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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/08


Sound Recording on Reel: Weaver, Old Bleach. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Ramsay's house in Neillsbrook Park is built on the site of the old bleach green in Randalstown. The Old Bleach linen company was the single largest employer in Randalstown. The Webb family originally established the school attended by Mr Ramsay. At the age of 14 Sammy began work in Old Bleach, collecting empty bobbins from the automatic looms. His Aunt Hannah was a weaver in the factory and it was she who put in a word for Sammy with the weaving foreman, Billy Collins. Sammy was taught how to weave by his Aunt Hannah at the age of 19 or 20. This period of training lasted some 6 weeks, after which Sammy was entrusted with two looms of his own. Men and women wove side by side in Old Bleach although due to their size, the sheeting looms were mostly operated by men. Sammy was offered the chance to become a tenter and worked alongside a tenter for a brief period before electing to return to weaving. Old Bleach was famous for their hand-painted damasks. The design was put on at the looms by a harness and card system before being passed to the hand-painting department. Mr Ramsay worked on crested headrest cloths for BOAC and linens for other shipping/air lines. These orders were woven on the automatic looms. Weavers were paid according to output - so much per yard of cloth woven. The automatic looms contained a battery of bobbins which it replaced automatically whenever one was empty. Although a skilled weaver could change a bobbin in a very short space of time the introduction of automatic looms enabled one weaver to tend a much larger number of looms. Whereas Sammy worked two traditional shuttle looms when weaving damasks, he worked up to 16 looms in the automatic shop. Even on automatic looms it was relatively common for an end to break. Mr Ramsay explains that if he left his looms running while he went to the bathroom he could return to find a whole yard of cloth had been damaged. Although weavers were no longer fired for imperfect work, and a team of skilled women was employed to darn out the fault, the individual responsible would have received a severe dressing down. It was up to the individual weaver whether or not to stop their looms while they were not being attended. Old Bleach also wove jute a heavy cloth which was destined to be turned into sacking. On a traditional loom the jute bobbin may only have lasted for as minute or two before needing replaced. They also wove carpets on special looms. The old carpet factory is the current site of Dorma Old Bleach in Randalstown. The factory horn sounded at 7:45 am and again at 7:55 am Work started at 8:00am sharp. Tea break was at 10:00am while lunch lasted from 1:00pm to 1:30pm Work finished at 6:00pm when Sammy first joined Old Bleach. Mr Ramsay was responsible for locking up at night. He received a little extra money for going around and checking that everything had been turned off last thing in the evening. Old Bleach closed down their weaving operation in 1979-80 and Mr Ramsay got a job working for Antrim Borough Council. The firm honoured their existing orders and gradually wound down production. As a weaver, Sammy's work came to an end before that of many other workers in the latter stages of cloth manufacture and he was asked to help clear out the offices and rooms at Old Bleach which were no longer in use and destroy the contents.