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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Millies and Doffers

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former linen mill owner`s home
the linen business rewarded the mill owners well

© BBC 2004
Millies and Doffers

In the last decades of the 19th Century, the typical working day began at 6.00 or 6.30am and ended at 6pm. Three quarters of an hour was allowed for breakfast at 8.15am, and the same time allowed for lunch. The weekly wage for spinners, predominantly a female profession, was around 7 / 6. Roughers and Sorters, a mainly male job, received around 17/ 6 and 22/ 6 respectively.

The appalling working conditions and the age of the workforce were not addressed until 1833, when a rather lacklustre law was passed which applied only to children and young persons under 18. The main points of the act legislated that children aged between nine and thirteen should work for no more than nine hours a day and those aged between fourteen and eighteen for no more then twelve hours.

Further legislation whittled way at the working week until, in 1874, the general hours of labour were limited to 56. Ten hours on each of the five weekdays and not more than six hours on a Saturday.

As Ulster’s linen industry expanded and began to embrace mechanisation, linen factories, with their trademark chimneys and large, square, red-bricked buildings with symmetrical rows of windows, began to litter the skyline.

They were especially evident around Belfast. Although large factories did exist in rural areas – like the massive Herdman complex at Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone and the Upplerlands site in Co. Derry of William Clark and Sons – the Belfast mills dominated. This was mainly due to the expansion of the port of Belfast, meaning easy access to export finished cloth, plus the many engineering works nearby facilitated repairs to machinery.

One of the biggest mills in Belfast - The York Street Mill, founded by Alexander Mullholland in 1830, was a huge company. It had both the largest spinning and weaving mill in the world, and by the 1930`s, employed over 4,000 workers.

There are many testimonies regarding the relationship between the workforce and mill management with regard to the linen trade. Though the large urban factories were indicative of a booming Belfast, the more rural mills seemed to play a larger part in the community workforce it employed: planning villages with well-designed houses, and recreational activities were a regular feature, including organised company away days.

However, the fear factor of the gateman and the sheer gulf in class and social standing between the millies and mill managers was evident in both rural and city mills.

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