The Mills around Doagh

For people of a certain age, when they think of Doagh they think of the mill – Doagh Flax Spinning Mill. The mill was founded in the mid nineteenth century, on the site that had been occupied by John Rowan’s foundry in Doagh. A large new mill, four storeys high, was built on this site c. 1920.

In the 1940s, due to flax shortages as a result of World War II, synthetic fibres were introduced to the production process. This proved a success and a new factory was built on the Kilbride Road in the early 1950s. At their busiest, the two mills were employing 550 people. However, changes in the market resulted in the closure of the premises on the Kilbride Road. The original mill continued to operate, but it too closed in the early 1990s. The old mill building has now been converted into apartments. ‘You can’t picture it now not being there’ reflects Sarah McTrustry who began work in Doagh mill around 1930.

Doagh Mill was one of a number of industrial enterprises in and around Doagh. Not far away at Burnside was Cogry Flax Spinning Mill which was established in 1845 and was particularly associated with the McMeekin family. Many of the workers lived in the now demolished Cogry Square. On the evening of Friday, 25 February 1944 there was a disastrous fire at Cogry Mill which was blamed on an employee failing to make sure that a hot bearing had cooled before leaving work. This was a major setback, but the mill was repaired and brought back into use. Though Cogry Mill was one of the most progressive mills of its day – its early use of electricity was particularly innovative – it too was the victim of changing markets and closed in the late 1950s. The mill buildings were used until recently by an engineering firm. Another major employer was the bleachworks at Springvale, just north of Burnside. These establishments provided considerable employment, especially for women. Wallace Fenton, who grew up in Mill Row, Doagh, remembers a line of buses at the mill, bringing workers from far and wide.

The experiences of those who worked in these mills varied considerably. Isabell Cooper recalls that her sister Lily left school at 14 and went into Doagh mill. However, it was a bad experience for her. Her boss was very strict and hard on the new employees, while the older staff were also difficult to work with. Lily left the mill, therefore, and got a job in Mossley Mill, cycling there and back, summer and winter. In fact, none of Isabell’s family liked Doagh Mill, or ‘old prison’ as they referred to it. On the other hand, Sarah McTrustry recalled having a good relationship with her bosses in Doagh Mill. She was paid £1 16s 3d. for a fortnight’s work, of which she was allowed to keep 3d. for sweets, her mother taking the rest. Wilma McVittie started working in Cogry mill in her mid teens. She remembers finishing school on a Friday and started in the mill on the following Monday. She too passed most of her pay to her mother. She describes Cogry Mill as ‘homely’. Wilma worked in the reeling room and what was referred to as the ‘canary cage’.

One of Sarah McTrustry’s bosses in Doagh Mill was William Andrew Turkington. He had previously worked in Cogry Mill which he thoroughly enjoyed: ‘It definitely was a great place – Cogry Mill and Cogry … there’s no doubt.’ William Andrew’s first job in Cogry, at the age of 14, was doffing – a doffer was a worker who replaced the full bobbins with empty ones. He remembers Cogry as a great place to learn – it was strict, but if you showed the right aptitude you were taught well. He worked in Cogry for quite a while before moving to Doagh mill where he was employed as a preparing master. When he was offered this job he told the bosses of Doagh Mill that he did not think he was capable of doing it. However, they told him that he was and so he accepted the position.

Leith Burgess’s father worked in Cogry Mill as a nightwatchman, fireman and stoker. Leith himself wanted to put his name down as a fitter at Cogry, but it was closing down at this time. He then tried to find work in Doagh Mill, but was told that he stood little chance as positions there tended to be handed down from one generation to the next. However, he was determined to put his name down and before his fifteenth birthday was offered a position at the new factory on the Kilbride Road, starting off with loading lorries and cleaning machinery.

After briefly working in Cogry Mill, Isabell Cooper started in Springvale in August 1949 when she was 17½, spending most of her working life there. She calls it ‘a great place’ where there was a very good relationship between the bosses and employees. She left work to have each of her children, but each time returned again. Another employee of Springvale was Wilma McVittie’s father who was renowned for the great care he took of the Springvale lorry.
South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: