Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Linen Industry in Ulster (pt3)


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 Edited by JAMES CARSON. 
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Damask Manufacture in Lisburn.

Lisburn appears to have been associated with this important branch of manufacture from its earlier stages of development in Ireland. There are traces of the manufacture of fancy patterns in Lurgan about the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1712 a man called Quinn, who appears to have been very ingenious in fitting up looms for fancy weaving, settled there, and with the aid of two or three families of Huguenots commenced the manufacture of damask on an extensive scale. At this time the style of design seems to have been diaper patterns, which could be produced by a certain number of needles, which were connected with treddles and operated by the feet of the weaver.

In 1764, when William Coulson, the founder of the Lisburn Damask Factory, commenced work with a small number of looms, there was not much variety of patterns, and it was his determination to produce more intricate designs, which lead to the development of damask weaving. He adopted the system of damask weaving by means of draw-boys. In order to make the pattern more intricate the heddles had to be increased to such an extent that it was impossible for the weaver to operate them. Under the draw-boy system, the heddles were attached to pulleys placed above the loom. These pulleys raised and lowered the heddles, and were operated by the draw-boy, whose duty it was to read the pattern and operate the heddles accordingly. By this means more elaborate patterns were woven, and it was possible to introduce pictorial designs. Mr. Coulson was the first manufacturer who successfully worked into his designs armorial devices, national emblems, and heraldic designs, and his success was recognised by British Royalty, to whom he became manufacturer of damask.

Some idea of the intricacy of the mechanism employed to weave a tablecloth of extensive design can be gathered from the following description of a loom mounted to weave damask for a Royal patron:--

"It has five thousand sets of pulleys, and is so wonderful as to preclude the possibility of giving an accurate description, particularly of the method made use of to show a pattern or picture upon a ground where the ground and pattern are equally colourless."

This tablecloth, which was fourteen quarters wide was woven in a loom which required twelve weavers and four draw-boys to operate it.

Sixty years after the first damask loom had been erected in Lisburn, Mr. Michael Andrews started a factory at Ardoyne, which was described then as "being near Belfast." This was the means of drawing to that neighbourhood skilled damask weavers from all parts, and particularly from Lisburn. This seems to have been the commencement of damask weaving in Belfast. Belfast manufacturers, when starting, were able to take advantage of the new invention of Jacquard, which displaced the old draw-boy system, and brought damask manufacture to a greater state of perfection. Gradually the centre shifted until at a later date Belfast became the most important centre of linen damask manufacture in the world.

Thread Manufacture in Lisburn.

The thread manufacture was introduced into the North of Ireland in the year 1784 by Mr. John Barbour, who came from Scotland, and settled, very fortunately for Lisburn, at Plantation. This important branch of the industry affords a striking example of the benefits a community can derive from the judgment, enterprise, and determination of a capable business man. As thread spinning was unknown, Mr. Barbour, by employing qualified instructors, and by paying a high rate of wages, soon put the industry on a sound basis. Progress seems to have been rapid, and soon an extensive industry was established which gave regular and profitable employment to vast numbers of people in the vicinity. The success of the enterprise was assured, and in 1823 a site for its extension was chosen at Hilden, on the Lagan, at the spot where more than one hundred years before Louis Crommelin had erected his first bleachworks in Ireland. This now became the headquarters of the business and under the able and energetic leadership of the founder's son and successor, Mr. William Barbour, the business made rapid progress. Machinery was introduced and applied to the manufacture in 1840, with successful results, and from that time, by able leadership, by keeping abreast of the times, by improving and introducing the most up-to-date machinery, by a liberal scale of wages, by organisation, and by extension of enterprise the progress of the firm has been continuous, much to the benefit of thousands of workers in Lisburn and the vicinity.

The Domestic System.

Before considering the causes which led to the establishment of the factory system, and in order to understand clearly how the domestic system developed into the factory system, it will be necessary to glance at the organisation of the domestic system of industry.

As mentioned before, the manufacture of linen was in the hands of the farmers. Another class of manufacturer grew up who could employ ten or twenty hands. These manufacturers were called drapers and it was considered that a great advance had been made in social status when the weaver rose to that rank. As there was a considerable export of linen yarn to England, to which it will be necessary to refer later, there were considerable quantities of linen yarn being put on the market, which were bought largely for export purposes. The drapers were able to but yarns which they gave out to farmers to weave for them at fixed prices. In this way the markets were kept supplied with brown webs by both drapers and farmers, who sold to the bleachers. The bleachers were the most important and interesting men in the trade. In order to carry on their business it was necessary for them to have command of a considerable amount of capital, as they paid cash to the manufacturers and drapers for the cloth which they bought. The bleaching process in those days was a very slow one, consequently from the time the brown cloth was bought until it was bleached and disposed of a considerable time had to elapse. We find, therefore, that the bleachers were wealthy men who generally owned a lot of land and took a considerable interest in the trade. Some drapers, when they had accumulated a sufficient amount of capital, became bleachers, and some became merchants, giving out their cloth to the bleachers to be bleached, which they then disposed of either by sending it to factors in London or Dublin, or else sold it at the Linen Hall in Dublin to English merchants and factors, who came in great numbers to purchase their requirements.

In 1783 the White Linen Hall was established in Belfast, which was a significant fact showing that the centre of trade had shifted, and that the export was going from Belfast instead of from Dublin.

It is well to remember that during this stage of the industry the means of communication were in a very backward condition. Communication with London, then the commercial centre, was very slow. Arthur Young, famous for his tours, describes the roads as being "atrociously bad" in England, but in contrast the Irish roads he describes as quite good. Goods were conveyed by means of pack-horses and it was only towards the end of the eighteenth century, after the canals were made, that bulky and heavy goods could be conveniently transported.

Under the domestic system, no orders were booked before the goods were made. There was a constant flow of brown cloth to the different provincial towns from the weavers in the neighbourhood of each. In the year 1784 markets were held for the sale of linen goods in thirty-four towns in Ulster. Lisburn still held the lead at this time, and the amount of money paid out for linen each market day averaged £3,000 for that year. Lurgan came next with £2,500, Armagh £1,800, Dungannon £1,500, Belfast £1,000, Ballymena £1,000, Newry £1,000, Cootehill £1,000, Derry £1,000, Stewartstown £800, and the lesser markets averaged from £300 to £700. As mentioned before, the bleachers and merchants sold the cloth when finished to factors in London or Dublin, or to London merchants who came to Dublin to buy. The London merchants either shipped abroad or supplied the home markets, or did both. When the home market was catered for these merchants employed droves of pack-horses to carry it their goods to all the fairs and market towns throughout England. In the market towns they sold to the shops, and in the country districts through which they passed they dealt directly with the consumers. Hence arose the name packmen or pedlars, who were an economic feature at this time.

As banking was little developed, ready cash was an absolute essential for carrying on business. It 1750 there were only twelve country banks in England, which increased to about 400 towards the end of the century. In Ireland there was, practically speaking, no banking system during the eighteenth century. When merchants had to make payments abroad it was necessary to buy London bills, for which as high a premium as 14 per cent. had to be sometimes paid. Consequently those who could afford to do so bought bills when cheap and locked them away until required. This was a great disadvantage, as it meant that merchants had to use part of their capital in this way, which could have been more profitably used in developing their industry, and was one of the main reasons why the factory system developed more slowly in the linen industry than in the other textile industries. The accumulation of capital came most of all to the bleachers and merchants, and this capital at a later date enabled enterprising men to take advantages of the mechanical inventions, which were introduced first in the cotton industry, which caused the industrial revolution in England, and which made the factory system inevitable in the linen industry.

It will now be necessary to examine these causes which revolutionised the cotton industry, and which later had such a powerful effect in the linen industry.

The Cotton Industry

was in its infancy during the first part of the eighteenth century. As mentioned before, there was a large export of linen yarns to England during the century. At one period it was reckoned that three-fourths of the linen yarns spun in Ireland were exported, the reason being that cotton yarn could not be used for warp. Consequently there was really no cotton cloth manufactured, but only a union cloth, the linen yarns imported from Ireland being used for the warp and cotton yarns for the weft.

The first revolutionary impulse was the invention of the fly-shuttle by John Kay in 1738, by means of which the shuttle could be propelled from side to side of the loom between the warp threads by the weaver. Before the invention the weaver had to pass the weft through by hand and consequently a weaver could only weave narrow cloth. When the cloth was broad two or more weavers were necessary. By this invention broad cloth could be woven by one weaver. It also increased the speed of weaving, giving a greater output in a given time. This device does not seem to have been largely used until Kay's son Robert invented the drop-box in 1760. It then suddenly became popular, and caused a great increased demand for yarns owing to the speed of weaving. In fact, it upset the supply of yarns so much that a great shortage of yarns prevailed. More attention was then turned to spinning in order to increase the output.

In 1764 James Hargreaves, of Blackburn, invented the spinning-jenny, by means of which the treadle-driven wheel could drive a number of spindles. As very little power was required to work the spindles, it was not long before jennies were in use which spun twenty or thirty threads at the same time. Yarns became plentiful, and in a short time the supply increased so much that the weavers could not keep up, and spinners were soon short of work. The new machinery, was highly unpopular in consequence, and was frequently smashed by the workers.

In 1769 another invention had a very important effect. Richard Arkwright, who was a barber by trade, invented a machine called the water-frame. This machine was intended to be driven by a horse, and by means of successive pairs of rollers, each pair revolving at increasing speed, a thread was spun which was firm enough to be used for warp. In 1771 a mill driven by water-power was erected at Cromford, and in 1778 six small mills were put up at Oldham, three worked by horses and three by waterwheels. This invention was a very important one, because cotton yarn was now being spun strong enough to serve for warp. In a very short time linen warps were displaced, and all cotton cloth began to be manufactured. This fact caused a falling off in the export of linen yarns from Ireland, and in consequence must have stimulated the weaving trade in Ireland, as is evidenced by the fact that exports of linen cloth increased enormously from 1780 to 1795.

These inventions greatly reduced the cost of cotton yarns, and trade was quickly stimulated. A great demand arose for cotton cloth. The supply of yarns had increased so quickly that it looked as if sufficient weavers were not available to weave them up. Large quantities were being exported, but there were great discussions amongst the spinners as to what was going to be done with the output if yarns kept on increasing. In 1784 a minister of a very ingenious turn of mind, the Rev. Edmund Cartwright, hearing the gossip that was going on, conceived the idea of investing a weaving machine. He set himself to work, with the aid of a carpenter and smith, and constructed a machine which turned out very cumbersome. His reverence, however, persevered, it is to be feared much to the neglect of his spiritual duties, and finally improved on his first attempt, and produced the power-loom which eventually became a commercial success. The power-loom did not become popular for some time. This was owing to the fact that there had been no improvement in the method of dressing the yarn before weaving. There was not any advantage with the power-loom which it had to be stopped incessantly in order to dress the yarn as it was unwound off the back beam, which was a slow process. Consequently it could only be used where yarn-dressing was not necessary. This difficulty was overcome in the year 1803 by the invention of a dressing machine by Johnston, an employee of Messrs. Radcliffe & Ross, of Stockport, who had devoted much attention to the problem. By this invention the warp was dressed and wound unto the weaver's beam, which could then be placed in the loom and the yarn unwound as it was woven, continuously.

(To be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 7 February 1919 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week for several years. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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