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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/27


Sound Recording on Reel: Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Waringstown was dominated by linen and farming. Tommy Harrison's mother worked for the firm of Pennington's as a handloom damask weaver. Although Pennington's had a factory with 20 or so handlooms, most of their weaving was done by outworkers. Although Pennington's supplied domestic weavers with yarn, they had to buy their own looms in order to get started. This practice continued until relatively recently. Tommy can still remember his mother working looms. The handloom weavers carried their completed cuts of cloth to the firm where they were checked. The weavers were then paid for their work and given a new bundle of yarn. Tommy himself entered the linen industry in 1939 straight from school. He was interviewed by the then Factory Manager, Joe Harrison, and put to weaving. Tommy was trained by a skilled weaver for three weeks and then given a single loom of his own. As he gained in experience and skill he progressed to two, then three and finally four looms. Experienced weavers were also given the larger and faster looms. Hennings was built in 1907, a major extension was added in 1911. The firm was owned by the Walpole family, from Mount Usher in Dublin, who owned a successful drapers business. Annual factory outings were run to Mount Usher for a number of years. Hennings were widely known for weaving wide sheetings. The firm could weave 85, 96 and 128 inch wide cloth. They produced both cotton and linen for household use. The looms could weave either linen or cotton without adjustment and an individual weaver could often be given a cotton beam immediately after finishing a linen beam, or vice versa. This flexibility enabled the firm to respond quickly to orders and ensured that the factory was kept at full production. Hennings employed slightly over 100 weavers, 60% of whom would have been men. Whereas both men and women operated the smaller looms, the wide sheeting looms were the sole preserve of men; due to their sheer size and weight. All weavers were paid according to their output - by piece-rate. Although all weavers were paid equally, when operating identical machinery, the various looms and cloth types/weights equated to different rates of pay. The wide sheeting looms were the most sought after - not only did they enhance a weaver’s earning potential but they carried a measure of status as well. The looms were allocated by the Factory Manager. There was no rotation of workers. Anyone wanting a sheeting loom had to wait for a vacancy. Vacancies usually only arose on the leaving, retirement or death of an existing employee. Weavers could, however, also be demoted if their work was considered to be of a sub-standard quality. Although Hennings did not operate a fining policy in Mr Harrison’s time, quality control was strict and mistakes quickly pointed out. Hennings failed to modernise their machinery and diversified instead into light engineering in the 1960s. This may have been a conscious decision not to compete in textiles under increasingly difficult and uncertain conditions. Most of the workforce was drawn from the immediate area and had only ever worked as weavers. Although a few were kept on and re-trained many found themselves out of work. A number went to Blackers mill, Liddells and to Milltown Bleach Works. As an engineering firm Hennings (later Unicorn Containers) specialised in galvanising and in manufacturing oil tanks and radiators for domestic central heating. Tommy Harrison retired in 1990.