The Old Bleach Linen Company's Technical Innovations and Creative Responses in Ulster's Interwar Linen Industry

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This article considers Ulster’s fabled linen industry and examples of its technical and creative responses during ‘a period of abnormal depression’ across the Interwar years. By 1927, exports of linen amounted to less than one half of the pre-war volume and in a pessimistic government report of 1928, linen manufacturers faced “a disquieting diminution” in its most important market, the United States of America. Issues varied in scope and nature, some were acute, local and resolvable within industry while others were chronic and outside of the control of the British Empire, such as the worldwide depression from 1929-39. The threat from new fibres and fabrics was an ongoing concern. Pure Irish linen had always been somewhat of a misnomer. Russia was the largest supplier of flax, while new products like ‘Solidonia’ (1921), obtained from Chinese grass, claimed to be as fully equal to linen, in appearance, strength and durability. Not all were taken seriously; ‘Bourette de Soie’ (1935), was a new Czechoslovakian fabric said to rival dress linen, but ‘has not won many friends owing to its dull lifeless appearance…and is too warm to be pleasant for hot weather wear’. These challenges were instrumental in bringing about a range of organizational responses and solutions, some were short term to aid recovery from the war and some possessed an ambition and strategy to return the industry to its pre-war distinction. In 1919, enabled by government and industry support, an industrial research laboratory, the Linen Institute Research Association at Lambeg, Lisburn was established with a remit to take a longer view of research and development and, aim to devise high quality flax seed to be grown on home soil. This scientific and technological approach symbolized a more strategic effort to support (it was hoped) a recovering industry. Many progressive linen companies too created a number of innovations from their own laboratories, which helped to modernize the industry. One such linen manufactory was The Old Bleach Linen Company, established in 1864, in Randalstown, Co. Antrim and is the subject of this article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-19
Number of pages3
JournalThe Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers The Linen Issue
Issue number283
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2022


  • Irish Linen, Old Bleach Linen Company, Innovation, Hand painted linen, Spiralspun, Longer life linen


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