Museums and Arts

Industrial Heritage Week

Industrial Heritage Week

Mid and East Antrim has an abundance of industrial heritage right on our doorstep. From tales of iron ore miners in the Glens to limestone quarrying at Carnlough and Glenarm on the world-famous Causeway Coastal route. There are evocative memories of the days of steam at Whitehead Railway Museum and gas lighting at Flame! Gasworks Museum. Echoes of the past are all around us. Today successful extractive industries and a strong tradition of advanced engineering excellence demonstrate the continued importance of industrial innovation as a driver for the regional economy in the 21st Century.

The equally evocative remnants of a textile industry that once employed thousands can also still be seen in the main settlements of Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballymena and the surrounding villages such as Cullybackey and Broughshane.

Mid and East Antrim Museum and Heritage Service cares for local artefacts from our industrial past and this week we invite you to celebrate our Borough. Mid and East Antrim has been shaped by industry and we share to all with pride.

Saltmining in Carrickfergus

Industrial Heritage in Larne

Industrial Heritage in Ballymena

Saltmining in Carrickfergus

Did you know there are currently over 30 miles of mining tunnels below your feet? There were once many salt mines in Carrickfergus and a new exhibition by Carrickfergus Museum, supported by Irish Salt Mining Exploration Co. Ltd, Kilroot, was to be on display this summer – including free tours of the salt mines! These plans are now on hold until next year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer you a sneaky peak into this local industry that lies beneath our feet…

The information contained here is based on research carried out by Caroline Nicholson. Carrickfergus Museum would like to thank Caroline for the dedication she has shown in piecing together this history and allowing us to make use of her research.


Location of historic mines and today’s mine at Kilroot

The discovery of rock salt came about by accident when the 4th Marquis of Downshire employed an engineer to look for coal in 1845, at Duncrue, near Woodburn. While there was disappointment that no coal was found, a workable seam of rock salt was discovered about 120ft in thickness at a depth of 550ft. The Belfast Mining Company was formed, later becoming The Salt Union, which was taken over in 1937 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). During the 19th century a number of other mines were opened as shown on the map.


Visitors to salt mines


Since its earliest days, local mines have welcomed various interested visitors. On one visit by the Belfast Field Naturalist Club to Duncrue mine they descended down some 620ft in a bucket – 3 at a time! ‘and only laughed at their fears when they landed below’… ‘The mine was lit up with coloured lights, crackers, Roman candles and other fireworks to produce the most magical effect’. A bit of a contrast to the visit made by the Carrickfergus & District Historical Society to the salt mine at Kilroot in 2018!

French Park Mine, Duncrue, opened in the 1860s


Rock salt in the 1800s was obtained by through sheer hard work – no machines were used in this period. Temperature underground ranged from 54-56 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. But working conditions were better for these salt miners than for coal miners. Much cleaner and no noxious gasses.

The salt was extracted from the seams by blasting. The miners went down in a bucket and walked to the area being worked. The loose rock salt was put into a cart and winched to the surface.


Maidenmount mine, 1890. Painting by W McMillen


This cut away sketch gives us a glimpse of what goes on below and above the surface.

Salt was discovered here in 1867 and two shafts were sunk - one for salt the other for water. There was also a winding engine, crushing mill and below the ground, 47 acres of salt and brine. The mine was claimed by the HM Inspector of Mines, to be the ‘deepest rock salt mine in the Kingdom with strata dipping steeply at over 900 feet deep’. The mine was abandoned in 1895. Though it did serve a purpose during the war years when a local butcher used the main shaft to dispose of carcasses and local children would also run boulders down the fields and let them fall down the shaft to hear the noise!


International Salt Works, 1913


William Vint and sons started this mine in 1890 and was taken over by James Hodkinson in the early 1900s. In 1909 the company became the International Salt Company. By 1915 the mine had 12 acres with the right for a further 80 acres and was mined at a depth of 500ft.

The International Mine’s claim to fame was the process by which it made salt, invented by Harry Tees. The ‘Tee’ process is a mechanical process that dramatically reduces production time. From the time of casting the raw material into the furnace until pure white salt emerges, takes only fifteen minutes. It was claimed that the rock can be broken in the mine, transported, fused and packed for the table in less than two hours.

The packing room, Clipperstown Salt works, 1955


Mrs Creighton who worked in the packing room for a time describes the job in an interview in 2003.  “The salt was packed into cartons and packed into two dozen parcels… The 7lb order bags went to the country farmers two at a time, parcelled…The packing ladies had to wear a hat which was a square piece of material folded into a triangle, placed over the hair and knotted at the top. They also had two white starched overalls and had to wear old shoes as the salt ate into them, rotting the sole and the stitching”


Image reproduced courtesy of West Chester Museums, from an article in ICI magazine, Grains of Salt, 1955.


Salt packers at Clipperstown Salt Works


Employees at Clipperstown worked from 8am to 5.45pm during the week and 8am until 12.30pm on Saturdays. In 1937 the wages were 7s 6d for five and a half days. “No one minded handling the salt as it had a lovely feel about it” (Mrs Creighton).

Clipperstown shut down in November 1958 as it was no longer commercially viable.

The salt industry in Carrickfergus once employed many people – 144 recorded in the 1911 census. Harbour records held by the Museum show that salt was exported as far as the USA and to the Baltic areas, though much of it went to Sottish ports.

Today there is just one salt mine in operation. This was started by the Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Co. Ltd (ISME) in 1965, based at Kilroot.


Salt mining today

Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Co. Ltd started operations at Kilroot in 1965. The company produces around 500,000 tonnes of de-icing rock salt every year. This is the only salt mine still operating in the whole of Ireland and only one of three salt mines in the UK.

Picture by Michael Falco, courtesy of Irish Salt Mining & Exploration Co. Ltd

Industrial Heritage in Larne

The British Aluminium Company Ltd set up a processing plant in Larne in 1895 to extract alumina from local bauxite.  This was the first plant of its kind in the British Isles. In 1898 Larne Aluminium Co., acquired bauxite mines near Glenravel. Main operations came to an end in 1947 but red oxide continued to be extracted from the ‘sloblands’ until its complete closure in 1961. 

The first sod was cut on-site for the factory in May 1895. A row of houses known as Drummond’s Row were removed to make way for the Works. James Sutherland, whose father Alexander had pioneered the industry, was the first Works Manager and held the position until 1938. James Sutherland is buried in Greenland Cemetery in Larne and the inscription reads ‘In ever loving memory of James Sutherland who died 3rd August 1939 aged 70 years. And his wife Caroline who died 3rd March 1959.  Life’s work well done, life’s race well run, now cometh rest.’ 

At the height of its production, more than 300 workers were employed in the plant. Major additions were made to the Works in late 1906. In September 1932, the Larne Times reported that SS Carrigan Head had been loaded at Larne Harbour with 3700 tons of alumina bound for Port Alfred, Canada. It was the largest consignment of alumina shipped from the port up until that time. The captain of the vessel was Islandmagee man, Captain William Niblock. 

The economic depression in the Thirties affected the plant but things improved at the beginning of WW2 when there was a greater demand for aluminium framed aircraft. Lower demand after the war lead to the main operations at Larne being brought to an end in 1947, leading to the loss of 200 jobs. By the time the company closed in July 1961, there were 35 employees. The land and buildings were sold to the Corran (Pye) Works. Today a red-bricked building on Curran Road beside Seaview Guesthouse is all that remains of an industry that provided much-needed employment in the town. The sloblands off the Curran Road were reclaimed and now boast a bowling green, children’s play area and a caravan park. 

 The site of the British Aluminium Works being prepared for building in 1895

 Aluminium works 1932 SS Carrigan – SS Carrigan Head at Larne Harbour 21/9/1932

Seated (left to right): Mr John Boyd, JP (Chairman of Larne Rural Council); Captain William Niblock; Major Richard G Heyn (Managing Director of G Heyn & Sons Ltd); Mr William Lawson of Thomas Jack & Co (Agents). 

Standing (left to right):  Mr Matthew Burns (Owners’ Superintendent); Mr James Sutherland (Manager of British Aluminium Co Ltd); Mr William C Lawson of Thomas Jack & Co; Mr Hugh Close (Manager of Larne Harbour Ltd); Mr T Price (Larne Times); and Mr George L Miller (Manager of G Heyn & Sons Ltd). 

Aluminium works 1906 building – Part of the building extension to British Aluminium Works in 1906

Larne Pottery - Larne Pottery Works operated near Bay Park/Larne Leisure Centre from 1842 until 1857. 

Using local clay, the company produced a wide range of goods including tiles, baking dishes, bowls and tea services.  These pieces are attributed to Larne pottery including a spongeware cup, a jug with an embossed pattern of children in a woodland scene and figures of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were made in the style of Staffordshire pottery. 


Corran Works - Corran Works Ltd, part of the Pye Group, opened at the harbour in Larne in 1947 manufacturing radio sets and components. 

This was the first post-war industry to come to the town.  Starting with 130 workers, by 1964 over 1200 people were employed in the factory.  Unfortunately due to cheap foreign imports, sales dropped dramatically and the factory closed in 1965. 

BTH Apprentices 1954 - In 1954, British Thomson-Houston built a factory at Waterloo, Larne, to manufacture blades for turbines and two years later built a turbine factory on the site. 

In the late 1950s, Associated Electrical Industries took over British Thomson-Houston in Larne and expanded into light engineering. It subsequently became General Electrical Company and operated until 1991.  In 1993, the factory re-opened under the management of F G Wilson, a Belfast engineering company.  F G Wilson subsequently became part of a multinational corporation manufacturing diesel generating sets, mainly for the export market.  Caterpillar acquired F G Wilson in 1999. 


NI Paper Mills - The factory known as the North of Ireland Paper Company Ltd operated from 1886 until 1957.

Paper manufacture was carried out in Larne beside the Inver River under a variety of names including Inver Paper Company, Olderfleet Paper Mills, North of Ireland Paper Company Ltd, Invercon Papermills Ltd and Fort James UK Ltd. 


Industrial Heritage in Ballymena

 Braid Water Mill

Workers of the No 1 Preparing Room, Braid Water Spinning Mill, Ballymena, pose for a photograph in 1939. These people prepared the flax for the spinning process.

 Linen hackle

Hackle pin, used in the Roughing Shop, Braid Water Spinning Mill, Ballymena. The first process in the Mill. Pieces of flax were pulled through these pins to straighten and divide the strands, to comb out short fibre and to remove waste, such as straw.

Linen shuttle

Wooden shuttle from a mill loom, used in the Phoenix Weaving Factory. The first factory-based linen enterprise in Ballymena began in 1843, when Daniel Currell set up forty steam-driven looms in Linenhall Street. The second power-loom factory in Ballymena was one at Leighinmohr, which began operations around 1860. Nearby, a Mr Bellis began a similar enterprise around the same time. The most successful and most progressive power-loom enterprise in Ballymena was the Phoenix Factory, which opened in the late nineteenth century and continued until 1990.

Cast-Iron Horses, Kane’s Foundry, Ballymena

These cast-iron horses were made by William Kane, son of founder John Kane. They are ornamental and would sit at either side of a domestic fire. They were probably made to show that Kane’s Foundry was capable of more intricate work, as he usually made items like gratings and manhole covers.

Kane Brothers, of the Ballymena Foundry, Railway Street, Ballymena was founded in 1871 and specialised in the fitting out of factories for the weaving and bleaching of linen. This includes the original fitting up of its neighbour, the Phoenix Weaving Company. They also distinguished themselves in the manufacture of agricultural machinery. Kane brothers also set up a factory in Larne.

Phoenix Weaving Factory, Railway Street, Ballymena

Workers of the Braid River Weaving Factory, Railway Street, Ballymena, pose by their machines on the shop floor. Some show their close friendship. This factory later became part of the Phoenix Weaving Company.

Phoenix Factory Horn

Factory horn from the Phoenix Weaving Company, Railway Street, Ballymena. The sound of this horn, in the morning, awakened most of Ballymena. It was sounded for the last time by Thomas Young on 9th November 1990.

Narrow Gauge Railway Map

The Ballymena and Larne Railway had a three-foot wide narrow gauge track. It opened in 1877 and ran for thirty-two miles. Although transport of locally mined iron ore was the main reason for its construction, the line operated both passenger and goods traffic. Passenger services ended in 1933 and the last part closed in 1950.

Frazer and Haughton Bleachworks

Frazer and Haughton Ltd was established in 1882, when Hillmount Bleachworks, Cullybackey, was purchased from the Young family. The company invested heavily in the remodelling of the building and the installation of modern machinery for bleaching, dyeing and finishing linens, sheetings and damasks. In 1914, a subsidiary company, Frazerton Ltd, was established to make nurses uniforms for the Red Cross. The company was a major and popular employer in Cullybackey for many decades.