Of the Ulster counties engaged in the linen trade, Co. Armagh has played a most important part, particularly in weaving. The Lurgan/Portadown area was known throughout the world for the excellence of its fine linen and in fact held a supreme position in the production of fine handkerchief linens, generally termed 'the Cambric Trade'. At the same time it is stressed that throughout the county, a vast range of other types of linen fabrics were produced. These include Damask, Sheeting, Aero Linen, Drying Cloths or glass cloths, Dress Linen, Suitings, Ruck Towelling, Embroidery linen, Tailors' Interlining and many cloths for industrial use.
Before giving an account of the linen trade in Co. Armagh, it is necessary that the terms in general use are understood and the following brief definitions should be of assistance.
Flax - This is, the term for the plant Linum Usitatissimum, and the fibre extracted from it. The plant is some three to four feet high and branches only at the top. It is sown as a crop in a similar way to wheat, but is harvested by pulling out by the roots to obtain the maximum amount of fibre. It is grown in temperate climates and northern Europe is particularly suitable. The chief countries involved are U.S.S.R., France, Belgium, Holland. Ireland, once a major producer, now only sows a token crop. The Belgian town of Courtrai is the chief centre for the sale of good quality flax, used in the finer end of the trade.
The flax straw is retted to assist in the removal of the fibre from the woody matter. Water-retted flax is steeped in tanks and produces a light coloured yarn. Dew-retting is carried out by spreading the flax straw in the fields and exposing it to night dews and the action of the sun. Dew-retted flax produces a dark coloured yarn of good strength.
Linen - This term is used for the yarn as it comes from the spinning frame (linen yarn) and subsequent processes ; linen thread, linen cloth, etc.
Linen Yarn - This is the term used for yarns produced from the prime long flax fibre which has gone through the combing process, Known as hackling and usually spun by the wet-spinning process. 'Line' yarns are the equivalent of 'Worsted' as in the woollen trade, whereas Tow yarns correspond to yarns spun on the woollen system.
Tow - Yarns are produced from short fibres. The material used would be short fibre combed out in the hackling process and mixed with other short-staple flax.
The material is carded on a machine which converts the fibre into a continuous ribbon of flax, called a sliver. The sliver is further drawn out to the required degree of fineness and a little twist is added. It is then spun on a dry spinning frame to produce dry spun tow, or alternatively drawn through warm water for wet-spun tow. Wet-spun tows are more compact, and have less projecting fibre (less hairy) than dry-spun yarn.
Combed tow yarns are superior in quality to corded tow. The sliver is put through an additional combing process which produces a comparatively uniform yarn, which when woven into cloth, gives a full 'handle' and a pleasing, relatively uniform appearance.
Linen - Yarns can be supplied to the weaver in the grey or natural state; Boiled to soften the yarn for producing closely woven cloth, or Bleached to a cream, or full white.
Warp - Cloth is produced from warp or weft. The warp thread runs continuously down the length of the cloth parallel to the selvedges at either side.
Weft - runs across the cloth from selvedge to selvedge and is inserted by the to and fro action of the shuttle which carried a supply of yarn on a wood spindle called a pirn.
Shuttle - This is the vehicle which carries the weft back and forwards across the slay of the loom. It is made of Persimmon, Cornel or laminated wood and tipped with conical steel tips. The weft pirn on which the warn is wound is pushed onto a hinged spike called a tongue and assumes a control position in the cavity of the shuttle.
Heddles - The threads which form the warp are drawn-in through the eyes of the heddles. The heddle frame moves up and down in the loom to form an opening or shed through which the shuttle passes and leaves a trail of weft behind it. Heddles are made from varnished cotton twine, or alternatively from polished steel strip or wire.
'Heddles' would appear to be an Irish term. In England, they are known as 'Healds'.
Reed - The warp threads or ends, after passing through the heddles are drawn through the reed, usually two ends per split or division. The reed is some four inches in depth and varies in width according to the breadth of cloth required. The reed is made from fine polished steel strip and bound top and bottom with a wood rib. The divisions or splits can be produced by the reed maker to any desired pitch to suit the density of the threads in the cloth.
In the manufacture of linen cloth a gauge system is used for reeds, indicating the number of splits or divisions in 40 inches. On the usual basis of two threads per split, a 10° reed would be multiplied by 5 to give the threads per inch which in this case would be 50. Correspondingly, a 15° reed would have 75 ends per inch.
The reed has several functions. It determines the density of the warp threads which is known in the trade as the 'Sett'. It acts as a guide or wall for the shuttle as it traverses from side to side across the sley. It also 'beats-up' the trail of weft by the shuttle into the cloth that has already been woven.
Plain Weave - This is the standard weave used for most linen cloths. The warp and weft are interlaced, one over, one under. Plain weave produces a firm structure with a minimum tendency for the threads to slip, even in a fairly open cloth such as a Sheer handkerchief cloth.
Fancy Weaves - are produced by a combination of drawing-in the ends in the heddles to a given order and lifting the heddles in the loom in a pre-selected order on a machine fitted to the loom, called a Dobby. There is an infinite variety of weaves that can be produced, such as twill, herringbone, satin, diaper, buck, crepe, etc., etc.
Jacquard - This machine produces figured woven effects as represented by Damask. The figured effect is controlled by a punched card system. These punched cards are laced together to form an endless chain which represents one repeat of the design on the cloth. The design is painted on squared paper and the cards are punched from the 'paint' on a card-cutting machine. Satin weave is the weave normally used in Damask. The figure is usually produced from a weft satin in contrast to a warp satin ground.
Linen Cambric - A closely-woven, lightweight, plain weave cloth made from fine grey yarns and normally bleached in-the-piece. Nowadays, it is used mainly for men's handkerchiefs, but in the past was extensively used for ladies' underclothing.
Linen Sheer Lawn - Lighter in weight than Cambric, but with a more open structure. Mainly used for ladies' handkerchiefs.
Corded or Bordered Linen Handkerchiefs - For men's and, to a lesser degree, ladies' handkerchiefs, and are produced with a border running round the four sides of a handkerchief. The border may be composed of cords or tapes or a combination of both. Cords are made up of a heavy 3-ply cotton which stands out from the ground linen yarns. Tapes are made up of a 2-ply cotton with 3-ply binders at either side to define them.
When bordered linen handkerchiefs are bleached in the piece, we have an all-white cloth, but the Cords and Tapes, made from heavier yarn than the ground linen yarns, stand out in relief.
Damask - The Queen of linen fabrics, is produced for tablecloths and matching napkins. Usually it is finished bleached (all white), but in some cases the figured effect may be hand-painted. The figured effect is woven-in and the designs used are taken from all kinds of subjects, with floral and foliage effects predominant. Hotels and steamship companies order table cloths and napkins with their own crest or emblem woven in.
Linen Glass Cloths - are probably the best known of all linen fabrics. Outstanding properties are absorbency, non-lifting (non-fibre shedding), a firm crisp cloth, easy to launder and comes up like new after each washing.
Embroidery Linen - Usually a medium weight cloth woven from medium line or tow yarns and finished in natural, creamed white or dyed. It is a cloth with character and a perfect foil for all types of embroidery. The character in linen is the result of the slightly uneven random thick/thin effect in the yarn which gives the cloth a subtle and interesting texture.
Dress Linens and Suitings - Linen is a cool crisp fabric and as such is ideal for a garment worn under hot climatic conditions. The property of 'coolness' is a combination of a cloth made from firm compact yarn with relatively little projecting fibre, high moisture absorbency and a tendency not to cling to the body.
Dress goods are not very popular nowadays, for despite special crease-resist finishes they still have a tendency to crush or crease and have not the easy-care properties of synthetic fabrics. Men's linen suits are a better proposition and are popular in countries such as Italy where the summer temperatures are high. Linen suits are by no means all worn white, but also dyed in a range of shades, for example, greys, blues and browns.
Artists' Linen Canvas - Virtually all good oil paintings are produced on linen canvas. The canvas is treated with a special preparation to reduce excessive absorbency of the paint. The treated canvas is tacked to a wood frame fitted with wedges at the corners to stretch the cloth.
When painted by the artist, the slightly uneven random texture shows through the paint and gives character and charm to the picture. In addition, linen canvas is not inclined to sag or stretch under varying climatic conditions. It is remarkably resistant to ageing, damp conditions and general neglect.
Hero Linen - A very strong, closely-woven comparatively fine cloth which was used for covering the wings and fuselage of the earlier generations of aircraft. In the First World War, practically all aircraft were constructed from a wooden or light-alloy frame covered with more than one ply of aero linen which were doped with a cellulose preparation to render the bonded layers waterproof.
Lord French, the First World War general, declared, "The war was won on Ulster linen wings".
In World War II some of the earlier planes were still using linen; for example the Wellington bombers, also light reconnaissance and artillery-spotting types. Today it is only used on light club aircraft and gliders. Modern aircraft are now constructed from light alloy sheets, rivetted as a skin over light alloy framework.
Furnishing Linens - Linen tends to be a little stiffer to give satisfactory draping qualities. To overcome this, some fabrics are woven with a cotton warp and a rough coarse linen weft. The resultant union furnishing is usually printed with a floral or stylised design and used for curtains and upholstery purposes.
Open weave linen curtaining is used for room dividers in 'open-plan' houses.
There are numerous other applications for linen cloth such as Dish Cloths, Mattress Ticking, Tailors' Interlining Cloth and many industrial cloths, for example filter cloth, hose-piping and as a base cloth for various coated cloths such as awnings, lorry covers, transmission and conveyor belting.
Linen Thread - also plays an important part in all our lives. It is used for all classes of sewing thread and twines particularly for the leather trade.
Of recent years, man-made fibres have made considerable inroads into the areas traditionally held by linen in both threads and cloth. The chief contenders are Rayon, Nylon and the Polyesters. Polypropylene has recently come to the fore for twines and coarse fabrics used as packing cloths, carpet backing, etc.
Various technical developments took place over the years which greatly assisted the growth of the linen trade.
Spinning - For many centuries spinning was carried out on the Spinning Wheel which allowed the production of one end of yarn to be produced in a semi-continuous manner using foot action on a treadle as the motive power.
The spinning wheel commonly used in Ireland for spinning flax was known as the Low Irish Wheel. It was earlier known as the Dutch Wheel, having been introduced into Ireland by the Earl of Stafford in the 1630's from Holland. This spinning wheel worked on a horizontal axis, with spindle and distaff on the left and the wheel on the right.
The other type of spinning wheel used in Ulster was the Irish Castle Wheel. Its use was confined principally to Antrim and Donegal and was possibly used for spinning wool to a greater extent than flax. This spinning wheel was composed of tripod, splayed-leg frame with the wheel mounted on top and the spindle underneath. This construction gave the machine compact dimensions and a desirable degree of rigidity.
The next major development in spinning was the introduction of the Spinning Jenny by to Hargreaves in 1764. It was still powered by hand but could spin sixteen threads at the one time. The Spinning Jenny concept was further developed by Arkwright in 1769 by his invention of the Water Frame which was driven by water power and gave continuous spinning action to a large number of spindles mounted in a frame.
Both Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and Arkwright's Water Frame, had to be fed with a continuous ribbon of fibre, known as a sliver. The sliver had to be prepared as a separate operation prior to spinning.
The invention of the wet-spinning process led to the production of fine linen yarn on power-driven machinery. Whilst coarse dry-spun yarns had been produced by power-driven machinery, since the last decade of the 18th century fine yarns up to this time were still spun on the spinning wheel. The invention of wet-spinning by the Frenchman Philip de Girard in 1814, and further developments by James Kay of Preston, Lancs., led to the rapid development of fine count spinning on power driven machinery. This development put an end to the spinning wheel era.
Briefly, wet-spinning consists of running sliver or rove through a trough of warm water to soften the natural gummy matter which binds the ultimate fibres, so that in the drawing process the fibres will slide past each other. The drawing out of the fibres by the wet-spinning process allows finer and more uniform yarns to be spun than would be the case with dry-spinning.
Flax spinning by power was on a much smaller scale than weaving in Co. Armagh. In Co. Armagh the following spinning firms were recorded in the Irish Linen Trade Directory of 1921
Armagh Spinning Co. Ltd., Armagh. Bessbrook Spinning Co. Ltd., Bessbrook. Kirk Partners & Forestbrook Ltd., Keady. Portadown Spinning Co. Ltd. (later David Graham & Co. Ltd., Portadown). Thomas Sinton & Co. Ltd., Tandragee. Of these firms the only survivor in 1974 is Thomas Sinton & Co. Ltd., Tandragee, who spin prime quality line warps up to 80's lea.
Weaving - The primitive handloom produced coarse linen cloth of some 12-20" width known as 'bandle' linen. The limit on width was because the weaver had to throw the shuttle from side to side by direct handling. In other words, he threw it through the shed with his left hand and caught it with his right hand and vice-versa. To do this effectively he had to sit in a crouched position which was detrimental to his health.
The first major technical development was the invention of the Fly Shuttle by John Kay of Bury, Lancashire, in 1733. This invention allowed the shuttle to be propelled across the shuttle race of the loom by the action of rawhide drivers or pickers which were mounted on horizontal spindles at either side of the loom. The pickers were attached by cords to a 'pluck-stick' which the weaver gripped in his right hand. The weaver seated in a central position at the front of the loom could thus control the flight of the shuttle from either side. This fly-shuttle invention allowed the weaver to produce single handed, cloth of vastly wider widths and to more than double his production. This method did not come into general adoption in Ireland until after 1808.
Damask weaving was introduced into Ireland by William Coulson of Lisburn in 1764. It was produced on an elaborate loom, with as many as 5,000 sets of pulleys operated by Draw-Boys (youths). For large patterns as many as sixteen people were required to operate the loom.
In 1823/1826, the Coulsons of Lisburn and Michael Andrews of Ardoyne introduced the Jacquard machine (invented by Louis Jacquard of Lyons in France in the year 1801). The figured design was punched on strips of cardboard laced together to form an endless chain. This machine might be said to be the mechanical forerunner of the computer. The cards controlled the lifting of the warp ends to produce the woven-in figured design. On the handloom the basic weave, usually an eight-leaf satin was controlled by treadles operated by the feet of the weaver. The Jacquard controlling the figure was operated by a separate treadle. The to and fro action of the shuttle carrying the weft was operated by a 'pluck-stick' in the right hand of the weaver and the left hand controlled the beating-up action of the sley.
The introduction of the Jacquard meant that one weaver could control all the operations of the loom and in addition much more elaborate designs were possible than was the case with the draw-loom system.
The linen trade was slow in adopting the power-loom because it was contended that linen yarn was too intractable, due to lack of elasticity and general unevenness, to allow it to be woven by power. However, by 1850 considerable progress had been made as a result of new techniques. In handloom weaving the yarn was sized by the weaver in stretches as weaving took place, but in power-loom weaving the warp was sized or dressed as a separate process. Sizing is done to bind down the surface fibres on the threads and thus give them a hard skin. This allows the warp to withstand the many chafing actions that it is subject to on the loom from the warp beam to the woven cloth.
Over the years the power-loom was gradually improved by various devices which assisted weaving, improved the quality of the cloth and increased production. Uniform humidity is essential, particularly in the weaving of fine linen fabrics. This is achieved by blowing steam into the weaving shed. This method is very effective in winter, as it also raises the temperature. In hot summer weather, it tends to push the temperature up to an unbearable level and atomised water is now the method normally used to maintain the required humidity.
In the earlier days of power-loom weaving of linen, a weaver tended one or two looms, but the fitting of a warp-break detector device for stopping the loom, lead to a weaver being in a position to attend a least four looms.
Check looms are also used for inserting a border or check such as one finds in corded linen handkerchiefs or checked glass cloths. In these cases the border or check is inserted automatically, the design being controlled by pattern cards.
Automatic looms are now used to a considerable extent in linen weaving. In the non-automatic loom, when the weft in the shuttle ran out, the machine stopped and the weaver replenished the shuttle by hand. In the automatic loom the replenishment of a full pirn in the shuttle is done automatically without the loom stopping. The result of this is that provided the warp or weft does not break and stop the loom, it will run continuously, if the weft magazine is kept filled with full pirns. A weaver can therefore attend eight or more looms.
Lurgan can justly claim to be one of the pioneers in the introduction of linen power-loom weaving. James Malcolm built his power loom factory in 1855 and in 1866 he also established the first factory in the United Kingdom for hemstitching of linen by machine
Johnston, Allen & Co. are specially mentioned in Henry Bassett's book of Co. Armagh, published in 1888. This firm was established in 1867 for the manufacture of linen and cambric handkerchiefs by handloom, and at the peak period of the handloom trade, gave employment to upwards of 1,000 weavers. In 1888 they built a power-loom weaving factory and warehouse in Victoria Street, which is the red brick factory at present occupied and run by them.
Since Bassett's survey in 1888, the linen trade has declined and today (1974) the only surviving Lurgan linen weavers are Johnston, Allen & Co. Ltd., of Victoria Street and W. F. B. Baird & Co. Ltd., of Union Street. Both firms specialise in the fine end of the trade (cambrics, sheers, corded linen handkerchiefs).
Tow other well-known firms closed down within recent years. Samuel McCrudden & Co. Ltd., of Malcolm Road (Factory Lane) in 1959 and Lurgan Weaving Co. Ltd. (branch of Blackstaff Spinning & Weaving Co. Ltd., Belfast) closed down in 1967.
In linen weaving, Lurgan was exceptional in that the weavers were mostly men, whereas women weavers were more common in other parts of the country. The reason for this would appear to be that there were no heavy industries in Lurgan, and men tended to gravitate to the heavier end of the textile industry, that of weaving. Women worked at the lighter jobs in the industry, such as winding in the weaving factories, hemstitching and embroidery.
The manufacture of handkerchiefs still plays a large part in Lurgan and district. The chief handkerchief manufacturers are Johnston, Allen & Co. Ltd.; Seawright, Douglas & Co. Ltd.; Robert Watson & Sons Ltd., the Flush factory ; C. Blane & Son Ltd., Ballydougan ; McCaw, Allan & Co. Ltd., and Calvert, Sons & Co.; Dollingstown Hemstitching Co.; G. Gracey & Co.; W. Hanna & Co. Ltd.; Mercer & Brown Ltd., and Twyble & Co. Ltd.
Although Portadown has kept pace with Lurgan in size and development over the past half century, it never reached the same heights in the handloom era, but it came into its own with power-loom weaving in the latter half of the nineteenth century and achieved world-wide fame especially for its fine linens (cambrics, sheers and bordered handkerchiefs) made by Spence, Bryson & Co. Ltd.; Hamilton , Robb & Co. Ltd., and Portadown Weaving Co. Damasks were also produced by Grimshaw & McFadden, later Tavanagh Weaving Co. Ltd.; Watson, Armstrong & Co.; Castleisland Linen Co.; J. & J. Acheson, later Achesons Ltd. Four other linen weaving factories situated a few miles outside the town were Blackers Mill Ltd. of Ballynaghy; William John Turtle of Mullavilly ; Thos. Sinton & Co. Ltd. of Laurelvale, and Robert Reid & Son of Tarsan. Flax spinning was represented in Portadown by one firm only, that of David Graham & Co., Mill Avenue, Castle Street.
The first weaving factory in Portadown was erected by Watson, Armstrong in 1860, closely followed by Robert Moore's Tavanagh factory and Hamilton Robb & Co.
Of the Portadown linen weaving factories there are no survivors in the town itself, though Blacker's Mill Ltd. still operate two miles outside at Ballynaghy and Spence, Bryson & Co. Ltd. still weave in what was their former branch factory at Markethill, Co. Armagh, having closed their large Portadown factory in 1968. Portadown Weaving Co. Ltd., owned by the Greeves family closed down in 1959/1960. Tavanagh Weaving Co. Ltd. (branch of William Ewart & Co. Ltd., Belfast) in 1962 and Hamilton Robb Ltd. in 1968. Achesons Ltd., the last Portadown town weaving factory, closed down in 1971.
Of the many handkerchief manufacturers in Portadown, Spence, Bryson & Co. Ltd. are the only survivors. Those that have long since gone, were William Cowdy of Edward Street, Thomas Dawson of Corcrain, A. J. Lutton of Edenderry and John Malcolmson of Windsor Terrace. This list is not complete as there were several other small firms operating in Portadown and the surrounding country.
It is interesting to note the degree of fineness of linen fabrics produced in the past on the power loom. From information taken from Spence, Bryson's records, 26°° Cambrics from 170-230 lea were produced on the power loom as were 22°° Sheers from 180-230 lea. By comparison, in 1974 the finest leas available are 120's warp and 140's weft, with 18°° Cambrics and 14°° Sheers the finest cloths now produced. Spence, Bryson & Co. Ltd. also produced Union, Shamrock Lawns for their handloom trade. This complex fabric was woven from a repeat of 1 end in 200's lea warp x 3 ends of 190 cotton. The weft was composed of one shot of 260's linen and two shots of 230 cotton which was inserted with drop boxes at either end of the slay. This cloth was woven, a 24°° sett x 202 shots on 37/200 glass (111 shots per inch).
The manufacture of linen in Co. Armagh was by no means confined to the Lurgan/ Portadown area and in South Armagh, the Bessbrook Spinning Co. Ltd. was one of the most important firms in the Irish linen trade. The model village of Bessbrook was built round these famous mills. The firm was founded by the Quaker family of Richardson in 1845 and until they finally closed down in 1972, were a power in the trade, both as spinners on a large scale at Bessbrook combined with a weaving factory of 500/600 power-looms. Their other activities included yarn boiling and bleaching, and a beetling mill. At Deramore, close to Bessbrook, they operated a mill for granite polishing and flax scutching and at Millvale they operated a power station for generating power for an electric tramway which was used mainly to transport workers from Newry to Bessbrook. They also had further weaving factories at Craigmore between Bessbrook and Newry and a cambric weaving factory in Lurgan. Their main bleaching and finishing works were at Glenmore, Lambeg.
The merchanting end of the Bessbrook organisation went under the title of J. N. Richardson, Sons & Owden Ltd., with Head Office and Warehouse in Donegall Square, Belfast, later transferred to Murray Street, Belfast.
The Richardson organisation was a truly vertical organisation, covering all aspects of the linen trade from flax growing to finished cloth and made-up goods. Their business covered a very wide range of goods from the finest cambrics and sheers to relatively heavy canvas. They also were responsible for various technical developments in spinning and weaving, the most noteworthy was the Bessbrook, self-twilling, jacquard invented by one of the partners, Henry Barcroft. This device fitted to a jacquard machine for producing damask, greatly simplified the production of that fabric.
Other Co. Armagh linen manufacturers listed by Bassett in 1888 were Robert Smyth, Tullyelmer, Armagh ; Robert McCrum & Co., Milford, Armagh, later McCrum, Watson & Mercer and now Callan Valley Mills Ltd. ; John Compton, Umgola Factory, Armagh, now John Compton Ltd., Glenanne Mills; Wm. H. Addey & Co., Allistragh Mills, Armagh ; Thomas Wynne & Co., Lislea, Armagh ; William M. Kirk, Annavale & Darkley, Keady and Ballyards, Armagh ; Joseph Orr & Sons, Cranagill, Loughgall and Milltown Mills, Benburb (but on the Co. Armagh side of the river Blackwater). They are weavers, dyers and finishers.
Of the above-mentioned firms, those still operating in 1974 are Callan Valley Mills Ltd., Milford ; John Compton Ltd., Glenanne, and Joseph Orr & Sons Ltd., at Milltown Mills only.
Bleaching - of linen cloth was carried out from the earliest time by exposure to the elements. It was found that if the cloth was kept damp by sprinkling it with water in dry weather, the process was speeded up. Lewis Crommelin, as Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufactury in Ireland, set up a linen bleach works at Lisburn in or around 1700 and introduced the methods of bleaching, then practised in Holland and known as the 'Dutch' method. With this method the cloth was boiled in an alkaline lye of potash, made from wood ashes. The process was repeated up to ten times between exposure to the elements in the fields, known as 'grassing'. This was followed by a buttermilk or bran sour, washed with soap, rinsed, starched and blued to improve the degree of whiteness. After drying, it was calendered, a process of passing the cloth between heated metal rollers which imparted a smooth finish. This was a long process which could take up to seven or eight months.
The finish of the cloth was improved in 1745 by the introduction of the Beetling engine. In this process, the cloth was pounded by a vertical row of heavy wood beams covering the width of the cloth. This pounding flattened the threads and in so doing, filled up the cloth and at the same time imparted a dull sheen and a full handle.
After the middle of the 18th century, bleaching began to profit from chemical discoveries. In 1756, dilute sulphuric acid was used as a substitute for buttermilk or bran sour and reduced the time for bleaching from eight to four months. The major development in 1786 was the introduction of chlorine which meant that the bleacher could work the year round and the grassing of cloth was largely eliminated. Today, with further chemical aids and modern machinery, bleaching and finishing can be completed within two weeks.
A clean soft water supply is the first essential of satisfactory bleaching. The waters of the upper reaches of the Lagan, the Maine, the Sixmilewater, the Bann and the Callan river were suitable. Of the rivers the Bann flows through Co. Down and Co. Armagh. Its waters were more effective for bleaching in the Co. Down, because between Moyallon in Co. Down and Portadown, Co. Armagh, it flowed through peat bogs which rendered its waters unsuitable for bleaching, due to brown discolouration.
In the handloom era, Co. Armagh was of some importance with bleach greens on the rivers entering Lough Neagh and indeed on the banks of the lough at Oxford Island and adjacent shore line. Bleaching also took place on the rivers Callan, Cusher and Blackwater. With the development of the linen industry and the introduction of water-power driven machinery in the bleaching trade, the small Co. Armagh bleach greens faded out and eventually bleaching was concentrated on the Upper Bann and Lagan in Co. Down, and the Maine and Sixmilewater in Co. Antrim.
There are now no bleaching works in Co. Armagh. Joseph Orr & Sons Ltd., on the Blackwater, and John Compton at Glenanne dye and 'finish' cloth only, produced in their own weaving factories. The last two bleachers to operate in Co. Armagh were Kirk Partners and Forestbrook Ltd., Annvale, Keady, and Anthony Cowdy, Greenhall, Loughgall.
Having now covered the development and, sad to say, the decline of the linen trade in Co. Armagh, from flax to bleached and finished cloth, it is fitting that we pay tribute to the men who fostered and developed this trade from a puny domestic industry in the 17th and 18th centuries to a major industry, which was responsible for putting Ulster on the map as an industrial force. Tribute must also be paid to Ulster Linen, the steadfast fabric, which has served the world well in the past and will continue to do so in the future.