Milford House Museum

 

The McCrum family - An extraordinary dynasty

The Mc Crum family of Milford is a fascinating story of a family who rose from being farmers to one of the most prominent and powerful linen manufacturing dynasties in Ireland, and how they amassed and spent a fortune in three generations. Originally the family came over from Scotland They like to claim they were bagpipers to the Mc Donald clan on the island of sky but the  truth was not so grand. They  actually came from the Island of Islay. The Mc Crums are an Ulster Scots family who appear to have come over with the highland and lowland clearings. The Mc Crum family of Milford can be traced  back to 1670 to Cavanargarvan- a small townland of approximately 443 acres in the corner of the parish of Middletown and Tynan and bordering on parish of Derrynoose in the County of Armagh.

William Mc Crum senior (`1785-1879)

William Mc Crum Senior was one of twelve children born to William Mc Crum (1756-1818) and his wife Margaret Harper at Cavanargarvan. In 1808 William and his brother John arrived in the town land of Kennedies (the town land on which Milford village was later built) to try and make their fortune by the banks of the Callan river which provided waterpower for numerous mills in the area. They operated under a partnership which continued for some years though John appears to have died in 1818 and had left the area some time before that. William known locally as ‘The Old farmer’ was the first man in Ulster to spin flax by the dry process. He acquired a number of flax and flower mills which he preferred to lease out.

In 1825 he married Judith Paul the daughter of Moses Paul and his wife Martha Wentworth of Portadown. William and Judith had two children, a daughter Martha who died in infancy and a son Robert Garmany Mc Crum. William Mc Crum Senior lived at a house next to Milford Mills (which later became Milford factory). His house now forms part of the farmyard buildings. He built the limestone row of house in Hill Street in 1838, thereby establishing the village of Milford. 

Robert Garmany Mc Crum (1827-1915)

 Portrait of R.G Mc Crum. Painted 1909 by Harry R. Douglas

Robert Garmany Mc Crum, the only son of William Mc Crum senior was the family genius. A self made industrialist, benefactor and inventor.  Educated in private schools in Armagh City, he undertook and apprenticeship in linen in Lurgan before going to America to study productivity. He returned in 1850 and took over one of his father’s flax mills and turned it into Robert Mc Crum and Co. a spinning Mill. This later became Mc Crum, Watson and Mercer which was one of the largest linen firms in Ireland.

The model village of Milford is his legacy, situated two miles from Armagh city. He built a row of red brick houses in 1864 opposite the row his father had built in 1838. He completed the village in 1912 with William Street. He built the Milford National Schoolhouse in 1860 which held the record at the best National School in Ireland for the next ten years. For every month a child attended school he put five shillings in their savings account. He provided a shop and a farmyard. Many villagers remember that when family members were sick, R.G Mc Crum would send his own physician to look after them and that he would pay the medical bills himself. He believed strongly in cross community and there was no church built in the village. In 1914 he built the R.G Mc Crum Institute as his parting gift to the village. It has a ballroom larger than that of the old Armagh City Hall. Every building in Milford was designed by R.G Mc Crum, with the exception of the Institute which was designed by his son William Mc Crum (1865-1932).

He was a man born before his time. His interest in science and technology never wavered and he built Milford House which was packed with his inventions and gadgets. He was the first in Ireland to adopt and install electricity in his private residence and also in Milford factory.

He never hoarded his money and his liberty was unbounded. No one knew the full extent of the money he dispersed in answer to the pile of appeals which reached him daily. His liberty was unbounded. He was a leading member of the Armagh Presbyterian Church on the Mall on which he served as Secretary for many years. He paid for almost half of the building costs of the Church in 1879 (it cost £3,000 to build) and paid for much of the running costs of the Church in his lifetime. It was said the congregation got a shock when he died for they had not realized how much he had contributed over the years and that they really had to tighten their belts after his death.

He was a member of the old poor laws board and of the Armagh Lunatic Asylum. He served as High Sheriff of County Armagh. He was a member of the Armagh County Council for forty years retiring in 1910. He served as Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the County of Armagh in 1907. He was a great advocate of the temperance movement. In 1888 he acquired The Old Swan Tavern in Lower English Street in Armagh city and turned it into The Swan Tea Rooms. He erected immense stabling at the rear for farmer’s horses and they were the finest to be found in conjuncture with any public establishment in any province in Ulster. When the Armagh Nursing Society was founded he was gave it his strongest support and was one of the largest subscriber’s to the erection of nursing home on The Mall beside the entrance to St. Mark’s Church.

R.G Mc Crum married Anne Eliza Riddall of no.4 Beresford Row in Armagh City in March 1864. They had two children William born 1865 and a daughter Harriette born in 1867. His wife suffered from consumption and was recuperating in Bournemouth between 1867 and 1869. She died on 7th January at Milford aged only twenty nine years. It is said he never got over his wife’s death and that Milford House was built as monument to her- this is what he would have given her had she lived. He never remarried.

On his death in September 1915 Robert Garmany Mc Crum left a fortune of over £55,250. Milford House was valued at £3,250 and the contents were worth £2,500.

William Mc Crum (1865-1932)

The only son of Robert Garmany Mc Crum he was affectionately known in Milford village as ‘Master Willie. He was a former pupil of the Royal School Armagh and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin; where he was university chess champion. He graduated with a B.A Degree in 1886. He was an outstanding pupil.

                                      

William Mc Crum as High Sheriff of Co. Armagh 1888

He succeeded his father in the position of High Sheriff for Co. Armagh. He married Maude Mary Squires on August 13th 1891. She was the vivacious daughter of Doctor W.W Squires of Montréal Canada and his wife a former Miss Hall. She was one of the first female graduates of Toronto University. They had one son Cecil Robert Mc Crum born in 1891 and lived at no.5 Hartford Place on The Mall in Armagh City.

After twelve years of marriage Maude left William (taking their son Cecil with her) for the dashing Major Heard and went to live in the French Riviera. She was given an allowance by R.G Mc Crum provided she didn’t divorce William to avoid a scandal and waited until after William died before marrying Major Heard. William returned to live at Milford House.

Unlike his father, William preferred the lifestyle of drinking, gambling in Monte Carlo and having a good time. The ‘sister’ factory Gillis Mills in Armagh city later had to be sold by his father to pay of his gambling debts. He took little interest in the family business and after his father’s death left the running of Milford factory in the hands of the managers.

He took a great interest in village life and in particular the sporting life of Milford. He was President of the Cricket and Badminton teams and of the Milford Football club (of which he had served as Goalkeeper in his younger years). For many years he was deeply interested Irish Football in particular the Mid Ulster Football Association to which he presented a silver challenge cup for the competition by mid Ulster Clubs. Today he is more famous than his father because be invented the penalty kick rule in football in Milford village in 1890 for which he is world famous. He took a great interest in Amateur dramatics and was the driving force behind The Milford players. He even had his own study in the R.G Mc Crum Institute.

He was Ulster Commissioner for the BOY Scout Movement. He once told a Scout meeting in the Grand Jury Room of Armagh Courthouse that his Milford Troop were mill boys but he was proud of them as they were the best type of gentlemen that could be found anywhere.

Like the rest of his family he was very charitable. He spent a lot of money on the village and once sent Tommy Stringer (one of his boy scouts) to Switzerland hoping for a cure from an illness. On another occasion he sent his Head Gardener’s son Robert Gwynne who was a highly talented singer to London to avail of the best musical tuition and footed the bill for it.

Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, combined with his gambling debts and the decline in the linen industry, William left Milford House in 1930. There was a four day auction of its contents in November 1930. He went to live with his son Cecil’s family in Alverstoke England. His son Cecil was regarded as one of the greatest naval officer’s of his generation and served as Captain of the HMS Hood. However he left the navy following the 1931 Inverness Mutiny on the Hood. It was not a great success and William returned not to Milford but to Armagh City and took lodgings at no.25 Victoria Street Armagh. He spent his last days there virtually destitute. He died on 21st December 1932, having suffered a seizure in his room which necessitated his removal to Armagh County Infirmary where he passed away the following day. He is buried in the family grave at the corner of St Mark’s Churchyard in Armagh City.

Harriette McCrum  (1867-1951)

 

Harriette was the only daughter of Robert Garmany Mc Crum and was born in 1867. Privately educated at home she was fluent in Russian, Japanese and German.

Clearly her father had more faith in her business acumen than he had in her brother William’s. In 1893 he gave her Power of Attorney over all his business affairs while he was seriously ill.

She was a founding member of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Ireland and a close friend of Millicent Fawcett the founding member of the English movement. Later she wrote to Stalin through the Amnesty International Movement advising him on welfare and education. He was so impressed he wrote back personally and asked for more information.

She married the Rev. David Miller in September 15th 1898 at Armagh Presbyterian Church on the Mall. It was noted as one of the greatest society weddings Armagh had ever seen. She was a great heiress and her husband the Rev. Miller was Minister of the First Presbyterian Church. The people of Milford village put up two garland arches in Hill Street to celebrate – one said ‘Forever Happiness’ and the other said ‘Long Life’. Her weddings dress, entire list of wedding presents (which was published in the Armagh Guardian) and some of their wedding presents can be seen at the Milford House Museum.

These include the famous magnifying glass given to her Millicent Fawcett

The Rev. and Mrs. Miller lived at no.5 Charlemont Place on The Mall in Armagh City, which was a gift from her father R.G Mc Crum. They had four sons Robert Craig Miller, William Mc Crum Miller, David Riddall Miller and Edward Wentworth Miller. In 1916 Mrs. Miller undertook a twenty five year lease of Drumsill House from Sir Walter MacGoeugh Bond at a cost of £3,000. Drumsill was one of the great country houses in Co. Armagh and had been built in 1806 and was designed by the great architect Frances Johnston.

The Rev. Miller was Minister for twenty two years and that was extraordinary because he was stone deaf and the congregation never knew. He was known as ‘grumpy grandpa’ in the family. He hated motorcars driving on the gravel in front of Drumsill House and used to send a servant out with a rake and get visitors to sweep away the tyre tracks before they would let him into the house. His daughter in law Peggy Miller (wife of William Mc Crum Miller) used to say ‘I don’t know how the Mistress (that’s what she called Harriette) puts up with it’ – she was the one with all the money!

Harriette gave most of her fortune to charitable causes. If you had a charitable cause all you had to say was how much you needed and she’d write a cheque. If you couldn’t pay your rent she would pay it for you, which was fine until the Wall Street crash when there wasn’t much money left. In 1947 when the Northern Bank were going to sell the houses in Milford village to the highest bidder and evict the workers from their houses, Mrs. Miller famously went to the Bank Manager and demanded the people of Milford be given first refusal to buy their homes. No one knows what she said but she got her way and most families were able to buy their houses. She often walked about almost dressed in rags. During the Second World War she was walking from Drumsill to Armagh City wearing one of her ‘new hats’ (she had decided to make hats as her contribution to the war effort). An American GI drove past her and tossed her a coin shouting “buy yourself a decent hat grandma!”. He thought she was a poor bag lady when at the time she was one of the wealthiest women in the County.

The Rev. and Mrs. Miller left Drumsill when the lease ended in 1943 and there was an auction of some of the contents. They leased the Red House in Milford village from Milford factory. It had been built as the Managing Director’s House in 1900 by her father. The Rev. Miller died in 1947 and Mrs. Miller continued to live there with her son Edward. She died in 1951 aged eighty eight and in her Will left £3,000- all that was left of the family fortune.

To learn more about the these and the rest of the Mc Crum and Miller family and their stories and amazing achievements why not visit the Milford House Museum

Miller Family at Drumsill House