During the late 20th century some of the worst violence of the Troubles took place near the town and it became a military zone with a large garrison and military flights. The small village became the busiest heliport in Europe.
Bessbrook is named from Elizabeth or Bess Nicholson, wife of Joseph Nicholson whose family had carried on a linen business in the district from 1806 until 1845. The 'brook' is a stream which runs through the outskirts of the village.
Bessbrook was founded by John Grubb Richardson in 1845 as a 'model village', with spacious streets and squares surrounding a large linen mill owned by the Quaker Richardson family. As a social experiment it is similar to the model of the better-known Bournville company town founded by the Cadbury family near Birmingham, England, however it predates this development by more than 30 years. It is likely that the precedent on which it was based was the industrial village at Portlaw, County Waterford, Ireland, founded in 1825 by the Quaker Malcolmson family.
Among the principles on which the village was based was a philosophy of "Three P's": there should be no public houses, no pawn shops, and consequently no need for police. It was John Grubb Richardson's belief that without a public house there would be no need for a pawn brokers or police station. To this day there are no public houses in the village, unlike almost every other village in Ireland. Nor are there any pawn shops, although nowadays there is a Police Service of Northern Ireland station.
At one time, Bessbrook linen was among the finest in the world, and the linen mill provided most of the employment in the village. Tenement houses were constructed for the mill workers, many of which were of such good quality that they are still inhabited today. Each house also had an allotment garden for the growing of vegetables, and the area of the village where the were situated is still known as 'The Gardens', although the allotments themselves have been replaced by further housing. Most of the buildings in the village are constructed of granite, which is abundant locally.
The village also has a Quaker meeting house, this is set in the demense of The Woodhouse (inhabited by the Richardson family until the 1980s) and of Derrymore House - also a Richardson property until bequeathed to the National Trust, it was once the home of Isaac Corry MP. This is a designated historic park.
Bessbrook saw some of the worst violence in the Troubles. The linen mill was converted by the British Army into a major military base. A helicopter landing area was established to supply other military outposts in the area since road-borne movements of troops and supplies were vulnerable to landmine attack. At one stage the little village was reportedly the busiest helicopter airport in Europe.
For more information see the Troubles in Bessbrook, which includes a list of incidents in Bessbrook during the Troubles.
The end of the Troubles following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has led to some recovery for the village. Traffic restrictions have been relaxed and the visible security presence has been reduced. It has been confirmed that the local police station will be retained
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