Some Family Memories


Local historian Wallace Clark reconstructed this picture of life at Ardtara in the early 1930s, partly from his own memories and partly from family research.

Long before Ardtara became a hotel, people from all over the world came to stay in the house. There were visits from cousins and friends from Australia, New Zealand and North America. There were also agents from the 40 or so countries where Upperlands linen was exported.

Imagine that you were staying at Ardtara in the early 1930s. Harry Clark would have been your host. Tall and raw-boned with a jutting jaw, kindly eyes and a ready smile, he was born at Ampertaine house half a mile away. His wife Alice had been a golden-haired beauty. Following an illness, she was unable to walk far. But she efficiently managed a household staff of six. Willie Ferris, the chauffeur, lived in the house at the bottom of the hill behind Ardtara. When a car was required, he brought it polished and shining to the door. For formal outings, like a Friday visit to the linen market in Belfast, Willie donned a dark-blue uniform jacket and peaked cap, breeches and gaiters, all now visible in the Garvagh Museum.

Household linen was washed and dried in the corrugated iron shed across the road from Ferris’s workshop by sisters Mary Jane and Catherine Bradley. A pot-bellied stove standing in mid-floor required constant stoking and had racks at each side to heat half a dozen smoothing irons.

If you looked out of your bedroom window at 7 o’clock, as the steam horn blew to waken the village, you might glimpse Harry in tweedy plus-fours striding round the corner with his rolling walk. He would pass on his right the ram which pumped peaty water up to the house from a stream. Every ten seconds it emitted a noise between a thud and a glug. This, and the low thunder of beetling engines pounding linen cloth to produce its prized sheen, were the background noises to Ardtara. In the morning you might also hear the pleasant rattle of gravel being raked by John McLean.

Harry would look particularly at what the masons were doing (some construction was always in progress) and at the network of waterways which powered electricity to drive looms and other machines. The hydro-power system, operating since 1730, was his first love. It extended in mill races linking five storage dams over seven small weirs along two miles of river. The fall, a total of 140 feet, was maximised with an aqueduct at the top and a tunnel under the river bed at the bottom. As a guest you might have heard Harry’s account of how the whole thing was constructed and how it compared with other water-power systems he had seen. Harry would have offered you a walk through the beautiful wooded paths through the dams.

At 8.50 am Harry had to be back for family prayers. The whole family and household staff came into the morning room for this and as a guest you would have been expected to attend. Breakfast in the dining room – now the hotel drawing room – was a big meal with porridge, bacon and eggs, kidneys, kippers, tea, toast and marmelade. A variety of medicines stood on the sideboard; Harry had a cranky interest in unusual remedies.

In the corner of the dining-room was Harry’s oak roll-top desk. On it were photographs of his travels, for example of the Niagara Falls which he had found a thrilling spectacle as a young man. The alcove which is now the hotel office was full of sporting guns, game bags and shooting sticks, with an agreeable odour of oil.

About 10 o’clock, Alice would visit the flagged kitchen, with a warm smell of baking, plan the day’s menus and issue the necessary supplies from her locked store-room. With beef, mutton and milk from the farm, flour from the corn mill, plus vegetable and fruit from the garden and conservatory, Ardtara was almost self-sufficient.

In later life, Alice spent a great deal of time in an armchair with one leg doubled beneath her and embroidery on her knee. She would take up her position in the Morning Room which today is a small sitting room. She wrote letters in a neat legible hand, always using mauve ink, at her own roll-top desk in the window. Her father had worked in a bank, and she too liked to keep careful accounts.

Harry and Alice’s offspring all loved dogs, especially red setters. But at Ardtara, large dogs were supposed to live in iron-railed kennels under the hillside. They often managed to creep in and lie down on a bag in the hall. Harry loved his parrot who had been trained to say things like “Where’s Brian?” as well other saltier turns of phrase.

If you were staying at Ardtara, Harry might have offered to take an afternoon off and escort you on a drive to Donegal or the Giant’s Causeway, or invited you to a game of golf at Portrush. Otherwise he would return to the works, to see if enough puddle clay was being put into the raised banks of the Green Dam, or to watch the mortar mill at work as it ground up lime, saved from bleaching, with cinders to make a basic construction material.

Afternoon tea at Ardtara was served at 4 o’clock and the sons were expected to walk over and join their mother and father. Cucumber sandwiches and teacakes circulated. Business talk was not approved by Alice but it frequently took place.

I can still picture my father (young Harry) in his grey Homberg hat and long Burberry coat, walking from the weaving factory through the Green, along the dam bank or by the way of the bogey line, the light railway line which linked outlying parts of the works. The he would cross the motor yard and climb the steep hill to Ardtara.

Wallace Clark


Harry Jackson Clark’s grand-daughter Jill Livsey had the following memories, in 2013.

I was born at Rockwood, the home of my parents and Sybil and “young” Harry Francis Clark, in 1936. We used to walk the mile or so up to Ardtara House, the home of my grandparents, two or three times a week. During the second world war, the extended family was depleted because my father and his brothers Brian and Tom were away on military service, and their sister Mamie was serving in the V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment).

I loved helping my grandmother (Alice) choose wools and silks for her needle-work. Grandpa (Harry) would arrive for lunch just after 12.30, wearing his smart tweed plus-fours and waistcoat. He had that art of making people feel very special. He took an interest in my lessons, asking questions about what I was reading or setting me easy sums, with numbers up to ten. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed maths at school. I have my grandfather’s photograph in my bedroom and think of him every day.

He was particularly good at rod fishing. As a young man he fished enthusiastically on the Bann and this gave him a chance to court the lovely Alice Moore whose family home was on that river. During his many business trips to North America and other places, he would use his gift for making friends to sell cloth. Sometimes he would simply chat about fishing before bringing up the subject of linen.

On Christmas evening we used to have a big supper party at Ardtara in the old playroom. There was a scrumptious display of food, red lemonade glasses and also toy skiers and snowmen which fascinated me. Grandpa (Harry) would sing his song “Old friends are gold friends” and we all clapped loudly. My uncle Willie would make a short speech: such a happy memory.

When he was very old and blind, Grandpa (Harry) came over with us to Bunagee Harbour near Culdaff in Donegal.  Guided down to the sea by my father (young Harry) he dived in and did a lovely old-fashioned breast stroke. We were fascinated. He also skated in the old way, with arms folded and rolling from side to side. He used to have water hosed onto the ice to make it stronger. For those skating parties the aunts would bring picnics to share, and they were very happy occasions.  Grandpa (old Harry) encouraged me to venture onto the ice, supported by a wooden chair.

Grandpa (Harry) and Grannie (Alice) regularly attended church in Maghera, sitting in the front pew on the left hand side. His funeral in Maghera was a huge occasion, and a very sad one for me. Conolly McCausland, whose family own a beautiful house called Drenagh near Limavady, spoke very warmly to me at the funeral.

How fortunate we were to have such good and kind grandparents.

Bee / Norah

A professional writer who lives in New Zealand, Bee Dawson is Harry Jackon Clark’s great grand-daughter. Drawing in part on the recollections of her late grandmother Norah, Bee has put together this snapshot of life at Ardtara.

Wonderful soft water from the Clady River was pumped to the house, but this water was used only for bathing and washing. The Clady, which rose in the peaty bogs above the nearby town of Swatragh, was a rich dark brown. It was dark that when the bath was filled, the bottom was all but invisible. It might have looked like the best brewed Guinness stout, but the amber liquid certainly wasn’t palatable. The actual drinking water came from a spring at the bottom of the valley between Ardtara and Ampertaine, and it was one of the chauffeur-handyman’s daily jobs to carry a couple of white enamelled buckets of spring water up to the house each morning.

Bread was delivered by horse-drawn cart, the butcher brought meat in a van (also horse-drawn) and Sam the postman cycled seven miles from Garvagh to deliver the mail. Cream was churned in a large wooden churn, enough to supply all the butter required for the house.

Ardtara was a largely self-sufficient household, producing beef, mutton and milk from the farm, eggs from the henhouse, flour from the corn mill and vegetables and fruit from the garden and conservatory. Martha the cook turned out an endless succession of meals on the giant black coal range. Each morning Alice visited Martha after breakfast, sat at the head of the scrubbed pine table and carefully wrote down the day’s menu on a slate before unlocking the storeroom and issuing her with the necessary ingredients.

The kitchen staff must have been particularly busy when a party was held one night shortly after Ardtara was built. In later years, Harry and Alice did relatively little home entertaining apart from the extended family and business contacts, which must have kept them very well occupied. But this press cutting comes from early in their married life, when both were young and had plenty of young friends and relatives who welcomed the chance to meet the opposite sex.

'A most enjoyable dance was given on Thursday last by Mr and Mrs H.J. Clark, at their pretty residence Ardtara, Upperlands, Co Derry. Dancing commenced at 9 pm., and was kept up with great spirit until the small hours of the morning.

The host and hostess were most attentive and untiring in their efforts to make the evening enjoyable, and with splendid music and a good floor were most successful. The hostess was handsomely dressed in eau de nil silk, trimmed with chiffon; her sister, Miss Moore, was becomingly dressed in blue. Miss Hogg, Liverpool, looked well in white silk. Mrs Alex Clark wore a handsome dress of black satin, relieved with blue. Miss Carpendale, a pretty dress of white silk, with embroidered chiffon and pearls. Pretty gowns were worn by the Misses Beresford, Bennet, etc.'


Harry’s nephew Percy Clark was a gifted memoirist and amateur historian. Born in 1904, Percy had a happy childhood as the youngest child of a large family growing up at Ampertaine House – exactly as his uncle Harry had done 30 years earlier. Later, while Harry was busy establishing Ardtara as a home for his growing family, life went on at Ampertaine a few hundred yards away, under the stewardship of his older brother Alexander. Later still, when Alexander's son Percy and his other children grew up, they all bonded with Harry’s offspring – their first cousins – over common hobbies like motor-cycling and messing about in boats as well as work in the linen factory.

These extracts from Percy’s history of Maghera, and his personal memoirs, help us to understand the world in which Harry and all the Clarks grew up and worked.

...My great-grandfather “Upperlands Alex” Clark died on May 16, 1871 aged 86 years, and a note in the family Bible states: “He died trusting in his Saviour, and his last words were: “Are you all there? Fare-fare-farewell.”

Our grandfather William Clark succeeded him, and he built Ampertaine for his bride Marianne Elizabeth Paul Newport, whom he married in Waterford Cathedral in 1853. The house was initially just a square Georgian building of three storeys. Its design was similar to that of Brook Lodge in Waterford where the Newport and Bolton families had lived. William later added a return from the archway in the hall. [A new wing was added at the start of the 20th century.]

The tree-planting was on a scale similar to Brook Lodge and also to Ballyglan, County Waterford, where Marianne had spent some time with her aunt and uncle, Sir Joshua and Lady Paul – notably the yew trees and the deodars which became a feature of Ampertaine. These had been grown from seed brought home from India and were first put in pots in the hall. Some of the old beech trees, especially the large one in front of the house, were brought up from Smiths Wood when large, and the bank around them still remains.

Marianne’s parents, Captain and Mrs Newport, spent the final part of their lives at Ampertaine and they are buried in Maghera. They had intended living in Kilrea, and bought a little house called Clougheen [where cousin John Courtney Clark later lived] but before this could happen he fell and broke a leg, and did not recover.

In those days, there was only one post each morning at 10 am. Then a horse and cart was sent into Maghera to pick up another post which arrived at 8 pm. That post came by mail car each evening from Castledawson which was the nearest railway.

Outgoing post also had to be taken into Maghera by horse-drawn “car”.

More primitive still was the means [used in my grandfather’s time] of getting linen off to Dublin: a covered cart and horse which left Upperlands each weekday morning and was not back till the following Saturday.

...I have no memories until 1909, the year I commenced lessons with the governess, a Miss Corrigan from County Carlow, who was already in charge of my three elder brothers, Alex, George and Ivan. My sister Violet had gone to school at Cheltenham and Alex was about to go to Seascale Preparatory School in Cumberland. I felt very excited about being promoted from the nursery to the schoolroom.

Out of school we had daily walks or drive in the governess’s cart with Meg, our much-loved pony, or Ned, the almost white donkey on which we learned to ride. Horses became a great interest to us later. There were always two carriage horses and several farm horses in the stables. John McAlister the coachman taught us to ride and drive. He later married our nurse and lived in Number 2, Boyne Row.

On our way past the railway crossing on the side line to the Green, we would have a chat with the gate-keeper, John Quinn. His rosy-cheeked, white-whiskered face was set off by a black bowler hat and green neck scarf. He would wave a red or green flag to signal the trains coming or going. If we were in a hurry, but found the gates closed, we would ask him to let our pony through, and he would reply: “You’re alright, she’s not blowed yet.” The train-driver always blew the siren as he left the station.

Rabbits and guinea pigs were kept in a large hutch near the back garden, and pigeons were my brother Ivan’s special interest. He kept an aviary on the walk to the garden. Canaries were caged in the schoolroom and often hatched their eggs there – not to forget the old tortoise that kept the dandelions down on the lawn.

The Island Dam provided some good fun as we had a small punt on it and had all sorts of “voyages” and “ports of call” there. In the hard winters of long ago they froze over and we had a great time skating and toboganning down the hill above. It was possible to go straight onto the ice from the hill. When darkness came we used the lamps of a car as floodlights. And on winter evenings we had badminton in the loft over the stables – so we did not miss television much!


Memories of Grandpa 'Old Harry' by his youngest grand-daughter.

By the time I was born, between VE Day and VJ Day, Grandpa was almost 76. Full of enthusiasm for life, but increasingly held back by his blindness, he still used to go swimming at Portrush and get one of his sons to lead him to where he could dive off rocks into water he could no longer see.

After my beloved nanny died, before I turned seven, I spent more time with my parents Tom and Eileen and the family than ever before. And so just once before Granny too died I was lucky enough to experience the magic of the last-ever traditional Christmas Evening family party at Ardtara.

As a concession, I was allowed to appear in my new pale pink satin dressing-gown scattered with rosebuds, my most prized possession and a Christmas present from one of the firm's generous agents or customers in the States who used to send us parcels of goods unobtainable in post-war Britain. The gown was probably given by a gentlemen called Maurice who stayed with us several times at Upperlands House. I didn't take it off all night!

Fairy lights and garlands were strung all round the walls, giving me the impression of entering Santa's Grotto. (In fact, in those early postwar years, many Santa's Grottoes were disappointingly lacking in mystique. Mum wasn't wrong in describing one Father Christmas on whose knee I was photographed as 'the dreariest old thing you could imagine'.)

In Ardtara's old nursery (used during the second world war as a workroom for making bandages and knitting comforts for the troops) Granny and Grandpa presided over long damask-draped tables decorated with wintry scenes. On mirrors half-camouflaged with cotton wool to represent lakes and ponds, tiny porcelain Eskimo figures skated, while others tobogganed down cotton wool hillsides. Standing under the multi-coloured Christmas-tree lights I was entranced to be present at this celebration.

To give the servants the evening off, we helped ourselves to cold turkey, boned and filled with a cooked tongue wrapped in stuffing, followed by great bowls of trifle and jelly and of course Christmas cake. Drinks in small red glasses, mine decorated with a Maraschino cherry, made the occasion all the more magical. Grandpa made a speech and we sang Auld Lang Syne; and later we played party games in the Billiard Room with its hunting frieze and pictures of drunken billiards players.

While in Nanny's domain I had seen little of my family; now in the couple of years before being sent away to school I often accompanied my father on evening visits to Granny and Grandpa, as well as to Granny's widowed sister Great Aunt Mary, a sweet little Victorian lady whose house in Kilrea, Clougheen, overlooked a lake. Her husband Old Uncle Johnnie had been an elder brother of Grandpa's. Her portrait of a lady in pink silk was probably a Moore ancestor.

Apparently Grandpa who, unusually for that era, had picked up some knowledge of alternative medicine on his travels, could never resist telling his doctor brother exactly what medicines he should be prescribing! His growing fascination with illness increased with age, only rivalled by the obsession with The News which was inherited by his sons. You could hear a pin drop in Upperlands before the 1 and 6 pm wireless bulletins.

Before the television era, unlike now, news was not constantly on tap. We had no TV till three years after the Coronation, so opportunities for  keeping up with world events were limited.

Granny's little sitting room is where I chiefly remember seeing her, always with one leg tucked up under her, rug-making or embroidering those little linen tray-cloths featuring a crinoline lady among roses and hollyhocks that always remind me of her. In the drawing room I admired her cabinets of Royal Doulton figurines such as the Old Balloon Seller for their colours and graceful lines, and the beautiful gold-edged tea-set, each cup and saucer in a different rich jewel colour, which I inherited.

Anyone born after about 1960 would find it hard to imagine just how drab, dreary and colourless life was in those first post-war years; so I responded with particular delight to anything colourful around me. And I always remember the large silver bowl of sweet peas on a round mahogany table in the hall, a tradition continued by Auntie Zelie.

After losing my Purple Granny as I called her, since that was her favourite colour and mine (she even wrote in purple ink), we increasingly included Grandpa on drives and picnics, which for me made everything much more fun. I remember sitting with him in the old part of Ballygally Castle, waiting to be served afternoon tea and half wondering if we would have a spooky experience; and there are photos of us having picnics at the White Rocks, sitting on the sand with our backs against the cliff-face.

You couldn't help but love Grandpa. For a Victorian he was amazingly un-stuffy and full of fun. His children could do no wrong in his eyes, and he was just as supportive of his grandchildren's exploits. He could curse like a trooper, but without animosity.

When my dad taught me to float, in the Clady River which flowed through our garden, we made a special visit to report my success to Grandpa. Dad told him proudly that I could now float 'like a little celluloid doll', celluloid being an early form of plastic. I was rewarded with half a crown, an impressively large coin (32mm diameter) which was worth an eighth of a pound and then seemed like immense riches. And on learning to swim I was presented with a crown – or rather, since that coin was no longer current, two half-crowns.

When talking about the hydroelectric scheme he and Alex had developed, and about the way in which water, unlike other forms of power, could be tapped over and over, he would use one of his favourite phrases: he had saved the works "thousands and thousands of pounds."

After Granny died I think some of the fight went out of Grandpa and he survived her by less than two years. A nice housekeeper, Miss Gardiner, kept the household running smoothly, and for company, apart from Uncle Pad (Brian) and constant visits from his other sons, he had the company of Granny's lap-dog, a little Pekinese he called Moses. That was also, incidentally, his nickname for the Land Steward. It must have been tough having to give up his beloved shooting and fishing as his sight failed. “I'm as blind as a bat, blind as a bloody bat!” he would complain in frustration. Though a founder member of the Royal Portrush Golf Club, he had given up golf earlier.

When Dad and I visited we would find him lying on the sofa in front of the fire with a rug over his legs, while a green visor protected his eyes from bright lights. His fingers yellow with nicotine, he would offer us tiny licorice sweets from America, and remind Dad to send off for charcoal tablets from there for my hiccups. (They certainly helped.)

"I'm an aul' done man" was his refrain in those days; but he had a good life to look back on, surrounded by children and grandchildren and other family, with the satisfaction of having built up the firm and risen to numerous challenges; he and his brother Alex had greatly increased the firm's output and efficiency. Part of his legacy is the detailed journal he wrote all his life. He enjoyed the loyalty and respect of his employees and a wide circle of friends. He wasted no time on commuting to and from work, since he had built a house for his bride only a stone's throw from the Works and his Georgian childhood home Ampertaine.  He worked hard and in fact never really retired. Yet he could still make time in the afternoon to go fishing on the dams or to shoot snipe on nearby bogs. An enviable life by any measure, many would say.

Victoria Brudal, December 2013