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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/45 3 of 3

Description:

Sound Recording on Reel: Braidwater & Mackies. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr McConnell joined Braidwater in 1933 as a management trainee. His father, S J McConnell was Managing Director. Employing some 1200 people in and around Ballymena, Braidwater was one of the largest local sources of employment. The mill also played an active part in community life and had numerous clubs and societies. The works manager in the mid 1930s was James Ferguson – the son of the flax buyer J P Ferguson. The mill bought flax from the local market as well as directly from Belgium. On his father's insistence Mr McConnell spent a considerable amount of time learning how to identify, handle and grade flax. John McConnell's apprenticeship was very much hands on. This ensured that he won the personal and professional respect of the workforce. To this day whenever he meets old employees in the street they remark, ''There's John, he went barefoot like the rest of us''. Braidwater had some 127 flyer frames and a total of 21,500 spindles, producing enough yarn, per week, to have gone around the equator nine times. The (often overlooked) ancillary services at Braidwater, such as the maintenance teams and engineers, provided an excellent back-up that enabled the mill to establish its reputation for quality and efficiency. Braidwater was liable to flood and the workforce would have been summoned in the middle of the night to help clear up. The mill celebrated royal occasions with great pageantry and rigidly observed the Armistice Day silence. During WWII Braidwater co-operated with Herdman's and Stevenson's of Dungannon in their efforts to create a rayon yarn of apparel quality. The resultant cloth was marketed by Stevenson's under the name, 'Moygashel'. Braidwater and Stevenson's also worked together on the processing of green (or unretted) flax. It was in connection with this project that Braidwater installed one experimental ring-spinning frame. It was in Braidwater that Mackies first saw ring spinning in action and were so impressed that they determined to manufacture their own ring spinning frames. Braidwater became tied ever closer to the Stevenson (later Moygashel) grouping until, by 1945, Braidwater was spinning yarns for them exclusively, much to the annoyance of their other customers and Mr McConnell who was on active service. This exclusive relationship was not altogether observed and orders were still taken from outside customers, although Moygashel had priority. In 1949 Mr McConnell became a Director of Braidwater and oversaw the installation of Mackies ring-spinning frames. This was a time of significant re-structuring and capital investment. It was in 1949 that Braidwater was firmly assimilated into the newly formed Moygashel group. Never comfortable with Braidwater's loss of independence Mr McConnell left the mill in 1954 to run a jute mill for the Mackie family beside their Strand spinning mill. He later went on to become Mackies Sales Director - retiring in 1980. Moygashel was bought first by Courtauld’s and then later by Lamont Holdings. Braidwater regained its independent status, albeit within the group, in 1988 as Moygashel was buying less and less from the mill and could no longer justify the 'special relationship'. This heralded an era of new prosperity for Braidwater and profits increased each year up until the mill's final closure in 1998. By this stage the labour force had contracted to around 130. It was nevertheless a sad day in Ballymena, bringing to a close over 130 years of spinning at Braidwater.