Printer Friendly

The Irish cotton industry from the industrial revolution to Partition.

The cotton industry is one of the great 'might-have-beens' of Irish economic history. There were great hopes for its development in the 1780s, and the Irish parliament, the Dublin Society and the Linen Board all rushed in with subsidies. In England the threat of Irish competition stirred English cotton manufacturers to oppose Pitt's Commercial Propositions, with Robert Peel, a leading spinner, even suggesting that, if they passed, English entrepreneurs would start moving to Ireland. (1) Irish hopes faltered as Robert Brooke's scheme at Prosperous collapsed in 1786, with the loss of a fortune in public money. This left Irish politicians very wary of offering further support for the industry. At the Union it was Irish manufacturers who sought, and won, some temporary protection against English competition, though the subsequent decline of the industry would be one of the grievances of the Repeal movement. Belfast's cotton industry survived and seems to have prospered into the 1820s, only to decline thereafter, perhaps because entrepreneurs were induced to shift to the new technology of wet spinning of flax. (2) There were a few Irish cotton enterprises that continued well into the nineteenth century. In the mid-1820s the Malcomsons created an integrated spinning and weaving factory at Portlaw, County Waterford, that resisted Lancashire competition for over half a century. (3) But Malcomson's remained exceptional.

Several scholars have tackled parts of the industry's history. Gill and Dickson have surveyed its development up to the early 1820s. (4) Monaghan, Green, Gribbon, Ollerenshaw and Geary have focused on the industry in and around Belfast. (5) O Grada, Hunt, and Bielenberg and Hearne have tried to make sense of the Malcomson enterprise at Portlaw, Longfield and Kelly have told the story of Brooke's early venture at Prosperous, and Nisbet and Foster, in a forthcoming article, provide a rich study of William and John Orr's weaving and finishing businesses. (6) Some regional studies, such as those by Bielenberg and Dickson on Cork, provide valuable information on local efforts at cotton manufacturing. (7) But the industry's history remains somewhat fragmented, particularly after the early 1820s.

Here we build on the work of these scholars to survey the history of the Irish cotton industry from the industrial revolution to the partition of Ireland in the early 1920s. We are able to put their work in a more finely detailed context, with two new pieces of evidence. First, we have been able to reconstruct Irish imports of cotton wool for the period after 1825, when the customs authorities stopped keeping track of trade between Ireland and Britain. Second, we have access to a new database of information on the spinning mills and power loom factories that operated in Ireland during this long nineteenth century. (8) These sources make it possible to see the rise and decline of the spinning sector in much greater temporal and regional detail. They also help to refine the history of the weaving and finishing sectors.


From the mid-eighteenth century hand spinning was associated with several attempts, mostly in east Leinster or the Cork area, to stimulate cotton manufacturing in Ireland. (9) As a result, Ireland was importing up to half a million pounds of cotton by the mid-1770s, which amounted to 7-8 per cent of all imports into Britain and Ireland. But by the late 1770s Irish cotton imports had fallen to only a few hundred thousand pounds. Once the mechanisation of spinning got under way, hand spinning in Ireland seems to have disappeared rather quickly. Hence the subsequent history of cotton spinning in Ireland is essentially about the mechanical industry.


One way to track the fortunes of the Irish cotton spinning industry is to look at changes in its raw material inputs. Since no cotton was grown in Ireland, all cotton used in spinning had to be imported, either direct from producing countries or indirectly via Britain. The problem with this method is that the customs union with Britain meant that trade between Britain and Ireland was no longer recorded after 1825. The only observation thereafter comes from the Irish Railway Commissioners' report and is clearly erroneous because it includes no imports through Waterford for the large Malcomson mill at Portlaw. (10) The appendix develops new annual estimates of Irish cotton imports from 1825 to 1865, using information on cotton exports from several British ports to Ireland, along with the official figures for imports from foreign countries. Partial evidence on imports of cotton wool at Waterford and Belfast (see Tables 6 and 7) can be used to check these estimates and to consider trends after 1865.

Figure 1 shows Irish cotton imports from 1770 to 1865. Up to 1824 the official customs statistics are shown. From 1825 the figures are the sum of the customs statistics for direct imports from foreign countries and the new estimates based on shipments from Liverpool, London and Glasgow to Ireland. Several words of caution are needed about the new estimates. First, several of the peaks in the series, notably those in 1827, 1831, 1848, 1854, 1857, 1860 and 1865, are largely accounted for by sharp peaks in imports direct from foreign countries. It is quite possible that some of these goods were entered for customs purposes at Irish ports, then carried along with other cargo to British ports. This was sometimes the case before 1825. The very sharp peak in imports around 1810, for example, becomes less pronounced when such re-exports are taken into account. Unfortunately, there is no complete evidence on exports after 1823. Partial evidence on Belfast cotton exports in 1825-27 suggests that the peak in 1827 did reflect demand in the local industry. Whilst direct imports from foreign countries peaked in 1827, re-exports of cotton wool were higher in 1826 than in 1827. (11)

The sustained peak in imports during the mid-1840s is also perplexing. While there are no indications that the figures from Myers's are unreliable in this period, independent evidence on imports of cotton wool at Waterford and Belfast shows no such peak and even suggests a decline in the trade (see Table 1). Precise trends therefore remain uncertain in this period.

Taking into account these words of caution, the figures for cotton wool imports do have a great deal to say about the patterns of development in cotton spinning. First, they suggest that the growth of the industry from the late 1770s to the 1820s took place in three relatively short periods. An initial expansion took place in the 1780s. Then, after a decade of stagnation in the 1790s, a second, pronounced wave of expansion occurred in the 1800s. Finally, after a major downturn starting in 1812 and lasting until 1817, the industry started to recover and there may have even been some further growth in the early 1820s.

The cotton import figures indicate that the Irish industry seems to have reached its peak some time in the late 1820s. Although this was only marginally higher than the peak in net imports around 1810, the industry was operating at a higher plateau during most of the 1820s. While the depression of 1825, often cited as marking the decline of the industry, does show up in imports, it does not seem to have had any sustained effect. (12) The decline in the industry seems to have set in from the early 1830s, but it does not appear to have been continuous. Imports in the 1830s and early 1840s were only about 10-20 per cent lower than those in the late 1820s (depending on the conversions used). At the time of the Famine there was another shift downward, by about 25-30 per cent. Finally, there was a further fall during the early 1860s, since cotton was in notably short supply during the American Civil War.

In the early 1870s, imports at Belfast and Waterford together came to about 1.5 million lb, which would be consistent with the level of imports that prevailed in the mid-1860s. (13) Around 1875 imports at these two ports dropped sharply. After the huge Malcomson enterprise failed in 1876 and was reorganised into a much less ambitious business, imports at Waterford were generally about a quarter of their level in the early 1870s until the Portlaw mill was closed in 1904. Belfast imports also fell markedly in the mid-1870s as the large York Lane and Lodge Road mills finally went out of business. The demise of these firms probably owed something to the intensification of competition from Lancashire, which was also felt in the Scottish industry from the 1870s. (14)

The pattern of development described by the imports of raw cotton corresponds well to that shown by the movements in spinning capacity. Figure 2 shows, superimposed on the import figures, annual estimates for the number of spindles installed in Ireland from 1778 to 1914. These estimates, which are developed and discussed more fully elsewhere, have been built up from information on individual spinning mills, notably the dates at which each mill started and stopped spinning cotton and the number of spindles installed. These estimates should also be interpreted with caution. Whilst it is unlikely that many significant mills have been missed, there remains considerable uncertainty about when many started and stopped. Moreover, for most mills there was only one observation on the number of spindles, and for some mills the number had to be fixed on the basis of other quantitative or qualitative information. With only one observation little account can be taken of the organic growth in capacity that probably characterised many enterprises.


The estimates of spinning capacity, for all their flaws, are remarkably consistent with the figures for cotton imports. They show the importance of the 1780s, the early 1820s and, especially, the 1800s in the growth of the industry. Much more clearly than the import figures, they show the downward movements in the early 1830s and the late 1840s.

Behind these broad national developments are two very different regional stories. Both the trade figures and the estimates for spinning capacity show that the initial development of cotton spinning in the 1780s took place largely outside east Ulster (Counties Antrim, Armagh and Down), but that thereafter, as Dickson has observed, there was little sustained growth in the south. (15) Although the first experiments with cotton spinning in Ireland may have taken place in Belfast, it was in the south of Ireland where most of the early initiatives were launched. Large mills were built in the 1780s by Brooke at Prosperous, Sadler at Cork and Deaves at Blarney. There were also many smaller mills, mainly in east Leinster and in the Cork region, though there were attempts at cotton spinning in places such as Newmarket in County Clare, Moate in County Westmeath, Nenagh in County Tipperary and Kilmacthomas in County Waterford. (16) Many of these initiatives depended on support from local landowners. The southern focus in this phase of expansion appears to have been in the coarser ranges of cloth which were more effectively protected from British competition by transport costs and duties; British cotton imports into Ireland, in contrast, were in the finer, more expensive and most fashionable cloth types. This may partially explain the higher consumption of cotton wool in the south relative to the north. (17) By the late 1780s imports of cotton wool at Cork and Dublin had reached 1 million lb, while those at Belfast came to only 250,000 lb. (18) In the early 1820s, when Belfast imports were 2.2 million lb, Cork and Dublin were importing only about 1.5 million lb. The number of spindles outside east Ulster had hardly grown during the same period. Setting aside the large Malcomson mill at Portlaw, spindlage in the rest of Ireland declined steadily from the early 1830s. By around 1880 only the Portlaw mill remained.

The boom of the 1800s was essentially an east Ulster boom. After fairly steady but unspectacular growth during the 1780s and 1790s, cotton imports at Belfast increased from a few hundred thousand pounds in the late 1790s to over 2 million lb around 1810. The number of spindles in east Ulster more than tripled over the same period. At Belfast ten or more mills were built during the first decade of the century, including the large mills in York Lane (M'Cracken), Margaret Street (John Bell & Co.), Winetavern Street (John Milford & Co.) and Lodge Road (Lepper's). John Bell & Co. also set up substantial mills at Millbrook, near Larne. Two large mills were established at Bangor, and a number of smaller mills were started at Carrickfergus.

Between 1810 and the mid-1820s the growth of the east Ulster industry was relatively modest. (19) The number of spindles increased by only 10-15 per cent and imports may have increased by about 20 per cent. The only new mills were built by Cowan at Carrickfergus and the Mulhollands at York Street in Belfast. Capital investment in the Belfast cotton industry was heavily concentrated in the spinning sector. Around 1820 Stevenson, Bell, Lepper and Boomer were the largest operations in that order, each having invested between 35,000 [pounds sterling] and 80,000 [pounds sterling] by 1819-20. There were also a number of smaller spinners. Investment in other aspects of the trade (printing/weaving) was generally on a much smaller scale. Only Batt & Co. (calico printers) was in the same league as the larger spinners. Mulholland's (who were famously the first in Belfast to convert to mechanised wet spinning) appear to have been among the smaller spinners at this point. (20) The east Ulster cotton industry may have been profitable in the early 1820s, as Geary has argued, but its period of dynamic growth was over. (21) Its share in UK cotton consumption was probably falling.

The peculiar step-like decline of the industry after the mid-1820s was also largely an east Ulster phenomenon (Table 2). It is worth emphasising that the disappearance of the cotton industry in and around Belfast was not rapid. It took almost fifty years and occurred in three fairly concentrated periods: the late 1820s and early 1830s, the late 1840s and the late 1860s. In the first phase of decline, in the early 1830s, four or five large Belfast mills converted to flax spinning, though the largest mill, in Margaret Street, seems to have simply been abandoned, as its owners, John Bell & Co., shifted to flax spinning by buying Grimshaws' mill at Whitehouse. In the second phase, during the late 1840s, mills in Carrickfergus and Larne closed down. Other mills, notably Stevenson's and Lepper's in Belfast, as well as the two Bangor mills, stopped working for several years. At present it is not clear whether this crisis in the east Ulster cotton industry was related to the Famine or to the commercial crisis in the British cotton industry, or to a combination of the two. The closure of Lepper's mill at Lodge Road marked the last phase of decline, in the late 1860s. The few remaining mills survived through specialisation. Springfield (owned by Coates & Weir and later the Weir family alone) produced fine yarn through to its closure in the early 1920s. (22) By the end of the nineteenth century Hicks Steen & Co. (who initially operated in the Wilson Street mill) produced cotton thread, supplying the specialist needs of those engaged in embroidery, crochet and lace. (23)

The cotton spinning industry in east Ulster was different to the rest of Ireland not only in its pattern of development but also in its product mix. This stands out when one compares the imports of cotton with the number of spindles. Around 1820 there were about 200,000 spindles in east Ulster, and Belfast cotton imports were about 2.4 million lb, which is roughly 12 lb per spindle per year. Imports at other Irish ports amounted to about 1.6 million lb, but the number of spindles outside east Ulster was only 40,000. Each of these was thus consuming about 40 lb of cotton per year. Cotton consumption per spindle in these two broad regions was so different that it cannot be accounted for by the lack of precise correspondence between region and port or by differences in the other uses of cotton wool. Nor, since the difference in cotton consumption per spindle was persistent over a long period, could it be explained by lower efficiency in the east Ulster industry. The only reasonable explanation is that in east Ulster spinners were producing much finer counts of yarn than were spinners in the rest of Ireland. This difference in product mix can be seen even more starkly in the early 1840s. As shown in Table 1, both Belfast and Waterford were importing about 4,000 bales of cotton per year, yet there were about 140,000 spindles operating in east Ulster and only 26,500 at the Malcomson mill at Portlaw. The heavy cloths produced by Malcomsons required far more cotton wool per yard than the finer cottons produced in Ulster.

The differences in product mix may help explain differences in the survival of firms during the industry's decline. In the Belfast area the survivors were generally specialist spinning firms, probably making yarn for local hand loom weavers of finer cotton fabrics. Mokyr's charge that the Belfast industry failed to invest in power looms in the 1820s and 1830s is thus misplaced, since this technology was adapted to finer cottons only from the 1850s. (24) The Springfield mill, which closed only in the early 1920s, survived by producing the 'finest thread that could be procured from any place'. (25) In the rest of Ireland the survivors were mills that integrated spinning with power loom weaving and were producing coarser cloths.


Cotton hand loom weaving became significant in Ireland during the last decades of the eighteenth century. One estimate suggests there were about 10,000 cotton looms in Ulster, 7,000 in Leinster and 3,000 in Munster at the beginning of the nineteenth century, (26) reflecting the far greater significance of the trade in the north and east of Ireland relative to the south and west. The Act of Union made special allowance for duties on imported cotton cloth, and this protection was retained until 1824. Irish manufacturers were therefore in a good position to meet the expansion of native demand for cotton goods during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Cottons were a fashionable alternative to other textiles and were becoming more and more affordable. It was noted in 1834 that 'cottons, calicoes and checks, those kind of fabrics which the poorer class of females wear, are now to be had for one-fourth [of the price in 1800]'. (27) Even in the poorer parts of the west, cottons were being purchased. Women commonly wore cotton on Sundays, gala days, weddings and other special occasions, while younger men and women were also attracted by its more fashionable appearance. (28) Effectively this brought about a dramatic increase in the consumption of cheaper, more functional cotton clothing that increasingly displaced more traditional attire.

Some of this increase in demand was met from British imports; cotton cloth imports from Britain increased from 44,314 yards in 1801 to just under a million yards in the early 1820s. However, this latter figure probably understates the scale of imports: in 1820-22 only 40 per cent of the value of imports of cotton manufactures (excluding yarn) was entered by the yard, suggesting that total imports may have been closer to 2 million yards. Nonetheless, at this time Irish manufacturers were probably supplying the bulk of the cotton cloth consumed in Ireland. Some idea of the size of the Irish weaving industry can be obtained in two ways. Consumption of cotton cloth in Great Britain may have approached ten yards per person at this time. (29) In Europe and the Americas it was much less, perhaps only two yards. (30) If Irish per capita consumption matched that in Europe and the Americas (and note that this includes the poorer and more distant markets of eastern and southern Europe), then total consumption would have been about 13.6 million yards and total production about 11.6 million yards. Alternatively, production can be estimated direct from imports of raw cotton and cotton yarn. In 1820-22 net imports of raw cotton were about 3.7 million lb and net imports of yarn about 1.8 million lb, equivalent to 1.9 million lb of raw cotton. (31) At three to four yards of cloth per pound of cotton, Irish cloth production would thus be 16.8 million to 22.4 million yards. These calculations, admittedly very rough, suggest that imports of British cloth could have amounted to no more than 10-15 per cent of Irish consumption in the early 1820s.

Irish manufacturers were also exporting modest amounts of cotton cloth. In the early 1820s exports averaged about one million yards. Roughly two-thirds were shipped from Dublin, with most of the remainder from Belfast. By this time trade from Cork had disappeared. Most of the Dublin exports went to Britain, though there were also shipments to southern Europe and the Americas. Belfast's cotton exports were predominantly to southern Europe, the Caribbean and the United States.

From the mid-18 20s imports from Britain would make larger and larger inroads on the Irish market. Two developments were primarily responsible. One was the end of the protection provided to Irish weavers by the Union duties. The other was the more widespread use of power looms, which were being introduced rapidly in the 1820s. Initially power looms could produce only coarser cloths, but steady improvement made it possible for them to be used to weave finer and finer fabrics. In order to understand the impact that free trade and power looms had on the Irish industry it is necessary to see how it had become regionally specialised during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Cotton manufacturers in the south of Ireland produced mainly coarser fabrics and were thus more vulnerable to competition from power loom weavers. By the early 1820s the industry in Munster was only a shadow of what it had been at the end of the eighteenth century. Cotton manufacturing in Cork city and Blarney had already largely died out in the first years of the nineteenth century, which Dickson attributes partly to inability to keep up with changing technology and partly from failure to specialise. (32) What had survived and prospered was the more specialised manufacture of corduroys, and to a lesser extent calicoes, at Bandon. But in the late 1820s this trade was swept away by Manchester cloth woven on power looms, and within a few years it was estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 cotton hand loom weavers were put out of work. By 1840s, there were only 150 cotton weavers left in the town. (33)

In east Leinster manufacturers also specialised in relatively coarse fabrics, especially calicoes. Calico weaving by hand was still being carried out in the 1830s in the midlands at Mountrath, Maryborough and Mountmellick. Lewis noted that around Mountmellick there were about 2,000 calico weavers employed in 1837, but even there weaving had much declined by 18 4 6. (34) Dublin also appears to have been affected badly by the great downturn in 1825-26, and many Dublin manufacturers engaged in hand loom weaving had fallen on hard times by 1834. Those who produced coarser cottons were more vulnerable to Manchester competition. In Louth, likewise, many cotton hand loom weavers emigrated to Rouen, Manchester and America after the 1825-26 downturn. (35)

A few firms tried to beat Lancashire at its own game by introducing power looms. Pim's were setting up power looms in 1834, alongside their extensive spinning operations at Greenmount in Harold's Cross, Dublin, (36) and would continue producing calico for many decades to come. (37) In south Kildare cotton power loom weaving was carried out by Leonard Greenham at Inchiquin mills for a number of years, and power looms were also operated in the north of the county at Celbridge between the 1830s and the mid-nineteenth century. (38) Also well away from the traditional centres of Irish cotton manufacture, a small integrated mill was set up around 1830 by William Lewis at Clohamon in County Wexford. (39)

Calico weaving was carried out on a larger and more successful basis in County Waterford, where Malcomson's employed 360 power looms at Portlaw, in addition to 176 hand looms in a weaving factory in Clonmel, County Tipperary, weaving for both home and export markets. (40) The type of calico woven at Portlaw was termed 'domestics' in 1835, and it was noted in 1861 that the fabrics woven at the factory were 'of the coarser class'.41 Malcomson's initially sold their cloth in the towns of the south of Ireland, though from the 1830s they developed a strong export trade, with customers in the West Indies, North America and Latin America. Malcomson's had identified a potential niche for cheap coarse cloths which could be sold in the relatively poorer Irish market (while competing successfully with British manufacturers, owing to the scale of production and lower labour costs). Simultaneously this product was very suitable for the many poorer markets which the British cotton trade increasingly colonised in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Malcomson's were therefore in a position to exploit all the external economies of Lancashire in terms of purchasing cotton wool and marketing cloth globally. Their scale and capital (initially made in flour milling, which already linked them with Lancashire), combined with their capacity to identify a suitable product, set them apart from other Irish manufacturers, whose numbers dwindled considerably in this period. But their dramatic growth from the mid-1820s and equally dramatic decline in the 1870s was an exceptional element in the Irish story, which provides few clues to the rest of the Irish industry. (42)

Some hand loom weaving survived for a bit longer at a few places in the south. At Balbriggan, north of Dublin, a small niche in the production of checks, calico, drills and fancy goods had been built up by the late 1830s, with 942 hand looms and 39 stocking frames working in the neighbourhood of the town. At Limerick many cotton weavers had emigrated in large numbers in the early 1830s owing to a decline in trade. A Scotsman, Buchanan, established a modest operation in the city in the late 1830s for the manufacture of embroidered cotton shawls (using Manchester yarn), bringing in Glasgow and Paisley shawl weavers and mechanics to teach his apprentices and make up the looms. The shawls were sold in the adjoining counties. (43) However, with the exception of a few specialist factories such as these, cotton weaving in Leinster and Munster was largely concentrated in the hands of a few big integrated manufacturers making calicoes and plain cottons.

In east Ulster the picture was more mixed. Calicoes were woven in some districts, but existing skills in linen weaving had been more readily adapted to the finer branches of the cotton trade. Muslin weaving featured strongly, distinguishing the trade there from that in other parts of Ireland. After the repeal of all duties on cloth in 1824 Glasgow manufacturers began to establish agents in Ulster to get muslin woven there, owing to lower labour costs. (44) The sharp increase in Irish cotton cloth exports, from under a million yards in 1822 to over 10 million yards in 1825, probably owed much to this new trade. There is evidence of some further growth in Irish exports of cotton cloth down to 1830. (45) The Hand Loom Weavers Commission in 1840 noted that in Antrim cotton weaving had expanded, notably in the vicinity of Belfast, Randalstown and Coleraine, and also in parts of County Down close to Belfast, notably at Bangor, Grey Abbey and Newtownards. In the last town the principal cloth woven was jaconets. McCall noted that from the mid1820s 'Ireland's cotton manufacture burst into more active life, and a demand, previously unknown, arose in the west of Scotland for Ulster-made muslin'. The number of cotton weavers in Antrim and Down increased to higher levels than ever before, and many weavers returned from Britain. He also observed that business was reasonably favourable between 1827 and 18 3 7. (46) The continued growth of muslin weaving and embroidery between the 1820s and 1850s was a result of lower Irish labour costs. Irish weavers in 1821 had worked for about a third of the wages of their English counterparts. (47)

By 1835 there were almost 11,000 cotton weavers working in the greater Belfast region, according to a district-by-district tabulation by one weaver, who held the view that the quantity of cloth produced had increased. He estimated that about 2,500 worked for Scottish agents and 'employment has been plentiful though the wages have been bad'. He noted that the trade depended more on the home market than on exports, and many different cotton fabrics were made. A muslin manufacturer estimated in 1835 that the number of cotton weavers in the greater Belfast region, and in Counties Antrim, Armagh and Derry, stood at about 15,000, along with 584 power looms operated by manufacturers in Belfast. Since 1826, when most weavers had been idle, Scottish and English manufacturers had given weavers more work, while strong home and foreign demand had made the year and a half to April 1835 a brisk time: 'the manufacturers generally have made money the last six or seven years'. (48) It was noted that the Belfast muslin manufacturers sold an extensive part of their output to the shopkeepers of Belfast, Dublin and the south and west of Ireland. (49)

The premier importance of the Antrim/Down/Armagh/Belfast zone for cotton weaving in Ireland is confirmed by the 1841 census (which understates the number of cotton weavers, as many were registered as unspecified). Outside Ulster, Queen's County, Dublin (including the city), Waterford and, to a lesser extent, Cork (including the city) were the only counties that recorded some degree of cotton weaving. Cotton weaving at this stage accounted for around 16 per cent of all specified weavers in Ireland, with only 10 per cent in woollens, and most of the balance in linen. This implies that cotton was still the second most important textile woven in Ireland, and its position in this respect would have been further strengthened by power loom weaving, which at this point was of greater significance in terms of application than in other Irish textiles. (50) A Belfast banker, reflecting in 1848 on the local cotton industry, noted that 'we have a good deal of weaving and bleaching and things of that sort connected with the cotton manufacture but yarn for that purpose is all imported and a good deal is done on Scotch account'. (51)

By the 1850s the growing significance of muslin hand loom weaving in east Ulster is clear from cotton yarn imports into Belfast alone, which more than doubled during the 1850s to reach a peak in 1859 of 3.3 million lb. (52) British firms exploited the cheaper wages of northern Irish weavers to expand their weaving capacity. For example, the muslin weaving firm John Lean & Sons of Glasgow got their mulls and jaconets made up in Lisburn. But in 1857 Lean's commenced power loom weaving, marking the beginning of the end for hand loom weaving of fine cottons in east Ulster. (53) By 1870 Belfast imports of cotton yarn were only half those of the late 1850s.

Power loom weaving had been pioneered in east Ulster in the mid-1820s by James Boomer & Co., who also put out yarn to local hand weavers to produce calicoes and muslins. The finished cloth was sold mainly in Manchester and Glasgow, though the firm made some direct shipments to the United States, the West Indies and Latin America. (54) Power looms were also taken up by John & William Martin & Co. of Killyleagh. They had 200 power looms, but also employed 1,500 calico hand loom weavers scattered through Counties Derry, Armagh and Antrim. William Atkinson, at Glenanne in County Armagh, had another 170 power looms. (55) The north-east accounted for two-thirds of the 1,516 power looms in Ireland in 1835. (56) All these firms combined weaving with spinning and either closed down or shifted to linen production as spinning declined in Ireland. The Glenanne firm was the last to close, in the early 1850s.

By the 1850s only the finer branches of hand loom weaving survived in east Ulster, but even these contracted during the first half of the 1860s, largely as a consequence of the cotton shortage caused by the American Civil War. Vast numbers of cotton hand loom weavers emigrated in 1862 and 1863, so that by 1864 there were only about 6,000 looms left in operation. Despite sporadic revivals after the American Civil War, hand loom weaving of muslin never recovered to the levels achieved in the late 1850s. (57)

Power loom weaving of cotton had a brief resurgence in east Ulster in the 1860s as a few specialised weaving firms were set up. These had disappeared by the mid-1870s, though a number of primarily linen-weaving firms also produced some pure cotton or mixed cotton and linen goods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although the factory inspectors recorded no cotton weavers in east Ulster, trade directories consistently listed a handful of firms as cotton and muslin manufacturers. Some were subsidiaries of British firms; some were Irish-owned. The most prominent of these were Robert McBride & Co. and Tootal Broadhurst Lee & Co. of Belfast and Stevenson & Clark (later Clark Ledlie & Sons) of Dungannon. Their activity shows up in imports of cotton yarn at Belfast, which started to rise from the late 1870s and reached a pre-war peak of 16 million lb in 1908 (see Table 6). In addition to the extensive demand by the Belfast weavers, Londonderry was the principal UK centre for the production of white shirts, and a number of weaving firms were making 'shirtings' there to supply the trade.

In the south of Ireland the integrated mills survived somewhat longer than did those in Ulster. The Lewis mill in County Wexford produced into the 1860s, while Pim's mill at Harold's Cross lasted longer still. Malcomson's of Portlaw dominated factory weaving of cotton in Ireland in mid-century, accounting for over half of all the power looms in operation during the 1850s and early 1860s. Output at Portlaw by the early 1850s had reached 6 million yards of calico and rose to about 10.5 million yards by the beginning of the 1860s, with exports in the 1850s going to India, China, the United States, the West Indies and Latin America. (58) Malcolmson's effectively participated in the dramatic expansion of UK exports of cotton piece goods to destinations outside Europe. (59) By producing calico they could easily recruit a largely local and cheap labour force with no tradition of cotton production, and by vertically integrating the plant they could reduce the disadvantages of producing in an isolated location. To overcome supply problems during the cotton famine, tow yarn was introduced to make cheap linen cloth. (60) But, like producers in Scotland and elsewhere, the firm found it increasingly difficult to cope with Lancashire competition in the 1870s. (61) William Malcolmson, in his explanation of the causes of his bankruptcy in 1876, attributed his problems first to 'the great losses caused to the factory of Portlaw by the low prices obtained for exported goods'.62

The low cost of Lancashire yarn, however, opened opportunities for some power weavers. Two very large specialist weaving factories opened at Drogheda. In the mid-1860s Whitworth Brothers (later the Boyne Weaving Co.) established a factory with 750 power looms and two steam engines of 40 h.p. each. (63) In 1876 the Drogheda Spinning & Manufacturing Co. was set up as a joint stock company with a capital of 20,000.64 [pounds sterling] The firm (which seems never to have done any spinning) took over Westgate Mill, a disused flax spinning mill, and converted it to cotton weaving. (65) In the mid-1890s the Boyne Weaving Co. (Whitworth's) had 1,000 looms making unions and checks and the Drogheda Spinning & Manufacturing Co. had 700 looms, some working on cotton twills. (66) Both firms seem to have got into trouble in the late 1890s and early 1900s. (67)

As noted above, cheap cotton yarn was increasingly being used in the linen industry to produce 'unions'. Although this trade expanded in the late nineteenth century, it boomed during and after the First World War, when cotton could be substituted for flax made scarce by disruption to supplies from Russia. (68) In the south there were no firms engaged exclusively in cotton production by the 1920s, but most of the six firms engaged in linen production also produced cotton goods, and 'unions' had long been an important part of the output of southern factories. In 1919, for example, the range of goods woven at the Cork Spinning & Weaving Co. included fancy ticks, flannelettes, shirtings, sheetings, zephyrs, apron checks, sun blinds, towellings, Bengal stripes, galateas, dungarees, regattas, bleached calico and grey calico. Gallen & Co. in Balbriggan in County Dublin wove, among others, linen and union sheetings, dowlas, towellings, drills, canvas, shirtings, frontings, linen and union ticks. (69)


The critical mass built up in the Irish linen industry during the eighteenth century also had a major influence on the bleaching, finishing and printing of cotton. In the mid-eighteenth century Dublin had played an important role in the development of European calico printing techniques using copper plates. (70) In and around the city, which marketed much of the linen made in Ireland, there were some eleven houses printing calico and linen at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Works were concentrated on the banks of the Liffey and its tributaries, wherever water power was available. Sites for printing yards have been identified in this period at Leixlip, Lucan, Palmerstown, Chapelizod, Islandbridge, Rathfarnham, Milltown, Templeogue, Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and Drumcondra. (71)

Dickson has pointed out that the commanding heights of the cotton industry around Dublin (in terms of capital investment) were to be found in the printing and finishing sector, and some of the larger firms were able to make the transition to free trade by building up exports to Manchester. (72) Duffy at Ballsbridge was one of the largest in Ireland, employing about 470 persons by the 1840s, while Henry at Islandbridge at this stage employed 363 printing for the London market and Waldron Dodd Carton & Co. at Rathgar employed another 180. (73) Although these firms printed cottons from all over Ireland, the declining significance of the Dublin spinning and weaving sector would not have helped their cause. In 1809-10 perhaps a dozen calico printers failed, including a number from Dublin, and the last of the Dublin printers (probably Duffy's works) closed down in 1850. (74)

In 1821 one printer (Orr) estimated that there were thirteen establishments in all Ireland printing cottons. (75) In Cork and east Ulster (notably in Antrim) finishing and printing were also closely connected with linen production, which made survival in Cork more tenuous as the linen industry declined from the mid-1820s. In the north Nicholas Grimshaw brought hands from Lancashire in the 1770s and established printing works using metal plates and wooden blocks at Greencastle, Carnmoney in County Antrim. When he died in 1805 his three sons continued the business, expanding into weaving and spinning, and established a print works at Whitehouse, County Antrim, printing cloth exclusively for the Manchester market into the 1830s. (76) There were others: the Monkstown Calico Printing Works was still working for home and foreign markets in 1839, while at this point Hunter & Algee printed cottons in a small works in the parish of Killead, chiefly for the Manchester market. But free trade proved to be a double-edged sword; at Monkstown it was noted that the cotton consumed mostly came from Manchester, and it was suggested that steam navigation provided the first check to the trade; at Killead it was noted in 1838 that the trade had been in decline for the last eighteen months. (77)

If calico printers in the north were struggling by the end of the 1830s, muslin cloth production was expanding in east Ulster between the mid-1840s and the late 1860s. Muslins could be bleached and finished more rapidly and cheaply than other cottons in works concerned with bleaching and finishing of linen, and it was noted in the 1850s that several of the bleachworks processed both cottons and linens. For example, the large linen manufacturers Ewart's also finished cotton goods at their bleach green and dye works at Glenbank, Ballysillan. A great deal of the cotton woven in Ireland by specialist weaving firms was finished by a host of specialist bleachers and dyers, based largely in Antrim and to a lesser extent in Down, and by the mid-nineteenth century many Manchester firms sent cotton piece goods to be finished in east Ulster bleach greens on account of the high-class finish achieved. (78) However, by 1870 there were only three works left in east Ulster printing cottons: Old Park, Clady and the Clonard (all in and around Belfast). (79)

The southern industry lacked the finishing facilities of the north. Malcomson's handled much of their own finishing in Portlaw, but also had work done by bleachers and finishers such as Thorley in Glanmire, County Cork. (80) Later, in the early twentieth century, flannelette was produced in great quantities at the Cork Spinning & Weaving Co., but it was all sent to Lancashire to be finished. (81) The pervasive influence of Lancashire was evident throughout the industry at this point.

By the end of the nineteenth century many of the linen bleaching and finishing works in east Ulster, notably in County Antrim, handled growing amounts of cotton and linen unions, in addition to muslins, cotton yarn and piece goods, drills, towels and black cotton, and there were still a few firms finishing cottons in County Down, (82) while the shirt trade in Derry and Belfast (using cotton cloth and unions) also required a significant degree of finishing capacity in Ulster. This trade probably accounted for much of the growth in cotton goods exported out of Belfast. (83) The trade in cotton goods of these northern firms probably increased further in the first decades of the twentieth century, with the growth of linen and clothing output, in addition to the greater dependence on cotton yarn and cloth in the years of the First World War. Moreover, the very high quality of fine finishing, printing and dyeing in east Ulster that had developed in connection with the production of both linens and fine cottons had long attracted a large amount of trade from English and Scottish merchants, who sent their piece goods to be finished in the Belfast area between the mid-nineteenth century and the 1920s. Owen pointed out in 1921 that 'the work of cotton printing and finishing has naturally developed important subsidiary industries, such as the manufacture of blouses, pinafores, coloured shirts, and other cotton articles of apparel'. (84) This illustrates both some important forward linkages within the Irish cotton trade and the critical mass in the Belfast textile and clothing industry, which was able to benefit from a high degree of interdependence with English and Scottish textile centres.


By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Irish cotton industry had become one of the early technical beneficiaries of the industrial revolution in Great Britain. According to a contemporary estimate, the Irish industry at this point employed 30,000 people. (85) Imports of cotton wool and yarn suggest that both spinning and weaving continued to expand rapidly until around 1810, after which the rate of growth slowed considerably. (86) Despite this slowdown, there is little support for Mokyr's contention that 'in 1816 the cotton industry in Belfast started a decline from which it never recovered'. (87) The decline came later, much later in the weaving sector, and its timing and pace, a point of contention in the historiography of Irish industry, are now much clearer thanks to the new estimates for cotton wool imports after 1825.

Geary had already questioned the traditional interpretation that Belfast spinners had become uncompetitive and succumbed to English competition during the trade depression of 1825-26. (88) Our evidence, both for cotton imports and for spinning capacity, shows that absolute decline in the spinning sector did not set in until the early 1830s. But our evidence, while downplaying the importance of the mid-1820s depression, does not lend itself entirely to Geary's rather optimistic view of the industry. Growth in cotton imports and spinning capacity was, at best, modest during the 1810s and 1820s. Moreover, although some firms shifted over to flax spinning, not all did, and the decline of the cotton spinning sector was drawn out over almost half a century. Even in Belfast, three large mills (Springfield, Lodge Road and York Lane) were working into the 1860s.

What is notable about the 1820s is the way in which cotton weaving was increasingly decoupled from spinning in east Ulster. Low-cost British yarn opened up opportunities first for hand loom weavers of fine cotton fabrics, notably muslins. In Ulster hand loom weaving of cottons probably expanded into the late 1850s. Later, some large power loom weavers in the south drew on yarn supplies from Lancashire, as did the Ulster linen industry in making more and more mixed fabrics.

Ultimately, the slow decline of the Irish cotton industry was of far less significance than the positive influence its growth had had on the Irish linen industry. Cotton was the first textile in Ireland to become industrialised and centralised in spinning factories utilising British technologies. Belfast and other Ulster cotton spinning centres thus developed an early relationship with British industrial regions in technical, organisational and marketing terms. The knowhow and infrastructure generated in cotton were useful bequests to the first generation of linen spinners. Moreover the slow, drawn-out contraction of cotton spinning identified in this article was congenial to the smooth transfer of fixed assets and human capital to mechanised linen spinning in east Ulster. It is worth noting that as late as 1835 there were more workers in cotton mills than in the new flax spinning mills. Ulster's early linen spinners could enjoy much of the local services in Belfast (including a work force) which the cotton spinners had utilised. Although Ireland failed to hold on to its cotton industry (in contrast to other European countries like Belgium, France and Spain, which could use tariffs to protect their cotton manufacturers), in linen it developed an industry which could compete globally. From this perspective the formative phase in the history of the Irish cotton industry (and its slow demise) can be seen as one of the vital links in Ireland's textile history. Ireland's early start in cotton provided much of the dynamic momentum behind the first phase of industrialisation in east Ulster. For the south, however, which initially figured large in the Irish cotton story, the decline of the industry left very few of the benefits which the north was able to reap.


Statistics of the Irish cotton trade

This appendix collects together the available statistics on the Irish trade in raw cotton (Table 4) and makes new estimates of Irish imports of cotton for the period from 1825 to 1865 (Table 5). The appendix also includes the statistics for Belfast imports and exports of cotton yarn and cotton cloth from 1851 to 1914 (Table 6) and of Waterford cotton imports from 1870 to 1900 (Table 7).

The new estimates of Irish cotton imports from Britain

Liverpool quickly became the centre of the world cotton trade, and in each weekly issue the Liverpool commercial newspaper Myers's Mercantile Advertiser (from 1839 the Liverpool Mercantile Gazette) published several tables of statistics relating to movements of cotton. One table showed exports of cotton from Liverpool, London and Glasgow to several destinations, including Ireland. Shipments to Ireland from London and Glasgow were recorded only very intermittently, probably because by the 1820s neither of these ports was particularly important in reshipping cotton. In 1823-25, for example, London and Glasgow accounted for less than 10 per cent of the exports to Ireland from the three ports. By the early 1840s the sources show hardly any trade from these ports. The figures used here include London and Glasgow exports but are, of course, dominated by the trade from Liverpool. Liverpool exports were quite regularly recorded from at least 1823 (earlier issues of the newspaper do not seem to have survived) until the mid-1860s. There was rarely a week in which shipments of cotton to Ireland were not recorded. After the mid-1860s, however, the figures seem to be underreported. Shipments become less regular and total exports from the British ports become less than Belfast imports alone.

Myers's recorded exports to Ireland in 'bags', so some conversion was needed to make the figures comparable with the customs statistics, which were given either in pounds or in hundredweight (112 lb). In the 1820s and early 1830s the tables in Myers's indicated that the figures were for 'bags of 300 lb', so the estimates are based, in the first instance, on the application of this conversion to the entire period from 1823 to 1865. But it is well known both that bags or bales of cotton varied in weight depending on their origin and that there were changes over time in the weight of a bale. Ellison, in his history of the industry, gives a series for the average weight of bales imported into the United Kingdom from 1811 to 18 8 4.89 In the late 1820s the weight of a bale seems to have indeed been about 300 lb. But by the 1850s the average bale weighed closer to 400 lb. As an alternative to constant conversion at 300 lb the exports from British ports have also been converted according to Ellison's series for average weights.

Conversion at 300 lb per bag also suggests that the Myers's figures captured essentially all the trade in cotton wool from Britain to Ireland. In 1823-25 exports from Liverpool, London and Glasgow amounted to 96 per cent of the amount recorded by the customs authorities. In 1825 the converted amount was even slightly more than the customs figure, but, given that the procedures for recording trade between Britain and Ireland were already in the process of disappearing from 1823, this could be due as much to error in the customs returns as to any deficiency in Myers's figures. (90) As a result, the estimates for imports of cotton from Britain after 1826 make no adjustment for unrecorded trade from ports other than Liverpool, London and Glasgow.
Table 4 Irish cotton trade, 1771-1819 (000 lb)

Year    Imports   Year   Imports   Exports

1770              1790   1,674
          192            1,146
          418            2,296
          404              844
          343            1,591
1775      432     1795   1,475
          512            1,585
          511            1,747
          151            1,359
           79            1,664       351
1780      466     1800   1,415       184
          111            1,200       236
          510            2,058       101
          480            1,557       169
          585            2,036       538
1785      813     1805   1,874       115
        1,005            2,064       165
        1,202            3,679        42
        1,519            2,533       522
        1,334            5,576     1,283

Year    Imports   Exports

1810    5,951     1,809
        5,278       527
        2,924       772
        3,378     1,824
        2,302     1,395
1815    2,730       459
        2,237       231
        2,473       115
        3,428        87
        3,059        81

Source Irish Customs transcripts (NLI Mss 353-74). The
transcripts give no figures for cotton exports before 1799.

Table 5 The Irish cotton trade, 1820-1865 (000 lb)

Year    Customs   Customs   Myers's   Ireland   Ireland
        Foreign     GB        LLG        I        II      Belfast

1820     2,350     1,387               3,737     3,737     2,280
         2,340     1,716               4,057     4,057     2,050
         1,923     1,950               3,873     3,873     2,408
         2,830     2,221     1,934     5,051     5,051
         2,281     2,599     2,457     4,880     4,880     3,048
1825     1,953     2,113     2,268     4,221     3,994     3,137
         2,901               1,637     4,538     4,510     3,082
         3,696               2,268     5,964     5,987     4,543
         2,047               2,792     4,839     4,774     3,544
         1,649               2,300     3,949     3,926     3,879
1830     2,077               2,148     4,155     4,155
         2,928               2,459     5,386     5,468
           393               3,182     3,574     3,776
            79               3,503     3,582     3,897
           263               3,545     3,808     4,245
1835       544               3,041     3,585     3,899
            48               3,183     3,231     3,677     1,924
             0               2,508     2,508     2,901
            21               3,893     3,914     4,563
            14               3,038     3,052     3,538
1840        33               3,561     3,594     4,365     1,818
            27               2,913     2,940     3,571     1,274
           102               2,882     2,984     3,743       753
           169               3,923     4,092     5,165       583
            10               4,268     4,277     5,458     1,079
1845        64               4,015     4,079     5,230     1,208
           604               3,831     4,435     5,533     1,193
            78               2,171     2,248     2,805       382
         1,038               2,333     3,371     4,109       148
            95               2,191     2,286     2,987       481
1850         6               2,231     2,237     2,921       410
             5               2,183     2,188     2,908       849
           439               2,488     2,927     3,690       917
            30               1,622     1,652     2,182       950
           638               1,835     2,472     3,133       797
1855         0               2,055     2,055     2,713       906
             0               1,440     1,440     1,988       971
         1,247               1,128     2,375     2,766       892
             1               1,964     1,965     2,750       945
           484               2,199     2,684     3,571     1,022
1860     1,538               2,227     3,764     4,685       930
            85               2,065     2,149     2,941     1,041
            32               1,348     1,381     1,691       804
            77               1,066     1,142     1,348       878
             8                 440       448       516       395
1865     2,456                 120     2,576     2,599        99


1820        0




1840      1 763
1845      1,202






Customs, Foreign. Imports directly from foreign countries. Sources
1820-22: NLI Mss 375-6; 1823-25: PRO (L) CUST 15/127-40; 1830-65:
PRO (L), CUST 5/15-77.

Customs, GB Imports from Great Britain. Sources 1820-22: NLI Mss
375-6 and 1823-25: PRO (L), CUST 15/127, 128, 134.

Myers's LLG. Exports from Liverpool, London and Glasgow to Ireland.
Source Myers's Mercantile Advertiser, 1823-65, converted from bags
at 300 lb per bag.

Ireland I. Irish imports. Source 1820-24: sum of columns 1 and 2;
1825-65: sum of columns 1 and 3.

Ireland II. Irish imports. Source 1820-24: sum of columns 1 and 2;
1825-65: sum of column 1 and the figures for bags underlying column
3 converted at the average bale weights found in Ellison, Cotton
Trade, table 1.

Belfast. Imports at Belfast. Sources 1820-22: NLI Mss 375-6;
1824-25: Northern Whig, 26 January 1826, converted from bags and
bales at 300 lb per unit; 1826-27: Belfast Mercantile Register;
1828-29: Northern Whig, 14 January 1830, converted from bags and
bales at 300 lb per unit; 1835: B.P.P 1837-38, XXXV, Second Report
of the Irish Railway Commissioners, appendix B, p. 73; 1840-50:
Belfast Mercantile Register, converted at 300 lb per bale; 1851-59:
Mercantile Journal and Statistical Register, converted at 300 lb
per package; 1860-65: Linen Hall Library, Belfast Harbour
Commissioners, annual accounts, converted at 300 lb per package.

Waterford. Imports at Waterford. Sources 1820-22: NLI Mss 375-6;
1839-48: Bielenberg and Hearne, 'Malcomson's', p. 365, converted at
300 lb per bale.

Table 6 Belfast trade in raw cotton, cotton
yarn and cotton goods, 1851-1914 (packages)

                Cotton wool

Year         Imports    Exports


1850          2,829
1855          3,019
I860          3,099
1865           331
1870           309
1875          2,380




               56            0
1890           50            0
               60            2
               58            0
               361         287
               76            0
1895           59            0
               795         663
              8,018      8,481
             10,117     11,053
             10,897     11,356
1900         22,805     21,364
             21,707     23,028
             26,770     26,891
             21,896     22,639
             20,605     20,603
1905         23,351     23,101
             13,895     12,731
             20,677     22,072
             27,038     27,807
             23,036     22,609
1910         12,509     12,556
             13,150     13,065
             15,169     14,432
             15,859     18,855
             14,950     13,400

               Cotton yarn

Year        Imports    Exports


1850         6,348      2,135
             11,051     1,851
             13,292     3,246
             8,867      2,358
1855         11,456     2,490
             18,447     2,758
             16,520     1,567
             18,022     1,898
             21,970     1,777
I860         20,313     1,634
             16,516     1,678
             16,074     1,194
             14,458     1,356
             13,020     1,167
1865         14,357       854
             13,652     1,058
             10,583     1,467
             12,466     1,198
             13,193       789
1870         12,951       868
             18,725     1,150
             17,515       955
             13,677     1,636
             12,219       731
1875         12,812       675
             13,121       780
             12,590       926
             10,039     1,087



1879         1,353        192
1880         1,426         87
             1,756         92
             2,013         94
             2,382         48
             2,063         60

1885         2,242         79
             2,612         76
             2,632         85
             2,774         72
             2,683         90
1890         2,879        148
             3,633        149
             3,626        144
             3,573         84
             4,285        112
1895         5,108        355
             5,661        351
             5,579        402
             5,978        300
             6,271        149
1900         4,798        248
             4,687        131
             6,346        157
             6,537        169
             6,233        214
1905         6,409        174
             5,055        181
             5,530        155
             7,155        128
             6,369        212
1910         4,130        221
             4,137        206
             4,867        189
             4,363        161
             3,521        156

               Cotton goods

Year         Imports    Exports


1850         30,297     14,592
             35,653     18,034
             38,584     19,543
             22,795     17,623
1855         30,422     15,115
             20,072     17,362
             19,021     17,625
             17,563     15,583
             21,222     19,031
I860         22,909     19,504
             23,564     15,801
             18,769     14,053
             16,524     13,494
             18,450     14,648
1865         22,145     14,347
             21,577     13,950
             19,027      9,475
             18,596      9,697
             19,893     10,465
1870         24,339     10,323
             24,379      9,816
             22,970      9,833
             21,417      7,462
             21,597      6,709
1875         22,990      5,378
             22,348      6,288
             22,155      7,906
             27,234      7,933
             32,072      5,712
1880         34,269      6,700
             27,704      6,013



              4,440        517
              4,461        528

1885          4,297       1555
              4,623        506
              5,079        471
              5,998        457
              7,005        564
1890          7,020        592
              7,938        937
              8,295        900
              8,619      1,150
              8,422      1,388
1895         10,639      1,618
             10,713      2,989
             12,204      3,582
             12,624      3,897
             15,030      4,353
1900         13,852      5,223
             12,010      5,495
             15,519      7,039
             13,163      6,376
             13,145      6,638
1905         13,777      6,531
             16,005      6,851
             14,948      7,246
             13,812      6,803
             16,490      6,565
1910         18,071      7,661
             17,235      8,816
             18,637      9,284
             18,689      8,862
             16,199      7,419

Notes Cotton goods include 'cotton goods' and 'muslins'. In 1882
cotton and muslin imports were 22,952 packages and 1,237 tons and
exports were 4,214 packages and 159 tons.

Sources 1851-60: Mercantile Journal and Statistical Register,
annual summaries; 1861-1914: Linen Hall Library, Belfast Harbour
Commissioners, annual accounts.

Table 7 Waterford cotton imports, 1870-1900 (bales)

1870   4,041
1875   3,322
1880   1,046
1890     900
1900     822

Source Waterford Newsletter.

Andy Bielenberg University College Cork

Peter M. Solar Vesalius College, Brussels

(1) D. Dickson, 'Aspects of the Rise and Decline of the Irish Cotton Industry', in L.M. Cullen and T. C. Smout (eds), Comparative Aspects of Scottish and Irish Economic and Social History (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 104.

(2) F. Geary, 'The Rise and Fall of the Belfast Cotton Industry: Some Problems', Irish Economic and Social History, VIII (1981), pp. 30-49; F. Geary, 'The Belfast Cotton Industry Revisited', Irish Historical Studies, XXVI, 103 (1989), pp. 250-67.

(3) C. O Grada, Ireland: a New Economic History, 1780-1939 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 278-81.

(4) C. Gill, The Rise of the Irish Linen Industry (Oxford, 1925), chapter 12; Dickson, 'Aspects', pp. 100-115.

(5) J. J. Monaghan, 'The Rise and Fall of the Belfast Cotton Industry', Irish Historical Studies, III, 9 (1942-43), pp. 1-17; E. R. R. Green, The Lagan Valley, 1800-1850 (London, 1949), chapter 4; H. D. Gribbon, The History of Water Power in Ulster (Newton Abbot, 1969), chapter 6; P. Ollerenshaw, 'Industry, 1820-1914', in L. Kennedy and P Ollerenshaw (eds), An Economic History of Ulster, 1820-1939 (Manchester, 1985), pp. 66-9; Geary, 'Rise and Fall' and 'Belfast Cotton Industry'.

(6) O Grada, New Economic History, pp. 274-81; T. Hunt, Portlaw, County Waterford, 1825-1876 (Dublin, 2000); A. Bielenberg and J. Hearne, 'Malcolmson's of Portlaw and Clonmel: Some New Evidence on the Irish Cotton Industry, 1825-50', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, CVI, C (2006), pp. 339-66; A. K. Longfield, 'Prosperous, 1776-1798', County Kildare Archaeological Society Journal, XIV (1966-67), pp. 212-31; James Kelly, 'Prosperous and Irish Industrialisation in the late Eighteenth Century', Journal of Kildare Archaeological Society, XVI, 5 (1985/86), pp. 441-67; Stuart Nisbet and John Foster, 'Protection, Inward Investment and the early Irish Cotton Industry: the Experience of William and John Orr', Irish Economic and Social History, forthcoming.

(7) A. Bielenberg, Cork's Industrial Revolution, 1780-1880 (Cork, 1991); D. Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster, 1630-1830 (Cork, 2005), pp. 400^.

(8) This database is described in detail in Peter M. Solar, 'Irish Cotton Spinning Industry' (typescript, 2005), to be published separately.

(9) Gill, Rise, pp. 227-8.

(10) Dickson, 'Aspects', p. 108, includes the Railway Commissioners' figure in a table but wisely does not draw any conclusions from it. D. O'Hearn, 'Innovation and the World-system Hierarchy: British Subjugation of the Irish Cotton Industry, 1780-1830', American Journal of Sociology, C, 3 (1994), p. 607, uses the figure rather more uncritically.

(11) Belfast Mercantile Register, 1825-27, cargo lists. Note that these cargo lists call for some qualification of Geary's suggestion, based on the Boomer letter book, that Belfast spinners in the 1820s were largely dependent on Glasgow and Liverpool merchants for their cotton supplies ('Belfast Cotton Industry', p. 252). Whilst it is true that most cotton imported from Liverpool and Glasgow was consigned to known spinners, only about a third of Belfast's cotton imports came from these sources. The other two-thirds came direct from America and was largely consigned to Belfast merchants. Similar cargo lists from the Belfast Mercantile Register in the 1840s fit Geary's conclusion much better: almost all cotton came from Liverpool and was consigned to known spinners.

(12) On the significance of 1825 see, for example, Green, Lagan Valley, p. 102; J. Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved (London, 1983), p. 180.

(13) This paragraph is based on the figures in Tables 6 and 7.

(14) Later, from 1896, Belfast's cotton imports grew rapidly to over 50 million lb but the Department of Agriculture's trade returns from 1904 show that almost all this cotton was simply being re-exported to Russia.

(15) Dickson, 'Aspects', pp. 104-9.

(16) Documentation of these mills and others will be published separately. See note 8 above.

(17) In the case of Brooke in Prosperous, see House of Lords Record Office, House of Lords Main Papers, 7-30 June (1785), evidence on Irish Propositions, vol. VII, p. 54.

(18) The figures for regional imports cited in this and the following paragraph come from Dickson, 'Aspects', p. 105.

(19) The Belfast industry did not begin its long-term decline in 1816, as Mokyr (Why Ireland Starved, ?. 176) alleges. The late 1810s were certainly a difficult period, but most firms stayed in business and survived into the 1820s.

(20) British Library Add. Mss 38368, ff. 161-7, Liverpool Papers, List of Merchants and Manufacturers, ?. 1819. We would like to thank David Dickson for drawing our attention to this document.

(21) Geary, 'Rise and Fall' and 'Belfast Cotton Industry'.

(22) Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland (Manchester, 1881); D. J. Owen, History of Belfast (Belfast, 1921), p. 300.

(23) Public Record Office of Northern Ireland [hereafter PRONI] D/1326/13/28, Hicks Steen & Co., Cotton Thread Manufacturers. By the First World War they were operating a thread works in Hastings Street (Thom's Directory of the Manufacturers and Shippers of Ireland, Dublin, 1909-10, p. 344).

(24) Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved, pp. 177-9; Mary B. Rose, 'Introduction: the Rise of the Cotton Industry in Lancashire to 1830', in Mary B. Rose (ed.), The Lancashire Cotton Industry: a History since 1700 (Preston, 1996), p. 13.

(25) O Grada, New Economic History, p. 278, citing Owen, History of Belfast, p. 300.

(26) J. Warburton, J. Whitelaw and R. Walsh, History of Dublin (London, 1918), p. 972; Dickson, 'Aspects', p. 108.

(27) Hansard (Commons), 3rd series, XXII, p. 1274, 3 April 1834.

(28) H. Dutton, Statistical Survey of County Clare (Dublin 1808), p. 179; H. Dutton, Statistical Survey of County Galway (Dublin, 1824), p. 66; J. McPharlan, Statistical Survey of County Mayo (Dublin, 1802), p. 87.

(29) Britain exported 250 million yards of cloth in 1820. D. A. Farnie (The English Cotton Industry and the World Market, Oxford, 1979, p. 131) puts exports at 60 per cent of production in the period 1834-60, which, since it probably overstates its share earlier, would make home consumption at least 167 million yards, or just over ten yards per person.

(30) Production in Europe and the Americas can be estimated roughly on the basis of available yarn supplies. These areas imported 22 million lb of yarn from Britain in the early 1820s. Local production can be approximated by multiplying British yarn production by the ratio of installed spindles, of which Britain had about 80 per cent in 1820. This gives local production of 33 million lb and total yarn available of 55 million lb, or 58 million lb in raw cotton equivalents. At three to four yards of cloth per pound of raw cotton, cloth production would be 174 million yards to 232 million yards. With imports from Britain of 225 million yards, cloth consumption would be 399 million yards to 457 million yards, or 1.8-2.1 yards per person. This will understate consumption to the extent that hand spinning of cotton prevailed.

(31) Calculations in T. Ellison, The Cotton Trade of Great Britain (repr. New York, 1968), p. 333 indicate that the waste in spinning was only 5-6 per cent.

(32) Dickson, Old World Colony, pp. 403-4.

(33) Bielenberg, Cork's Industrial Revolution, pp. 21-30; Reports from Commissioners (B.PP 1840, XXIII), Reports of Assistant Commissioners on Hand Loom Weavers, p. 502.

(34) S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (Dublin, 1837), II, pp. 395-6; Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland (Manchester, 1846).

(35) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1837-38, XXXV), Second Report of the Irish Railway Commissioners, appendix B, pp. 740-1.

(36) Report of cotton manufactures (National Library of Ireland (hereafter N.L.I.), Ms 13629 (7), p. 3; Reports on Dublin Manufacturers (Royal Irish Academy IV B 31).

(37) Reports from Commissioners (B.PP 1884-85, IX), Report of Select Committee on Industry (Ireland), pp. 488, 504.

(38) Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, I, pp. 100, 320; II, p. 420; Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1837-38, XXXV), Second Report of the Irish Railway Commissioners, pp. 739-41; Valuation Office (Dublin), valuation books for Balbriggan.

(39) Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, II, p. 206.

(40) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1840, XXIII), Reports of the Assistant Commissioners on Hand Loom Weavers, p. 681.

(41) Waterford Mail, 30 August 1861; Accounts and Papers (B.PP 1836, XLV), Return of Power Looms used in the United Kingdom, p. 153.

(42) These conclusions about the Malcomson enterprise draw on Bielenberg and Hearne, 'Malcomson's'.

(43) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1840, XXIII), Reports of the Assistant Commissioners on Hand Loom Weavers, p. 678

(44) Dickson, 'Aspects'.

(45) See Gill, Rise, p. 243 for trade to Great Britain in muslins alone, which excludes exports of other cotton cloth types, notably calico. For foreign trade see Accounts and Papers (B.P.P. 1830-31, X), Imports and Exports, Ireland, p. 281, cited by Geary, 'Belfast Cotton Industry', p. 54.

(46) H. McCall, Ireland and her Staple Manufactures (Belfast, 1870), pp. 507, 528. McCall notes that, while one new mill was built in the Belfast area in 1828, much of the finer yarn was imported from Glasgow and Manchester.

(47) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1822, XIII), Inquiry into Revenue in Ireland, App. No. 30, p. 212.

(48) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1835, XIII), Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Hand Loom Weavers, pp. 83-98. Moncrieffe, a muslin manufacturer, thought there were 5,000 calico weavers (the lowest grade of work) at Antrim, Randalstown, Carrickfergus and scattered through Counties Derry and Armagh, and that 'taking the cotton trade generally ... the abolition of the duties was advantageous' (p. 102). On the growth of the Glasgow connection in 1824-25 see Belfast Newsletter, 6 September 1825.

(49) J. Monaghan, 'Rise and Fall', p. 8; Green, Lagan Valley, pp. 95-111; McCall, Ireland and her Staple Manufactures, pp. 514-15.

(50) Accounts and Papers (B.P.P. 1841, XXIV), Report of the Commissioners appointed to take the Census of Ireland for the year 1841, p. 440.

(51) Ollerenshaw, 'Industry', p. 67.

(52) Belfast Harbour Commissioners returns of trade 1851-1859, published each January during the 1850s in the Mercantile Journal and Statistical Register.

(53) A. Slaven, 'A Glasgow Firm in the Indian Market: John Lean & Sons, Muslin Weavers', Business History Review, XLIII, 4 (1969), pp. 498-9.

(54) Geary, 'Belfast Cotton Industry', pp. 258-9; Boomer letter book (PRONI D. 2450/2/1).

(55) Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, II, 314.

(56) Accounts and Papers (B.P.P. 1836, XLV), Return of Power Looms used in the UK, p. 153; Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1835, XIII), Select Committee on Hand Loom Weavers, p. 103.

(57) E. R. R. Green, 'Cotton Hand Loom Weavers in the North-east of Ireland', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, VII (1944), p. 40; McCall, Staple Manufactures, pp. 528-49; Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Annual Accounts, 1859-77.

(58) J. F. Maguire, The Industrial Movement in Ireland (Cork, 1853), p. 164; A. Marmion, The Ancient and Modern History of the Maritime Ports of Ireland (London, 1855), p. 558; Waterford Mail, 30 August 1861. We would like to thank John Hearne for this last reference.

(59) Farnie, English Cotton industry, pp. 81-131.

(60) Accounts and Papers (B.PP 1867-68, LXIV), Factory Returns, p. 19.

(61) Brett L'Estrange Papers regarding bankruptcy of Malcolmson's (PRONI D1905/2/27/6-7); O Grada, New Economic History, pp. 274-8; Hunt, Portlaw, pp. 65-6; W W Knox, Hanging by a Thread: the Scottish Cotton Industry c. 1850-1914 (Preston, 1995), p. 19.

(62) Waterford Monthly Meeting Minute Book, 1869-1911 (Friends' Library, Dublin: MM xi a.9), p. 141, fourth month, 1877. We would like to thank Richard Harrison for this reference.

(63) Accounts and Papers (B.PP. 1868-69, XIV), Report of Inspectors of Factories, p. 267; Dublin Builder, 15 May 1865, p. 124; Valuation Office (Dublin), valuation books for Drogheda.

(64) Accounts and Papers (B.PP 1877, LXXVI), Returns of Joint Stock Companies, 22 August 1876, No. 876, p. 254.

(65) Valuation Office (Dublin), valuation books for Drogheda.

(66) Worrall's Textile Directory of the Manufacturing Districts of Ireland, Scotland and Wales (Oldham, 1895-96).

(67) Drogheda Spinning was wound up in 1901 (Dublin Gazette, 11 June 1901, p. 829). Boyne Weaving was reorganised in 1907 and seems to have concentrated more on linen cloth (Dublin Gazette, 21 June 1907, pp. 904-5).

(68) 'The Linen Trade of Ulster', Statist, 28 October 1899, pp. 677-8.

(69) Irish Trade Journal, February and March 1926; Cork: its Trade and Commerce (Cork, 1919), p. 172.

(70) S. Chassagne, 'Calico Printing in Europe before 1780', in D. Jenkins (ed.), The Cambridge History of Western Textiles (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 519-20.

(71) McCall, Staple Manufactures, pp. 472-4; A. K. Longfield, 'History of the Irish Linen and Cotton Printing Industry in the Eighteenth Century', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, LXVII (1937), pp. 26-56.

(72) Dickson, 'Aspects', pp. 104-6.

(73) Reports of Commissioners (B.P.P. 1843, XIII), Second Report of the Commissioners on Trades and Manufactures, pp. 15-19; Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1843, XV), Children's Employment Commission, p. 3.

(74) Dublin Gazette, 1809-10; McCall, Staple Manufactures, pp. 472^; Valuation Office (Dublin), valuation books for Ballsbridge. In 1855-63 the valuation books indicate that the calico print works had not been used for some years.

(75) Reports from Commissioners (B.P.P. 1822, XIII), Inquiry into Revenue, appendix 33, p. 230.

(76) A. K. Longfield, 'Notes on the Linen and Cotton Printing Industry in Northern Ireland in the Eighteenth Century', Belfast Natural History Society Proceedings, IV (1955), pp. 53-68; Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, II, p. 266.

(77) A. Day and P. McWilliams (eds), Ordnance Survey Memoirs of, II, Parishes of County Antrim (i) (Belfast, 1990) pp. 48-52, 92; A. Day, P McWilliams and L. English (eds), Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, XXX, Parishes of County Antrim (xiii) (Belfast, 1996), p. 49.

(78) Owen, History of Belfast, p. 301; Reports from Commissioners (B.PP 1854-55, XVIII), Commission for inquiring into the Expediency of Extending the Acts relative to the Factories and to Bleaching Works, pp. 113-21.

(79) McCall, Staple Manufactures, pp. 474; Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland (Manchester, 1881); Worrall's Textile Directory.

(80) Bielenberg and Hearne, 'Malcomson's'. Thorley survived until the 1880s (Wilkie's Cork Directory, Cork, 1872; Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland, Manchester, 1881) but it is not clear whether they were still finishing cottons at that point.

(81) Irish Trade Journal, February and March 1926.

(82) Worrall's Textile Directory.

(83) For shirt makers see Thom's Directory of Manufacturers and Shippers of Ireland (Dublin, 190910), pp. 344-6. See also the trade statistics in the Belfast Harbour Commissioners' Reports, 1884-1908.

(84) Owen, History of Belfast, p. 301

(85) Accounts and Papers (B.PP 1833, XXXV), Evidence before the Irish House of Commons on the Legislative Union with Great Britain, p. 6.

(86) See Table 4.

(87) Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved, p. 176.

(88) But see Ollerenshaw, 'Industry', p. 68, who still maintains that the severity of the commercial crisis in 1825-26 to a large extent forced east Ulster cotton spinners out of the market and that printing also declined following the removal of protection in 1824, despite the survival of some firms. O'Hearn, 'Innovation', has recently reaffirmed the catastrophic view of the mid-1820s, though he adds little new evidence and uses the Railway Commissioners' statistics for the mid1830s without realising that they contain no return of cotton imports into Waterford. See also D. O'Hearn, 'Irish Linen: a Peripheral Industry', in M. Cohen (ed.), The Warp of Ulster's Past (New York, 1997), pp. 161-90.

(89) T. Ellison, Cotton Trade, table 1.

(90) This judgement is based on as yet unpublished research in the records of the Irish customs administration during the early 1820s.
Table 1 The Irish cotton trade, 1840-1848

        Liverpool,                             Belfast and
        London and       Belfast   Waterford   Waterford
        Glasgow          imports   imports     imports
Year    exports (bags)   (bales)   (bales)     (bales)

1840    11,870           6,061     5,898       11,959
1841     9,709           4,247     4,256        8,503
1842     9,607           2,509     5,428        7,937
1843    13,078           1,943     4,358        6,301
1844    14,225           3,595     3,848        7,638
1845    13,383           4,027     4,043        8,119
1846    12,770           3,976     4,967        8,943
1847     7,235           1,272     4,043        5,315
1848     7,775             494     4,947        5,441

Sources Liverpool, London and Glasgow exports to Ireland: Myers's
Mercantile Advertiser; Belfast imports: Belfast Mercantile Register;
Waterford imports: Bielenberg and Hearne, 'Malcomson's', p. 365.

Table 2a The geography of factory cotton spinning in Ireland,
1835-1890 (a) Mills 1835-1870

Location      1835   1838   1850   1856   1862   1867   1870

Antrim         9      10     3      3      2      2      2
Armagh         2      2      1
Down           3      3             2
Londonderry    1
Dublin         6      3      3      3      2      1      1
Kildare        2      1      1
Louth                        1      1
Queen's               1
Wexford        1      1      1      1      1      1
Cork           1      1
Tipperary                                                1
Waterford      1      1      1      1      1      1      1
Ireland        26     23     11     11     6      5      5

Source Factory inspectors' returns.

Table 2b The geography of factory cotton spinning in Ireland,
1835-1890 (b) Spind-es 1850-1890

Location     1850      1856      1862      1867      1870      1875

Ulster                                                          57,776
Antrim        63,224    80,940    72,884   73,168     73,000
Armagh         4,332
Down                    21,240
Leinster                                                         8,832
Dublin         9,948    12,404    11,668    7,408      6,992
Kildare        8,000
Louth          4,896     5,528
Wexford        3,500     3,400     5,100      572
Munster                                                         41,478
Tipperary                                              3,120
Waterford     26,055    27,000    30,292    43,092    41,792
Ireland      119,955   150,512   119,944   124,240   124,904   108,086

Location     1878     1884     1890

Ulster       27,742   27,308   23,068
Leinster      7,820
Munster      41,234   41,296   35,000
Ireland      76,796   68,604   58,068

Notes Doubling spindles have not been counted. In 1870 the
factory inspectors also recorded 45,000 spindles as 'standing' in
County Antrim and 1,248 in County Dublin.

Source Factory inspectors' returns.

Table 3 The geography of power loom weaving
in Ireland, 1835-1904 (No. of looms)

Location       1835    1850    1856    1862    1867    1870    1875

Antrim           340             200     200     420     572
Armagh           270     122
Londonderry                               60
Tyrone                                    36      36      50
Leinster                                                       1,304
Dublin            23     296     254     391     556     164
Kildare           52     150
Louth                    143     149             800     998
Wexford           67     110     130     130      90
Munster                                                        1,254
Cork                                                     196
Tipperary                                                555
Waterford        339     626     900     940     844     837
Ireland        1,516   1,447   1,633   1,757   2,746   3,437   2,558

Location       1878    1884    1890    1904

Ulster                                  14
Antrim                                 291
Tyrone                                 127
Leinster       1,956   1,851   1,745
Dublin                                  23
Louth                                  400
Munster          730     650     200
Ireland        2,686   2,501   1,945   847

Source Factory inspectors' returns.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Sage Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bielenberg, Andy; Solar, Peter M.
Publication:Irish Economic and Social History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Previous Article:Select list of writings on Irish economic and social history published in 2006.
Next Article:Economic and social history society of Ireland.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters