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Who was Thomas Ferguson?

29 October 2019

The Company bears the name of the founder, Thomas Ferguson (27th April 1820- 24th February 1900), who was born at Clare, near the village of Waringstown in Co. Down, where his father John farmed. At that time the locality was a centre of Irish Linen hand weaving and this activity was commonly combined with farming.

His father died in 1831, and he was orphaned, when his mother died in 1836. It is believed that the Rev. John Johnston (1786-1862) of Tullylish Presbyterian Church, became the guardian of Thomas, and his brother John. Thomas Ferguson's guardian saw to the completion of his schooling and then arranged for him to be apprenticed to Brice Smyth (1796-1851) of Brookfield, Banbridge. This remarkable man, even though he was blind from smallpox as a child, was a very skilful handloom weaver of fine linens, and a noted teacher of his trade. It was said Brice Smyth was also able to examine the brown webs as they were brought into his warehouse by the weavers, and in doing so he could have formed an accurate judgment as to whether, or not, the cloth had been correctly woven.

His apprenticeship completed, Thomas Ferguson left Brookfield sometime around 1845 and set up on his own as a handloom weaver in Banbridge. It is believed he started business in a house in Church Square, in the town. In 1854, by then firmly established, he acquired a lease for 999 years of the site on which the Company operated for 137 years. The factory on this site was known as Edenderry Works.

There he continued with his hand weaving business, until in 1866 he formed a partnership with his two brothers-in-law, James and Benjamin Dickson. Following the formation of this Company, Dickson, Ferguson & Co., the partners decided to build a new factory. Work was started in 1867 on the site which Thomas Ferguson had earlier purchase the lease, and the factory was equipped with steam powered looms with Jacquard machines for damask weaving.

In 1883 the two Dickson brothers retired from the business. The Company with its present title was incorporated in 1884 with Thomas and his sons, Howard and Norman, being the first directors with another son, Thomas S. as secretary. In later years three grandsons of the founder entered the Company while two great-grandsons and one great-great-grandson were all actively involved in the business. To find out more about the history of linen in Banbridge and Thomas Ferguson.