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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/46


Sound Recording on Reel: Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Cooke's great-grandfather, Alexander, worked very closely with Sir John Preston (founder of Preston's yarn merchants). Alexander Cooke's daughter married Sir John Preston and the business, including Springvale bleach works, passed into the hands of the Cooke family. In 1932 Prestons and Springvale were split into two distinct companies by the Cooke family. This split was very amicable. John Cooke's side of the family took over Springvale. Springvale had always worked for independent customers as well. After the split the two companies continued to work closely together - Prestons recommending Springvale to customers who required bleached yarns. Mr Cooke entered the family business in 1946. During WWII Springvale grew and processed their own flax. The company contracted local farmers to sow 300 acres of flax, which was then retted and scutched on site. Springvale was a highly specialised company. All of their work was carried out on a commission basis. They only ever bleached linen yarn. They did not process any other fibres or carry but any dyeing or finishing. Linen yarn is traditionally boiled and hank bleached in large pots and finished to a certain degree of whiteness. Springvale worked with recipes and customer samples to achieve a perfect match. Although yarn, like cloth, loses weight in the bleaching process its strength is actually increased. Yarn bleaching has several applications. Although it is most often used in thread manufacture, cloth woven from bleached yarn can be beaten to a particularly fine finish. Springvale sits on the tributaries of the Six Mile Water. They also have their own holding dam. The water was clean - ideal for bleaching purposes. Springvale was a progressive firm - the first in Northern Ireland to move into pressure package bleaching. This necessitated a lot of capital investment and restructuring of workflows. It was, however, now possible to dry the yarn in package form as opposed to hanging the hanks out in the fields over wires. Health and safety standards were also good and working conditions reasonable. Water quality was of particular importance in package bleaching and several wells were sunk in the grounds of Springvale. Their effluent was treated in a lime dam before being released downstream where the Cogry and Doagh spinning mills were situated. Springvale dealt with a number of local spinners including Falls Flax, New Northern, Herdmans, Andrews and Henry Campbell. Springvale had exacting quality standards that established them as the finest yarn bleachers in the business. Springvale employed roughly 80 people, most of whom came from local farming families. These workers occasionally needed time off at harvest time to help gather crops. Wherever possible Springvale accommodated these requests. The works had a canteen that supplied cooked food, termed a 'fourpenny button stretcher' . When Mr Cooke joined the Yarn Bleachers Association it had 16 members. Springvale was the second last to close. There was a gradual decline in business over the years and the Cooke's realised that there was no future in linen yarn bleaching. The firm had no customers outside NI and were tied to the local linen trade. In 1964 Springvale opened an expanded polystyrene plant that ran alongside the yarn bleaching business for 20 years. As the polystyrene business grew, the yarn side contracted until it finally ceased in 1984. Springvale continues to manufacture polystyrene to this day and employs the same number of people as in its linen days.