BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 June 2014
Accessibility help
Text only
Legacies - Millies and Doffers

BBC Homepage
 UK Index
 Millies and Doffers
Your stories
 Site Info
 BBC History
 Where I Live

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

spinning lady Clip Title: The linen processes and the doffers rountine
© BBC 2004
Get Real Player
Non-embedded Player
Clips: Previous [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ] Next

Song intro.. “ you’ll easy know a doffer”

It was the Hugenots you know, came here and established themselves in and around the whole Lisburn area and then the spinning and the weaving of course was done mostly in the cottage homes at the turn of the century and then it was taken out of the cottage homes and brought into the city.

In the 1930`s we had about fifty to sixty thousand people employed in the linen industry, directly employed in the linen industry, a very important time.

Most of the spinning mills where in North Belfast and in West Belfast. In North Belfast you had Brookfield mill, you had Lindsey Thompsons, you had Edenderry, you had Ewarts and on the Falls you had Greeves, and you had Ross Brothers and Kennedys. In East Belfast we had the Strand mill.

When the flax was pulled in the fields and it was brought to the mills and it had to go through a process, though roving rooms and then it was turned into sliver, and then it had to go from sliver into yarn. And then when it was turned into yarn the spinners, which is a very highly skilled job, spinning it onto the spindles. Because those children they doffed the frames, that meant that when the spools and the spindles were filled the machine knocked off, this was part of what the doffers had to do.

There was sweepers, doffers, layers and spinners. Was great to be a spinner like, you got good pay, we got seventeen thrupence a week and you worked in your bare feet because the ground was always wet.

Well you were a dogsbody, you know, goffer, as I say, go for this and go for that and do this and do that. And you had to scrub your spinners stand out and it was half the length of this street and usually dried it with bags, you know sacking and it was really a competition as to who had the best doffer.

Every doffer stayed in the stand with a spinner, that spinner would say that’s my doffer and you would have down anything for your spinner. If you had a row and she come and took you away, sometimes you would have a bit of a row like and she’d come and take you away, you were alright with your spinner.

Every Monday when you started in the mill you had to have a clean slip, you called it a slip or overall and then you had your rubber tied round you, kind of a rubbery apron affair and you had your pickers on and what you called a bandcord tied round that again. The pickers was for if any of the ends broke and this flyer was flying round, so fine you couldn’t find it and you had to pick it out with this picker, get the end to tie it up again and let it fly on. So that’s why they say about the doffer and the picker in her hand you see.

Remember we used to come outside and just wish that somebody would come along, no matter who he was or what he was, or what he was like you know, and take us all away from it. We used to often express that, yet you went out that night and had fun and forgot all about it. All you had to do was doff the frame and the doff mistress blew a whistle and you went to another frame. That was your whole worry getting ready for that doffing mistress. When you’re a spinner you’d the two sides to contend to and you had to yell for help many a time.

Always on to you the doffing mistress, always on, always at you, always keep on keep on, on and on and on, pushing, pushing you all the time, you never seemed to do enough.

Print this page
Look back into the past using the Legacies' archives. Find nearly 200 tales from around the country in our collection.

Read more >
Internet Links
Watch a reconstruction of the inside of a spinning mill
A New York linen business with Ulster roots
Find out about the modern linen trade
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Web sites.
Beds, Herts and Bucks
Stewartby, London Brick Company, 1940s
Related Stories
The Scottish Borders Textile Industry
More Factory tales in Victorian Lancashire
The Rowntrees Women of North Yorkshire

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy