Belfast Telegraph

Titanic linen reborn to mark 150 years of Co Down textile firm

By Rachel Martin

An international textile manufacturer is researching its flagship brand's Co Down roots as it launches a new range inspired by the table linen the firm made for the Titanic.

Liddell was founded by William Liddell 150 years ago in Donaghcloney - and its history includes the fabric that graced the tables of first class diners on the ill-fated Belfast-built liner.

The firm later merged with rival firm William Ewart & Son.

Liddell is now part of Vision Support Services and employs eight people in Lisburn, with manufacturing in Europe, Turkey, India and China.

Laurie Thomas, Vision Support Services' managing director, said: "It started off as something we wanted to do for the 150th anniversary of Liddell, but the more we dug into the history of the brand, the more we wanted to know."

The design of the first-class table linen was recreated with help from Belfast shipbuilding historian and author Tom McCluskie, and is only available to buy on the firm's website.

Mr McCluskie is a former Harland & Wolff archive and administration manager and is a technical consultant for the Seven Seas Leisure project in its bid to build a replica of RMS Titanic in China.

He said: "William Ewart Ltd were one of the original linen manufacturers and suppliers to the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (OSNC), who were the owners of the White Star Line - operators of the RMS Titanic among many other ships.

"A common misconception is that White Star Line were the owners of the RMS Titanic, which is not the case, and I was particularly delighted when Vision, the modern day incarnation of the original company, Ewart Liddell, determined to reproduce the original pattern linen as supplied to the ship.

"Accordingly, the OSNC logo and ornamental decoration was embossed into the material to recreate exactly the first class napery."

Mr Thomas drew parallels between William Liddell and the Rowntrees - the founding family of the chocolatiers who were known for their philanthropic work.

"It amazed me what a pioneer the original owner was... we are always told how revolutionary the Rowntrees were, but when you look at some of what William Liddell was doing in Donaghacloney, it's incredible. He had on-site doctors, a creche and education for his workforce. He must have had a lot of energy to set it all up."

The factory founded by William Liddell was at one point the largest Irish linen jacquard weaving company in the country.

However, rising costs were the death-knell for many Irish textile firms and meant that those which didn't outsource production abroad were left struggling to survive. During the 1950s demand for lesser quality, bulk fabrics continued to rise, with hospitals and hotels preferring to purchase cheaper, easier to care for synthetic fibres.

The firm merged with rival Ewart & Son in 1972, once the preferred linen supplier of bed, bath and table linen to OSNC.

The company produced linen for the first class cabins of OSNC's entire fleet of vessels, including Titanic, as part of a contract that today would have been worth around £250,000.

Liddell was bought over by rival Hilden in 2004.

Both firms were taken over by Vision Support Services - a Blackburn-based investment firm that buys up struggling textile manufacturers - a year later when Hilden entered administration.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.