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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/32 1 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Andrews. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Andrews family has a long association with the linen industry dating back several hundred years. The current mill building was constructed by John Andrews in 1863. A separate branch of the family was involved in the Royal Damask Factory in Ardoyne, and in establishing John Shaw Brown in Edenderry. Mr Andrews entered the family business in 1958 having cut short his studies at Belfast 'Tech. He spent every morning handling flax and each afternoon in the office, learning about the administration of the business, for two years. When the mill manager, Tommy Hunter, fell ill with a serious complaint Mr Andrews, along with his brother John, shared the duties of mill manager in his absence. Mr Hunter never fully recovered and was eventually succeeded by Matt Smyth. During WWII the firm grew flax to compensate for the closure of normal supply routes from Belgium. Andrews purchased their continental flax merchants rather than a flax buyer. Flax grading was usually done by the Directors of the company when it arrived at the mill. Andrews stored a large amount of flax in Comber, - usually enough to cover the order book. The firm had its own railway siding in Comber which was used for the transportation of coal and flax as well as despatching finished yarn. Although Andrews specialised in the fine end of the market, they spun a wide range of leas: from 16s to 130s. Although the firm had no means of bleaching or dyeing yarns they used commission finishers and could, therefore, supply bleached yarn to a customer if required. During WWII the Ministry of Defence specified that the yarn for aero-linens had to be spun by John Andrews & Co. Andrews initially supplied many local weaving factories. As the industry evolved, however, there became fewer independent weavers in Northern Ireland. Many closed, while others became parts of larger groups with their own spinning mills in-house. The international market, and Italy in particular, became increasingly important to Andrews from the 1960s onwards. This change in market orientation was also reflected in the ultimate use of Andrews' yarns. Their business shifted away from household textiles and towards the apparel side of the trade. Although Andrews was one of the last spinning mills in Ireland they did not inherit much business from their rivals as these closures reflected the overall contraction in demand and they faced stiff competition from European spinners. Eastern Europe in particular could undercut Irish prices by up to 30% and their quality improved year by year. Andrews had a policy whereby they avoided stockpiling yarns wherever possible. In certain cases, however, this was unavoidable unless productivity was cut and workers placed on short-time. A lot of money was spent re-equipping the firm and keeping it up to date. Ring spinning was installed in the 1950s and Mackie Linmac machines were purchased in the '80s. As the linen trade became increasingly difficult diversification into polyester blends was given serious consideration. The existing equipment was only suitable for flax and diversification into blended yarns would have entailed unrealistic investment. Andrews finally closed their doors in 1996, having wound down their order book. The mill had been running at a loss for a number of years and the outlook was not good. The mill building is still in existence and has been bought by a developer hoping to convert it into a number of residential apartments.

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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/32 2 of 2

Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/32 2 of 2

Sound Recording on Reel: Andrews. Summary: The Andrews family has a long association with the linen industry dating back several hundred years. The cu...