Unusual,elongated Murrays of Belfast advertising mirror with double panelled glass.
Murray, Sons and Company Ltd began trading in Belfast in 1810, and became a limited company in 1884. By 1921, it shared most of the Belfast manufacture of tobacco, cigarettes and snuff with Gallaher Limited, who had moved to Belfast in 1867.Dunlop McCosh Cunningham took over the running of the works in the mid-1920s from his uncle. The firm produced Erinmore and Yachtsman Navy Cut brands, though the cigarettes were not the superior quality that the pipe tobacco proved to be. The firm produced high quality popular pipe tobacco. For a time in the 1970s the Managing Director was Belfast man Mr Gleghorne and his personal assistant was Mrs Elizabeth Iris McDowell (née Hillock)
Acquisition;In 1953, Murray, Sons and Company Ltd was acquired from Dunlop McCosh Cunningham by London-based Carreras Tobacco, which following the sale of shares in 1958 by the Baron family, merged with Rothman’s of Pall Mall to become Carreras Rothmans Limited. Carreras Rothmans became known as Rothmans International in 1972.In June 1999, Rothmans International was acquired by British American Tobacco.
In 2004, British American Tobacco announced the possible closure of Murray, Sons and Company Ltd and began a consultation process to review the plant’s future. The company’s fate was announced in January 2005, with the loss of 63 jobs.
Look up out the back of the Victoria Train Station, no not the multi-storey atrocity that is the Days hotel but onto the glittering, mosaic facade of Murray, Sons & Co Tobacco Works. Built in 1900, the rich colours and bold geometric designs hint at the Art Deco style yet to fully emerge. Situated on the corner of Linfield Road and Sandy Row the building is testament to an industrial heritage built around the North Atlantic Drift and the noxious weed produced by the – increasingly former – colonies. Yet, it also stands as testament to the island’s labour movement and the pivotal, yet under-recognized, role that women play in it.
In the latter 19th-century the cigarette was gaining popularity over the more traditional cigar, snuff, pipe and chewing-tobaccos. Each variation was associated with its own laborious processing. At one end of the spectrum, cigars only required the leaves to be ‘liquored’, ‘stripped’ and ‘rolled’, while snuff, made for the equivalent of ears-and-arseholes needed more complicated, mechanical processing. Cut and plug tobaccos also relied on various stages of manufacture. Cigarettes were relative newcomers, a taste bought back by veterans of the mid-19th-century Crimean War. They not only replaced the need for a pipe but were also associated with exotic sexuality from an early stage. The opera Carmen, in which the lead character works in a tobacco factory and easily seduces men, epitomises the Victorian linkage between cigarettes and the darker, untamed passions. Before full mechanisation the white cylinders were hand-rolled. Obviously, to a Victorian sexist, the delicate task was easily framed as women’s work given their earlier dominance of cigar production…and the infamous match factories.
In 1907 over 1,000 female workers in the now demolished Gallagher’s tobacco factory went out on strike. The act was in solidarity with seven colleagues who were sacked for attending a meeting held by Jim Larkin. The Belfast women textile workers had form. The previous year they had gone on strike for a 10% pay rise. Most of us would not recognise the working conditions that these women, and their children, endured. Hours were long, pay was crap, weekends and holidays a rarity; not far off someone working a couple of zero hour contracts.
The action rippled through the city’s other works and mass protest gripped Belfast, as well as other industrial centres throughout the country. It would eventually lead to the formation of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in 1909. But even though their role was so important women found it hard to find their voice in the male-dominated labour movement. The foundation of the Women Workers Union in 1911 stands as testament to that struggle. Over a hundred years later and we are battling for basic workers rights and gender equality. Look up at the facade of the Murray’s tobacco works, juxtapositioned against the tribal tricolours of Loyalist Belfast, and you’ll remember we’ve still a long way to go and some insidious hurdles to cross.
Origins : Belfast
Dimensions : 50cm x 100cm