By Annette McKee
My father’s name was Wilson, which is a common name in the vicinity of Doagh and the Wilsons owned and ran the Doagh Spinning Company for three generations, but these Wilsons actually came from Portaferry in Co. Down.
The site on Mill Road which was part of the estate of the Earl of Donegall was once leased to Rowan’s Foundry and around the 1860 had become a linen mill run by Messrs Samuel Grame Fenton & Co. which in 1869 was taken over by the Company known as McCleery and Reynolds and in an agreement dated 1877 Margaret McCleery, widow of Hamilton McCleery bought over the premises and in partnership with William Ferguson McIlherron and Archibald Wilson formed the company to be known as the Doagh Spinning Company.1
The McCleery family had come from Portaferry where they were merchants and ship builders and the story that was told in my family was that a son of Hamilton McCleery and Archibald son of Thomas Wilson, a farmer of Ballyquinton near Portaferry, had been boyhood friends and had moved to serve their management apprenticeship together at Whiteabbey where Hamilton McCleery had a spinning business.
In 1873Archibald Wilson had married Margaret Ferguson daughter of John Ferguson and Rose McIlrath of Donegore and was now manager of the Doagh Mill. When Hamilton McCleery died he was in a position to become a partner and later in 1898 he bought out his two partners and added Emerson’s Spinning Mill at Ballysillan in West Belfast to the Company.2
The company continued to expand and Thomas Wilson, who had also married a local girl, Annie Boyd daughter of William Houston Boyd and Mary Jane Ellison of Ballyduff, Carnmoney, in 1902, took over from his father. A large four storey building, which is now all that remains of the original Mill, was built in the 1920s. I have a lovely hand illuminated book with illustrations of the factory that was presented to Thomas and Annie in 1924 to celebrate the opening. This was signed on behalf of the employees by Thos Moore, Andrew Hill, Robert Andrew, John Carroll. Joseph Burns, Thomas Girvan and William McCammond.
During the Second World War the business included spinning yarn for the war effort. When my aunt married the family joked that her wedding dress was a parachute! The company was very busy. By this time my father Howard Wilson and his elder brother Archibald were running the business and were moving into synthetic textiles. Archie was the Manager Director and Howard who was also a Director had spent parts of his earlier years buying flax in Belgium. The Dewitte family of Courtrai have remained family friends through the generations. A new factory was built around 1950 on the Kilbride Road, and as a young girl I remember that my mother was invited to serve the first ball on a tennis court that had been added for the workers to enjoy. To my extreme embarrassment she served into the net!
Further expansions continued as the company decided to become involved in weaving their yarn. Factories in Mayo Street, Belfast and Mallory, Castlereagh were added and in 1956 the Linen Thread Company of Glasgow which had other interests in Northern Ireland bought over a substantial interest in the company3 Soon the markets were beginning to dwindle as more of the textile trade moved to the Far East, the Wilson share of the Company was bought out and the two weaving factories were closed.
The Linen Thread Company (Lindustries) continued to operate as the Doagh Spinning Company, although I understand some local people knew it as Emerson’s after the name of the original mill at Ballysillan, but by then the Wilsons had moved away and the next generation were not employed by the company. (A policy often employed in take-overs)
However, Wilgar Chapman, who had been a director with my father, now lived in the house known as The Villa at 10 Mill Road where both my father and grandfather had spent their childhood. He had a nephew, John Lowry, who was now the mill manager. A new source of business came from supplying the carpet trade. John continued with the new Company until his retirement and his memories are recorded at the Living Linen Project at the Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra.4
In 1990 the Doagh Spinning Company closed down and the property was sold. The central building is now a handsome block of apartments and the surrounding property has been developed into new housing.
1 PRONI, D1769/12/1A
2 PRONI, D1326/13/33
3Northern Whig, 31/1/1956
4 Living Linen Tape R2001-29