History on our doorstep

Robert Williamson (86) with his classic David Brown 950 tractor which he has displayed at various shows. INNT 04-414-RM
Robert Williamson (86) with his classic David Brown 950 tractor which he has displayed at various shows. INNT 04-414-RM

He MAY not be as sprightly as he once was, but Robert Williamson knows Newtownabbey inside out, from growing up, working, and now enjoying a relaxing retirement right here.

An avid local historian, the 86-year-old grew up in the borough long before it was a borough. He plied his trade in the area and has contributed to several books on the history of the region.

At one time he even had a regular column - ‘History on your Doorstep with Robert Williamson’ - in this very newspaper.

And his home - the same one in which he has lived all his life - has amazingly had two different addresses, changing after Newtownabbey borough was formed in the 1950s.

Robert said: “When they brought together the seven villages of Carnmoney, Glengormley, Jordanstown, Monkstown, Whiteabbey, Whitehouse and Whitewell to form Newtownabbey they changed my road. So my house was given a new address.

“When we were boys, me and my mates used to carry buckets of water for a shopkeeper from the actual White Well. Now it’s been paved over for a car park, but a lot of houses would have gone there for their fresh water every day.”

Robert still remembers vividly how when he wast aged just six, a biplane crashed into the Bann Meadow - a field owned by the famer John Burney. Now the same land is covered with houses and is home to hundreds. A plane was a rare sight around that time, so it was something everyone wanted to see,” said Robert.

“It was a Blackburn Bluebird and had run out of fuel and crash landed in the farmer’s field, ripping off one of its wings. The plane was towed to the Simms Brothers’ garage on what was then the Antrim Line.

“I remember people came from miles around just to see this plane. You see there was not too many planes about in those days - not like today. Eventually the plane was taken apart and went back to England on the boat.”

Robert, while a few years older, also went to school with the Hollywood icon Stephen Boyd, who starred in the epic Hollywood film, Ben Hur.

Robert said: “He was a big man, even in those days and already had the filmstar looks.

“He was younger than me, but everyone knew about him. I remember him doing radio plays before travelling off to London and then Hollywood.”

Read Jonathan Bell’s full interview with Robert Williamson in this week’s Times...