HISTORY OF LINEN
a lecture by W. H. WEBB, F.T.I.
THE Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers for over 100 years (1711 to 1823) fostered and controlled the Irish Linen Industry, and it was due to the marked success of its control that Irish Linens to-day are looked upon as the high mark in quality among the linen manufactures of the world. This Board of Trustees was composed of eighty members, twenty representatives from each of the four provinces, among them the most exalted and distinguished men of the day. They had under them a most efficient organization, which carried out its duties with a skill and energy much to be admired, and which took a firm hold of the whole situation through the medium of seal masters, or inspectors, placed in convenient centers all over Ireland.
The Seal Masters
EVERY activity of the Linen Industry was directly under the control of these seal masters, The flax seed could not be sown until it had been inspected, and the seal of the seal master affixed to the bag.
Spinning and weaving were to a great extent carried out by the peasants in their cottages. ancestors of those weavers now working in our modern factories, and the latter's hereditary aptitude, combined with the experience of generations, is an important factor in maintaining the high standard of to-day. Before the woven linen could be sold to the merchant it had to be submitted to the "Brown Seal Master," who, if it came up to the standard of quality required, affixed his seal, and the merchant was at liberty to purchase and send it on to be bleached; but, again, before he could export, the merchant had to submit the linen to the 'White Seal Master" at the port of shipping, so that it might undergo a final inspection.
Thus Irish Linen was held rigorously to a high standard, and it is not surprising that it established a lasting name for quality and reliability.
By the year 1741, just thirty years after the establishment of the Linen Board, the Irish linen industry had increased almost one hundred times, and it was found that the merchants had become so thoroughly imbued with the ad vantage to them of maintaining quality that, in the case of those who had established a reputation for standard excellence, permission was granted them to affix their own white seal in their own warehouses, this seal being issued by the Board.
In 1823 the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland came to an end, as it was considered that the industry was then sufficiently on its feet to require no further outside assistance.
From the disbandment of the Board of Trustees until the outbreak of the Great 'War in 1914 the Irish Linen trade experienced a steady growth, and ever-increasing exports to all parts of the world shows clearly the domin ance gained by strict adherence to quality rules of production.
THE conclusion of the war marked the completion of the movement to organise the Irish Linen Industry which had been initiated some years earlier.
Each section had its Association, all these individual Associations co-operating on matters of common importance. The underlying idea was an orderly, self-governing industry pro moting fair trading, constructive development and legislating within itself against the abuses which are inevitable under conditions of destructive as opposed to constructive com petition.
This conception was due to the genius and vision of the late Sir Alexander McDowell, K.B.E., a prominent Belfast lawyer. closely connected with the Industry. Chiefly as a result of his untimely death about the end of the war, the effectiveness of the Associations, under the strain of the post-war deflation, un fortunately broke down.
Strange to say, this development while un successful in the Irish Linen Industry, was to some extent the inspiration and the model from which the now famous codes of the N.R.A. in the United States of America were evolved.
This happened in the usual unexpected way. A campaign of publicity in the U.S.A. on Irish linen was planned to start at the conclusion of the war and the carrying out of this campaign was entrusted to the late Mr. A. C. Pearson of the United Publishers Corporation, New York, who was also Chairman of the Association which in 'Washington looked after the interests of the Trade Press of America.
During his visits to Belfast Mr. Pearson became much interested in the Organisation of the Irish Linen Industry and when in 1921 ex-President Hoover became Secretary of Com merce under the Harding administration, he, on the Press side, co-operated with Mr. Hoover in initiating a somewhat similar movement in American Industry generally.
This movement took root and spread, the Industries taking it up becoming known as "Hooverised Industries." As a result, in 1933, when Mr. Roosevelt became President and initiated the "New Deal" he found ready to his hand in the Department of Commerce, the expert staff and the experience which made it possible to codify compulsorily the whole of American Industry.
It is now recognised that the N.R.A. Codes, in spite of all the criticism they evoked and the fact that the Supreme Court has outlawed them, have proved to- be one of the most practical and beneficial parts of the New Deal, for they re-establish wages and the price structure on an economic basis.
Irish Linen Society
TWO Associations of an uplift rather than of an executive nature - The Irish Linen Society and The Linen Industry Research, are worthy of special mention. The Irish Linen Society was formed to carry out publicity on Irish Linen, and the Linen Industry Research Association to promote its scientific develop ment. The Irish Linen Society collapsed in the depression of 1921, but the seed had been sown and later there arose phoenix-like from its ashes, the Irish and Scottish Linen Damask Guild in New York. From that time until 1932 when the recent depression rendered a cur tailing of its activities essential, that organ isation, which also took under its wing linens generally, carried out under Mr. Alfred Brown, its director, highly constructive propaganda and publicity on linen to the benefit not only of the Industry hut also of its customers.
Amongst its activities \vere promotions on table decoration in the larger stores throughout the U.S.A. and Canada. Three hostess lecturers were employed on this work, which had a marked effect on display in linen depart ments generally and was a considerable factor in re-establishing the use of the damask table cloth in that country.
As a result of the success of the Damask Guild in the U.S.A. the Irish Linen Guild was in 1928 organised to operate in the Home Market under the direction of Mr. John Gilli land. This was on a somewhat smaller scale but has carried on successfully up to the present time.
Nearly all the activities of the Guilds both at home and in America have been in co operation with the retail linen departments, and in spite of inevitable criticisms of detail, in cidental to any movement of this description, their assistance has met with general appreciation.
What is to the benefit of the linen department is to the benefit of the linen producer; their interests run broadly in common, and it suggests that the work of the Guilds may be the first step towards closer co-operation between producers and distributors of linen, directed to their mutual benefit.
One can visualise advantages accruing from say an Annual Conference between delegates of the heads of linen departments and of pro ducers, under the auspices of the Retail Distributive Associations and the Irish Linen Merchants Association.
The Linen Industry Research Association will figure in another part but will also be referred to practically all through these lectures.
About Ulster Linen Co., Inc.
The Ulster Linen Co., Inc. of New York is noted for being the most reliable source of Fine European Linens in the US. Our roots go
back to an Irish mill called The Ulster Weaving Co., Ltd. which was started over 150 years ago by John Sloan Larmor from a small
weaving division of the Ulster Spinning Co., Ltd. William Hogg Larmor, youngest son of John Sloan Larmor came to the United States
and started the present New York importing company in 1933, then also called the Ulster Weaving Co., Ltd. Both the Belfast and New
York companies recently changed their names to better reflect their corporate purpose and independence.
Our reputation for quick, courteous service and high quality products is well known. Ulster's longevity (oldest US Linen Company of
its kind, still active) is the result of placing the customer's needs first and carrying ample stock of basic linens for swift
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