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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/25


Sound Recording on Reel: John S Brown. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The McMurray family originated in County Donegal. They were mixed farmers and grew a couple of acres of flax during WWII. The flax was all hand pulled and scutched locally. Mr McMurray declined the opportunity of taking over the family firm and travelled to Edenderry to work in John Shaw Browns St Ellen Works in 194l . Mr McMurray's cousin, who worked as a housekeeper for one of the Directors at St Ellen (Mr McCammond), secured him a position with the maintenance team before he left Donegal. John Shaw Brown owned the whole of Edenderry and Purdysburn villages, a total of 130 or so houses. The firm wove both plain and damask cloth. John Shaw Browns was a sizeable concern: they had 500 damask looms, upwards of 400 employees at their peak and a reputation for producing the finest linen in the whole textile industry. 'Shamrock' linens went all over the world and the company had an extensive network of offices and agents. Most of the workers lived locally in factory houses. In later years the firm opened a canteen which was situated directly opposite the main factory gates. They also ran the only shop in Edenderry which was rented out to different tenants. In the early days of the firm they bleached on site. More recently, however, lorry loads of cloth were sent to the Maine Works Cullybackey for bleaching. The firm also had a large warehouse on the Dublin Road. This was completely destroyed by a fire, following the bombing of the adjoining premises, and the warehouse operation moved up to Edenderry. Mr McMurray soon left John Shaw Browns and served in the Royal Navy for a number of years, returning to Edenderry at the end of the war. In the maintenance division Mr McMurray worked alongside tradesmen such as fitters, carpenters and joiners. The linen factory and the workers houses required a considerable amount of upkeep. Mr McMurray did a wide variety of tasks including clearing out the dam, cleaning the boilers, painting and whitewashing the partially glazed roof, and replacing broken panes of glass. The maintenance team worked under a foreman - Mr Lucas and were based in the joiners shop. As Mr McMurray lived locally he was effectively on call at any time of the day or night. On at least one occasion the river Lagan burst its banks and flooded the factory, destroying an entire consignment of cloth. After this a flood wall, still visible from the far bank of the Lagan tow-path, was erected. Power was provided by twin turbines supplied by a mill race and dam. The maintenance division also carried out repairs and improvements to the firm’s houses. There were several types of house in Edenderry, to accommodate different grades of employee and different size of family. Although the Brown family lived locally, in Edenderry House, none of the managers or directors were housed in Edenderry given its close proximity to Belfast. The repairs to the homes were carried out free of charge and willingly. When Mr McMurray first joined the firm they were heated by a single open fire and had no bathrooms. Electricity had only just been installed. The houses had no running water - they were supplied by two wells and hand pumps situated at opposite ends of the village. Despite a lot of modernisation, investment and diversification the firm found itself in financial difficulties as the linen trade contracted. The production of textiles stopped in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The site was converted into an industrial estate and ran successfully under the existing management for a number of years. Most of the employees were laid off, although Mr McMurray was fortunate to have been kept on in a maintenance capacity until his retirement.