Memories Of Derry Shirt Industry Sought For Exhibition

By David Prudames | 27 November 2003
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Shows a black and white photograph of a machine room at a shirt factory in Derry. There are four lines of women sitting at sewing machine and a number of cuts of cloth lying around.

Photo: at its height Derry's shirt-making industry employed 18,000 of the city's residents. Courtesy of the University of Ulster.

Derry City Council Museum Service has teamed up with shirt manufacturer Glenaden Shirts to record and celebrate the significance of the shirt industry in the city.

With the aim of putting together an exhibition, the museum service has launched a public appeal to encourage anyone who has memories or artefacts from their days working in Derry’s shirt industry to come forward and help set it up.

As Museum Service Curator Harriet Purkis explained, they urgently need artefacts such as aprons, old machines, patterns and photographs as well as old factory songs and stories.

"The textile industry and in particular shirt-making, has shaped this city over the years," she said.

"There are bound to be so many artefacts and interesting stories from the public and we would be delighted to gather them so we can relate these stories in the exhibition."

In 1831, Derry-resident William Scott noted the rise of the shirt as a fashionable item and set his wife and daughters to the task of hand-stitching them to order.

Fourteen years later, he had a staff of 250 weavers and 500 shirt-makers and soon others began to follow his lead. By 1870 out of the 26,000 people living in Derry 10,000 were employed in shirt-making factories.

Shows a photograph of a man and a woman standing with two dress-makers dummies, both of which are wearing shirts. The man is holding an old, tatty photograph in his hand.

Photo: Harriet Purkis, Derry City Museum Service Curator and Andrew Lowden, Chief Executive of Glenaden Shirts launch the appeal in Derry. Courtesy of Derry City Council Museum Service.

At the turn of the century this number had risen to 13,000 and when the industry was at the peak of its powers in the 1920s a massive 18,000 people were employed making shirts.

Shirts made in Derry were worn all over the world and some of the most famous names in shirt manufacturing operated out of the city, including Tillie & Henderson, Hogg and Ben Sherman.

While many of the factories no longer exist there are still shirt-makers in Derry one of which, Glenaden Shirts, will host the exhibition when it is finished.

"With so many families in the city connected to the industry over the years it is important that a record of this heritage is captured in a major and dynamic permanent display," added Andrew Lowden, Chief Executive of Glenaden Shirts.

"The material will not only include historical material but also current developments in textiles and design, and activities for children."

To help kick-start the campaign, a memory afternoon will take place at the Harbour Museum in Derry for those with memories of the shirt industry to get together and reminisce.

Anyone who might be able to help with the project can contact Harriet Purkis at the Harbour Museum, Derry by telephone on 028 71 377331.

If you want to know more about shirt-making in Derry, click here to visit a great website produced by former shirt factory worker Ciaran Roddy.

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