Crommelin, Samuel-Louis (DNB00)

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CROMMELIN, SAMUEL-LOUIS (1652–1727), director of Irish linen enterprise, was born in May 1652 at Armandcourt, near St. Quentin, Picardy, where his ancestry had long been landowners and flax-growers. His father, Louis Crommelin (married in 1648 to Marie Mettayer), was sufficiently wealthy to leave 10,000l. to each of his four sons, Samuel-Louis, Samuel, William, and Alexander. Louis Crommelin, who, on his father's death, appears to have dropped the prefix Samuel, gave employment to many hands in flax-spinning and linen-weaving. The family was protestant, and the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 proved the ruin of their business. Crommelin for some years endeavoured to hold his ground; he had reconciled himself to the Roman catholic church in 1683, but becoming again a protestant, his estates were forfeited to the crown and his buildings wrecked. With his son and two daughters (his wife Anne was dead) he made his way to Amsterdam. Here he became partner in a banking firm, and was joined by his brothers Samuel and William.

Many exiled Huguenot linen-workers had been encouraged to settle at Lisburn (formerly Lisnagarvey), a cathedral town on the confines of counties Antrim and Down, where already there was some manufacture of linen. In 1696 the English parliament passed an act (7 and 8 Will. III, cap. 39) for inviting foreign protestants to settle in Ireland, and admitting all products of hemp and flax duty free from Ireland to England. The Irish parliament in November 1697 passed an act for fostering the linen manufacture. William III, in reply to an address from the English commons on 9 June 1698, expressed his determination, while discouraging the Irish woollen trade, to do all in his power to encourage the linen manufactures of Ireland. With this view the king made a communication to Crommelin, desiring him to institute an inquiry into the condition of the French colony at Lisburn, and to report upon the terms on which he would agree to act as director of the linen manufacture. Crommelin arrived at Lisburn in the autumn of 1698. He embodied his ideas respecting the best mode of improving the linen industry in a memorial dated 16 April 1699, and addressed to the commissioners of the treasury. The treasury, in concert with the commissioners of trade and plantations, recommended the adoption of Crommelin's proposals, and effect was at once given to them by a royal patent. Crommelin, who was made ‘overseer of the royal linen manufacture of Ireland,’ advanced 10,000l. to carry out the necessary works, the treasury paying him eight per cent. on this sum for ten years. He was to have 200l. a year as director, and 120l. a year for each of three assistants. A grant of 60l. was added towards the stipend of a French minister, and early in 1701 Charles Lavalade (whose sister had married Alexander Crommelin) became the pastor of the colony. The death of William III in 1702 imperilled the rising enterprise, but the royal patent and grants were renewed under Anne.

Crommelin began by ordering three hundred looms (afterwards increased to a thousand) from Flanders and Holland. Till his death a premium of 5l. was granted for every loom kept going. The old Irish spinning-wheel he considered superior to any in use abroad; but he employed skilled workmen to still further improve it. His reed maker was Henry Mark du Pré (d. 1750), one of the best makers of Cambray. Baron Conway gave a site for weaving workshops, and in addition to the Huguenot weavers Irish apprentices were taken. Dutchmen were engaged to teach flax-growing to farmers, and to superintend bleaching operations. It is not without some reason that Crommelin has been credited with originating, as regards Ulster, a system of technical education for the textile art. The effect was to supply the markets of Dublin and London with linens and cambrics of a quality previously procurable only by importation from abroad. Crommelin was effectively assisted by his three brothers. In 1705 a factory was opened at Kilkenny, under the management of William Crommelin. In 1707 the thanks of the Irish parliament were voted to Crommelin. The minutes of the linen board, a body of trustees appointed (13 Oct. 1711) by the Irish government for the extension of the linen manufacture, bear frequent testimony to the ‘invaluable service’ of Crommelin. He pursued his work bravely, though a heavy private sorrow fell upon him in the death of his only son, Louis, born at St. Quentin, who died at Lisburn on 1 July 1711, aged 28. By the death of this son a pension of 200l. a year was lost. It had been offered to Crommelin, but at his desire was given to his son. On 24 Feb. 1716 the linen board recommended that a pension of 400l. be granted him by the government. In December 1717 Crommelin extended his operations by promoting settlements for the manufacture of hempen sailcloth at Rathkeale, Cork, Waterford, and later at Rathbride (1725). His energy ceased only with his life; he died at Lisburn on 14 July 1727, aged 75, and is buried, with other Huguenots, in the eastern corner of the graveyard of the cathedral church. He left a daughter, married to Captain de Bernière. The Crommelin family is extinct in the main line, but the name survives, having been adopted by a branch of the family of de la Cherois, closely connected by marriage with the Crommelins.

Crommelin published an ‘Essay towards the Improving of the Hempen and Flaxen Manufactories in the Kingdom of Ireland,’ Dublin, 1705, 4to, containing many particulars of historical as well as scientific interest.

[Ulster Journal of Archæology, 1853, pp. 209 sq., 286 sq. (article on the ‘Huguenot Colony at Lisburn,’ by Dr. Purdon), 1856, p. 206 sq. (article ‘The Settlement in Waterford,’ by Rev. T. Gimlette); La France Protestante, 2nd edit. by Bordier, 1884 (article ‘Crommelin’); Northern Whig, 12 July 1885 (article on ‘Louis Crommelin’ [by Hugh M'Call, Lisburn], requiring some correction); English Commons' Journals, xii. 338 sq.; Report from the Select Committee on the Linen Trade in Ireland, 6 June 1825; communication from Mr. M'Call.]

A. G.