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Lambeg Churchyard

The Wolfenden family


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The name Wolfenden, reputed to have been of Dutch extraction, first appears in the parish on a gravestone bearing the date 1693 which is now the earliest date in the churchyard. Marshall suggests the family came to Lambeg at some date after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 although it could have been as early as the 1660s when the Lord Lieutenant attempted to promote the linen trade industry in Ireland by encouraging settlement of those with textile skills.

 

The inscriptions on the Wolfenden family plot, which are still legible, provide information about five generations of the main line of descent of the family. Unfortunately there is little information about the original settlers, husband Abraham (no record of birth, death or age) and his wife Jean (simply the years 1650-1693). Thereafter for three generations there is a wealth of information about dates, ages, maiden names of spouses, occupations (linen draper) and even a character reference (‘an ornament to her sex’).

 

At some stage during the late 17th century Abraham Wolfenden purchased the bleach green between the old Belfast-Dublin road and the River Lagan at Lambeg. He probably built the house, originally named Lambeg House, beside the old road and close to the ford on the Lagan. There is a tradition that King William, on his way south to the Boyne in 1690, was entertained in that house by Abraham while awaiting the repair of his carriage which was damaged on crossing the ford. The family linen business prospered in the 18th century and expanded to include the manufacture of blankets and paper on another site beside the Lagan about 1750. An interesting although much weathered and incomplete headstone inscription, listed by Cassidy, records the death in 1774 of ‘Peter C_____ master papermaker who exceled (sic) aged 62’, who may have been the manager of the paper making business.

 

There is a tradition, unsupported by documentary evidence, that the family was responsible for the building of the new chapel at Lambeg in 1737 when the parish was separated from the union with Blaris parish. In 1825, the family business, which by then included the manufacture of cotton, calico and muslin, was relocated to Dublin and at some time in the early 1830s Lambeg House was sold. The last male Wolfenden recorded on the gravestone inscriptions is John, died 1829 aged 41, son of the third Richard and his wife, Mary, died 1832 aged 83. It seems likely that the sale of the house and the textile works followed upon those deaths. There is another large and more modern burial plot in the churchyard with the inscription Wolfenden but no further information is recorded on it.

 

The purchaser of Lambeg House and the former Wolfenden business at Lambeg was Richard Niven of Manchester who had discovered the use of bichromates for the fixing of colours in the textile printing process. Niven renamed the house Chrome Hill to commemorate that discovery. There is one gravestone with the simple inscription ‘Richard Niven Chrome Hill’ however there are two tablets inside the church which provide a little information about Richard (died 1866 aged 79), his wife Eliza (died 1899 aged 86) and possibly their daughter Bessie (died 1861 aged 18). The name, slightly changed to Nevin, survives as the name of a terrace of houses built for workers in his factory. It is also possible that Jane, Richard and Eliza’s daughter, married a descendent of a Bullmer, one of the original Huguenot families who settled in the parish.

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