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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/02


Sound Recording on Reel: Costing - Ewarts, Brookfield & Lambeg Durham Street. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Job vacancies were routinely announced at morning assembly in Methodist College Belfast in the 1940s. Although Sam had no real desire to enter into the textile industry, he was looking for a job when the position of costing clerk at Brookfield Factory was called out in 1945. The day before his 17th birthday he was sent from Methody to Brookfield, where he was interviewed by Frank Muir - the cost clerk - and taken on that very morning. Brookfield was part of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. The post required a flair for mathematics rather than any formal qualifications although Sam was trained carefully in the costing office and completed a textile technology course at Belfast Tech. In order to accurately cost an order of cloth, the clerk had to be familiar with the manufacturing process. Costing had to take three main items into consideration: Materials (yarn, bleach and dye-stuffs etc.), Labour (wages) and overheads (Wear and tear, electricity, lighting). In many cases it was possible to work from tables or from past orders, although variables such as flax prices necessitated periodic revision. It was then important to work in a profit margin that enabled the factory to complete the order to the full specification without driving the price above that quoted by rival firms. Although many customers would have remained loyal to a single supplier, it was also easier to perfectly replicate previous orders this way, the competition for new orders was fierce. These customers would have sent samples to several different firms and then played one off against the other in an effort to beat down the price. While costing clerks such as Sam could not have authorised a cut in profit margins, they would have been consulted in any boardroom decision. As such Sam worked closely with Brookfield's director (Willie Sloan), and factory manager (Jack Cinnamond). Brookfield produced a wide range of goods including: linen, cotton and rayon damask, tea towels, hucks, cambrics and handkerchief linen. In 1951 Sam moved to Ewarts costing office in their Crumlin Road works. Ewarts employed a staff of six. Two plain costing clerks, two damask costing clerks and two women in charge of yarn stocks and purchases. 18 months later Sam moved to Lambeg Weaving Company, again in the costing office. At Lambeg he worked under Reginald Barr (Factory Manager) and a Mr. William Scott (Director). Lambeg was part of the Kinnaird textiles group, whose headquarters were in the Owen O'Cork mill on the Beersbridge Road in Belfast. Although Lambeg produced the same wide range of cloths as Brookfield and Ewarts, rayon fibro plain weave tablecloths were a particularly important line. At the end of 1957 or 1958 Lambeg closed, and the site was taken over by Emu Wools. The Durham Street Weaving Co contacted Willie Scott when the closure of Lambeg was announced and offered Sam a job in their costing office. At Durham Street, Sam worked under Fred Gardiner - one of the directors. Durham Street produced plain and damask linens in a small way. Their major lines were mattress tickings and huck toweling. In 1968 Durham Street was forced to close as the land on which it stood was vested to make way for the proposed West Link motorway. In spite of its profitability no attempt was made to relocate the factory. Over his 23 year career in linen costing, Sam witnessed the inexorable rise in the price of linen. This he attributes to an increase in all three components (materials, wages and overheads) and to a reduction in mass market demand.