The Galway Jute Spinning Company

There seems to have been a few different names on this business but it was known locally as the bag factory. The chairman, Lieutenant Colonel James O’Hara, reported to the Select Committee on Industries Ireland (1884-85 ) on the company.

“Our first difficulty was to get anybody to take shares in the undertaking, but we got a great number of philanthropic people together who took a certain number of shares, and it worked with very great success for several years. I then, to give myself a sufficient interest to enable me to work the concern without charging them a salary for my services, in a weak moment, bought up the greater part of the shares, more than half the shares at all events, and I have been working it ever since for myself and the shareholders.

“Up to 1874, we worked it to good advantage; but since then we have been declining, and I attribute that greatly to our chief customers, the millers, being very much injured by the importation of free flour. That has already stopped two of the mills in Galway, and it is working a great deal of mischief of course to my trade which supplies the bags to the millers. During the years 1876, 1877, and 1878 I had only 35 looms at work and during those years I sold to the millers 1,071,890 sacks for flour. We put on more looms and for three years with 60 looms we only sold 435,600 sacks. The imported flour is brought in cotton bags, which tends to damage our business.”

In 1869, the factory had more orders on hand than the directors could possible execute, and things were looking up when Sir Arthur Guinness Bart invested £300 in shares.

On a general level, Col O’Hara thought the Government should be doing a lot more in technical education. “I am constantly being applied to by tenants’ sons who have been brought up in the National Schools for places as shop boys or clerks; but I have been working these factories for 18 years and I have never been able to get an apprentice. All my skilled hands I am obliged to draw from Scotland, and although I have been trying my best to get an apprentice to stick with his work, and to be able to earn higher wages. Any gentleman who knows about manufactures knows that there are progressive payments made, so much for a week for the first year, so much a week for the second year and so on, until they are skilled, and then they are able to earn the wages of a full craftsman.

“I start them off at 13 or 14 years of age, under the factory acts, but they will not stay long enough to earn higher wages. I start them off at 3s 6d for the girls and 4s for the boys, often with a 1 shilling bonus. As far as I possibly can arrange it, they are paid by piece work, and that is where the weavers show their want of ambition to earn higher wages; for where a girl could earn her 18s a week, she is content to earn 5s, leaving my loom idle, robbing me and herself too.”

The factory was still in operation in 1885, all the looms were going, but they had a very heavy stock. The local demand had fallen off, and much of the stock was sent to Liverpool and sold on to Manchester and Dundee. It operated a 180 horsepower engine, and was involved in the coarser classes of jute-making such as hessian for packing, ticking for beds and the coverings for tea cases, all the tough manufacture of jute. It had given up on the finer articles such as carpets and that sort of thing.

At this stage the factory was employing more than 200 people, sometimes up to 300, but was still finding it difficult to motivate the local workers into improving themselves. They were very happy with the quality of work produced but not with their lack of ambition, the girls who could earn 18s a week were content with 5s or 6s.

Our photographs (taken c1867 ) show the extent of the project. There are three large industrial chimneys in our first image. A lot of the timber lying around had probably been cut down to make space for the building, and it would later be used as fuel. The second image is of the interior, probably during the construction phase, if one is to judge from all the building materials left around.

These are more of the photographs from Chetham’s Library in Manchester, to whom we are very grateful for permission to reproduce them. We also thank Dr John Cunningham of NUIG for his help in gathering the above material.

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