University to preserve area’s linen manufacturing heritage

Patricia Belford, lead researcher from Ulster University's Belfast School of Art. Pic by John Murphy, Aurora

Patricia Belford, lead researcher from Ulster University's Belfast School of Art. Pic by John Murphy, Aurora

A collection of historic plates used in the linen manufacturing process is to be preserved by textiles experts from Ulster University.

The William Liddell Damask plate collection, used in the Jacquard damask weaving process, was discovered in the old William Liddell and Company factory in Donacloney, Co Armagh.

The plates, an important part of Northern Ireland’s linen manufacturing heritage, are to be restored and archived thanks to backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project, which has received over £61,000 of funding, will see 1,600 glass plates restored and digitally categorised. The university experts will also conduct further research into the history of Jacquard damask design and run a series of public exhibitions from Spring 2017.

Lead researcher, Patricia Belford from Ulster University’s Belfast School of Art, said: “Most of Northern Ireland’s linen industrial heritage has been sold, lost or destroyed. In 2007 a large collection of the plates used in the printing process were found abandoned in the old County Armagh factory of the William Liddell Company, which in its time was one of the world’s largest privately owned linen manufacturers.

“The plates have been largely inaccessible to the public because of their fragile state. Through this research Ulster University will preserve this rare insight into an integral part of our manufacturing heritage for the local community and for future generations. It will also allow us to celebrate the rich legacy of the textile industry that played such a vital role in the social and economic development of the region.”

Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund NI added: “We were pleased to be able to support this delicate glass plate restoration project. The ability to replicate intricate designs was essential to the success of the Irish Linen industry and the glass plates enabled this to happen much like a photographic plate or negative.

“The collection of plates also represents a collection of the designs used in the industry and the project will also explore that rich heritage. The project was funded through the Our Heritage grant programme, which is an open programme that allows groups to explore a wide range of heritage topics.”