Last Belfast linen factory shuts

Published Friday, 25 January 2013
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The last working linen factory in Belfast is to close its doors after nearly 60 years in production.

Last Belfast linen factory shuts
The factory is to shut after almost six decades in business. (© UTV)

Copeland Linens, based in the Shankhill area, opened in 1954 and at one stage produced materials for Irish embassies around the world.

The business, which employs ten people, is the latest and last victim of the downturn in demand for the fabric and end of an era for Belfast.

In the 19th century, Belfast was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, with its linen factories playing a major role in its growth.

The industry employed nearly 100,000 people by 1896, making it the largest employer in the city.

The owner of Copeland Linens, Peter Smyth, says they were able to remain in production after the company diversified from the 60s.

"We do something that no-one else has done for the last 15 years," he explained.

A highlight for the business was providing linen for Prince Charles and Diana's royal wedding.

"We were very excited, we thought we were going to get a cheque signed by Elizabeth, and thought it will never make it to the bank - it will be stuck on the wall.

"In the end a rather dull cheque came through from somebody called a comptroller, so we were very disappointed," he laughed.

But Mr Smyth, now 78, said the pressures of keeping the business going in the current climate meant he had decided to retire before his 80th birthday.

He recalls linen factories and mills all over the city when he began his career.

"There were thousands of people in the linen industry," he said.

"There was the shipyard and there was Shorts, there was Gallahers and the Rope Works.

"And literally every family had a relative going back one or two generations who worked in those, because there was nothing else.

"The linen industry took more than anybody."

Mr Smyth said he was overwhelmed by the response from the public and thanked his customers for their support throughout the years.

"I'm just amazed at the number of people who are ringing in, and writing cards and emails," he said.

© UTV News
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