ABOUT SION MILLS
SION MILLS - Historic Irish Linen Mill and Village. The "Rolls Royce" of the Linen industry, Sion Mills produced the finest Linen in the world for 170 years. The village, with its 40 listed buildings, houses a close-knit community of all denominations created by the Herdmans who founded it all in 1835. This is the story of a very special and beautiful place that sets an example for a peaceful future for Northern Ireland.
To read about the unique story of Sion Mills - mill, village and community - click on the 3 headings in the side panel: Herdmans Mill, Sion Mills village and the Herdman family.
Don't forget to visit our Gallery to see the photographs, and if you have past family connections with Sion Mills visit the Guestbook - topic "Sion Mills family connections" - and tell us about it. In fact, if any of our website visitors know anything about Sion Mills, or anyone who ever lived here, we would love to hear about that if you would share it through the Guestbook please. For up-to-date information, visit News & Events, and if you are visiting the area have a look at Tourism Links (left).
To listen to an interview recorded on site at Herdmans Mill by BBC Radio Foyle, click on www.debeeson.com, then click on Herdman and then on the interview link which is underlined. You will hear Celia Ferguson and Stephen Devine being interviewed by Ken McCormack and Susan McReynolds.
About Sion Mills and its Buildings Preservation Trust
The historic linen village of Sion Mills, Co Tyrone was founded by the Herdman family in 1835 and the government created it a Conservation Area in 1977 - one of the earliest in Ireland. A concerned community in every Conservation Area which includes important heritage buildings in need of care and protection, should consider forming a Buildings Preservation Trust as a vehicle to access the necessary funding needed to ensure they survive well into the future. Sion Mills has several important listed buildings and Sion Mills BPT's remit covers the whole Conservation Area.
The Association of Preservation Trusts
A Preservation Trust is "a registered charity that regenerates historic buildings whose cost of repair is uneconomic for the private sector". With funding from heritage bodies at a premium at present, partnership is the preferred option and this can be with public or private funding partners, with grants available to the BPTs to meet the "conservation deficit" (the difference in cost between developing an old building or building a new one). For example, Ancoats BPT brought in £12 million in grants for the restoration and repair of Murrays Mill, Ancoats, Manchester in 2003 (read more for a good example of best practice), thus making it viable for development. By opening the above link you can see Murrays Mill before and after restoration and read how this was achieved and what is to happen next. We visited Ancoats in 2000 and it is great to see the transformation of a pretty depressing area.
The reward for the BPTs is purely to enable heritage buildings at risk to be restored and to see them being used again. For some further interesting case studies, see the link to the Architectural Heritage Fund at the bottom of this page, where you will also find the link to the Association of Preservation Trusts.
Sion Mills Buildings At Risk
The northwest of Ireland has been heavily hit by the general decline in the textile industry and it is difficult to see the way ahead for future employment. However, there is hope for Sion Mills. Thankfully, the Herdmans built exciting buildings in a beautiful rural setting and there are 41 listed buildings in the model village. The Mill itself is listed B+, and is important enough in terms of heritage to have been chosen to feature in the first year of the BBC Two series, Restoration, in 2003, and Sion House stables is the first building in N Ireland to be subject to a Compulsory Purchase order - still awaited after several years since it was announced by the then Minister for the Environment. It is to be hoped that it will be in time to rescue the building (pictured here) before it collapses. The Stables were designed by William Unsworth in 1884, are listed B+ and have been on the Buildings at Risk Register since its inception.
STOP PRESS! The clock tower on the stables collapsed on Monday 9th June, following two days the previous week when the owner was carrying out totally inappropriate work on the roof. The building is now being compulsorily purchased by the DOE and will be their property on 19th July. In the meantime a Court Injunction has been served on the owner forbidding him to go near the building. It is still hoped that HEARTH, an experienced Belfast-based Buildings Preservation Trust, may be able to restore it.
Herdmans Mill comes as a package of buildings, listed B+, which are interdependent in telling the story of the flax-spinning process. They are also on the Buildings at Risk register since the Trust's application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was turned down in 2005 (see below). The archives show that the Old Mill on the river is probably the earliest fireproof mill in Ireland (built by 1840). This was in doubt after a report, written in 1994 for the Environment & Heritage Service NI, stated that it had been rebuilt in 1867, but the Trust has recently unearthed and is safeguarding all the Ledgers from 1835 on and there was major construction on the Old Mill site and purchase of machinery up till 1840. After that, apart from a 3rd storey being added to the Old Mill in 1879, the only construction of any note was when the Main Mill (5 storeys) was built in 1853-55, and the yellow brick extensions added in 1884-88 - all designed by the well-known architect William Lynn of Belfast. There was no building work undertaken in 1867.
The history of the water-power is also of great heritage value and an outline can be found on the page titled Herdmans Mill. The potentially huge waterpower of the River Mourne was harnessed by the well-known English engineer, William Fairbairn, who designed the still existing system, including the weir and 35ft wide, 6 ft deep mill stream, in 1835.
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We are always adding historic & contemporary information to the website, so do visit it again soon and see what's new!