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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/49 2 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Johnston Allen & Clandinnings. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Johnston Allen was formed in 1868. The founder, James Johnston, was Michael Johnston's great-great-grandfather. Although the partnership dissolved in 1890, the Johnston Allen name was retained. Michael Johnston entered the family firm in 1964 as a trainee and served a full hands-on apprenticeship. The firm were part owners of Edenderry spinning mill and Milltown bleach works with Spence Bryson. Johnston Allen manufactured handkerchiefs and handkerchief cloth principally. 80% of the yarns were sourced from Edenderry. At one stage the weaving factory in Victoria Street Lurgan had over 1,000 looms. Johnston Allen had a factory in Maghera where initials and small floral patterns were embroidered onto handkerchiefs. The original embroidery factory in China was lost (without compensation) in 1930 when the Communists came to power. An automatic hemstitching plant was established in Milltown in the 1950s, which churned out finished cotton handkerchiefs at a great rate. A rayon plant was also set up. This was known as Woodville and was in the Victoria Street factory. It ran very successfully for a number of years during the rayon boom and then fell away as demand slowed. The handkerchief trade was very seasonal, Christmas being the busiest time of the year. The gift, and increasingly, the tourist trades were central to success. The USA was the single largest market for handkerchiefs and, accordingly, Johnston Allen had a permanent New York office. When the agent died suddenly, Mr Johnston was sent out to New York to oversee the appointment of a new agent and to keep the business running smoothly in the meantime. Johnston Allen produced a range of quality to fit into price bands specified by their customers. In the 1970s the firm made an unsuccessful attempt to move into fashion; selling trousers, ties and ladies' head-scarves alongside their existing handkerchief line. This diversification was based around a subsidiary wholesale firm (Gallaher Johnston Allen) based in Macclesfield. In the late 1960s/early '70s Mr Johnston was made Sales Director and lived in Macclesfield. He returned for Board meetings every month to report on his division's performance. In 1981 Michael Johnston returned to Lurgan as Managing Director. He took the final decision to close the firm after M & S, their single largest customer, announced that they would no longer be stocking handkerchiefs. Herdmans had already bought Edenderry and the Milltown shares were sold to Spence Bryson. The rest of the holdings were successfully sold off. In 1986 Mr Johnston's cousin Joe Johnston of Clendinnings offered him a job with the household textile printing department. Their customers sent in bleached cloth as opposed to loom state cloth as was the case in the furnishing end of the business. Clendinnings were silk screen printers. The plates remained the property of the printer although the negatives belonged to the customer and could not be used by any other company. Mr Johnston's major customers were Ulster Weavers and the National Trust. Clendinnings customers became very annoyed whenever they bought over Textile Impressions and began to sell their own tea-towels. This was a short-lived venture. Printing underwent a technological revolution and is now fully automated. Printing also requires an enormous capital investment. Clendinnings ran into difficulties and went out of business in October 1999. Mr Johnston retired from the firm a few months earlier.