of working in a shirt factory.
This is a picture of the old Ben Sherman factory in Maureen Ave.
This is a picture of the old Rosemount factory.
This is a picture of the old Wilkinsons factory on the Strand Road.
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Derrys association with shirt making
Who founded the shirt industry in Derry?
The history of outworking.
The advent of shirt making in factories.
Below are a collection of the memories of those who have worked in the shirt factories of Derry down through the years.

There was a great sadness felt among the people of Derry on Saturday 4th January 2003 as the demolition crew moved in to pull down the former Tillie and Henderson factory in Carlisle Circus.

And nowhere was the sense of regret felt stronger than by the numerous local people that spent many happy years working in the shirt factory which provided employment for thousands of people in the North West.

Carnhill woman Mina Harkin(nee Mc Gill), was one such worker who today still has vivid memories of the good times in Tillie & Henderson's factory and of the many friends she made there.

This is a picture of Mina Harkin with her late husband Patrick.
Mina Harkin pictured with her late husband Patrick.

"I was furious when I heard that the factory was to be pulled down," Mina said,"and I am sure I am not alone in feeling that way. In fact I was close to gathering up my grandchildren, making sone banners and forming a picket line outside the building. You see, to me, and I am sure to many other local people Tillie's factory is a building that will always belong to the people of Derry. Almost everybody in the town has a grandmother or aunt or someone they know who worked there. It is part of the heritage of Derry that people want to keep.

The factory had a real family flavour to it, with many families having two, three or even more children working there."

Early days

Mina began working in the factory as a young teenager in the late 1930's.

"Young people didn't stay in school in those days and since I already had two sisters working in Tillie's I was destined for a job there too.

My first day was a very scary experience. I was just a shy 14 years old girl who didn't know very much and here I was in one of the biggest factories in the world.

My most vivid memory of that time is of meeting Davy Neely, one of the bosses. I remember that he had a look of Perry Mason about him and he terrified me. He had very striking eyes and he put the fear of God in you when you looked at him. If you were one minute late coming in each morning to Tillie's Davy would shut the door on you."

Mina began her working life in the factory as a 'clipper', a job given to all the new starts.

"There were many levels to the factory, starting from the cellar in Foyle Road and working its way up," explained Mina. "First we had the laundry and the smoothing room, where we had a wee place to boil kettles for tea, then the cutting room, the machine room, the examining room and finally the administration department. As a clipper it was up to me to cut the loose threads from the shirts before they were sent out. It was a horrible job that was not only extremely tedious but paid very low wages, just half a crown. But I served my time and eventually I was moved up to become a 'side seamer' which was one of the best jobs in the factory."

Happy days.


Mina's day began early in the morning when after making breakfast for her family, she left her home at the Top of the Hill and joined the scores of local women making their way across Craigavon Bridge to the factory.

"Carlisle Square was packed with women", recalled Mina, "all ensuring that they would get into the factory before the dreaded horn signalling that they were late for work. The day was long and hard for the women but we made the best of it. I have heard people describe the factory as a sweat shop, but it was never like that for me. We all got on. I remember one lady Kitty Mc Sherry who always tried to keep our spirits up by singing. Then there was Ginny Duddy who would bring in buns so the girls could have them with their tea. Ginny was a great ally to have in the factory because she worked on the irons. For lunch most of the girls only brought bread and butter with them to eat, but if you made friends with a smoother, she would press your bread on both sides, making the most delicious toast. Then there were my friends Charlotte Kyle and Mary Murray, all great craic. We all were a wee gang that hung around together and attended ceilis and dances together. We also had good craic when we would sit on our benches and eat our tea and lunch. And every hour we got a five minute break to head out for a wee smoke. And when nature called we would nip down to the toilet, which we called the 'parlour', for a wee 'wreak'. In those days we worked on a speedbelt which meant that each section of the shirt was passed around the various machinists starting with the cutters, then to the front stitchers, the banders, the cuffers, side seamers and right on down to the smoothers and on to the examiners.

This is a picture of Mina during her days at Tillie & Henderson shirt factory.
Mina pictured during her days in Tillie & Hendersons.

Sometimes we would carry on while we were in the factory telling each other stories and passing notes, but before we knew it we had a pile of shirts sitting on the belt that we would have to rush through. One time the manager Willie Welsh sent me home for carring on and my sister gave me a good telling off after it."

The hours in Tillie's were often long as Mina recalls:"There were times in the year when we had 'hurried work' to do, mostly at Christmas. Often this meant working from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night. My sisters would scoot over the bridge with a can of tea for us to see us through and then later on we would head to Tracey's fish shop in John Street for a wee picnic of fish and chips."

Married life.

Like most other girls her age Mina decided to leave Tillie's factory after she became engaged to her husband of 51 years, the late Paddy Harkin.

"The girls in Tillie's gave me some stick about being engaged," Mina chuckles. "Everytime I got out of my seat to go for a smoke or to the toilet they would rattle their machines at me. It was really embarrassing because they all looked up at you. There was many a day I wouldn't allow myself to go to the toilet in case they showed me up with their rattling."

It has been many years since the days when Mina worked in Tillie's, and since then she has had ten children, however she says that she even though the building may now be gone she will always remember the happy times she spent there. "Tillie's has some beautiful memories for so many of us," she said. "I just wish the building could have been developed so the legacy of the factory could live on."

The above extract was taken from a series entitled "My memories of Derry" published by Erin Hutcheon in the 'Derry Journal' on 10/01/2003.

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