History of Newbliss Station
Newbliss Railway Station - The Jam Factory & Irish Farmhouse Preserves
Newbliss Railway Station was built in the 1850s, opening to the public on 14 August 1855. It was part of GNR(I) – The Great Northern Railways (Ireland), and situated on the Dundalk to Enniskillen Line. The Station comprised two platforms, a Station Master’s House (with First Class and Ladies waiting room as well as the Station Master’s office), a Signal Box, a Ladies Waiting room on the adjacent platform, as well as a large Goods Shed.
The house was built of stone, with a veranda on each side to protect passengers from the elements. With the demise of the railway in the 1950s due to myriad reasons, mostly economic and political, the last passenger train left the station in 1957.
1959 The last train passed through Newbliss Railway Station, yet another contribution to the mass unemployment in the area.
Returning from South Africa Joe Martin was amazed to find Newbliss had lost half of its population. Along with others from the area he formed a Development Committee to look at ways of providing employment. Knowing that Sir Tyrone Guthrie was home at Annamakerrig, Joe arranged to see him and talk about the situation. Sir Tyrone was happy to be involved. He was so enthusiastic that he agreed to put his name forward to be one of the directors and to invest when a company was formed. One idea that Sir Tyrone was in favour of, was a jam factory.
1962 A Jam Factory Irish Farmhouse Preserves was formed with investors from America, England, Canada, South Africa, locally and throughout Ireland. Shares were £1 per share. Initially there were a number of committee members but for one reason or another each went in other directions leaving only Joe Martin and Sir Tyrone Guthrie.
The old railway station was purchased, extensions were built on to the goods shed including large freezers and storage rooms to facilitate the growth of the business and enable jam to be made all year round. The Station House became the Laboratory and Board Rooms.
1963 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) heard about the Jam Factory that Tyrone Guthrie had become involved with and as Tyrone was well known in Canada, this would make a great story for TV. A film crew led by Toni Lofting landed in Newbliss. Sir Tyrone knowing Toni and her work in Canada convinced her to take time out after filming of the factory was completed to stay in Newbliss for a few months and help with the setting up of the factory. Toni became a Director and the Company Secretary of Irish Farmhouse Preserves. Not only did Toni find a Jam Factory but also a husband in Joe and a few months became fifty odd years.
Numerous sales travels starting with America, setting up distribution networks in New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and New Hampshire, then Europe in France and Italy. Later a worldwide mail order service was successfully set up posting out orders of a uniquely designed pack containing six 3oz jars. Newbliss Jam was now to be found as far a field as, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Found in the “Delicacies” and “Gourmet” departments of prestigious stores, such as Bloomingdales.
Jam was being produced every day at the Jam Factory, to improve production and keep up with the demand for strawberries and raspberries, Joe encouraged local farmers to give their sons a piece of land on which to grow fruit and so give them an independent income. Twenty-two farmers signed contracts to grow fruit. To help with the scheme and to support the farmers with the successful growth of their fruit, Irish Farmhouse Preserves sponsored two students to go to agricultural college to train in Horticulture, one at Warrenstown and the other at Enniscorthy.
The Jam Factory was renowned for fruit picking. Fruit pickers came from the local and surrounding areas for the Annual Fruit Pick. A truck would arrive on the diamond in Clones and bring many young people for a day’s work picking fruit. Each picker would be given a bucket to fill, which was then weighed and they were each paid accordingly. In the latter years as much as 5½ p per lb could be earned.
By 1969 Irish Farmhouse Preserves was employing up to 80 people working around the clock in shifts, it was growing both abroad and on the home market and at times was unable to keep up with demand, often a telegram would arrive from stores “urgent. need more jam.” By now the company was overextended financially because of forecasts and promised orders. Rumours started as to the company’s position and during an extraordinary general meeting held in Dublin to try and reassure the creditors, all but one agreed to weather the financial storm. Sir Tyrone felt the only answer was to go into voluntary liquidation and then later in the calm of day to resurrect the business. On the 1st April 1971 Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Toni Martin (as company secretary) signed the papers for Irish Farmhouse Preserves to go into voluntary liquidation. Sir Tyrone died shortly afterwards in May.
After the closure, Joe and Toni formed Irish Farmhouse Products Ltd and continued to manufacture jam, this time mainly to the wholesale bakery trade, for customers such as Gateaux, Boland’s Bakery, Shamrock Foods and independent bakeries across the country from Cork to Donegal.
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the factory continued to provide much needed employment and many times was the only source of income to some of the local households. It was also where many a local young boy or girl found their first job.
25 years of Jam Making in Newbliss ended in 1987 when Joe died suddenly while on a business trip to Banbury in England. For a time, Toni carried on with her health drink ‘Tree of Life’ that they had been developing.
Today the Jam Factory (The Old Railway Station) is alive once again, Joe and Toni’s son, Patrick, along with his wife Lorraine, have made it their home and art studio and where they run their business Darac, a Museum and Conservation Supplies business.