New Exhibition Celebrates Derry's Shirt-Making Heritage

| 21 September 2004
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.

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

Shirt Making in the City is a newly opened permanent exhibition in Derry and tells the story if the city’s long and distinguished shirt-making tradition.

Fittingly the museum, located at the Glenaden Shirts factory, was opened by a group of local ladies who between them have hundreds of years of experience working in local shirt factories.

The display was created by Derry City Council’s Heritage and Museum Services in association with Glenaden Shirts and brings together a celebration of the city’s important textile heritage.

Shirt-making has been important to the city of Derry since 1831, when local 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.

Just 14 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.

At the turn of the century this number had risen to 13,000 and at its peak 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.

Despite a decline in the industry during the second half of the 20th century, many people still living in the area have lasting memories of it and are connected in some way to its legacy.

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.

Harriet Purkis, Derry City Museum Service Curator and Andrew Lowden, Chief Executive of Glenaden Shirts announced the intended launch of the new museum back in November 2003. Courtesy Derry City Council Museum Service.

"The shirt-making tradition is being kept alive today through companies such as Glenaden Shirts who have differentiated themselves from the mass market product which had been predominant for the last 50 years," explained Roisin Doherty, Heritage and Museums Organiser at Derry City Council.

Shirt Making in the City is located in the largest shirt-factory remaining in the UK and Ireland at Altnagelvin in the Waterside area of Derry.

From photographs, artefacts and machines to audio-visual materials and shirts - some over 100-years-old - the story is told through text panels, objects, archives and a selection of oral history, which communicate the development of the industry.

Many of the factories are represented in some way, whether through the photographs, memorabilia, stories and factory songs which can be heard and read.

The current products manufactured at Glenaden represent the modern day shirt industry, while activities allow everyone, both young and old, to learn how a shirt is assembled.

Both Glenaden and the Heritage and Museum Service are keen that this new resource can be used to raise awareness of the importance of the shirt-making sector to local history in Derry.

"I hope the exhibition will be of interest to both local residents and visitors to the area," added Andrew Lowden, Managing Director, Glenaden Shirts.

"This is a great example of local business and public sector working together to produce an exhibition of major significance situated in a working environment. The educational element of the exhibition is most exciting, as many will get a glimpse of the last 150 years for the first time. We are proud to be carrying on such an important heritage – we take every opportunity to let our customers know about it."

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