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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/43 2 of 2

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Sound Recording on Reel: Braidwater, Prospect & Andrews. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: In 1951 Matt Smyth joined Braidwater spinning mill in Ballymena as a trainee manager. He was interviewed by the MD - John McConnell. Braidwater installed Mackies ring spinning frames during Mr Smyth's apprenticeship, being the first mill in Ireland to adopt this method over flyer spinning. Although Mr Smyth is not convinced that the quality of yarn improved with ring spinning, output increased, fewer workers were needed and, in conjunction with other advances, better prepared the yarn for weaving. Working conditions also improved. Braidwater was part of the Moygashel group. The research director, Bertie Todd, went on to head LIRA. There were two mills at Braid - the linen mill and the synthetic mill. Ring spinning determined the range of lea that was spun - 16s to 25s tow. In 1954 Mr Smyth joined Lindsay Thompson' Mill - part of the Linen Thread Co (LTC) - as assistant manager. By setting a new doffing sequence Mr Smyth ensured that only one frame was ever 'off' at a time, increasing mill efficiency by 30%. They also put in a synthetic department. Prospect Mill supplied the yarn for thread manufacturing in the LTC. Along with Bertie Todd and Malcolm Gordon Mr Smyth was involved in setting up a trial spinning of nylon with a coiled flax surround for high altitude pressure suits for the RAF. The company also provided yarns for weaving parachute harnesses. In 1953 Mr Smyth joined the Scottish firm J & G Paton of Montrose. They worked with jute, nylon, wool and fibro. The firm supplied a lot of utility yarns in the locality. Farmers used yarn to tie up their raspberries (synthetics posed a risk to wildlife if swallowed) individual fishermen were supplied with small bundles of yarn, while the pouce (or dust) was sold to farmers to soak up standing water in their fields. They also manufactured coal bags. Paton's also spun Chinese human hair for use in linings. The mill was in a poor state of repair. Mr Smyth gave the Directors his honest opinion of the plant and set out a schedule for replacing the machinery in phases as profitability increased. Although Jute is much coarser than linen, the manufacturing processes are similar. Much of the machinery came from Mackies. Unfortunately the firm didn't prove viable and Mr Smyth returned to Ireland where he was appointed Mill Manager in Andrews of Comber in 1964. Andrews was a large and modern mill - recently re-equipped with ring spinning frames. Andrews employed some 350 people. Most of the workforce came from the immediate area although workers were bused in from Drumaness and the Strand after they closed. The Andrews family were flax experts, produced the finest quality yarns and put an absolute premium on quality. The average lea spun was 40s to 50s. Andrews' customer base was very large: Bairds, Fergusons, Ulster Weavers, Moygashel, New Northern and overseas. As the years passed the overseas markets became increasingly important. The orders were seasonal and trade cyclical, although not always predictable. Andrews did not have a minimum order and tended to stockpile standard yarns that were in demand. Although Andrews invested in new machinery they never moved into synthetic or blended yarns due to a fear of cross contamination of fibre. Herdman's were the major competitors. Andrews could supply bleached and dyed yarns if requested even though they did not have their own processing facilities. This work was carried out at Hollybank. Matt retired in 1992. The mill finally closed in 1997.