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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/84 1 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: York Street, Blackstaff, W D Hazelton Thomas, Somerset, Bownlow Textiles. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr McBride joined York St in 1941, working in their handkerchief department. York St was one of the true giants of the Irish linen industry, manufacturing a huge range of goods. Due to wartime shortages of experienced labour, Mr McBride ' s apprenticeship was cut short. Although York St concentrated on linen handkerchiefs they produced a range of cotton goods. This cloth was bought in from Manchester and embroidered on site or by outworkers. Jack McCartney was employed by York St to take bundles of cloth (and payment) to these workers and to collect the finished goods. Floral designs were by far the most popular. Packaging and presentation were particularly important. An Irish Linen' ticket was prominently displayed, as the market often insisted on Irish produce. The Henry St warehouse supported a large team of travelling salesmen. In 1949 Mr McBride joined Blackstaff where he was responsible for all made-up goods destined for their New York branch. He was based in the Mullhouse St warehouse. After leaving Blackstaff, Mr McBride joined W D Hazelton' s Springfield Rd factory as assistant manager in the Fancy Goods division. Hazelton' s was a small firm that produced a lot of `trace linens' or household embroidery kits. The Springfield factory supplied other customers as well as hazelton' s, and shipped piece-goods to Brazil. Their goods were most likely bleached at Frazer & Haughton. The traced linens were sold to the large department stores throughout the UK. These goods were simply tied up in dozen bundles. Mr Mcbride subsequently returned to York St as assistant production manager (handkerchiefs). Compared with the earlier years at York St, the range of designs had increased markedly and the firm had branched out into the rayon and printed tea-towel trades. In l 960, amidst rumours of York Street's closure, Mr McBride was approached by Thomas Somerset's and offered the j ob of Production Manager. Somersets was formed in 1890 and was based on Hardcastle St. Somersets had no weaving capacity of their own. Their main line was in bedding, upholstery and cushion covers. A lot of their linen and union cloth was sourced from John Shaw Brown, while they also bought in bleached cotton from Manchester. Somersets at one time boasted the largest stitching room in the world. Even in Mr McBride' s time they had in excess of 100 machines plus a good number of outworkers. Somersets had their own design department. Floral motifs (coloured as well as white) were the most common. The stitchers were all paid by piece rate. Seconds were disposed of through special customers. The factory shop was for employees only. Working conditions were very good for the time and labour relations were excellent. Most of the workers came from South and East Belfast and were brought in by existing employees. Somersets had a London office and exported goods all over the world. Southern Africa was a particularly important market. Somersets also produced printed tea-towels. Ulster Print Works and Clendinnings carried out most of this work. In 1980 Mr McBride left Somersets and set up Brownlow textiles in Lurgan. Brownlow supplied traditional linens for the tourist market. They bought 100% Irish linen from Blacker's Mill and embroidered napkins, tray cloths and handkerchiefs with Irish imagery. Most of these goods were sold through retailers in southern Ireland. They also exported gift linens to Australasia. Mr McBride retired in 1999 after selling Brownlow to Ferguson' s of Banbridge.