Robert Williams Armstrong was the driving force behind Belleek Pottery’s designs. He was one of the three founders of the Pottery and was by far the most important of the three in determining the direction that Belleek’s design and production went. For such an important person, very little is known or documented about his life and family connections. This article by Brian Russell contains valuable research on Armstrong’s family and lays a foundation, which we hope will be built upon, to piece together the details of his life and work.
Below, Brian prepares to give his presentation at the Hull meeting.
I would like to start this article by giving some background as to how I came to look into Robert Williams Armstrong family tree. It all started about three years ago after I gave my talk on the Belleek “diamond” registration marks, with the aid of Chris Marvell and his little box of tricks! (see Newsletter Issue 25-1: “The Registered Designs of Belleek Pottery 1868-1884”: this is available in full on our Website at www.belleek.org.uk)
I was asked by Brian Scott if I would look into the history of Annie Langley, Robert Williams Armstrong’s wife. This was duly performed and I reported my findings… but this only started me thinking: who where their parents? What was his father’s name or his mother’s? I asked other group members if they knew, but only drew a blank.
By talking to authorities on Belleek like Lady Marion Langham and Fergus Cleary (the present chief designer at the Pottery), I was eventually put in touch with a certain Beccy Stone. She is Robert Williams Armstrong’s great great granddaughter and she was most helpful in supplying me with the information from the Price family records. It is to her that I’m eternally grateful in providing key information allowing this research to be done.
To start the detailed Family Tree we will be going back to the late 1750’s, to County Longford where Armstrong’s great grandfather comes from. Predating this, it appears that the Armstrongs originally came to Ireland in 1620. The family settled in County Fermanagh and there were seven sons: Andrew, Edmund (who fought at the Battle of Worcester), Thomas, William, Robert, Michael and Archibald. I will not go into detail of each of the sons’ histories as it will take up too much space (!) but to mention one of the sons in passing; the fifth son, Robert (of Gallen Priory, Kings Co.). This Robert Armstrong’s eldest son, John became a Major General in the British Army and also became Chief Engineer of England: it is clear that the Armstrong family contained persons of leadership and creative potential.
We will now jump ahead to the 1750’s and the start of my detailed research. In this research I will give detailed information only for Robert Williams Armstrong’s direct line of descent. Let’s start with R.W. Armstrong’s great grandfather. This is generation 1 of the detailed family tree.
1. David Armstrong of Ardagwilliam and Clonbroney (these I would think are Townlands), Granard, County Longford, married Elizabeth, daughter of Caulfield Woods and Wallis of Drumganna, County Leitrim.
Generation 2: Their Children were:
2.3 Francis born 1797-8, died 31st August 1874 (R.W. Armstrong’s Father)
Francis Armstrong married twice:
(You can see from his first marriage, how the family name “Williams” originated.)
Generation 3: Francis Armstrong had the following children from his first marriage to Katherine Williams:
3.1 David, married Miss Gale of Abbeyleix.
3.2 A “Roman Catholic”, died in California.
And from his second marriage to Miss Hornridge:
3.4 Robert Williams (the one and only!) (Pictured, right)
3.5 Matilda, born 1826, died 1888, married Croker Walshe of County Cork.
3.6 Francis Elizabeth, born 1832, died 1911, married William Whitsitt.
(The name Whitsitt will come up again when we look at the marriage of one of Robert Williams Armstrong’s children.)
Robert Williams Armstrong himself!
Now before starting on Robert Williams Armstrong himself, we will look at the antecedents of Robert William’s wife, Annie Nairn. This involves investigating the Langley family as well as the Nairn family.
Langley of Coalbrook, County Tipperary and of Briltas Castle, County Tipperary.
Henry Langley was lieutenant in Captain Thomas Ash’s troop in Oliver Cromwell’s army. He went to Ireland in 1649, obtaining lands in 1655. He was the son of Deodatus Langley, son of the Reverend William Langley, Rector of Prestwick and descended from Langleys of Agecraft Hall, Lancashire.
The Nairn line of descent.
The first traceable Nairn is Robert Nairne, born 1652, later created first Lord Nairne who married Margaret, daughter of Sir John Preston of Mukkersey. He was an advocate by profession. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for adherence to the Stuarts but after the Restoration became a Judge.
(You will note that there was then an “e” on the end of the name).
In more recent times, we come to George Nairn son of Nairn of Wigan, born 1799, died 1850.
George Nairn married Cecilia Margaret Campbell, born 1791, died 1857.
(Cecilia died at Oak House Battersea on the 4th June 1857, the Campbells came from Herefordshire, descending from Charles Campbell and Miss Beaufort who had previously settled in Dublin where Charles had become a partner in the firm of Graisbery, the King’s printers, from 1782 until 1815)
From the marriage of George Nairn and Cecilia Margaret Campbell came:
I shall now return to the Armstrong line. As I have already stated, Robert Williams Armstrong came from his father Francis’s second marriage. Robert Williams Armstrong married Annie Langley Nairn on the 31st Oct 1848 at St Marks Church Dublin, they had five children as follows (Generation 4):
4.1 Katherine Cecilia, born 1850; married Mr Elliott had two sons and two daughters.
4.2 Robert William, born 1852, died 1890, never married (is buried in Belleek alongside his parents)
4.3 Annie Langley Navin, born 2nd Dec. 1864, died 3rd March 1888 (buried alongside her parents in Belleek); married James Price (aged 18) on the 19th July 1883 at Castle Caldwell. At their wedding, the best man was Walter Price and the bridesmaid was Frances Mary Whitsitt of Aughterdrum. The Rev. Andrew Elliott performed the service.
4.4 David, born 1867, emigrated to Australia where he married twice.
4.5 Samuel, born 1870, married Marian Russell from County Leitrim, emigrated to South Africa. (It is believed he went to Australia after the death of his wife).
Part of R.W. Armstrong and Annie Nairn’s Marriage Certificate.
Robert Williams Armstrong died on the 27th January 1884 and an obituary in the Irish Times of 29th January 1884 is as follows:
We much regret to report the death of the above-named gentleman, at Belleek, on Sunday last. For the promoters of home industries it will be interesting to know that to Mr Armstrong was due the success of the Belleek pottery now in vogue for about a quarter of a century in Fermanagh. The deceased gentleman was of Irish birth but went to London to practise his profession as architect. From the midst of a most promising career, he was induced by Mr Bloomfield, the landlord of Belleek, to come to this country to construct the pottery, and to add his artistic talents to the factory. Up to almost his last days, he was still engaged in his scientific researches. Dying at the comparatively early age of 59, he is much regretted by the neighbourhood at large.”
Robert Williams and Annie’s eldest daughter Katherine Cecilia was probably born during Armstrong’s time in London. She married a local peasant farmer James Elliott on the 28th October 1873 at Donegal town, this was not approved of by her father who disowned her - refusing to talk to his daughter for the remainder of his life. Her mother, Annie, did however keep in touch with her.
Finally, to bring the Armstrong line of descent up to the present day, I would like to return to the marriage of Annie Langley Navin Armstrong to James Price. They had three children as follows (generation 5):
5.1 Anne Ruth Price, born 15th Feb 1888, died 7th Aug 1968, buried Redford Cemetery, Greystones, Wicklow
5.2 James Price, born 23rd Mar 1886, died 26th April 1967, buried 1st May 1967 Farnham, Surrey
5.3 Eileen Price, born 29th June 1884.
Annie Langley Navin died on the 3rd March 1888, 25 days before her mother who died on the 28th March. Both of them both were buried in the family plot at Belleek.
James Price, married twice, firstly to Elizabeth Gaussen (one son Charles – generation 6), secondly to Lillian Henrietta Louisa Chermside (no issue). The Gaussen family came from County Derry, dating back to 1754.
My excellent contact, Beccy Stone is the daughter of this Charles Price, the seventh generation of this detailed family tree, the granddaughter of James Price. This makes her the great great granddaughter of Robert Williams Armstrong and Annie Langley Nairn.
I would like, once again, to thank Beccy Stone, who kindly sent me a copy of the Marriage Certificate and supplied the vital information about the Price line of descent. I have certainly had a lot of pleasure in compiling this family tree, talking about it, explaining who was who, who was connected to whom and so on!
In his presentation at the Hull meeting, Brian presented the Family Tree in full diagrammatic form (as can be seen in the picture on the left here). If you would like more information, please contact Brian Russell directly via the UK Belleek collectors’ Group email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brian Russell.
Robert Armstrong’s Signature on the British Registration document for the Artichoke Teaware patterns, 1868.
“Robt. W Armstrong
Rose Isle Belleek