Over the past year, volunteers from National Museums NI have been researching the history of fabric, clothing and artificial fibre company Courtaulds Ltd, as part of the Courtauld National Partnerships programme.
The company opened a factory in Carrickfergus in 1950 which brought major growth to the town, both in terms of jobs and newfound economic prosperity. This was beneficial for many who lived in the surrounding area at a time of relatively high unemployment and historically low wages. Courtaulds was just one of several large industries that came to Carrickfergus around this time alongside Carreras, ICI and Michelin.
It was the Courtaulds’ factory building with its tall chimney that became one of the most recognisable features in the local landscape, remaining long after the demise of textile production at Carrickfergus. Rising production costs led to the company’s gradual relocation to South-East Asia and China, and the factory closed in 1981.
Having gathered the stories and experiences of former employees, volunteers from National Museums NI have produced a booklet, film and online exhibition exploring Courtaulds’ impact and legacy in Carrickfergus.
The booklet can be downloaded here
The online exhibition can be accessed here
The film can be viewed here:
What is the Courtauld National Partnerships programme?
In 1932, Samuel Courtauld donated his art collection and the use of his London home, bought with a fortune created through the nationwide textile firm, Courtaulds Ltd, to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London to encourage the widest possible enjoyment and understanding of art. Today, the Courtauld National Partnerships programme wants to strengthen the links between The Courtauld’s collection and its industrial heritage by connecting with local people living near to the areas where Courtaulds Ltd once operated.
Collecting Memories of Courtaulds in NI
In the 1950s, Courtaulds was a major industrial player in Northern Ireland, with a large factory in Carrickfergus and additional Daintyfyt factories in Markethill, Irvinestown, Limavady, Cookstown and Plumbridge. A team of volunteers from National Museums NI, brought together for this project, are looking to speak to local people living in these areas, to gather stories and experiences of Courtaulds Ltd to understand its impact and how its legacy is felt in these communities today. These conversations will help to form the foundations of a creative project for Courtuald Connects, which aims to establish a sense of shared cultural heritage among these communities.
Left: Courtaulds advertisement from The Graphic, 1931; via The Courtauld Institute of Art. Right: A selection of Courtaulds fabrics displayed at the Harris Museum; via The Courtauld Institute of Art.
Founded in 1794 by George Courtauld in Essex, Courtaulds was a UK-based manufacturer of fabric, clothing, artificial fibres and chemicals, and became the world's leading man-made fibre production company of its time. Courtauld left the business to his son Samuel and business partner, Peter Taylor, in 1819. Later, in 1921, his great-nephew, also named Samuel, became chairman, a founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in 1932.
As the company grew, Courtaulds began opening more factories nationwide, with production sites across the UK, and by the mid-1940s, was one of the four groups which dominated the man-made fibre industry in Europe. In 1950, Courtaulds opened a factory in Carrickfergus, designed to specifically manufacture fibre suitable for the Irish linen industry, bringing a wealth of new jobs to the area. The company also owned a number of Daintyfyt factories across Northern Ireland in Markethill, Irvinestown, Limavady, Cookstown and Plumbridge, which primarily used fabrics made by Courtualds in the production of underwear.
By the late 1980s, when clothing manufacturing was quickly moving to South East Asia and China, Courtaulds had closed many of its factories to move production to new Asian sites, including its factory in Carrickfergus, which closed in 1981. In the late 1980s, Daintifyt and its remaining factories were renamed Courtaulds Lingerie before being taken over by US consumer products giant, Sara Lee, in the early 2000s.