Thursday, 30 August 2012

Weaving a tale

Our family has a long association with the fabric industry. In 1861 4xgreat grandfather, Tom GALBRAITH listed his occupation in Paisley (Scotland) as "plane weaver" and most of his children entered the family trade.

In Belfast in 1911, Tom's grand-daughter (our 2xgreat grandmother) Agnes CAMERON worked as a "Linen Weaver" while her daughter Agnes BURTON (aged 19) was a "netter" and son Andrew BURTON (17) was a "machine boy".

At that time, the flax and linen industries were responsible for a significant part of the prosperity of Ulster (and Belfast in particular). The handy tourist guide McCormick's Historical and Descriptive Guide to Belfast and Neighbourhood 1907 (available at the Family History Books site) provides the following information.

"The fame of Belfast linen, like that of Belfast ships, is world-wide. Nowhere else can it be turned out with the same snowy whiteness or such fine texture, and the skill of our manufacturers is considerably aided in producing the finished article from the raw fibre by our humid climate, which assists the bleaching process. The manufacture of linen is our staple industry, and but for the linen business, Belfast would today in all probability be a town of minor importance."
"YORK STREET SPINNING MILL. — This mill, which is said to be the largest in the world, is a sight no visitor should miss. It is situated near the foot of York Street, convenient to the Midland Railway terminus, and extends from York Street to North Queen Street. ... Over 5,000 persons are employed in the vast factory, which is 786 feet by 221 feet, and covers an area of four acres."

As with any highly-developed technology, the linen industry in Belfast created some specialised occupations. When applying to migrate in 1929, Susan BURTON wrote that she was employed as a handkerchief "Box Folder and Ornamenter" but was prepared to seek employment as "Anything" in Queensland.

Like many others demobbed from war service, grandfather Robert Joseph McALLISTER drifted through a number of jobs; but his entry in the 1949 Electoral Roll shows that he had returned to his roots as a "clothing machinist". Just how he moved from that to "economist" is a tale for another day.

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