The town is comparatively of modern origin, and has risen with uncommon rapidity to an eminent degree of commercial importance as the head of the principal district of the linen manufacture. Even when almost every port was closed against the introduction of Irish linens, and the trade was nearly lost to the country, those of Banbridge found a ready market; and when the energies of the linen merchant on the old system were nearly paralysed by foreign competition, the merchants of this place created a new trade, by commencing as manufacturers on an extensive scale, and opening an intercourse with America and other parts. The numerous falls on the river and the uniform supply of water appear to have attracted the attention of the manufacturers soon after bleaching became a separate branch of the trade; and shortly after the application of machinery to this department, several mills were erected on its banks, mostly on a small scale, as the process at that time was very tedious and every web of considerable value. Although a formidable barrier to enterprise resulted from the unsettled state of the country, and the system of selling only through the factors in Dublin restricted the operations of the trade and regulated the prices, the linen merchants of this district seem to have gradually prospered, as, in 1772, there were no less than 26 bleach-greens on the Bann river. At that time, however, the trade was principally carried on at Gilford, and the webs were mostly marked as "Gilford linens," and, after the introduction of linen seals, were nearly all sealed there. The Dromore merchants also transacted an important business; the finer fabrics had even acquired the name of "Dromores," and a great quantity of the higher numbers is still woven in and around that town, but principally for the Banbridge manufacturers. At present comparatively very little business is done at either of those places, the entire trade of this part of the country having concentrated itself in the vicinity of Banbridge, which has thus become one of the most important inland manufacturing towns in Ireland. Linen of every description is manufactured and bleached in the neighbourhood: at Brookfield, Huntly Glen, Seapatrick, Millmount, Ballydown, and Ashfield are manufacturers on a large scale, for whom more than 66,000 webs are annually finished, comprising linens of various quality, sheeting, diapers, damasks, drills, cambrics, &c., by a vast number of weavers, who work in their own dwellings and are dispersed over the surrounding parishes. There are very extensive bleach-greens at Ballievey, Ballydown, Clibborn Vale, Millmount, Milltown, Springvale, Mill-Park, Hazelbank, Banford, and Mountpleasant, where 185,710 webs were bleached and finished in 1834, being nearly equal to the entire quantity bleached in this county at the end of the last century. At Seapatrick is an extensive establishment for weaving union cloths by machinery, in which are employed 100 power-looms impelled by a water-wheel 15 feet in diameter and 22 feet broad on the face. There are also very large thread manufactories for home consumption and exportation at Huntley Glen, Milltown, and Banbridge; a mill for spinning linen yarn at Coose, and adjoining it, chymical works for the supply of the bleachers. These different establishments provide employment for more than 2000 persons connected with this branch of the linen trade alone. Branches of the Provincial Bank of Ireland and of the Northern and Belfast banking companies have been established here. The situation of the town on the great north road to Belfast, and in the centre of a fertile and highly cultivated district watered by the Bann, is very advantageous to its interests. It is within three miles of the Newry and Lough Neagh canal, to which a branch may be formed at little expense; this improvement appears to have been at one period contemplated, from an excavation which is still traceable from Millmount down the valley on the south side of the Bann. Within an extent of four miles there are six good stone bridges over the Bann, besides several of wood: in 1690 there was not one bridge over this river throughout its entire course of 36 miles, from the mountains of Mourne to Lough Neagh. The Marquess of Downshire is proprietor of the town and a large tract of land in its vicinity. The principal seats in the neighbourhood are Ballievey House, the residence of G. Crawford, Esq.; Ballyvalley, of the Rev. J. Davis; Millmount, of R. Hayes, Esq.; Brookfield, of Brice Smyth, Esq. ; Huntley Glen, of Hugh Dunbar, Esq.; the glebehouse, of the Rev. D. Dickinson; Edenderry, of W. A. Stewart, Esq.; Seapatrick House, of F. W. Hayes, Esq.; Lenaderg Cottage, of T. Weir, Esq.; and Banview, of G. Little, Esq. There are also several large and handsome houses in the town, the residences of wealthy merchants and professional gentlemen; and the farm-houses in the vicinity are built in a superior style of convenience and comfort. The market is on Monday, and is abundantly supplied with all kinds of provisions, and with pedlery and other commodities: the sale of yarn and brown linens, formerly very extensive, has declined since the new system of spinning and manufacturing was established, but considerable quantities of both are still disposed of. The market-house, situated in the centre of the town, close to the viaduct, is a large and handsome edifice surmounted by a dome, and was built by the Marquess of Downshire in 1834, at an expense of £2000 : a brown linen hall was also erected by him in 1811, and a market-place for meal and grain in 1815. Fairs are held on the first Monday in every month; and fairs for horses, cattle; sheep, pigs, and manufactured goods are held on Jan. 12th, first Saturday in March, June 9th, August 26th, and Nov. 16th; the last is a very noted fair for horses. Petty sessions are held once a fortnight, and here is a chief station of the constabulary police.
The parochial church, situated in this town, is a handsome cruciform edifice, with a tower surmounted by a spire, recently built at an expense of about £3000, of which sum £1500 was granted as a gift by the late Board of First Fruits, and the residue was provided by private contributions, of which £600 was subscribed by the Marquis of Downshire, who also gave the site: it is capable of accommodating 1800 persons. There is a meeting-house for Presbyterians in connexion with the Synod of Ulster, of the third class, and, at a short distance from the town, one for Seceders; besides a place of worship each for Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. A school, in which about 60 boys and 50 girls are taught, is endowed with £50 per annum and 1½ acre of land; the school premises, including residences for the master and mistress, were built by subscription, towards which the Marquess of Downshire contributed £90. Here is also a dispensary. Within half a mile from the town, on the Dromore road, a sulphureous chalybeate spring has been lately discovered, the water of which having been analysed is found to equal that of Aix la Chapelle, and is efficacious in scorbutic complaints. This is the birth-place of the late Baron McClelland, third baron of the Exchequer; and near the town was born Dr. Dickson, Bishop of Down and Connor.-See SEAPATRICK.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis