1842 – 1852
1842 – First listing of James Kennedy & Son Flax Spinning Mill, Falls Road.
1843 – James Kennedy (Snr.) died, leaving the factory to his son, also named James.
1844 – Listed as James Kennedy & Son, Flax Spinners, Conway Street.
1852 – McConnell & Kennedy Flax Spinning Mill listed at Falls Road (Campbells Row/Boundary St). Coming originally from Scotland, McConnell, Kennedy and Murray were responsible for building many of the mills in Manchester. It would appear reasonable to presume that these, or members of their families, were the same people involved in building some of the West Belfast mills.
Site plans list the main Mill block building as having three stories and an attic and that it was used for spinning and carding. In front of the mill was a one story building designated as a weaving factory. There were also a number of two story buildings to the rear of the site which were used for storage and machinery rooms.
Survey map shows a ‘linen weaving factory’ to front and a ‘flax spinning mill’ to rear. Also shows three other flax spinning mills in the immediate vicinity. Over the years twelve other mills would be located in the vicinity.
A Deed of Sale by Mortgage, shows that Ellen Kennedy, James Kennedy and Victor Coates Kennedy entered into an agreement with Victor Coates (an engine manufacturer), whereby the mill buildings and machinery were used as collateral on a £3,000 loan. It is uncertain how this money was used but in the next available Belfast Directory (1862), the company is listed as being power loom weavers in addition to spinners.
The old McConnell & Kennedy factory on the corner of the Falls Road and Conway Street was sold to JT & M Greeves and Company and Victor Coats Kennedy joined with James Kennedy to form the “The Falls Flax Spinning Company”.
The new company purchased seven acres of land from James Kennedy & Sons and erected an additional weaving factory.
A fire on the 3rd Floor of “old” Mill on the 9th of December enables the company, through the insurance, to build an additional floor on the block – so accounting for the discrepancy between the 1856 site plan and the current building.
Revaluation records show that a new office, engine and boiler houses were erected towards the end of the 19th century.
Revaluation records suggest that the one story “weaving factory” on Conway St. was demolished and the present 5-story building erected to expand the business.
Plans were drawn up for installation of electrical power in the Mill.
Houses in Conway Street were burned to the ground during a sectarian pogrom by loyalists, assisted by the notorious RUC B-Specials.
Falls Flax Spinning Company Ltd. closed with the loss of 200 jobs. The Mill was one of the longest working linen manufacturer in West Belfast.
The complex was purchased by the Pound Loney Social Club for re-location due to housing redevelopment in Divis.
The two main mill blocks (now known as Conway Mill) were leased to a group of community activists for the purpose of stimulating, promoting and supporting community economic development. The founder members of Conway Mill Committee included: Frank Cahill, Fr. Des Wilson, Liam Burke, Alfie Hannaway, Jimmy Drumm, Jean McStravick, Sean O’ Neill, Tom Cahill & Colm Bradley.
Their main objectives were the promotion, support and facilitation of small indigenous economic enterprises, and the development of adult education facilities.
Having lain derelict for almost a decade the buildings had been badly vandalised, lead stripped from the roofs allowed dilapidation of the upper floors and windows throughout the complex were broken, rotten or completely missing. The process of clearing the buildings ready for use was slow and arduous.
One floor was given over for the provision of adult education under the auspices of Springhill Community House. Volunteers emptied, cleaned and built the classrooms, theatre and crèche. The crèche was staffed under the Action for Community Employment (A.C.E.). Voluntary organisations such as the Workers Educational Association (W.E.A.) and the Ulster Peoples College provided tutors for a wide range of courses.
Halla na Saoirse (Freedom Hall) was used for debates, discussions, conferences, community theatre, concerts and many other community activities.
Other floors were prepared for use by local businesses. The facilities were poor, but even in its dilapidated state it provided a much needed resource for people who wished to set up new businesses in an area where space was scarce. The mill became an ‘incubator’ for a whole range of new and innovative enterprises and projects. It provided the space, time and support for economic, cultural and community initiatives to be thought through and established.
The ad hoc community group registered as Conway Street Community Enterprises Project Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation limited by guarantee. The committee hosted a community led public enquiry into the killing of a young man, Sean Downes, by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC.
This precipitated the government policy of Political Vetting which denied funding or support to any community organisation which may lead to public funds finding its way to a paramilitary organisation.
The mill was the first of several organisations to feel the weight of political vetting. The government did not have to provide any evidence to back up it’s claim and organisations had no right to appeal. All funding was withdrawn including wages for crèche staff and no contact was allowed by government agencies. Even the voluntary educational organisations were threatened with withdrawal of funding if they continued to support the mill. The influence of the ban was such that it permeated other funding sources such as European funding, International funding and some charities.
Sean Downes clutches his chest as he is struck by a plastic bullet in July 1984
The ban was eventually lifted in 1995 – ten years after it was instated. The survival of the project during this very difficult period was solely down to the dedication of the committee members and volunteers who ensured the continued existence and development of this important community and heritage resource.
The project was self sustained through rental income and donations from people across the world, particularly the ‘Doors of Hope’ in America.
In 1995 there were 19 tenants employing approximately 34 people.
Conway Mill Preservation Trust Limited was set up in 1999 a not-for-profit organisation limited by guarantee (No.NI37461),and as a registered charity (No. XR35921).
Its aim is the preservation, protection, and restoration of the Conway Mill Complex for the benefit of the inhabitants of Belfast and of West Belfast in particular.
The CMPT committee achieved listed building status for the Conway Mill Complex.
Funding secured. Start of refurbishment.
Refurbishment of most of the two main blocks is completed.