From Vol. III of Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc. by Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall (1843):
‘In the county Tyrone, and within a distance of little more than three miles from Strabane, is to be found one of the most interesting establishments it has ever been our good fortune to visit in any country. We have inspected manufactories of much greater extent than the “Sion Mills” but have never witnessed with greater gratification the practical and efficient working of a fine moral system…’
‘The mills are situated on the river Mourne, which rushes along with a rapid and continued current, and is about one of the best water powers in Great Britain, the supply being not only large but constant. About eighty-horse power is now employed to drive eight thousand spindles; yet but a small portion of the water is necessary for the purpose. Instead of the hot furnace, long chimneys, and dense smoke, rendering still more unhealthy the necessarily close atmosphere of manufactories devoted exclusively to the spinning of flax and tow into linen yarn, there is a clean, handsome, well-ventilated building, where nearly seven hundred of a peasantry, which, before the establishment of this manufactory, were starving and idle—not from choice but necessity—are now constantly employed; and the air is as pure and as fresh as on the borders of the wildest prairie, or the boldest coast…’
‘The bare fact of such a population being taught industrious habits, and receiving full remuneration for their time and labour, is a blessing; but not the only one enjoyed by this favoured peasantry: agricultural labour is not neglected, because five out of the seven hundred are women and girls—creatures who, but for the spirit and enterprise of the Messrs. Herdman, (to whom, and the Mulhollands of Belfast, Tyrone is indebted for this establishment) would be found cowering over the embers of their turf fires, or begging along the waysides for morsels of food. But this system of social order and social industry is not, as we have said, the only advantage enjoyed at Sion Mills. Cottages, of simple construction, but sound and comfortable, have been built for the workmen and their families; a school is established, and to the Sunday-school the Messrs. Herdman themselves attend, taking the greatest interest in educational progress of their workpeople, and distributing motives to improvement, lavishly and judiciously. Nor are they behind London in the idea, that “the people” may derive benefit from the introduction of more refined tastes into the business of every-day life. The traveller’s ear is refreshed, if he pass along during the long evenings of winter, or the bright cheerful ones of summer, by the music of a full band; and instead of the saddened hearts and saddened features he has been led to suppose inseparable from the crowded factory, he hears a chorus of cheerful voices, or the echoes of dancing feet.’
Herdmans Flax Spinning Mill, Sion Mills, County Tyrone. Opened 1835, closed 2004, gutted by arsonists 2016.
I just passed nearby two days ago. Is there any chance it can be saved and be a nice place to visit. À good complement to Titanic museum.
Thank you for this interesting article. Kind Regards. Mireille
Thank you, yes indeed it could be made into an interesting and significant visitor attraction in an area which does not have many such places. There was a local voluntary group striving to realise that ambition but this no longer appears to be active. Meanwhile the buildings moulder into further decay…
A damning indictment on the authorities and society that countenanced the decline and destruction of this wonderful building. Unfortunately it is only one of many that have been failed by either lethargic, toothless or inept enforcement by the authorities tasked with the protection of such buildings. It seems in the “North”, only one kind of history matters.
Googling around a little I see that the Herdmans were resolutely non-sectarian and espoused Utopian ideals – which appear to have also been practical! What a family – wish we had more like them.