A history of Lisburn Chamber of Commerce 1961 – 2021
by Evan Morton
THE EARLY YEARS
A Merchants Association had existed in Lisburn for many years, however a desire arose to re-establish a Chamber of Commerce in the town. Arrangements were made for a foundation meeting, which was held in the Assembly Rooms in March 1961 and was well attended by members of the local business community. With a groundswell of enthusiasm, officers were elected and Lisburn Chamber of Commerce held its first meeting of Council on Tuesday 11th April 1961 at 8.00pm in the Temperance Institute on Railway Street.
The first president of Lisburn Chamber was Mr Hugh G Bass, vice-president was T Warwick, Hon. Treasurer was J Brown and Secretary was Samuel Semple.
In attendance also were:
F Allen, J Booth, F Boyle, ST Hopkins, WA Long, F McMahon, J Madden, F Petticrew, RS Rutherford, A Smart and TH Walker. Mr JD Black sent an apology.
The initial membership was an impressive 79 members and it was agreed the secretary would be paid £50 per annum plus £25 expenses. A draft constitution would be drafted up for approval and it was also agreed an Annual Dinner should be held each year. Two topics arose during general business, problems regarding car parking and business crime. The secretary was instructed to write to the Urban Council to request the markets carpark remained open to 7.30pm. A deputation of five committee men were also delegated to meet with the local district police inspector to discuss the high number of burglaries in recent months. Over the early period of the Chamber’s existence, members of committee were encouraged to stand in council elections and a number were successful in getting elected. The 60’s were a time of change for Lisburn with the construction of the South Approach road, later to become the M1. This was the first motorway to be built outside England. Lisburn would be by-passed and businesses were concerned they would be adversely impacted. It may seem strange today, but Lisburn had its own public holiday. This general holiday took place on June 21stand the chamber advertised in the two local newspapers, the Ulster Star and Lisburn Herald that all shops would be closed that day. Plans were made for the first Annual Dinner to be held in November 1961 in the Woodbourne House Hotel. Guest speaker would be the Minister of Commerce, JLO Andrews MP.
It was agreed the chamber should establish a ‘Brighter Lisburn’ sub-committee, tasked with the need to provide Christmas decorations for the town. That year, seven 10ft Christmas trees with lights were erected at key locations across the town at a cost of £350, funded by traders. The Urban Council made a donation of £150 to the costs. The meeting in November 1961 was noteworthy in that 35 letters of correspondence were read by the secretary. The first Annual Dinner took place on November 28th at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry due to a change in date. The first AGM of the chamber took place on March 20th 1962 in the Temperance Hall and Mr HG Bass was elected president for a second term. Eighteen candidates stood for the 10 committee seats and an election took place to determine the council members. Of note at the meeting was a proposal for the Lisburn Grocers Association to come under the umbrella of the chamber and to change the general holiday from June to Whit Monday. This was later changed to the first Monday in August at an extraordinary general meeting.
The following years’ AGM took place in the Lombard café, a regular venue throughout the 1960s and Mr F Petticrew took over the role of president. It was agreed that the chamber should pursue Borough status for Lisburn and this was achieved in 1964. To commemorate the occasion, the chamber presented the new Borough Councillors with a set of robes. The traditional closure of shops on a Wednesday was supported by the chamber to maintain a 5 day working week for its retail members and the national chain stores were asked to follow suit. The Association of Northern Ireland Chambers of Commerce was also consulted on the matter.
In 1966 it was agreed to purchase a presidential chain of office and this was paid for by members of the chamber council and past presidents. Mr AD Gamble was the first president to wear the new symbol of office.
Over the years, issues of the day included street parking, street lighting, repair of local roads and pavements etc. Complaints were even made about the poor standard of the telephone service between Lisburn and Belfast and other areas. The electricity service in Lisburn also came in for criticism in the 1960s, as did the postal service. The perceived unfairness of the rating system also caused debate within the chamber and a deputation met with the Minister of Finance.