Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Ulster-Scots who founded the shirt-making industry in Londonderry

Shirt factory at Rosemount
Earlier this week the Derry News (17 December) carried a report on a proposed sculpture to honour the people who worked in the shirt factories in Londonderry.  At one time there was a thriving shirt-making industry in the city and the newspaper noted the following about it:
Derry's association with the shirt-making industry stretches back to the 1850s.
The invention of the sewing maching in 1853 and the arrival of several Scottish businessmen ensured that, within ten years, the shirt industry in Derry was a factory-based one.
Shirt-making in Derry reached its peak in the 1920s when a large number of shirt factories employed around 18,000 people.
The vast majority of these workers were women and many generations of Derry families spent their working lives on the shirt factories.
At one stage, Derry was the principal seat of the shirt inudstry in the UK, and the city became not only the shirt supplier of the UK but also of Europe and the British colonies.
However in recent decades almost all the factories were closed as production was moved to countries with cheaper labour forces.
Some of the physical reminders of Derry's shirt-making history also disappeared in recent years with the demolitions of the former Tillie & Hendersons and Hamilton's factories  at the city side end of the Craigavon Bridge.
The report identified the founders and owners of these factories as 'several Scottish businessmen' and indeed their story is part of the story of the Ulster-Scots.  In Londonderry and in Belfast many of the founders of the great industries of the past came across from Scotland.  They brought finance and entrepreneurial spirit and helped to shape modern Ulster.

I  hope that during the forthcoming year, when Londonderry becomes the first United Kingdom City of Culture, that this part of the city's history will be properly recognised and explored, including that Ulster-Scots dimension.


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