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28 October 2014
Legacies - Millies and Doffers

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old cobbled streets
an early start for the doffer

© BBC 2004
Millies and Doffers

Linenopolis; a word that sounds like it should grace the pages of a George Orwell novel. However, this grand name describes a grand time in the history of Belfast and the north of Ireland. A combination of a perfect climate, cheap labour and an industrial revolution which was already sweeping Europe in the 19th Century meant that Ulster’s flax crop was harvested and converted into high-grade linen which then found its way to ports all over the world.

As mill owners prospered, the men and mostly women, in their spinning and weaving rooms, toiled long hours, under harsh conditions, for little pay and even less respect. These millies and doffers provided essential linen products used in the American Civil War and World War I and II. The finest linen apparel for fashion houses and damasks were sold to eclectic and cosmopolitan customers; but how much did these grateful owners know of the great human effort required to produce this famous fabric? More...

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