Spreading Flax in the North of Ireland

Spreading Flax in the North of Ireland. Illustrated London News 35 (24 September 1859): 305-06. Click on image to enlarge it.

“THE accompanying Sketch represents one step in the preparation of flax by the agriculturist. The farmer on whose land the sketch was made obligingly gave the following information:—Flax is sown in April, May, and sometimes even in June: a crop which now pro mises well was sown on the 12th of June. In August generally it is pulled by hand by women. One farmer on the banks of the Black water, in the county of Armagh, employed more than a hundred men, women, and grown lads pulling and preparing flax this month. When the flax is pulled it is tied up in bundles or “beats” as £ are called in Ireland, and carted to the “flax holes,” or deep pools of stagnant water, where it is sunk by sods and large stones, and so steeped for eight or ten days, at the end of which time it is taken up and carted to the bleaching and drying und, where the “beats” are opened out, and the flax is carefully spread out over the short grass of pasture land, as shown in the Sketch. When sufficiently dried and bleached it is gathered and sent to the mill, where it is scutched, and then tied up in “stones,” weighing sixteen pounds and a quarter each. Growers frequently hand skutch the flax, and so do not use the mill at all. However, mill-skutched flax is most in request by the manufacturer.

“Armagh is a great market for flax, most of it being ultimately sent to Belfast to be manufactured. A very good yield of flax has produced thirty pounds' worth per acre, sometimes only ten pounds' worth; and sometimes flax turns out a total failure. According to the returns of agricultural produce for Ireland in 1856 one hundred and six thousand three hundred and eleven acres of flax were grown that year.

“In the course of a review upon the state and prospects of the flax crop of this year the Northern Whig observes:– “In 1840 there were comparatively few spinners of flax in Ireland. The machinery then set up in the best mills could not work off the quantities of stuff which an equal number of spindles would do at this day, when there are £ of 650,000 spindges capable of operation. At the former period the application of steam to the linen loom was looked *'' as a speculative idea, which might be reduced to practice about the time the last cent of the Pennsylvanian Bonds had been paid off. Now there are about 4000 power looms in this county capable of throwing off nearly 50,000 yards of linen each day, if were fully employed. Nearly one-fourth of the number of looms are idle, and fully an equal proportion of spindles, in consequence of the flax famine. The proprietors of these looms now in opera tion are generally so far up in orders that it would take three or four months to get all their contracts out of hand. By the ord process of weaving the foreign markets—which have absorbed such immense lots of linens this year—could not be more than half supplied, and their seats of sale would extend almost indefinitely were the productive cost of goods so lessened as to make the article one of popular use with all ranks, instead of being, as it is still, too much of a luxury. Of the finer fibres of flax there is little to complain of in relation to supplies. Holland, Belgium, and the lower Germanic States produce large quantities for export, and the growth of Irish lands is usually that of the superior class. What we require is the coarse fibre, usually imported from Russia, but that country is not extending its exports to Great Britain, the returns of the last eighteen years showing a decrease rather than otherwise.” (305).

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“Excursion to Killarney.” Illustrated London News 35 (24 September 1859): 305-06. Hathi Trust online version of a copy of the Illustrated London News in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 23 June 2021.

Last modified 23 June 2021