Celebrating 150 Years of Liddell: A Timeline of our History

The Liddell product brand has been lucky enough to adorn the tables and bedrooms of the some of the most respected hotels and spas across the world. Offering the finest quality cotton, from a long line of master weavers, the Liddell products have been carefully and intricately made – with care, with precision and with passion.

With over 150 years experience of creating the highest-quality, luxury linens, Liddell knows a thing or two about creating a product to be proud of. Older than Coca-Cola, Heinz, Ford and Budweiser, we’ve kept the brand going through two world wars, countless recessions and six British monarchs. So how is that we’ve managed to stay in business for 150 years?

The answer to that is easy…

Always make your customers feel special, never lower the standards of your product, and always have time for your people.

But where did it all start? Read on to find out about the history of the Liddell brand and the moments which were pivotal in our rich history. First up is an infographic of Liddell’s history timeline, after which we’ll go through Liddell’s history in detail.

Liddell history timeline infographic

1866: ‘William Liddell and Company’ Was Born

Donaghcloney textile mill

William Liddell began his apprenticeship in the linen trade aged 14 and set up his own business, ‘William Liddell & Company’ in 1866 – when he was 36 years old. Founded on the banks of the River Lagan in Donaghcloney, Ireland, William Liddell entered the linen market at a hugely prosperous time; the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 meant there was a substantial shortage in the supply of cotton which quickly saw an intense phase of growth for the requirement of linen instead and meant that William Liddell could capitalise on this immensely. William Liddell’s factory became the largest Irish linen jacquard weaving company in the country.

Founded on the banks of the River Lagan in Donaghcloney, Ireland, William Liddell entered the linen market at a hugely prosperous time; the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 meant there was a substantial shortage in the supply of cotton which quickly saw an intense phase of growth for the requirement of linen instead and meant that William Liddell could capitalise on this immensely. William Liddell’s factory became the largest Irish linen jacquard weaving company in the country.

1877: The Factory Society for the Sick

Minutes from Factory Society for the Sick mentioning William Liddell's death

Set up in 1877, The Factory Society for the Sick was set up William Liddell to ensure his workers got something back from the company in the event of their passing. When an employee died, the society would put £1 or £2 towards the employee’s burial. This society was made up of 11 senior members of the factory who would meet up once a week to discuss finances and updates. Notably, pension laws in Ireland didn’t come into practice until 1909 proving William always ensure his workforce was cared for – even when, legally, he didn’t have to.

Above is a copy of the minutes from a 1902 meeting of the Factory Society for the Sick. William Liddell had sadly died on Christmas Day 1901 and society members paid tribute to him by describing him as ‘a man of sterling worth, to whom the welfare of his working people was matter of great solitude.’ It continued that this was witnessed ‘not only by the establishment of the Society, but the general immeasurable acts of kindness and generosity to very many.’

1908: Franco-British Exhibition

1908 Franco British Exhibition Liddell advertisement

Creating beautiful fabrics and bespoke linens for many hotels and hospitality establishments, the Liddell factory was way ahead of its time. So much so, that William Liddell & Company took part in the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908.

The largest of its kind, the exhibition was a large public fair – attracting over 8 million visitors celebrating the best of British and French industry, culture and empire. It was here that William Liddell & Company won a gold medal status to recognise their efforts.

1912: An Order of ‘Titanic’ Proportions

 

Titanic bedroom

As the Liddell factory continued to craft the finest linens from their factory on the River Lagan, the dock workers were busy constructing one of the most famous ocean liners in history, on the banks of the very same river. The RMS Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10

The RMS Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10th April 1912, with some of the finest Liddell linens adorning the tables and bedrooms of the upper classes on board. On the fateful night of 15th April 1912, the ship struck an iceberg and sank – taking everything with her – including the lives of over 1,500.

To commemorate this connection, we delved into some little known Titanic facts and we have also designed a commemorative Titanic linen collection that can now be purchased online from the Vision Shop.

1914: Linen – A Casualty of War

Willis Rogers of Liddell, World War One, pictured front centre with cane

The Irish linen industry entered a recession during the First World War, and as a result, many of the factory workers had no option but to join the war effort since being laid off from their jobs. Between the years of 1914 – 1918, over 200,000 Irish men served in the war – with as many as 140,000 volunteering to do so. By the end of the war, the linen industry started to return to normal, namely due to the demand for the fabric to be used in aeroplane coverings.

Amongst the volunteers from William Liddell & Co was Willis Rogers. Taking a leave of absence from his job as an apprentice in the Donaghcloney factory, he joined the war effort in 1914. He joined as a signalling officer and made it to the rank of Lieutenant before he left. He was also awarded the Military Cross at just 21 years of age due to his bravery in the Battle of Ypres, risking heavy fire to attend to his fellow men.

After the war, he returned to his job and emigrated to the US. Here he was made Secretary to the company in William Liddell’s New York Premises. You can see a photograph of Willis with his fellow soldiers above. Willis is sat front and centre with a cane.

By the end of the war, the linen industry started to return to normal, namely due to the demand for the fabric to be used in aeroplane coverings.

1943: Used in Every Operational Aircraft

 

Liddell Munition Workers wages

The wage ledger for Liddell’s munition workers

During the Second World War, William Liddell & Co hired munition workers to help with the war effort. The factory was not only producing more and more linen throughout this period but also manufacturing everything from bombs and bullets to parachute harnesses.

By 1945, Ireland’s linen and textile industries had produced 200 million yards of cloth for the armed services and it was claimed that linen was used in every operational RAF aircraft from Lancaster Bombers to Spitfires.

1950’S: The War is Over

William Liddell and Co advert, circa 1950's

Once the war was over, the Irish linen industry fell into a rapid decline as the demand for cotton and easy-to-care-for fibres grew. However, not to be beaten by this, William Liddell & Co began to target high-end, luxury hospitality customers and the company continued to flourish. Throughout the 1950’s, William Liddell & Co supplied linens to a number of high-profile customers such as the RMS Arcadia, SS Orsova – the fastest ocean liner of the time, BOAC Comet 4 – the world’s first commercial jetliner built in the UK and The Dorchester Hotel amongst many others.

1961: A Visit from the Royals

Queen visits Ewart Liddell news report.

During their tour of Northern Ireland, the Queen and Prince Philip visited the William Ewart & Sons linen factory. By the 60’s, the linen industry was really struggling and by 1964, one third of Northern Ireland’s mills had closed. For almost 100 years, the Ewart linen factory and Liddell linen factory had been direct rivals, however the two companies merged together; 11 years after the Queen’s visit.

1973: The Williams’ Merge to Become Ewart Liddell

Ewart Liddell Advert, 1970's

Ending a rivalry that spanned over 100 years, the Ewart and Liddell brands joined together. As the linen industry continued to struggle, the merger of these companies meant that the two companies would work together in producing the country’s famed product. The companies became known as Ewart Liddell and were then subject to an acquisition by a larger group, Coats Viyella – one of Europe’s largest at the time – employing more than 70,000 people.

1980’s: Ewart Liddell Dominates the Retail Market

Throughout the 1980’s, the Ewart Liddell linen began to appear in some of the world’s best-known department stores from Marks & Spencer to House of Fraser, from Bloomingdales to Harrods. True Irish linen still carried weight in the market and so, Ewart Liddell began supplying 14 of the world’s leading airlines and some of the most famous hotels. During this time, the Ewart Liddell brand could be seen in Emirates, Qantas and Air New Zealand aeroplanes as well as Raffles Hotel, the Mandarin Hotel, and perhaps most famously, The Ritz in London.

1990’s: Flying High with Luxury Linen

Liddell Concorde cushions

Entering service in 1976, Concorde flew for 27 years before being retired in 2003. Famed for flying twice the speed of sound, the Ewart Liddell linen napkins and cushion covers decorated the flights of British Airways Concorde and later, the brand was enjoyed by the guests of the Savoy Hotel in London as part of their exquisite table linens.

1999: The World’s First Seven Star Hotel

Burji Al Arab Hotel Liddell news article

Continuing its pursuit in luxury hospitality, in 1999, Ewart Liddell’s finest linen sheets embellished the bedrooms of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai – the world’s first seven-star hotel and, arguably, the most luxurious.

2000’s: Difficult Times for Ewart Liddell

Gilford Mill in County Down, Northern Ireland

Severely neglected and becoming a great concern for Coats Viyella, they decided to put Ewart Liddell up for sale. Quickly snapped up by an Irish fashion linen supplier, Baird McNutt discovered the old-fashioned machinery and jacquard sheds still being used in the factory; not in line with the modern technology being used by others. The group sold the Donaghcloney factory and dropped Ewart from its name. It is during this time that the current owner, Donald Liddell, retired; therefore ending the line of Liddell family members to have preserved the company.

2004: Bringing the Brand Back to Life

In 2004, Liddell was up for sale again. Despite the hardship the Liddell brand had faced, the quality of the Liddell products never fell and so this made an attractive prospect for would-be buyers. Acquired by Hilden Manufacturing, a similarly heritage-rich textiles company based in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire the Hilden name traced its roots back to the 18th century and the descendants of James Hargreaves, inventor of the Spinning Jenny.

2008: One Vision

Vision Support Services, a global textiles enterprise, acquires the two brands and encompasses them within the Vision group along with Whitakers. By this point, the two brands were already in administration and the future was looking bleak. However, Vision gave its three core brands the nurturing and investment they needed to bring them back to their former glory.

2013: The Dorchester Collection

Liddell bath robes at Dorchester Hotel Event

As part of the Vision group, Liddell was now growing from strength to strength and was once again carving out its name in the luxury hospitality market. In a tribute to a 60-year relationship, Liddell unveiled its Dorchester Collection set of linens at the hotel in 2013, showcasing their ultimate bed, bath, spa and table linen in a prestigious event, drawing admiration from other leaders in the hospitality sector.

2015: Liddell Returns to Retail

By the end of 2015, Liddell had now been firmly integrated into Vision and began to target key retailers around the world such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Takashimaya in Singapore, Jashanmal in Dubai and John Lewis in the UK. By the end of 2015, the Liddell brand was decorating the likes of The Atlantis Palm in Dubai, The Dorchester, Hilton Worldwide, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, and Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, to name but a few.

2016: Celebrating 150 Years of Trading

Liddell Celebrate 150 years on Orient Express

Teaming up with the Belmond British Pullman, Liddell hosts a day to remember as part of its 150th-year celebrations, on a luxurious trip around the Kent countryside. It’s during this year that the product brand also releases its 150th year commemorative Titanic replica linen along with a history book celebrating the deep-rooted beginnings and subsequent achievements over the years.

So what does the future hold for the Liddell brand? One thing is for certain; the Liddell name, with its unwavering dedicated to the finest, luxury linen production and its unwavering dedication to its customers will continue to uphold its reputation for excellence. True luxury doesn’t shout. It caresses. It whispers.

To read more about our incredible history, read our full 51-page Liddell history book.

Posted 22nd August, 2016