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Glenanne Mill – Local Mattress Advances, Global Impact

By Sharon Dalzell @Dalzells_Beds

Glenanne Mill - Damask Mattress Fabric

Damask Mattress Ticking – Invented in Glenanne!

Did you know that the South Armagh village of Glenanne, just 4 miles from us here at Dalzells Beds in Markethill was once at the very center of Mattress production across much of the world? Whats more, that it is home to an innovation in Mattress design and manufacturing that we are still enjoying today, nearly a century hence?

Well it’s true. For Glenanne Mill is the birthplace of Damask Mattress Ticking! Here at Dalzells Beds we are rightly proud of our local connection to the History of Beds, indeed many of our customers and the parents of some of our employees played an important part in the Mills history.

Damask Mattress Ticking

The history of the Irish Linen industry is of course well documented, but his local connection and innovation is one which is often overlooked. We set it out below, alternatively you can listen to it on Markethill Historical Society’s Bygones and Byways Website in an interview with master miller, John Lund.

The Story of Glenanne Mill

Glenanne Mill was established in 1816 by William Atkinson, a veteran officer of the Peninsular Wars and the Battle of Waterloo which culminated in the defeat and exile of Napoleon Bonaparte. Aged in his mid to late twenties, he was handsomely granted some 400 Acres of prime land by the Earl of Gosford in the town land of Glenanne, to whom it was said he was a bastard son as no knowledge of his heritage or upbringing is known. Indeed his surname Atkinson, is said to have been given to him by the Earl, a play on his own family name, Acheson.

The finest Irish linen was utilised in the production of high value items such as Jackets, towels, bed linen, uniforms, table cloths and the like while coarser grades were prodigiously employed in the manufacturing of equipment for both the Army and industry. Everything from belts, haversacks, rifle slings, tarpaulins and conveyor belts.

In 1845 George Grey & Sons of Dublin, an accountant, arrived at Glenanne Mill in the capacity of a Receiver to the Mill following financial difficulty by Atkinson, with relatives in the area he decided ultimately to purchase the business himself. He latterly in 1865 went into linen and continued successfully until 1936, when suitable ennobled from their endeavours sold the Mill to that well known Northern Irish merchant Haldane & Shiells (today Handane & Fisher) who essentially went on to asset strip many estates in the area of their valuable timber, steel and associated materials of value. Luckily, before they completed their work, John Compton & Co. of Umgola in Armagh desired a replacement Mill following a disastrous fire and duly purchased Glenanne Mill under the stewardship of their Managing Director Capt. Knighton Smith aka Noel Smith, a WW1 veteran. On the death of his employer, Noel Smith somewhat proficiently married his widow, despite having already stepped out with his employers daughter!

A far sighted man, Smith developed John Compton & Co. into a manufacturer of ‘mattress covers’ which were originally little more than linen squares, essentially table cloths with the Damask design lending mattresses of the time a more luxurious appearance. This naturally evolved into Mattress Ticking or ‘Damask’ Mattress Ticking using artificial silk, or rayon with spun cotton, a highly advanced technique in which he was dyeing filament yarn in 1936, a technique that would not be adopted by many mills in the world until the mid 1960’s or 70’s! All this in a sleepy little Glen, miles away from anywhere, that was at the forefront of mattress development for a very long time. Indeed during WW2 it was the only Mill in the UK manufacturing ‘Mattress Ticking’ at all in the UK. Indeed, he prospered so as by the 1950’s the company held a 40% market share of Mattress Ticking across the entire British Empire! His unfortunate demise in the 1970’s left the business in the hands of a nephew, worryingly the company which now owned three Mills and their respective villages in Glenanne, Milford (Watson, Mercer & McCrum) and Umgola was now a single product business – Mattress Ticking. Facing stiff competition from Belgium and having modernised too late, the business went into decline. Depressingly in 1976, ten of the Mills weavers (including the foreman) were brutally murdered and another critically wounded on their way to work in the Kingsmill Massacre, this had a huge effect on both the employees and management. The ‘Troubles’ as they became known in Northern Ireland exacerbated the Mill’s problems with workers feeling unsafe to travel for shifts in hours of darkness in what was called ‘the murder triangle’ at the time in South Armagh, whats more the Belgian Govt. was heavily subidising production in Belgium. Ultimately the Mattress Ticking business was sold to a Belgium company (Beckers) in 1988 and Mill operations fully ceased in 2009 with the unfortunate demolition of this iconic Mill took place in 2014.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the Mill lives on today in the millions of mattresses with Damask Ticking that are sold every year, Shaws Lake (which he dammed), Glennane Village and the resurgence of the Robert Burns inspired poetry of the Rhyming Weavers!

Glenanne Mill

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