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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/91 1 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Linen Thread Company. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: John Pim was taken on as a management trainee by the Linen Thread Co in 1948. He was interviewed in Belfast and Glasgow before joining Barbours. He served a full apprenticeship and attended Belfast `Tech. Mr Pim was taken on as a school leaver. The firm had recruited at University level in the past with little success. University graduates were not inclined to stick out a 4-year training period at low levels of pay. The Linen Thread Co was composed of many different mills in Scotland, NI and North America. Within the grouping each mill retained its own identity. Not all mills had direct representation of the main Board. As part of his training Mr Pim worked in North America. Most of these mills were equipped with Combe Barbour machinery. On his return to Hilden Mr Pim was made assistant mill manager to Charlie Jenkins. Synthetic thread production was just beginning at this time and as the years passed it increased in significance, largely at the expense of the linen thread. In 1955 Mr Pim became manager of Hayes mill in Seapatrick. Hayes spun yarn and manufactured thread. They also had yarn bleaching facilities on site. Sewing threads, mostly destined for the shoe trade, constituted the bulk of Hayes' business. Hayes was an old mill on a `rather awkward site'. The machinery was all shaft driven and accidents were commonplace. The introduction of individual electric motors helped reduce the risk of injury. The firm had a canteen and owned a number of houses in the village. The firm employed around 250 hands -almost all protestant - who were drawn from the immediate area. Labour relations were good. In terms of produce Hayes overlapped with Hilden and was closed in part of a rationalisation scheme in 1963. From there Mr Pim went out to Mexico as Managing Director of the Linen Thread Co's netting factory. The firm produced finished nets and sold them directly to local fishermen. Nets are woven on a special machine with a row of shuttles. The size of the mesh can be adjusted and the sections of net sewn together to give the desired dimensions. Most of the nets were woven from a cotton and nylon mix. The nets were then treated to make them rot proof. They were left undyed. The finishing of nets is very labour intensive. Working conditions and wages in Mexico were well above the national average. There was little Health & Safety legislation on the Statute books. After 5 years in Mexico Mr Pim was asked to return to the UK where he was made Managing Director of Knox's in Kilbirnie. Knox's was the largest netting producer in the UK; manufacturing cellular blankets, fishing nets and sports netting. Most of their nets were synthetic and again retailed directly to local fishing ports. Kilbirnie had also diversified into knitting machines which produced a fine mesh fabric. Knox' s employed somewhere around 5-600 people and were one of the senior players within the LTC. Despite this position Knox' s had been underperforming for a number of years and the main Board was reluctant to invest in new machinery to update it. In 1976 or so Mr Pim was moved to Stewarts of Lisburn as Managing Director. Stewarts was a highly automated braiding mill run by Jock Campbell. The Linen Thread Co was contracting. Several of the UK mills had been closed. Hanson had already bought over the American mills before buying Campbells of Mossley and eventually Barbours. Mr Pim did not remain long in Stewarts, trained as an accountant and left the linen trade altogether.