BRITISH TEXTILE INDUSTRY – OLD BLEACH LINEN

I was in Northern Ireland this weekend visiting my beloved cousin and her gorgeous new baby. Not one to miss out on the chance to pick up some vintage fabric, I stumbled upon a little book store with a vintage section and picked up a huge piece of 60’s unused linen by ‘Old Bleach’ a Northern Ireland Textile mill which has long since closed.

 

Old Bleach open in Randalstown in Northern Ireland in 1864. It was originally a cotton mill but turned to linen by Charles James Web who was a Quaker from Dublin.

I ,of course, had never heard of Old Bleach, but apparently it’s really really and I mean REALLY famous and in its time adorned the tables of Royal Palaces. Whilst researching Old Bleach, I found a number of articles referring to the linen as the preferred fabric of French Couturiers “It appears that next Spring will find us wearing Irish Old Bleach Linen for street dresses, evening gowns, morning frocks and cocktail ensembles” (The Border Cities Star, Dec 26 1934).

From my research, I think Old Bleach had a particularly successful stretch from the 30’s to 50’s, as the fabulous designs of these generations are featured in the V&A archive.

By all accounts it was also a great place to work as seen in this lovely poem about the mill.

 

I can’t seem to find any indication as to when the Mill closed, but I did find an article saying the Dorma factory opposite the old Mill ceased trading in 2002. I believe there was a sister company in New York and it looks as if that is still making Linen. I would love to see some old archive images of their textiles. The fabrics from the 30’s-60’s I’ve found have been gorgeous.

Here are some Old Bleach Linen Textiles I have found online:

 

1 Furnishing fabric, Old Bleach Linen 1936 (www.art.co.uk)

2 Paul Nash, Fugue, Old Bleach Linen, 1936 (www.juliaritson.com)

3. Old Bleach Linen 1960’s Teatowel (Found on www.etsy.com £12)

 

Images of Old Bleach Linen & poem courtesy of Down Memory Lane 

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About Vicky Grubb

Once a kitchen table Upholsterer, now a fully fledged tutor, author and hoarder of vintage fabrics. My Upholstery studio is based in Bournemouth, Dorset, where I live with my husband and two tinkers.

27 Responses to “BRITISH TEXTILE INDUSTRY – OLD BLEACH LINEN”

  1. Jill October 13, 2012 11:01 pm #

    Hi, I love your new look blog and I also love the little sewing box you featured on facebook, I know I recognise the fabric (the pinky/red lined squares on a grey background) but I just can’t bring it to mind, Can you put me out of my misery and say what it is?

  2. Vicky October 16, 2012 2:17 pm #

    Hi Jill, Glad you like my blog 🙂
    The fabric is by Villa Nova (http://www.villanova.co.uk/) and it’s called High Society Lyric Cherry. Happy hunting x

  3. Rich December 6, 2012 12:18 pm #

    Hi Vic, I found this link to a book which has an Old bleach pattern in it (fig 3.19) and some info on Old bleach, page 78. One of their prints (Sperrin,1936) was used on the Queen Mary Liner. Hope the link works.

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=c93jEZwcfPoC&pg=PA78&lpg=PA78&dq=northern+ireland+archives+old+bleach&source=bl&ots=24vLH_WG18&sig=xqxVVhkl0R81N_8b_V3T02-l2Lc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BIrAUKCNKI-HhQfl24CwDg&ved=0CGIQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=northern%20ireland%20archives%20old%20bleach&f=false

    • Vicky December 7, 2012 9:24 am #

      Thanks very much, I’ve seen this book before but not noticed the reference. I’ll take a peeky. Vx

  4. Romaine Dawson January 6, 2013 9:20 am #

    We have a poppies and fleur de lys design cloth and 8 napkins 25 years old. Has anyone any information about the design, or an idea what it would have cost originally in the UK?

    • Vicky January 7, 2013 8:08 pm #

      I’m afraid I couldn’t answer that – but hopefully someone will see this and have an idea – perhaps someone who worked in the mill, or a local haberdashery?

  5. shar January 7, 2013 6:35 pm #

    Hi
    I read your article about the Old Bleach company with interest having just found a beautiful piece in a thrift shop…do you know if there is anyway to be able to put an age their fabrics? The fabric is called Rosiland and is a screen print…Kind regards

    • Vicky January 7, 2013 8:11 pm #

      Hi, sometimes a simple measure of the width enables you to make a judgement as to how old it is, for example textiles from the 80’s and later tend to have the standard 140cm width. You’re welcome to send a picture to me and perhaps I might be able to give you some other pointers. Thanks Vicky

  6. Margie January 28, 2013 7:24 pm #

    I have just inherited a collection of Irish Linens. The newest pieces are Old Bleach Table cloth and napkins …… never used ! stick on labels still in place !!
    My daughter , now deceaased was a friend of a daughter of the Web family. I remember birthday parties at their home while they still worked the factory.. Lovely people That would have been after 1978………
    My daughter and the Web girl went to the old Cambridge House Prep School, Ballymena Co. Antrim. together .
    Happy times ..

  7. Margie January 28, 2013 7:31 pm #

    LUCINDA !!!
    I couldnt remeber the girls name !!
    If she ever sees this …. does she remember Carla ?

  8. Joyce June 4, 2013 1:27 am #

    I purchased a linen set in original packaging for $5.00 from a flea market. It is from Old Bleach Linen Co. Can anyone give me any information on it’s value or history? The tablecloth is 54×72 with 6 napkins. The box says anemone with the code PR166 listed.

    • Vicky June 23, 2013 8:25 pm #

      Hi Sorry, the only thing I can advise is checking eBay. I would say from the comments that the tablecloths seem to be more common than the printed fabric, but that’s just an observation. Good Luck! Vicky

  9. pamela evans February 28, 2014 8:53 pm #

    have been a collector and researcher for 55 years.. have a large collection of old bleach beat linen ever made

    • Vicky March 12, 2014 1:09 pm #

      Lovely Pamela, would love to hear more about your research and see some pictures? Vicky

  10. ganching March 1, 2014 1:03 pm #

    My mother worked in the Old Bleach during the war as did most of her sisters. It closed about 15 years ago. I’ve got various bits and pieces from there. This set of tea towels is my favourite which I bought in charity shop not far from Randalstown http://www.flickr.com/photos/7839903@N02/3839340186/in/photolist-6RgC5s-6RgGPN-9JgAgz

    • Vicky March 12, 2014 1:11 pm #

      Ooh, love those tea towels. I bet its not difficult to find bits and bobs in charity shops over there.

    • Michele Rickitt March 24, 2014 12:21 pm #

      Your mother will probably have known my grandmother, Jeannie Johnston.

      • pamela evans ne ewart March 4, 2015 5:00 pm #

        yes my mother was a great friend of your grandmother jeannie johnston from whites sides corner

        • Michele Rickitt April 6, 2016 9:16 am #

          Hello Pamela,
          I’ve only just seen your reply. My parents now live on Whitesides Road, and have done since 1985. Sadly may grandmother died 19 years ago, and had dementia for many years so I wasn’t able to talk to her about her work at the Old Bleach. My father can remember the job that she did, but can’t remember what it was called! I don’t suppose you have any idea, or know how I could find out.
          Kind regards,
          Michele Rickitt ( neé Johnston)

  11. Michele Rickitt March 24, 2014 12:19 pm #

    Hello Vicky,
    My grandmother worked in the Old Bleach, and it is where my parents met as 15 year old apprentices in 1956.

  12. susi bendel April 16, 2014 5:39 am #

    I have a beautiful handpainted 262 c m X 175 cm “Moonglow” tablecloth and 12 serviettes, including the original enclosed leaflet “Old Bleach handpainted Table Damask”.

    An auction house offered me very little money for it. I love it but time the to let go of a few thngs. These days no one wants to iron.

  13. juliet April 26, 2014 5:47 pm #

    Thank you for your potted history of the company. I was showing my daughter my mother’s collection of Old Bleach iron-on embroidery patterns and linen sample booklets which proudly state that the fabric is bleached on grass over months which makes it keep its shade. I also have some beautiful tablecloths that my mother embroidered. They are exquisitely done.

  14. Alan Reynolds June 9, 2014 9:21 am #

    IVOR REYNOLDS who was a wonderful father and devoted husband is pictured in the photograph above with Princess Alexander.at Old Bleach. He, passed away un-expectantly in Antrim Area Hospital on the 16th May 2014. He will be fondly and sadly missed by his wife Denise, brother Alwyn, son Alan and daughter Jacqueline. Magherafelt.

    • Vicky Grubb July 19, 2014 7:41 am #

      How lovely, thank you for sharing. Sorry to hear of your loss.

  15. Brenda November 18, 2014 12:38 am #

    I have an Old Bleach Linen table cloth and napkin set “Swansea” that my dad bought for my grandmother when he was in the Navy between 1960-1964. I haven’t been able to find any information on this specific set and was wondering if anyone could help it would be greatly appreciated.

  16. W Fisher March 13, 2015 7:05 pm #

    I,would just like to mention the passing of Tom Bradley (December 2014). Along with his brother Samuel worked at Old Bleach for many years. I will miss you, Bill

  17. Alwyn McAllen June 12, 2015 12:06 am #

    My grandfather Jim McAllen worked in the Old Bleach, he retired in 1950 when he was 70 years old and died in 1970 aged 90. I remember as a young boy standing at my Aunt Ada O’Neill’s door in Factory Walk watching hundreds of people exiting the factory at closing time when the factory horn blew to signal the end of the day. My Uncle Jack McAllen worked there too and later my mother Gladys. My mother in law Madge Anderson worked in the hand painting dept. Where they hand painted the table cloths etc. Quite a talent. There are still table cloths in the family, indeed I have one myself

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