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Living Linen Interview LL2_R02/10


Sound Recording on Reel: Guinness & Coalisland Weaving. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Suitors lived right beside John Gunnings weaving factory in Cookstown. Lowry Suitor’s father was a tenter in the plain end and arranged an interview for Lowry when he was 14. Mr Suitor joined the firm in 1947 as a card cutter. The Leeper family were the Directors of the film. The factory manager was a Mr Gough. The works were also known as Millburn. Cards were only used in damask weaving. A series of holes was cut into each card and these cards were strung together and mounted above the loom. Each card represented one ‘shot’ or pass of the shuttle. The card then flipped over on a metal rail and the whole pattern could be woven. The whole series of cards repeated over and over as the first card followed on from the last ad infinitum. This meant that a number of identical tablecloths could be woven on a single web of cloth and cut up later. Gunnings wove a lot of damask table linen and glass-cloths. They also wove some cotton and silk. Gunnings had somewhere around 300 looms. Most were under-pick shuttle looms with a few automatics in the plain shop. Almost all of the weavers were female. Each weaver had two looms. The looms were driven by a stream engine via a series of overhead line shafts and belts. Gunnings had a single square weaving-shed with a partially glazed roof. The cards were cut in a separate room and stored when not in use. Lowry ran the store and cut replacement cards. Each pattern was stored as a set of cards, ready wired-up and ready to be installed over the loom. As they were made from cardboard they were prone to tearing. Most of the damask patterns were floral and leaf effects. Lowry later became a damask loom tenter. Mr Suitor served a five year apprenticeship and attended Belfast ‘Tech. He had only just qualified as a tenter when Gunnings closed down. The three tenters and their assistants looked after all of the damask looms in the factory. The looms in Gunnings were relatively old and required regular attention. The factory had a spare parts store and the mill mechanics could manage most repairs. Labour relations in Cookstown were very good and Lowry cannot remember any strikes or disputes. The workforce was not unionised as far as he can recall. The Suitors lived in a factory house. There were 4 houses in the row, another dozen facing them and a group of houses called the Factory Square. Some of these houses are still standing and have been extensively renovated. There was a full-time nurse in Gunnings. Weaving was potentially hazardous. Although all looms had wire guards, shuttles could still have shot out and struck a passer-by or someone working at an adjacent loom. Lowry was part of works football team, which played in amber and black and competed in a local league. He also remembers a factory outing to the South. Although there was a rail link to Cookstown at this time, the trip was by bus. In the final years at Millburn, business was becoming difficult. There was less and less cloth coming through the factory and gradually the looms fell silent. Finished beams were not replaced and the factory wound down. The workers all assembled at the front of the factory and the closure was announced. Lowry quickly found work in Moygashel as weaver, but only stayed a fortnight when the opportunity of going to Coalisland Weaving Co arose. Lowry was employed as a card-cutter at Coalisland. Coalisland was run by the Beatties and there was a very friendly atmosphere in the factory. He saw no familiar faces at either Moygashel or Coalisland.