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Living Linen Interview LL2_R02/48 2 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Coalisland, Ewarts, Kinnaird Textiles. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Ferguson's grandfather - Christopher Beattie - was owner of the Coalisland Weaving Co. Christopher Beattie served his apprenticeship to Wm Ewart before becoming a manager at Blackstaff. In 1899 he was offered the post of factory manager at Coalisland by the Clark family who had founded the firm. Christopher Beatty bought the firm out from Sir Samuel Kelly and the Ulster Bank after it got into difficulty. Mr Ferguson was taken on as a warehouse apprentice by Ewarts in 1946. He was interviewed by Philip Smiles (sales director) and Percy Watson (secretary). The Director in charge of the warehouse was Douglas Smyth of Brookfield. John Gray oversaw most of the export details. Ewarts was a large and diverse firm. Mr Ferguson served a three-year apprenticeship and then worked in the various selling divisions. He also completed a Textile Warehouse course at Belfast `Tech. In 1954 he was appointed to `K' department, which had originally dealt with the Empire and colonies. Mr Ferguson eventually had responsibility for Africa. Their major African markets were in South Africa (white damask and household goods), Mozambique, Sudan and West Africa (suiting). In later years the S African got set up their own weaving factory and imposed heavy tariffs on imported cloth. `K' department also included Portugal and Scandinavia. Over the years `K' dept grew from `an also ran' to a key division within Ewarts. Mr Ferguson travelled first class aboard a Union liner and stayed in the best of hotels. He soon learned that this apparent extravagance was a PR exercise, as Ewarts supplied most of these hotels and shipping companies. Ewarts dominated the African trade and had few rivals with the exception of York St, John Shaw Brown and latterly Ulster Weavers. Ewarts and their `Erinor' trade name were well known throughout Africa. Ewarts made sure that Mr Ferguson was fully inoculated before every trip. Mr Ferguson's itinerary was carefully laid out in advance. There was also an annual routine to the trip - departing each January. Although he travelled alone, with a case of samples, he was accompanied by Ewarts agent in the area. Mr Ferguson had an expense account of £1,000 per trip. Africa was something of a culture shock - particularly the apartheid system although most of the time business was conducted with European, Asian or Malayan interests. Mr Ferguson kept in close contact with Ewarts by telex. He had some leeway to negotiate on price but delivery dates were generally fixed. Most of the contracts were actually signed with shipping companies based in London, so all of the business was conducted in £stg. Mr Ferguson remained with the firm through the formation of Ewart Liddell and was based at Dromore for a number of years. He then joined Tufting Industries Ltd - a subsidiary of Kinnaird textiles - as sales director. Mr Ferguson worked under John Kinnaird - son of the founder George Kinnaird. Kinnaird consisted of the Carrickfergus tufting factory, offices on the Beersbridge Rd and garment manufacturing at Portadown. The firm produced candlewick bedspreads and housecoats. Europe was the major market A lot of business was done with catalogue companies. Mr Ferguson won the Queen's Award for Export Achievement and was received at Buckingham palace. The business was extremely competitive and profit Levels suffered due to exchange rates on occasion. Mr Ferguson left Kinnaird in 1981 and acted as a manufacturer's agent for a number of years.