The ancestors of John Johnston are first recorded in Dublin when Benjamin Johnston married Mary Weld at St. Peter & St Kevin’s Church, Dublin on 25 September 1741. As demanded by the Laws of the Establishment they married in church but their six children were baptised at the Eustace Street Presbyterian Meeting House. We can only guess that, at this point, the Johnstons were Dissenters but certainly another Johnston, William, had married another Weld, Susanna, at St Michan’s, Dublin on 19 June 1729 and their son, Nathaniel Weld Johnston was also baptised at Eustace Street. Rev. Nathaniel Weld was a moving force in Non-conformist Dublin as the leader of the large congregation at Eustace Street. William founded the Johnston line which created one of the major wine houses in Bordeaux.
Many of the Johnston men trained as lawyers or physicians, occupations in which Dissention would be no bar to progress (the Test Acts, which demanded that all civil and military officers were communicants of the established church, were not repealed until 1828). After 1800 the womenfolk started to marry Church of Ireland clergymen and some of their sons and grandsons were ordained. The main occupations through the 1800s were as solicitors, doctors / surgeons, clergymen and bankers with only the occasional merchant or farmer.
The nine children of Benjamin and Mary Johnston were:
Benjamin baptised 8 August 1743
John baptised 22 September 1744 but died shortly afterwards
Margaret baptised 15 February 1746
Edmund baptised 9 January 1747
John baptised 26 November 1747
Elizabeth baptised 15 May 1752
Mary - birthdate unknown
Jane - married Holmes (Jane Holmes of Richmond Hill, Rathmines, died around 1843).
Ann born about 1754 - married Jonathan Sisson
The surviving John established himself as an ironmonger in College Green, Dublin. The city was being transformed in the late 1700s. There must have been an enormous and lucrative market for all the “catalogue” hardware for the building of Georgian Dublin, from door handles and hinges to cast-iron balconies with added lead decoration and off-the-shelf fanlights to go above front doors - with matching lanterns. John had married Maria Higginson in St John’s Church, Dublin on 22 December 1772. When Mountjoy Square was being developed from 1792 John acquired two properties on Belvedere Place. He also gave “The Copse”, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow as his residence on documents; this property was passed down to his eldest son. Addresses at 8, 9, 10 and 16 Upper Pembroke Street, Upper Dominick Street and 4 & 38 Upper Rutland Street, Dublin also appear to have been investment properties
John and Maria had four children:
Elizabeth born about 1776
Benjamin - about 1778
John - about 1780
Higginson - about 1786
There is a strong connection to County Monaghan. In 1809 the address of Trough Lodge is quoted for John on the papers for his son, Higginson’s, admission to the King’s Inns of Court. The Lodge appears on early maps in the townland of Gortmoney, on the Ankatell estate south of Emyvale, though it seems that subsequently it was renamed Ankatell Grove. Benjamin married Catherine Graydon from the house on 17 February 1809 and their eldest daughter, Letitia, was born there in 1810. By 1812, however, William Henry Richardson of Co. Louth was recording Trough Lodge as his address.
Benjamin Johnston is described as a “gentleman of Co. Wicklow” as father to graduates in Alumni Dublinenses. He and Catherine had eleven children. His brother, Higginson, followed the family tradition and qualified as a lawyer.
On 24 May 1802 Elizabeth married Henry Maturin. He was a bright scholar at Trinity College Dublin, who took holy orders, became a very young Fellow of the College and was appointed to the College Chapel. He was out on the evangelical wing of the Church at a time when the Methodists and Non-conformists were seen to be presenting a considerable threat to the Established Church. In 1797 the Bishop of Dublin banned Henry’s small group of four clerics from preaching in his diocese as they were renowned for filling churches with their impassioned presentations. Henry resigned all his College appointments and took up the living in the parish of Clondevaddock on Fanad Head in the far north of Donegal where the Rector had just been murdered by rapparees. He travelled north, alone, through a country preparing for the 1798 rebellion. In 1802 he returned to Dublin and married Elizabeth Johnston. She must have been a remarkable woman to make such a venture in the turmoil of the time, a long way from the city she had grown up in. She gave Henry four daughters and five sons, including Emma who married her cousin, Benjamin Johnston (eldest son of Benjamin born 1778) and Benjamin (Maturin) who married his cousin Anna (daughter of John Johnston born 1780)
IIt is not known for certain when John Johnston (born 1780) moved from Dublin to Belfast. Any significance of a connection between the Ankatells at Trough Lodge as a wealthy Monaghan family and William Ankatell as the son-in-law of Benjamin Edwards, the Bristol glass maker, is as yet unproven. Edwards built the first glass house at the end of the Long Bridge, Ballymacarrett in 1781. In 1800, in partnership with his three sons and William Ankatell, Edwards established a warehouse and foundry in Newry.
John Johnston is noted in the 1819 Belfast General & Commercial Directory as a “gent.” at “Achley Hall”, Ballymacarrett. No record has so far been found of his marriage but on 25 May 1820 his wife, Anna, died aged 33 - at “Ashley Hall”. He was left with three small children:
Anna (aged about 3)
To care for the children, on 14 November 1823, he married Agnes Gemmill at Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church, Shankill, Belfast when he was recorded as a Presbyterian. Agnes was the daughter of Robert Gemmil, who may well have been the Donegall Street merchant offering “Black Soap of the First Quality” for sale at his “office in Long Lane” in the Belfast Newsletter on 13 March 1791. There appears to have been a strong family connection between the Gemmills and Rev. S. Hanna at Rosemary Street. John and Agnes had three more children:
Robert (born in 1826 but died of “dispepsie” in Bangor aged 17 on 14 May 1843 and was buried in Clifton Street Cemetery)
Mary Elizabeth Catherine born in 1831
A John Johnston is noted as a merchant in Donegall Square North in the 1831/2 Belfast Directory but, even though this would have been within walking distance from Ashley Lodge, this is such a common name that there is no certainty of identification.
On the night of 9 February 1833 John junior sent for John Wilkins Benn, Robert McCluney (a physician) and Samuel Bruce junior as his father knew that his end was near. A locked “press” was opened and a little tin box taken out; John senior had to identify the key to open it. Inside were two pieces of paper written in ink and one in pencil which needed to be warranted as John’s own handwriting, pinned together, sealed as genuine, witnessed and signed to constitute the will. John died early the following morning aged 53 and was buried at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast. The Belfast Newsletter recorded that “His life was a practical exhibition of the living power of Christian truth”. He left a substantial estate to his children including rents from at least 12 houses and ground rents from others. In addition his wife, Agnes, received rental income amounting to £450 Irish per annum for her lifetime (equivalent to about £18,000 now). There were also 30 Provincial Bank shares, £100 in Bank Stock, 10 Hibernian Mining Co shares divided between the children and extra bequests to the 16-year-old Anna, from her mother’s estate, of £200 in Government Debentures and from her grandfather (John Johnston - ironmonger) of £500. Maria (Higginson) left a bequest of £400 of British Stock to her grandson John.
Of this large family little is known of their subsequent history apart from Anna and Mary. Anna married her cousin, Rev. Benjamin Maturin at St. Peter's, Dublin on 5 June 1840; there is no mention of a special licence so it may be that Anna had taken up residence in one of properties she had inherited from her father in St Peter's parish, perhaps in Upper Pembroke Street. The Griffiths Valuations show Benjamin as the owner of property at Belvedere Place, which must have come to him on his marriage to Anna, but that is in the parish of St. George rather than St. Peter. They went to Kilbarrow, Diocese of Raphoe where Benjamin was curate, though he was also regularly recorded at Clondevaddock, Donegal helping his father in his failing years. Anna gave birth to Henry on 5 April 1842 but she died at Fannet Glebe on the following 15 June. For six years Benjamin wandered from parish to parish, mainly in England, until he took a curacy with his cousin, Charles Henry Maturin, in Ringwood, Hampshire. After the usual probation he was offered the living at Lymington, Hampshire. He married again and stayed there for the rest of his long life. His son, Henry, settled in north Hampshire as a doctor and raised his family there.
Mary married Dr. John Milford Barnett (born 28 September 1830 in Paddington, Middlesex, a surgeon in the Indian Army until retirement in 1868) and gave him five sons including John Gemmill Barnet (born in 1862) and Kenneth Bruce Barnett. Mary died at Croft House, Holywood, Co. Down on 16 February 1875, aged 44, and was buried at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast.
John’s widow, Agnes, married Dr. John Scott on 9 April 1835. She died on 12 June 1845 and is also buried in Clifton Street Cemetery. Dr. John is noted at Ashley Lodge in the City directories from 1835 to 1844 after which time the title to the house may have reverted to the surviving children. A Dr. John Scott is noted in Post Office directories and the Ordnance Survey Memoires as a surgeon in Dromore in 1824 and dispensary there, first in 1836 and then again, in 1846.
Ashley Lodge was built on the New Bridge Road. The first new bridge was built in the mid 1700s after a local baker was drowned crossing the stepping stones on the Conswater river. The area had several magnificent houses, including Ormeau (the residence of the Marquis of Donegal), Portview, Beaver Hall and Belleville, whose park stretched down to Belfast Lough. Ashley Lodge was built in the late 1700s and traces of the Georgian house can still be seen in the left-hand section of the house in the above photograph (dated 9 April 1895 and taken from the Robert Welch collection). It may be that the original house had just seven windows and the front door as there is a distinct line on the facade to the left of the right-hand front door and the right-hand chimney could well have been on that gable, rather than in the middle of the house. On the original photograph it is still possible to see “Ashley Lodge” on the lintel above the left hand door. The shop added later, to the left, was a house furnishers. By conjecture, if that shop can be ignored and a matching pair of windows placed to the right of the main door in place of the second door, the house becomes a classical double-fronted Georgian residence.
By 1861 the Belfast Street Directory shows that the house had fallen into multiple occupancy - by coal merchant John McKibben and the Ballymacarrett Post Office. Fifty-one year-old spinster Mary Sloan “of Ashley Lodge” was buried at Clifton Street Cemetery on 15 January that year. James McWilliams had joined McKibben by 1868. The Lodge was demolished by 1903 as the Ordnance Survey of that year (see below) shows five plots on that site. Brown’s butchers shop and C. Grogan’s sweet shop were two of those built instead. The space between the right gable and Derwent Street remained vacant until a shoe shop was built there in 1926.
Ballymacarrett (Bally mhic Art - The Town of Airt - from Art MacBaron O’Neill) was originally a townland in the parish of Knockbreda. Even in 1831 there were only 25 houses, being mainly weavers’ cottages for the cotton weaving (Joy & McCabe was established in 1778); glass factories, pottery and foundry flourished and the mud flats had started to be reclaimed. By 1840 there was employment for several hundred, streets had been laid out, there were eight schools for 450 pupils and the Methodists had built their chapel and burying ground opposite Ashley Lodge. The graveyard became known as “God’s Forgotten Acre” when it fell in to disuse. From about 1875 Francis Ritchie, a builder from Mount Pottinger, used clay from the surrounding brickfields for the bricks to develop the area north of New Bridge / Newtownards Road, including Bellville, and took gravestones from the Methodists to recycle as window sills in Derwent Street. The graveyard was finally closed in 1918 for redevelopment, though that was delayed for another 40 years when severe bombing damage from the worst air raids of the War had also to be taken in to account.
Grateful thanks for help with above are due to:
Jim Patten of Bangor for supplying the final confirmation of the site of Ashley Lodge, for the photographs and so many details about Ballymacarrett and the area,
Keith Haines, East Belfast historical Society, for his kind help in co-ordinating the search with Jim,
Liz Augereau, Sally Lloyd and and Caroline Glass for their untiring work picking and unpicking the Johnstons.
Above - Newtownards Road, Ballymacarrett in 1903. Below - in 2006
Site of Ashley Lodge
Grogan's sweet shop to the left of the Lodge