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Living Linen Interview LL2_R02/03 3 of 3


Sound Recording on Reel: John S Brown, Hamilton McCleery, William Ron. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Haselden’s were originally cotton spinners from Lancashire. On a holiday to Ulster - Mr Haselden’s great aunt met, and eventually married, an Andrews of Comber. Mr Haselden’s father worked in the Belfast Ropeworks. Jack Andrews and Jack McCleery (Wm Ross) were close family friends. Mr McCleery helped Simon Haselden find work with John Shaw Brown as an apprentice manager in the late 1950s. He later worked under Frank Shannon. Brown’s bought yarn from local spinners such as Jennymount, Killyleagh, Herdman’s and Ross’. The firm specialised in quality damask table-linens. Frazer & Haughton undertook all of the finishing. In 1960/1 Jack McCleery invited Mr Haselden to join Hamilton McCleery - Ross’ merchanting business. Ferguson’s were a major customer - most managers served an apprenticeship in Banbridge. Sir Graham Larmor and Ulster Weavers remain major customers to the present day. Mr Haselden studied weaving at Belfast ‘Tech while with J S Brown. He is more technically au fait with weaving and can hold his own when a customer complains about yarn quality. Ross’ did not sell yarn directly to merchants or weavers - everything went through Hamilton McCleery. Hamilton McCleery also bought from other mills so that they could offer a full range of yarns. In the mid-1960s Wm Ross and Hamilton McCleery (sales and production) were amalgamated. The McCleery family arranged a reverse take-over of the Belfast Ropeworks and Wm Ross became part of the McCleery L’Amie group. Wm Ross suffered from a lack of investment at this time and their assets were used to prop up less profitable units within the group. As a result Ross’ began to fall behind the competition. In the early 1970s the decision was taken to concentrate on dry spinning and blended yams. In the late 1970s the faltering group was bought by Sir Desmond Lorimer and Lamont Holdings. By the early 1980s Ross’ was beginning to make significant profits from dry spun yams and recommended that Lamont purchase Moygashel. Ross’ again found itself in need of capital investment. Sir Desmond agreed to sell Ross’ under an MBO, but would not sell Hollybank bleachworks. Hollybank had been bought by Wm Ross in 1920. An agreement was reached that Ross’ would give Hollybank its business for 5 years and that Moygashel would give its business to Ross’ for the same period. The original mill was built in c 1850 and bought by the McCleery’s and a Mr Anderson (Anderson & McAuley) in 1898. Their flax is sourced in France. The high price of flax, and poor harvests, have complicated the spinning trade, Ross’ specialise in coarser dry-spun yarns. Most of the yarn is destined for the apparel and furnishing trades. While quality and expertise in blended yarns are Ross’ forte, the modern loom is forgiving when it comes to yarn imperfections. Working conditions are relatively good, although atmospheric humidity is still required. Labour turnover is a major problem even though the processing is heavily automated and deskilled. The loss of LIRA was a big blow but the UU and chemical companies provide an R&D service. Ross’ are members of the Linen Guild, FSA and Masters of Linen. Irish yarns are in demand in the marketplace. This allows the company to compete with mills with substantially lower running costs. Ross’ have a Euro account and a growing web-site The firm has survived the Troubles’ and although times remain difficult Ross’ recent 150th year celebrations included a look ahead to the next 150 years.