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Ben Simon

Exploring heritage, bringing new life to Hilden School

Exploring heritage, bringing new life to Hilden School

Ben Simon


My name is Ben Simon and I have recently been appointed as Heritage Development Officer for the Hilden School Project (HSP). I will be based at the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum (ILCLM) until December 2021, working as part of the museum team.

Funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Hilden School is now owned by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. In 2019 the council was awarded a HLF development grant which will fund emergency repairs to the building, explore how the former school can contribute to the regeneration of Hilden and support a part time Heritage Development Officer post.

My Role

I am working with local project partners such as Resurgam Community Development Trust and Hilden Community Association, together with stakeholders with a wider heritage remit for the Lisburn area. Together, we will investigate how the rich history and heritage of Hilden can contribute to attracting visitors and how we capture the memories and experiences of former pupils of Hilden School.

The Next Seven Months

My aim over the next seven months is to meet the requirements of the Heritage Lottery grant by:

  • Involving a wide range of people in the Hilden School Project (HSP).
  • Working with stakeholders to ensure that Hilden School is in better condition.
  • Creating opportunities for Hilden School to become an important venue for the local community.
  • Encouraging wider awareness and appreciation of the heritage of Hilden School.

The History of Hilden Primary School

The project is a wonderful opportunity to discover more about Hilden, which for over 180 years was dominated by a huge mill, the largest producer of linen thread in the world. Sadly, the mill shut in 2006, and two years later the school also closed. I am working with the local community to bring its history to life, to create a heritage programme for Hilden School. Part of this is to contact people who have memories of Hilden School and who would like to share their stories. Working with local stakeholders, the aim is to discover what heritage is important for preserving for future generations.

History Advisory Group (HAG)

Over the next two months I will be organising a history advisory group (HAG) to help identify what the community considers are the most important aspects of the heritage of Hilden School, and how this heritage should be presented. If you would like to get involved, or to learn more, please contact me at the email address below.

The start of my journey

My first foray into the heritage of Hilden has been to read everything I can about the local history of the area. Some of this material was new to me, such as a proof copy of an unpublished book entitled Linen Thread, a precious manuscript in the reference library at Lisburn Museum. This dates from 1926 and includes chapters on the Barbour family, the mill and, most interestingly, a section on the village of Hilden, including the present school building, which was built by the Barbours.

With each book opened, my interest in Hilden has grown, and as is often the case with research, more questions arise than are answered. Why did the mill owners build a school? Was it just for the children of mill workers? Did the children also work in the mill? What was the school like inside?  These questions are discussed in a lovely book by Margaret Hanthorne and Ann Ferguson entitled Hilden. The story of a school and its community (2016). I also hope to explore the history of Hilden School with local residents.

Perhaps you have an interest in preserving the site for future generations? Or maybe you have queries of your own?  I am aware that there is a wealth of knowledge about the school within the local community; perhaps you can help provide information about the building and its surroundings?

Get in touch.  Get involved

Every week I will be posting updates on Lisburn Museum’s website, under Hilden School Heritage. If you have any images, artefacts, stories or questions you would like to share or would just like to comment, please do get in touch.

My working days are Monday 9am – 2pm, Tuesdays and Wednesday 9am-5pm

Ben Simon
Heritage Development Officer

Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum
Market Square, Lisburn, BT28 1AG
Tel: 028 92447671

HLF Shared History Fund
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