(1765 - 1858)


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Derrys association with shirt making
The history of outworking.
The advent of shirt making in factories.
A portrait of William Scott, founder of the shirt industry in Derry.
William Scott.

The founder of the shirt industry in Derry has been a man of relative obscurity. It was not any of the names that we normally associate with the industry such as Tillie, Henderson, Hogg or Welch but rather it was a man by the name of William Scott.

The youngest of three brothers, he was born on the 12th March 1765 on a small farm at Balloughry, Co. Derry. He was born into a Presbyterian family that came to Derry during the Ulster Plantation in 1610. He spent all his working life as a weaver in the city, first as an apprentice to Mr. Gilmour of Artillery Street and then in his own business in Weavers Row. The Scott family business, in which the men did the weaving and the women made up the garments, was one of the first to supply the new demand. At the age of 66 he saw that there was a growing demand in the cities of Britain and beyond for cotton shirts with embroidered linen fronts. In 1831, he got his wife and daughters to make up a few shirts with which he boarded the steam ship 'Foyle' bound for Glasgow on what was a journey of some 26 hours at that time. He took these shirts to his main customer who was a Mr. William Gourlie & Son of 8 South Frederick Street, Glasgow. These were an immediate success and orders soon followed from Glasgow, London and as far away as Australia. The orders from Australia were ordered by a draper in Shipquay Street on behalf of his brother who had a business there.

A portrait of women making shirts in their home. These were known as workstations. circa 1840.
Shirt makers working from home.
Iniatially, the first orders were small but soon they began to grow in size. The female members of the Scott family could not keep up with the demand and the business was forced to expand through a system of outstations. These stations were spread throughout the city and surrounding countryside, as far away as Limavady, Donemanna, Claudy, Strabane, Carndonagh and Moville. Local women were provided with the materials neccessary to make up the shirts in their own homes. The finished shirts were then returned to Scotts premises in Weavers Row where they were examined, packed and despatched by steamer to Glasgow. Demand for Scott's shirts soon spread beyond Glasgow, and an agent by the name of Mr. William Robinson was soon appointed. He resided at 32 Addle Street in London.
This is a photograph of the former site of Derrys first shirt factory - William Scotts.
Former site of William Scotts first factory at Bennett Street.

The constant comings and goings of carts from the stations to Scott's weaving shop made it neccessary for the family to open larger premises in the Old Military Hospital in Bennett Street in 1840. At the new site there was enough space for weavers, cutters and sewers, who prepared the materials for the outworkers; and for the examiners and for the packers who organised the finished goods for despatch. Also the yard could accomodate the expanding fleet of horse drawn carts. In 1845 the Londonderry Journal reported that William Scott 'gave employment to no fewer than 250 weavers and upwards of 500 persons making shirts'. By 1850 his business had grown to such an extent that the wage bill of William Scott & son of £500 per week was one of the highest in the city. In the 1850's, Scott's initial success attracted a number of other British businessmen who brought with them new methods of factory organisation and new technology in the form of the sewing machine.
The shirt industry in Derry grew in the space of 50 years from virtually nothing to become the principal seat of the shirt industry in the U.K. and exported to all over the world and was to be the mainstay of the city's economy for over a century.

In 1850, William Scott retired to his farm at Burt. He later died in 1858 at the age of 93, the father of at least nine children and an elder in the Presbyterian Church for seventy years. His tombstone can be seen in the graveyard of St. Columbs Cathedral in Derry.

St. Columbs Cathedral Derry , location of William Scotts grave
The grave of William Scott in St. Columbs Cathedral in Derry.
St. Columbs Cathedral Derry
William Scotts grave in St. Columbs Cathedral Derry.
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