to give their names.
The Somme would turn out to be the bloodiest battle in British history. Over the four and a half months of its duration a million men became casualties. The British alone lost 127,000 dead. On average, three thousand men died every day. The result was the gain of seventy-eight square miles of ground, at a cost of 40 allied casualties per square yard.
Nineteen men from Richhill were killed in the first week of the battle.
Abraham, James W
Wilson, William John
The first soldiers to be demobilised from the Ulster Division after the war ended in November 1918 arrived home in January 1919. By June the regimental colours of 9 RIF had been laid up in Armagh Cathedral. The soldiers were given a small gratuity as they returned to civilian life. A Lieutenant received £226, a Corporal £28 and a Private soldier £20. There were no guarantees of work, however, and those who had left jobs found that they had been taken by others, a circumstance that caused enormous friction and resentment.
The operation was entrusted to Charles McGleenhan, a farmer from Blackwatertown and the officer commanding the local IRA unit . He had been involved in IRA activity throughout the rebellion or ‘War of Independence’ and a year earlier had been responsible for the burning of the Blackwatertown police barracks.
At midnight on the 16th March he assembled his men, none of whom knew what was planned. This was a practice McGleenhan “adhered to all through the fight” to ensure the operation could not be betrayed. The group walked ten miles cross-country to the station. On arrival, lookouts were posted on all the approach roads and the stationmaster John Lavery and signalman Frank McKee were seized and bound. An informer in the railway company had reported where a store of paraffin oil could be found and this was used to “give all the stores buildings and the railway wagons on the sidings a liberal doping”. While this was happening, three trains bound for Armagh passed through the station. One of these was a mail train and a bag of post was, as was normal, thrown from a carriage when it passed by. This was seized by one of the attackers and later carried away. The IRA often gained valuable intelligence from stolen official correspondence. However, the railwayman who threw out the mail bag noticed that it was picked up by someone he didn’t recognise. He reported this to the authorities in Armagh when the train reached its destination. They rang Richhill Station but could not get through as the telegraph wires had been cut. By the time the police had reached the station to investigate it was too late, the premises had been burned and were no little more than charred remains . The only building to have survived was the stationmaster’s house.
Electricity was first switched on in 1934 and a scheme to deliver piped water was approved in 1946. Mains sewerage was not available until 1954.
Originally called the Richhill Public Elementary School, the Hardy memorial cost £6,000; a sum the then Archbishop of Armagh called a “pure extravagance and a sheer waste of public money”.
A newspaper described it thus:
“The Richhill School occupies an elevated position well set back from the public road, and the four large and commodious classrooms enjoy a maximum of light and air. Each of these rooms accommodates forty pupils seated in dual desks. There are wide corridors and airy classrooms with separate entrances for boys and girls, and there are library and staff rooms and a medical inspection room, beyond which in two return wings are handicraft and cookery or domestic science rooms. The building is beautifully constructed throughout with all modern conveniences, airy and helpful.”
The men and women of Richhill responded as they had done in 1914, enlisting in the armed forces and working on the Home Front. Some ninety-three joined up and seven gave their lives.
Captain Ervine-Andrews, who later lived at Stonebridge, Richhill, won the VC for his part in the British rearguard action at Dunkirk.
The citation for F/Lt Towell's Distinguished Flying Cross read:
“Flight Lieutenant Towell, now on his second tour of operational duty, has proved to be an exceptional pilot and an outstanding captain of aircraft. He has flown on a very large number of operational sorties, on all occasions showing great courage and determination to attack his targets successfully, often in the face of intense opposition from enemy ground defences and night fighters. Several times F/Lt Towell has flown his badly damaged aircraft safely back to base. His superb airmanship and devotion to duty have been an example worthy of the highest praise.”
Albert Smith of Richhill was flying as an observer in a Dakota as part of Operation Market Garden over Arnhem in Holland. His plane was hit by enemy fire and the pilot was killed. Despite never having flown the plane before, Smith was able to fly back to England and land the plane safely. Before his final approach, he gave the rest of the crew the chance to bail out. He was immediately awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Portadown to Armagh line was closed in 1957. The final run from Armagh to Portadown on 1st October was described by TGF Paterson:
“The station was crowded by local people who came down to say ‘Good-bye’. Despite the fog signals and the excitement generally, it was a sad occasion. Photographers’ flashlights blinked at us as we crowded into the train. The time came to move off but somebody pulled the communication cord, bringing the brakes into action. This was carried out a second time, but at last we moved out. The train was manned by William Dudley, driver; W. Moore, fireman; and Liam Kilpatrick, guard. We soon reached the Retreat Halt where we found a crowd awaiting us and were held up for a considerable time. Eventually we moved onwards in a battery of cheers to Richhill Station where we found an even larger concourse of people awaiting us. There we were given a royal welcome and again, to the accompaniment of fog signals and more cheers, proceeded to Portadown. There we found a practically empty station. Evidently the inhabitants of the borough were quite uninterested in the fact that no more trains would pass through Portadown on their way to Armagh. We emerged from the carriages quickly and at the barrier were allowed to retain our tickets. Thus ended our farewell journey.”
Dr. Douglas Hemmingway (1895-1968) was one of the foremost citizens of Richhill and for forty years was at the centre of village life. A modern renaissance man, he was a soldier, doctor, artist, musician and public benefactor.
He was a founding member of the Richhill branch of the Royal British Legion, was its first President and remained so for the remainder of his life, regularly reading the Roll of Honour at Remembrance Day services. During World War Two he served in the Home Guard and was Chairman of the Temperance Committee. After the war, he re-established the Richhill Flute Band. A talented amateur artist, he painted oils and watercolours and the Mothers’ Union banner in Richhill Parish Church is to his design.
It is as the founder and first Chairman of the Richhill Improvement Association that Dr. Hemmingway is perhaps best remembered. The committee was first formed in 1937 after villagers had organised successful Jubilee and Coronation celebrations in 1935 and 1936. In 1961, the committee entered Richhill into the Central Gardens Association “Best Kept Village” awards and won three times in succession. The village then voluntarily withdrew to give other places a chance to win, before returning triumphantly in 1967 to win for a fourth time.