Thursday, September 19, 2019

More Belfast Spirit – William Cowan & Co Ltd – “The whisky of your forefathers”.

Sir Edward Porter Cowan D.L. (1842 – 24 March 1890) was one of Belfast’s giants of the Victorian era. He was an only child, his father was Samuel Cowan of Cromac House in Belfast. As a young man some time around 1864 Edward inherited his uncle William Cowan’s spirits business (which had been founded in 1829 and was initially located in Lower Church Lane, moving to Upper Church Lane in 1859). He married his cousin Agnes in 1866.

Edward’s commercial achievements included becoming chairman of the Ulster Bank and a director of the Great Northern Railway Company. Like so many entrepreneurs in the city at that time, he was active politically. He was a Liberal, twice became Mayor of Belfast, and was knighted in 1881. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for County Down and later Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim.

The Illustrated London News article shown above said that:
‘the family of the new knight is of Scottish origin, and settled in the county of Down early in the seventeenth century’.
His home was a mansion at Craig-a-vad. Rich and poor alike come to the same end, and in March 1890 he was buried at the City Cemetery. In 1892 his widow, Lady Agnes Cowan, installed a stained glass window in his memory at Holywood Parish Church.

The company appointed new directors, including the linen thread barons James Barbour J.P. and John D Barbour, in 1893. Success continued and the firm opened new bonded warehouses at Great Patrick’s Street and Academy Street in 1897, said to have been the first in Belfast with electric lights. The firm and brand seems to have continued well into the 1920s - but perhaps, like so many distilleries in Ireland, partition and prohibition took their toll. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, Cowan’s was yet another of those Ulster spirit businesses who sold both Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky under their brand name – their Irish was ‘Cowan’s No. 4’ and their Scotch was ‘Loch Lomond’, as shown by the first image on this post, of one of their adverts reproduced on one of the tiles of the 'Big Fish' in Belfast