Collage of photos from across derry

Factory Girls

a photo of Factory Girls

The Factory Girls mural painted by UV Arts is a tribute to the women of the shirt industry that worked in the many shirt factories of the city from the early 19th century into the 20th century. The shirt industry was very important to the economy in Derry from the middle of 18th century till the middle of the 19th century and at times dependant. The Factory Girls produced some of the best shirts in the world, they were the principal supplier of shirts across the UK and their shirts were exported around the world.

The mural depicts a scene of shirt factory workers leaving the Tillie & Henderson factory on the Foyle road next to the Craigavon bridge, sharing the bars(gossip) and having a bit craic after a hard day at work. The second part of the mural over the entrance to the Craft Village shows a typical sewing machine used in the factories and a woman’s hands finishing off a shirt.

Shirt Making in Derry

Shirt making in Derry started to take off in the 1830s when William Scott, born at Ballougry became a master weaver by learning the art of weaving at Gilmour’s linen factory in Artillery Street. He set up a weaving shop where he produced linen cloth on a hand loom, which he sold in Glasgow. Scott’s wife and daughters took up making linen shirts and in 1931 Scott took some with him on his regular trip to Glasgow, where they quickly sold and he returned with orders for more.

Williams new business of shirt making expanded very quickly and it couldn’t have come at a better time as the linen business in Derry had started to decline and the skills of the workers were easily transferred to shirt making. By 1840, Scott had shirt making stations across Derry, Donegal and Strabane, these stations were part of an outworker system that supplied ready cut materials to local women who created the shirts in their own homes and then returned them to the station to be paid. The stations then took the shirts by horse and cart to Scott’s factory in Bennet’s Lane. In 1850 the wage bill from Scott’s shirt enterprise was £500 a week which was one of the highest in the city.

The success of William Scott didn’t go unnoticed, Scottish entrepreneurs started to establish their operations in Derry starting with William Tillie and John Henderson. In 1850, Tillie came to the city with the idea to gather everyone in one building to produce shirts rather than having production scattered around. In 1851 the first Tillie & Henderson factory opened in Sackville Street, this was the first factory in the city and he also introduced the first sewing machine to the city in 1856.

Tillie & Henderson opened their famous factory on Foyle Road that had 19,000 square feet of factory space which was the largest factory of its kind in the world and by 1890, 4500 people were employed by Tillie & Henderson with 1500 people working in the Foyle Road factory alone. By the peak of the shirt industry in the 1920s, the city had 44 factories employing almost 20% of the city’s population, 90% were women. The women generally worked 51 hours a week 8am to 8pm and were paid between 5 and 12 shillings a week, it’s not a surprise that the women in Derry are known to be very hard working.

This all happened in a time when much of the world believed that a women’s place was in the home looking after the children and when they did work they weren’t as well paid or respected as their male counterparts. The Factory Girls in Derry were the first female workforce in Ireland to be unionised and for a long time, much more women were employed in the city than men, a lot of men stayed at home to watch the children while their wife was at work. Unfortunately the shirt industry in Derry started to decline in the middle of the 20th century when factory owners realised that they could have shirts made for substantially less in developing economies.

No trip to Derry is complete without learning about the shirt industry, the story of the shirt industry makes for some good positivity in the city’s history which is mostly dominated by conflict. Several of the shirt factories are still standing and have been repurposed for community, business or residential purposes an are certainly worth seeing along with the other landmarks.

Shirt Factories

Star Factory
a small photo ofStar Factory
The star factory was built in 1899 by Watson & Midgley, designed by Daniel Conroy and used by the Bayer Company. Like the rest of the shirt factories it was left disused after the shirt making boom ended and was considered for being demolished in 1996. Fortunately this one was saved and converted into apartments in 2007 by the Department for Social Development.
Tillie & Henderson Factory
a small photo ofTillie & Henderson Factory
Tillie & Henderson’s Shirt Factory was built in December 1856, it was designed by John Guy Ferguson and at 19,000 Square feet it was the biggest shirt factory in the world when it opened. There was plans to convert it into a hotel and museum but at the end of 2002 there was an arson attack and the building was demolished in January 2003.
Robert Sinclair Factory
a small photo ofRobert Sinclair Factory
Robert Sinclair & Co opened this factory in 1863 with a distinctive clock that faces out towards the Craigavon bridge. It is right across the road from where the famous Tillie & Henderson Factory was and was converted into Apartments in 2017.
Rosemount Factory
a small photo ofRosemount Factory
Rosemount Factory is one of the later shirt factories built during the shirt making boom in Derry. It was built by local businessman Mr. Grant in 1904, operated by Kollerton Ltd and designed by architect M A Robinson. It is now used for Community and Commercial purposes.
The City Factory
a small photo ofThe City Factory
The City Factory was opened on Queen Street/Patrick Street in 1863 by McIntyre, Hogg & Co. McIntyre & Hogg both came from Scotland, met in Derry, opened a factory together and expanded to a UK wide business that exported shirts across the world. It has been repurposed into office space by Martin Property Group and is currently being let to multiple clients.
Welch Margetson Factory
a small photo ofWelch Margetson Factory
Welch Margetson was a menswear manufacturers in London that was opened in 1832 by Joseph Welsh and John Margetson, The company first opened a warehouse in the Waterside in 1847, which was used to cut and supply materials for shirts to be made in workers homes using an outworkers system. In 1850 they moved to Foyle street but still relied heavily on outworkers, they then changed to a factory system in the Factory on Carlisle Road.
Hogg & Mitchell
a small photo ofHogg & Mitchell
The Hogg & Mitchell factory was built in 1898 by David Hogg and Charles Mitchell, it was designed by WA Barker and operated till the 1970s. They produced the Old England Brand line of shirts which was renamed to Peter England and are still being sold. The building was converted for commercial and residential use in 2000.
Ebrington Factory
a small photo ofEbrington Factory
The Ebrington Factory was built in 1892 and made shirts for Young & Rochester, it was designed by William Barker and was extended in 1895 and 1900 by Daniel Conroy. The factory closed in the 70s but was recused from demolition by Maydown Ebrington Group in the 90s who opened the Ebrington centre in 2001.
Wilkinson's Factory
a small photo ofWilkinson's Factory
The Wilkinson Shirt Factory was one of the later shirt factories in the city, it was built in 1921, designed by R E Buchanan and made shirts for Neely & Wilkinson Ltd. The ground floor of the factory has been converted into retail units including Long’s supermarket and the upper floors have been converted into apartments.