Sir William Ewart (1817 - 1889):
Sir William Ewart, 1st baronet, was of the third generation in his family to carry this name and the fifth to be active in the linen industry; his father and grandfather were the eponymous William Ewart & Son, who formed the partnership of that name in 1814; it became William Ewart & Son Ltd in 1883. The eldest William was the son of Thomas Ewart and grandson of another Thomas Ewart, of Carnreagh; the latter had obtained 20 acres of land in 1716, and could be said to have founded what became one of the leading dynasties in the Ulster linen industry, beginning with small-scale damask weaving, but expanding vigorously such that on Sir William's death in 1889 it was one of the biggest linen-producing companies in the world.
This, the third, William Ewart was born at Sydenham, east of Belfast, and attended Belfast Royal Academy before entering employment with William Ewart & Son, becoming a partner in 1843, so that for a time, the partners were three generations of William Ewarts. The Ewarts' first mill, powered by water, was on the Crumlin Road. Power-loom weaving was added to this in 1850 and in 1852 they purchased the Glenbank bleaching works, Ligoniel, which they greatly extended and refitted with new machinery. They also acquired Glenbank House, adjacent to the bleaching works, which became a Ewart family residence; it was occupied by Sir William's son Lavens Mathewson Ewart until it and its seven-acre grounds were offered to Belfast Corporation in 1920 by G Herbert Ewart, Lavens' brother, for use as a public park. In 1859 the firm moved to extensive warehouses at 11 Donegal Place, though it kept its mills on the Crumlin Road. In 1861, the outbreak of the American Civil War and the consequent Northern blockade of Southern ports (as well as some participation from the Confederacy itself by way of its so-called "cotton diplomacy"; the theory was that starving, especially British, cotton-users of the raw material might prompt British intervention in the war to the Confederates' benefit) led to what became known as the "cotton famine"; the Ewarts had by this time developed a strong, vertically-integrated business which meant that they were well placed to meet the increasing demand for linen. They were able to profit not inconsiderably from this demand. By good management, largely by William himself, the firm not only survived the post-war depression but prospered by buying up the assets of less enterprising competitors such as the premises of the Bedford Street Weaving Company, a building which though derelict, still stands today (at no.17, opposite the Ulster Hall), and the Mountain mill, Ligoniel, from Waring and Duncan.
During the trade depression of the mid-1880s, in order to protect the family wealth, Ewart turned the business into a limited liability company, with a capital of £500,000. There were six partners: Ewart himself, and five sons. Part of the success of the Ewarts can be attributed to this tight family control both before and after the adoption of limited liability. Two of the sons were resident in the United States and attended to American sales.
William Ewart became a leading figure in Belfast, not just in industry but also municipally. He was a member of the Belfast Corporation for twenty-five years, Mayor of Belfast in 1859 and 1860, and was elected MP for Belfast City in 1878, in a by-election, as a Conservative. He retained the seat in 1880 and occupied it until 1885, when the new constituency of Belfast North was created. Ewart retained the seat in 1886 and occupied it until his death (he was succeeded by Sir Edward James Harland, 1st Baronet, joint founder of Harland & Wolff, the leading shipbuilders). He was President of the Irish Linen Trade and Flax Supply Associations, was a member of the Belfast Local Marine Board, and a magistrate for Antrim and Belfast. The Ewart Baronetcy, of Glenmachan in Strandtown in the County of Down and of Glenbank in Belfast in the County of Antrim, was created in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom for him on 13 September 1887.
An enthusiastic member of the Church of Ireland, Ewart was chairman of a group of trustees who acquired a site (known as "Bunker Hill") just east of Belfast (though today well within the built-up area) for the building of a parish church. Unusually, no local architect was chosen, the trustees preferring to commission the celebrated English church architect William Butterfield. The original plans were not fulfilled until 1891, when William Ewart's family provided the necessary funds as a memorial to him. The church, St Mark's, Dundela, has two windows dedicated to members of William Ewart's family: to his widow, Isabella Kelso Mathewson, and to his son, the 2nd baronet, Sir William Quartus Ewart. The church is well-known worldwide as the parish church of CS Lewis, the internationally-acclaimed academic and religious polemicist, who was himself a relative of the Ewart family (his mother was a cousin of Mary Warren Heard, who was married to Sir William Quartus Ewart; Lewis describes his close ties to the family in his autobiography). William Ewart was a member of the Representative Body of the (now named) Church of Ireland, set up under the Irish Church Act 1869, after the disestablishment of the Church; this body was created to hold and administer Church property. (It is mere coincidence that the Prime Minister who implemented this development was named William Ewart Gladstone.) The Northern Whig newspaper paid tribute to Ewart's successful exertions on behalf of his Church when it obituarised that "there was hardly a church throughout Belfast which had not received of his liberality". He died in London, at 14 Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, and was buried in Belfast five days later. The Northern Whig had referred to him as "father of our staple trade in Belfast".
He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, William Quartus Ewart. His successors to the baronetcy were all Directors of William Ewart & Son Ltd; the last was Sir William's great-grandson Sir Ivan Ewart, 6th baronet, who was the Director when the company eventually wound up in that form in 1973.
|Born:||11 November 1817|
|Died:||1 August 1889|
© 2023 Ulster History Circle