The Crawford family, brewers and merchants were responsible for many improvements in Cork during the nineteenth century, although today the family name lives on in Cork only in the names of streets and those institutions they helped found. The present day Cork brewing firm of Beamish & Crawford has long since passed out of family ownership. The Crawford's would have been such a family as described by De Latocnaye, who visited Cork in 1796, dubbing it laconically, if rather uncharitably, 'the City of Yawns':
'this town is one of the richest and most commercial of Europe. The principal merchants are nearly all foreigners, Scotch for the most part, and in the short period of ten years are able sometimes to make large fortunes'
The Crawford family were Scottish, claiming their origins at Baidland, near Dalry in Ayrshire. A branch of the family were probably in Ireland as early as 1618. In 1625 it is recorded that Andrew Crawford, miller, was in possession, as tenant of Lord Clandeboye, of a manorial mill and lands in Co. Down. These lands were subsequently purchased by William Crawford from Lord Clanbrassil in 1670 and became known as the Crawfordburn estate. This estate continued in family ownership for 277 years, until 1947, when it was sold by the grandson of the last owner, Col. Robt. G. Sharman Crawford (d.1934). Branches of the family spread around the world to Vancouver, New Orleans and Melbourne; there was even a German branch of the family.
William Crawford I of Crawfordsburn had two sons, John and James. John had a daughter named Mabel, who married a a Willliam Sharman (thence the name Sharman Crawford). James Crawford had seven children, one of whom, William, came to Cork in 1792, founded the brewing firm along with William Beamish; and built the house 'Lakelands' near Blackrock. The Beamish and Crawford brewery was successful from the outset. Managers were brought over from London who were conversant with the latest technnological developments in brewing, and the company quickly becamethe largest brewer in the country, employing nearly five hundred people in 1807. By 1834, one eighth of the city's rates were being paid by this one company.
William Crawford II married, firstly, Elizabeth Cooke and after, Mary Uniacke. They had many children, including William Crawford 'the Younger', who married Dulcibella Morris of Dunkathel House in 1813, and died in 1840. John Hogan sculpted the monumental portrait of William the Younger in 1844, which stands in the Crawford Art Gallery today. It bears the Cork coat of arms on the base and an inscription praising William and his love for his native city - 'His heart throbbed for her prosperity'. Although William the Younger had been a founder of the original school of art in Cork, it was his son William Horatio (1812-1888), who was to become the great benefactor of the construction of the magnificent building which stands today as the Crawford Art Gallery. William Horatio Crawford spent much of his life working in the family firm, which he took over along with Richard Pigot Beamish at the end of 1850's. He died unmarried on October 16 1888.
One of the last descendents of this branch of the family, Hugh Crawford, an architect with a practice in England, visited Cork on several occassions in the 1980's. Hugh Crawford compiled the family history on which the above account is partly based, also donating to the Gallery in 1987 a collection of portrait minatures ofhte Crawford family. His account of the old family house is interesting:
'William Crawford Sr. must have been something of a Nabob in the 18th century manner, as mnear the house he had his own quay with a small warehouse. What he imported is uncertain, but he was said to have had interests in the West Indies. Possibly molasses were imported forthe brewery, or perhaps only hops and barley. William had advanced and original ideas in the running of an estate; and probably also the brewery. It seems that he had a favourite red Magnolia tree (perhaps Camelia) and he had devised a system for bringing liquid maure from an adjoining yard (as the tree was planted against the wall) to fertilise the roots; he had also built a shelter around the trees with a seat where he would often sit looking out over the beautiful view. It is said that it was on this seat that he died. However, it is doubtful whether this story was about him or his son, perhaps the latter as the story is still remembered.'
William Horatio Crawford, and his contemporaries Richard Beamish and William Edward Gumbleton were eminent gardeners. Both Crawford and Gumbleton were bachelors, and collecterd fine books, works of art and rare plants. Crawford, a reserved and dignified man, was described as of 'an ascetic temperament'. He was especially keen on growing tender shrubs and trees in greenhouses, and had at Lakelands a 'perfect arboreatum...richly planted...with rare shrubs and trees'. Crawford's plantings included Himalayan and andean specimens, such as magnolias, rhododendrons and cordylins. The Himalyan Magnolia campbelli was in Crawford's collection, and flowered for the first time in the British Isles. Crawford was probably best known for this Brownea species, from which he produced several hybrids, some of which he bequeathed to the National Botanical Gardens in Dublin. This genus is native to the West Indies and cannot be cultivated outside in Britain or Ireland. In 1876, these plants grew to such a height in Crawford's greenhouses, that he had to raise the roof. Margaret Hill, of the well-known family of Cork architects, who studied at the Cork School of Art from 1857 to 1861, painted some of these plants for gardening magazines.
William Horatio had inherited Lakelands, an old house 'richly stored with rare books, paintings and engravings' from his father. Hugh Crawford recalls its end:
'The end of Lakelands was sad. Under circumstances no longer known, the property passed into the possession of a solicitor, possibly as a bad debt. The house was demolished by the new owner as he had ideas of turning the property into a race-course but was refused permission to do so. Until recently the property was owned by a farmer, who supplied some of the facts I have recorded. I believe that at least part of the site has now been built over. When the house was demolished extensive cellars were left closed up. Local people say that one contined a large collection of papers and documents which were allowed to be destroyed or disperesd, also a collection of fine wine. It was popularly believed that there was still one cellar which had never been opened. A few years ago investigations were made, but nothing was found.'
Today, the site at Lakelands is a field surrounded by surburban housing , overlooking Cork Harbour. Little remains of the house or its outbuildings apart from a vast stone walled yard with a classical arched and pedimented gateway, bearing the date 1812. In the field, a group of gigantic monkey puzzle trees marks the site of the house itself, of which nothing remains other than some remnants of the cellars.
Hugh Crawford died, sadly, in March 1989. The Crawford family is now extinct in Cork, although John Crawford, of London, is now an active member of the Friends of the Crawford Art Gallery, and thus the link between one of Cork's most philanthropic families, and one of its finest institutions, is still alive.