The vital part linen played in the fabric of the town

PORTADOWN'S industrial heritage and prosperity was built on the linen industry, which, in its heyday, employed over 6,000 people in eight or nine factories in the town and district.

All have gone, victims of the recession in the once mighty Ulster linen industry, but the legacy lives on. The skills which generations of Portadown linen workers possessed enabled them to adapt to the new industries which arrived in the town just before and after the Second World War.

This week's Flashback photograph, kindly loaned by Fred Cooper, shows workers in a Portadown linen factory – Fred believes it was Acheson's of Parkmount – at their looms in the late 1920s or early 30s.

Last week, when listening to a radio programme covering the splendid 'Country Comes to Town' event, I was bemused when the interviewer expressed surprise that Portadown and its neighbour Lurgan, had once been big linen towns.

He was under the mistaken impression that the Ulster linen industry spread out from Belfast as far as Lisburn, but obviously not as far as Lurgan or Portadown.

I wasn't really surprised at this misconception. A few years ago 'Portadown Times' editor David Armstrong asked me to review a new book on the 'Ulster' linen industry.

It was an excellent read, but what annoyed me was the almost complete absence of any reference to Portadown and Lurgan.

The book stressed the importance of the linen industry in parts of Belfast – mills once operated in the Crumlin, Shankill and Falls Road, as well as Sandy Row.

And of course Lisburn got a good mention, as it was the Huguenot Louis Cromellin who started the great Ulster linen industry in that town.

But Portadown and Lurgan, where up to 12,000 linen workers were employed in nearly 20 factories, hardly rated a mention!

It really underlined the need for this borough to have a proper museum up and running, telling the history of the once mighty linen industry which once dominated these two North Armagh towns.

Both are now part of Craigavon, but it is surely time for a museum to be established which will inform people of the great role of linen, railways, roses, pottery, waterways, and many other industries in the history of this area.

Fred Cooper, whose photograph sparked off this line of thought, worked in Greeves factory in the Annagh for a number of years, after leaving school.

Greeves', or the Portadown Weaving Company, to give the firm its proper name, at one time employed some 400 workers.

A large percentage lived in the streets of the Annagh, but others came from other parts of the town and district to earn their livelihood.

Fred explains, "I lived in Coronation Street, and I can remember the workers flocking from that street, as well as Ormonde Street, Queen Street, Mourneview Street, Bann Street, and others, to the Greeves factory."

Fred had other family members employed in the linen industry, and it was the same with the majority of Portadown families in those days.

The real decline in the linen industry came in the early 1950s, and accelerated in the 60s, with the loss of once lucurative markets in countries like Cuba.

Greeves closed its doors in 1959, and thus suffered the fate of Castleisland Weaving Company in 1938, and Armstrong's (later Wade's pottery) just before World War Two.

Some of the redundant Greeves' workers obtained employment in nearby Tavanagh factory, and in places like Hamilton Robb's, Spence Bryson and Acheson's.

But a decade or so later all these had also disappeared from the Portadown industrial skyline, leaving only the memories of an industry whose fortunes had meant so much to many local families.