‘One of the most representative institutions in the town’ – The Lisburn News Room

At this time of the year, during the pre-Christmas rush everyone is busy, not least the shopkeepers and traders of Lisburn who work long hours serving the shoppers of the town. This has been the case for many generations in Lisburn’s history. Therefore, this week’s Virtual Museum post looks at an item in the collection related to a shopkeepers and traders club in Lisburn, known as the Lisburn News Room.

The museum piece, a roll call of attendees at the centenary celebration dinner of the News Room club reveals some notable names in the town’s commercial life. But just what was the ‘Lisburn News Room’?

The club was formed in 1836 by the town’s traders who felt that the time between closing their shops late in the evening and retiring to their beds should be spent in a relaxing environment with their colleagues.

100th anniversary celebration of the Lisburn News Room (ILC&LM collection).

The initial gathering to discuss what form such a club might take took place on January 8th, 1836 with a number of the shopkeepers and traders assembling in the King’s Arms Inn, Market Square. Once agreed on the way forward, the men made an application to Dean James Stannus, rector of the Cathedral, for permission to form the club.

Dean Stannus was in agreement and granted the men an apartment in the Market House (now the Lisburn Museum) for their use. However, it came with the promise that Sundays were to be kept sacred. By the end of that month the Lisburn News Room was established.

The News Room was a place where shopkeepers and traders could retreat from their busy day to relax and read. According to the Lisburn Standard in December 1892, the Lisburn News Room was ‘supported by all creeds’ making it ‘one of the most representative institutions in the town’.  The News Room was an important aspect of the commercial and intellectual development of working men which was gathering pace not only in Lisburn but across society during this period. This included The Mechanics’ Institute movement for the education of the working classes, which began in Scotland in 1821 and which spread throughout the UK and globally in the years which followed.

A letter to the Lisburn Standard in July 1888 put forth a strong argument for an even wider spread of this kind of institution, noting that educational attainment was an essential part of ‘industrial progress and prosperity’ in the town, and that the Lisburn News Room had done great work, throwing its doors open ‘to all creeds and politics’.  

The News Room remained in the Market House until a public spat related to the 1852 parliamentary election occurred. Members of the club had been vocal in their support for the local candidate, Roger Johnston -Smyth of Castle Street. Johnston-Smyth was up against a Mr Inglis, from Scotland who had been nominated by the Marquess of Hertford. When the local candidate won by 99 votes to 87, Dean Stannus, who was also the agent for the Marquess of Hertford expelled the News Room from the Market House! 

An established institution in the town, the News Room remained a feature ‘throughout periods of depression and prosperity’ until around 1970. The roll call for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the club, held in the Assembly Rooms in the Market House on 10th December 1936, reveals many familiar names of shopkeepers, industrialists and traders of the area, including Barbour, Corken, and Boyd. Do you have any memories or memorabilia from the latter days of this Lisburn institution? Please let us know

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