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Living Linen Interview LL2_R01/51


Sound Recording on Reel: Herdmans. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Patton spent his entire working life, over 50 years, in Herdman’s of Sion Mills. Mr Patton was born in Sion Mills and like many other young people expected to find employment in Herdman's when he left. When Mr Patton joined Herdman's in 1936 the engineer was Tom Dickson. His apprenticeship lasted for 7 years. Herdman's was founded in 1835. The mill has used waterpower from the river Mourne, first water wheel and later turbine, throughout its history. The main mill building measures 60 x 40 feet, has 5 storeys and 12 foot high ceilings. The outside walls are 2 feet thick. During WWII part of the mill was given over to Mackies, who ran an armaments production unit. Flax was hard to come by during the war and, although Herdman's encouraged local flax cultivation, supplies remained scarce. After the war Herdman's installed a rayon spinning plant. Flax preparing processes are characteristically dusty. Over the years, Herdman's installed a large and efficient dust extraction plant. The unit was extremely expensive and bulky. Although very efficient, the extraction plant had to remove as much dust as possible without lifting the fibre. The old Combe Barbour flyer frames were replaced with Mackie ring-spinning machinery, which was all driven by individual electric motors. As engineer, Mr Patton was consulted on machine purchases and could recommend overhauling or replacing various pieces of equipment. The frames required considerable maintenance and the firm had a routine servicing schedule. There was, therefore, always one frame off. Herdman's had a foundry on site and were highly self-efficient. They also had their own fire brigade! The engineer stocked the spar parts department and could authorise small purchases without consultation with management. Major repair jobs were carried out at weekends or over the summer break so as not to disrupt production. The boilers were scraped out and inspected every July. Mr Patton lived in a mill house and had 3s rent deducted from his pay every week. Herdman's owned some 300 houses and were responsible for their upkeep. The mill also looked after various village amenities and the Herdman family's homes. The mill supplied gas and later electricity to the village. During Mr Patton's time at Sion Mills, Herdman's purchased Jennymount and Greeves mills. Following the take-over, Mr Patton travelled to Belfast to report on the plant. He also visited the mills when they were closing down to remove machinery to Sion Mills. Business was generally quite steady and Mr Patton was only on short-time for l week throughout his 52½ years service. Just before Mr Patton retired, the mill took the decision to abandon the old buildings and purpose build a single storey mill, with underground dust extraction systems, to house the latest generation of Mackie Linmacs. The original buildings were of solid construction but had not been designed to cope with the weight or sheer size of modern spinning machinery. Being built on several levels, it also interfered with work-flow and efficiency. A Linmac was nearly 40 feet long and weighed approximately 4 tons. The new frames also had high running costs and required constant tinkering. This problem was made all the worse due to the much smaller number of frames that were now running. Mr Patton retired in 1991. He was recently asked to inspect the mill buildings for the Sion Mills regeneration programme, which hopes to transform the mill into a museum and a residential/retail development.