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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/50


Sound Recording on Reel: Kirkpatricks. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Crawford joined Kirkpatrick's as an apprentice fitter in 1940. He completed a six-month full-time course in engineering at the Belfast 'Tech. Kirkpatrick's paid his fees. Kirkpatrick's were commission-based bleachers, dyers and finishers. Although the firm dates back to 1700, the involvement of the Kirkpatrick family began in 1873. The firm was later sold to the Lancashire Combined Bleachers' Association who eased the Kirkpatrick brothers out of the Company in 1931. The firm was still putting linen out on bleach greens when Mr Crawford joined. Kirkpatrick's are best known for their manufacture of Organdie. This was a very secretive process (which Mr Crawford describes in some detail) and visitors to the works were prohibited from entering some rooms. Organdie was used as an apparel fabric and could be scented according to the customer's wishes. China and Japan were particularly important markets for the export of organdie. Mr Crawford was kept on after finishing his apprenticeship in 1945. The team of fitters, joiners and an electrician worked under the foreman engineer. Kirkpatrick's had a reputation for innovation. Their plant was mostly modern and reliable. Whenever new machines were installed the erectors from the foundry showed the fitters how to operate and service them. Most machines came with a guarantee, although obtaining spares was not a problem. The engineering department was also self-reliant and could fashion many replacement parts. The engineering department was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings themselves. These were kept in a very good state of repair. Mr Crawford became engineer in 1964/5. The engineer answered directly to the Managing Director. Chief engineer was a position of importance and responsibility. Mr Crawford drew up his own maintenance and servicing schedules, was consulted on machine purchases and could recommend the replacing of individual pieces of equipment. As Kirkpatrick’s worked shifts and kept a boiler running permanently, Mr Crawford was on call 24hrs a day and had to live close to the works. The boilers themselves had to be cleaned out and inspected once a year, ordinarily during the July holidays so as to minimise the amount of disruption caused. Water quality was very important. Kirkpatrick's had their own dam and sluice gates to control its flow. The engineering department was responsible for the upkeep of this waterway and also for the discharge of water, through settling tanks, into the Six Mile Water. Certain aspects of Health & Safety also fell to the engineering department. The factor manufactured their own machine guards. The chemicals used in bleaching required special holding tanks and were often piped into the works rather than being transported in buckets. Any rupture in these pipelines could have had disastrous consequences and they were thoroughly inspected on a regular basis. Kirkpatrick's was ultimately sold to Whitecroft and then to Flaxall in ?1976. By this stage the processing of cloth had stopped and the factory was concentrating on the Linron process as developed by Dr Sloan. This changeover required a significant amount of capital investment and, as engineer, Mr Crawford was closely consulted on work flows and machine purchases. Only the boiler plant was retained. Despite technological advances the skilled teams of fitters in the factory were still able to run the machines themselves without the need for specialist technicians. Mr Crawford retired in 1990 after 50 years service.