The Jam Factory at Newbliss Railway Station, Co. Monaghan
Joseph Martin Newbliss, Co. Monaghan.
As a young man, Joe went to England and whilst studying civil engineering worked with Wimpey Construction. In the mid-fifties Wimpey sent him to Papua New Guinea where he was dropped into a virtually undiscovered jungle with a
nap-sack, a rifle and a dog as a companion. He was tasked with surveying the land, previously unmapped, where he would recruit locals to help him and paid them with rice. Quite a daunting task for anyone in their early twenties!
As he worked his way through the jungle for the most part he would have been the first white man that the natives had ever seen. On one of his encounters with them, his only travelling companion, his dog, went missing, only for
him to discover later that it had ended up in the cooking pot. His only consolation was that it was not him, as most of the native inhabitants were cannibals.
He then went to Africa for further geological surveys. Using the engineering skills he had, he later returned to South Africa with a group of others from Ireland to help build a school and church near Pretoria.
Now in the late 1950’s, while in South Africa, Joe’s family contacted him to let him know that his father was seriously ill and not expected to live. Consequently he returned to Ireland by which time his father’s health
had improved, and as sadly he had not been present at the time of his mother’s death, the family persuaded him to stay.
In 1959, the last freight train passed through Newbliss Railway Station, and this resulted in massive unemployment in the area. Joe was amazed to find Newbliss had lost half of its population. He formed a Development
Committee with other people of the area to provide some employment. One idea was to start a factory that would can meat products such as Irish Stew for export. The committee was unsure. At this stage Joe, knowing that
Sir Tyrone Guthrie was home at Annamakerrig, arranged to see him and talk about the situation. Sir Tyrone was happy to meet with the committee and encourage them to keep going. He was so enthusiastic that he agreed
to put his name forward to be one of the directors when a company was formed. Sir Tyrone was in favour of a jam factory.
Irish Farmhouse Preserves
was formed in 1962 with many of the locals being able to invest. 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 Joe along with
Sir Tyrone Guthrie to continue.
Early days filling Jam in the Goods shed
Premises had to be obtained and Joe had been in touch with CIE and discovered that the railway station could be purchased but Sir Tyrone Guthrie suggested it may be better to bid at public auction. At auction
the company managed to buy one of three lots and later obtained a second lot privately. In 1964 the company was given a grant of £1 for every £1 matched by the company with a proviso that 90% of the
produce had to be exported.
Behind the scenes,
Toni’s film crew, filming of Sir Tyrone Guthrie
In 1963 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) heard about this 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 having known 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 and a few months became fifty odd years.
The building that the company had initially bought was the goods shed and Joe designed and supervised the extension of these premises to include large freezer storage rooms to facilitate the growth of the
business and enable jam to be made all year round.
Building of Extention
An early Exhibition Display
Joe went on numerous sales travels starting with New York and from there set up distribution networks not only in New York, but also in Minneapolis,San Francisco, New Hampshire,France and Italy. Later a
mail order service was successfully set up posting out orders of a uniquely designed pack containing six two ounce jars.
Jam was being made every day at the Jam Factory and 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 the fruit and so give them an independent income. To help with this scheme two young men were sent to Ballyhaise Agricultural College to study horticulture to be able to help the farmers with
the successful growth of their fruit.
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. This fruit was then used for the jam making which was made in the traditional
way, labelled and packed ready to be distributed across Ireland, Europe and as far a field as New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and New Hampshire.
By 1969 Irish Farmhouse Preserves was growing both abroad and on the home market and at times was unable to keep up with demand, and 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. That one creditor was owed £200. Sir Tyrone felt the only answer was to go into voluntary liquidation. Onthe 1st April 1971 Sir Tyrone
Guthrie and Toni Martin (as company secretary) signed the papers for Irish Farmhouse Preserves to go into voluntary liquidation.
After the closure, Joe along with his wife Toni formed Irish Farmhouse Products Ltd. (1971) and continued to manufacture jam across the border in Newtownbutler, until in 1973 at auction he managed to
buy back the railway station and factory at Newbliss. By 1974 Joe and Toni were again manufacturing in Newbliss, 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.
All through 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 had their first job.
Joe and Toni continued until in 1987, while on a sourcing trip to Banbury in England,he died from a heart attack.
IRISH FARMHOUSE PRESERVES